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"Seriously, God?!"

Seven weeks had passed since His House of Hope Hospital had reopened.  I was the only doctor on site, and my partner was not due back for another six weeks.  I noticed some blurriness in my right eye, which I casually mentioned to others.  "Must be sleep deprivation," we mused-- which made sense, given that we were doing 40-60 deliveries per month, and awake at least part of most nights.  

Day by day, the blurriness grew worse.  I started to self-diagnose, and realized it was a darkening of the upper inner quadrant of my vision.  After consulting a book, then emailing several eye doctor friends around the world, it became apparent that I was having a progressive problem with either my optic nerve or my retina (the inside surface of the back of the eye which receives images and transmits them to the brain).  It was unsettling-- I was 42 years old, running a mission hospital by myself, and potentially losing my vision.

One friend happened to be a retinal surgeon, serving as a missionary in Kenya.  As we exchanged emails, he suggested I objectively test my vision. I kept second-guessing myself, thinking I was making it up. However, doing these simple tests made it apparent that the visual loss was real and progressive.  Late one Friday night we talked on the phone— "I think you need to make a trip to Kenya..." he told me—bringing the reality of the situation to light.

With only two flights out of our South Sudanese town each week, we quickly called the local airline representative (on his cell phone, at 9PM on a Friday night) to see if there was space on the flight the next morning.  There was-- but only one seat. We had wanted someone to accompany me, but that was not an option. In the midst of it all, our first response was “Seriously, God?!”

I left Saturday morning, taking several plane flights and a long car ride to reach Tenwek Mission Hospital in Western Kenya on a Sunday afternoon. Our friend, the retinal surgeon, immediately took me to the eye ward and examined me. I wasn’t making it up. My retina was detached, nearly to the focal point of my vision. He recommended surgery—a vitrectomy to remove the gel-like fluid (vitreous) in the back of my eye, then laser treatment to scar the retina back in place. I nearly passed out as I considered the radical nature of the surgery he was describing. I had been hoping he could just zap me with a burst of laser and call it good.

During the trip to Tenwek, I had been wrestling with God in my thoughts, telling Him how I didn’t want to have surgery. (Similar to the previous few months, when I had wrestled with Him about doing emergency C-sections when exhausted…) Something about 3 large needles and draining my eye didn’t interest me. Late that Saturday night as I waited at the Nairobi airport, He impressed upon me that I needed to surrender ALL to Jesus. “But Lord, I have surrendered all to you—we are serving in South Sudan!” Yet I knew if I trusted Him completely, I would submit to Him even in this very unexpected reality.

Less than an hour after diagnosis, I was in surgery. Under local anesthesia, I was awake, and being a doctor, I understood more than I wished I did. Near the end of the surgery, I was aware of the electrocautery being used to control bleeding. In the last few minutes of the surgery, my eye swelled up due to bleeding around and inside the eye.

After the shock of the diagnosis and surgery passed, the two weeks of waiting, recovery, and keeping my face down toward the ground began. Not only had I required surgery, but I had a complication of surgery (one of those things all of us that do surgery tell people can occasionally, but rarely, happen). More significantly, my family was 600 miles away in South Sudan (not a particularly safe or stable place) while I recovered. What was God doing in all of this?

Again I cried out, “Seriously, God?!” I was struck by my powerlessness, weakness, and lack of understanding—and simultaneously by the fact that He is God. I knew Him to be good, and I could trust what He was doing.

He is God. It isn’t my right to understand what He is doing—even in my own life. What He allows in my life often seems harsh, unnecessary, and unpractical in the common sense of the world. But He is God, and He knows what I need a lot better than I. This is the essence of surrendering and trusting Him completely.

I thought we were through most of the difficulty, but the story was not yet done.

(to be continued in a subsequent post…)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 05:24

Termite Mounds & Teak Roots

It was a frigid morning in South Sudan—the guard was warming himself by a fire in the backyard, and I put on a long sleeve T-shirt to go for a run with my wife. How cold was it, you ask? It had dipped to 61 degrees! After living at 85-105 degrees, that truly does feel cold.

On our run, we run up and down the potholes, which, being dry season, are filled with powdery red clay dust which poofs up with each step. The air is filled with dust and smoke, as it so dry, and because people are burning the fallen teak leaves and baking mud bricks stacked in giant rectangular piles resembling Mayan temples.

We cross the main road, greet some men standing near the “boda boda” stage (the place where the motorcycle taxis pick up customers), and proceed to run a loop around the expansive tobacco warehouse which was recently built. It is a veritable fortress, with a paved street within the fence with several houses for the management, two immense metal buildings, and a separate entrance with a large metal gate where delivery trucks are seen coming and going. The entire square compound is enclosed with a high chain link fence with human barbed wire, and thorny bushes growing up just outside the fence. To circle it is nearly a mile in length

We cross back over the main road and enter a footpath in our community again. In places, the path is wide enough for a car to make its way through the dense teak forest—and sure enough, we come upon a well-built house with a metal roof, that has a small sports utility vehicle parked in front of it. We pass other homes that are simple thatch roofs and mud walls; some have painted a black border at the base of their home (as the rain splashes the dirt onto the lower 18 inches during rainy season). Some homes are very neatly painted, despite being made entirely of grass, mud, and sticks—a small tin of paint to cover a “tukul” like this costs 6 pounds at the local hardware store ($1.50 US).

As we make our way toward home, the trail becomes rougher, and we pass by some recently formed mud bricks still drying in the early morning sun. We run through the soft sandy soil, hopping over termite mounds and teak roots. Says Elizabeth, “this is true cross-country running!” So goes our early morning run in South Sudan during dry season.

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 March 2014 15:05

First Time Mothers in South Sudan

The 17 year old first time mother brought her 1 week old baby to clinic after delivering at His House of Hope. She complained of the baby having a fever. Our nurse had already evaluated her, and the vital signs and labs were normal. She was eating well and didn’t look sick. As I reviewed the case, I looked more closely at the baby, caught a knowing glance and poorly-concealed smile from the nurse, then began explaining to the mom in my broken Arabic that everything seemed normal, and perhaps she should dress her in lighter and less clothing especially during the afternoon—as the baby was wearing a long knit outfit and was wrapped in a heavy knit blanket, and it was at least 100 degrees outside. The young mother smiled and nodded appreciatively.

The day after reopening the hospital, our second labour patient arrived. Sadly, the woman was somewhere between 30-34 weeks in her first pregnancy, and our staff could not find a fetal heartbeat—even using ultrasound. Our missionary nurse and I stood back and talked, sad that this mother's first pregnancy should end in a death.  The nurse on duty easily handled the delivery. As we were conversing, the staff nurse suddenly exclaimed, “The baby is alive!” Sure enough, the tiny baby girl was breathing and even crying a little. Weighing only 1250 grams (2 lbs 12 oz) and appearing to be about 30 weeks gestation (7 months), she did remarkably well. Over the next 16 days, she struggled to maintain her body temperature and gain weight, but was then able to breastfeed and demonstrate she could eat on her own and continue to gain weight. This first time mother surprisingly went home with a healthy, albeit small, baby—when at first it did not seem she would.  We thank God for granting her life.

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 March 2014 19:07

Kawajas again

After a longer time away than we had intended, we are "kawajas" again-- back in South Sudan, where foreigners are called "kawaja" by the locals.  Gone are the past months of relatively blending in-- once again, we are noticed when we go out.  Especially now, as many foreigners have left and not yet returned to South Sudan.

We arrived back safely, without any serious difficulties, on January 25th.  The hospital, His House of Hope, reopened on Monday January 27th, and by the end of the first day there were 7 patients in the hospital, and 11 babies were born by Friday-- including 2 C-sections and one set of twins.  Almost all of our hospital staff have returned, and none were harmed-- though some had family and friends that were hurt or killed in the violence of the past month.

Life in the Perry home is also getting back to normal, with home schooling, chores, cooking meals, playing with friends at the orphanage, going to church, and encouraging one another in following Jesus.  

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 February 2014 06:41

Back to South Sudan

On January 25th, 2014, we head back to Yei, South Sudan.  His House of Hope Hospital for Women & Children is scheduled to open again on January 27 after closing on December 20, 2013 due to increasing fighting and instability in South Sudan.  

We have been in East Africa since January 4th, first attending a conference in Ethiopia, then getting visas and doing other business in Kampala, Uganda.  For the past week, we have been only 100 miles south of Yei, in Arua, Uganda.  We have completed additional security training, and sought the guidance of leaders under whom we serve in South Sudan.  In the midst of this, we feel that Jesus is leading us to return to South Sudan at this time.  Several factors had to come together-- including receiving our visas to return, finishing our security training, arranging a flight, and paying for it.  We also felt it would be a real bonus if a cease-fire was signed prior to re-entering the country.  God could have shut the door at any of these points along the way had He not wanted us to go back at this time.

Not only did all these logistical points come together this past week, but a cease-fire agreement was signed on January 23rd.  Our trust, however, is not in politics or agreements, but in the Lord who is sovereign over the kingdoms of men.  And we thank Him for leading us-- closer to Him... and back to South Sudan.

Last Updated on Friday, 24 January 2014 18:16

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Our Mission:

Share the gospel of Jesus Christ and strengthen His Church through medical care and education, discipleship, and loving the people of South Sudan as a family.

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