Monday, December 10, 2012

Hedonism, Butterflies, and the Church-Camp High

So, in my time in the Bible belt, I have noticed a phenomenon that I am only now beginning to understand: the church-camp high. For the uninitiated amongst you, this is a common experience within the US Christian church: an individual, usually in high school, goes with the youth group at his church (see 1 below) to a gathering of other youth, usually at a beach, for a week. During this week, this young man listens to 2-3 sermons (lectures about Jesus and things related to Him) a day, sings worship songs to Jesus, spends time with other Christians, and flirts with as many girls from other youth groups as he possibly can. At many of these camps, on the last night, there is an extended time of worship during which there is an invitation given to become a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. After this, there is a lot of singing. I mean a lot of singing. Like an hour or more. And amazingly, hundreds of otherwise ADD, hormone-crazed high-schoolers remain engaged the whole time. When they return home,  most go one of two directions. Either they are content to let that week stand as the climax of their spiritual lives and reminisce over it like a 40 year old dreaming about his “glory days” in high school athletics, or they become “church-camp/conference addicts” who live from one week-long conference to another like drug addicts looking for another hit. For years this phenomenon has baffled me, and I have struggled to make peace with it. Today, something clicked.

I would like to pause here and say that what follows is nothing new. Men much wiser and more eloquent have expressed these ideas before (see Piper, John and Lewis, C.S.). I am writing about them because writing is a good way for me to solidify things in my mind. That being said, onward we go…

Why does this phenomenon exist, and why does it seem to exist only in the church? Because that’s the way God made us, and it doesn’t, respectively.

Let me address the second statement first: that this phenomenon only exists in the church. This statement, simply put, is a lie that church kids believe because they never step far enough outside of their Christian bubble to interact (gasp!) with non-Christians. All of humanity experiences this. For example (2) let’s take romance. Not the amazing, sanctifying, Christ-reflecting, loving-when-you-would-rather-walk-away, only-clearly-embodied-in-marriage kind of romance. I mean puppy-love, first-kiss, holding-hands romance. We have all been there. It’s a great place to be. Here’s the problem: it passes. It goes away and it invariably leaves us wanting more. But even that topic is too broad, so let’s zoom in further: the first kiss. It’s great. There is a reason that there are days of music on iTunes devoted to this single moment of a relationship. Contained within is a rush of adrenaline and endorphins that is rarely paralleled in human experience. What’s more, it’s good. I mean Divinely good. God created it. Romance, kissing, and (brace yourselves) even sex are God’s creation. He made them, and He made them to be as pleasurable as they are (if not more pleasurable…but no time for that discussion now). Sex is a pre-Fall activity. Let that sink in. The problem comes in when we try to make these activities gods, take them out of their God-given limits, and return to them over and over to satisfy our souls. I’ll explain. We feel that rush of adrenaline and endorphins associated with the first kiss, and we are satisfied…temporarily. That feeling doesn’t last, so we go back for a second kiss, only this time isn’t quite as good as the first. Next, we put our hands where they don’t belong. This gives us a pretty great rush, but that fades too, so we start removing clothing…and on and on it goes. Eventually it ends in regret, addiction, dependency, and a string of broken hearts and relationships.  Why? Because we found something that, for a moment, satisfied the longing in our souls, so we made it the thing around which we based our lives (which is called worship, by the way) and we lived for the next “hit” so to speak. The problem is, it failed, and down with it crashed our lives.

Now to answer the second question: Why does this phenomenon exist? Let me answer the bigger question, and I will answer the smaller question in the process. The bigger question is not “why does the church-camp high exist,” but rather, “why do the church-camp high, the first-kiss high, and all the other momentary highs in life exist? And why the let-down afterwards? And why the longing within our hearts to return to that moment in time?”  The answer: because we were created that way. We were made to experience immense love, pleasure, intimacy, and joy. We were made to feel swept up in something bigger than ourselves, to feel overwhelmed by a thing we can’t control. This experience is intrinsically good, but only if it leads to its God-intended end. You see, we stop short. Whether it’s returning in our minds to a Florida convention center or the hood of a pick-up truck under the stars, we (as C.S. Lewis would say) are far too easily pleased. We revel in the experience as if that was the end in itself.  But it’s not. It is the first step on a path the leads to the Substance of which it is only a shadow. We were made for God, and nothing else will do. As I said before, God made kissing, relationships, sex, sermons, beaches, and music. And He made them out of His own character and imagination. They reflect Him and they point to Him (3). That initial taste was meant to prime our desires, not satiate them. We were created to go, “that created thing was good…God created it…I bet relationship with Him is more epic, awesome, satisfying, and fulfilling than that experience…That sounds good…I’ll have that.”  But we don’t. Instead we act like fools, and we return to the moment of experience rather than its source. Let me use another relationship example to drive home my point. Our reaction to pleasure and to experiences of God is like meeting an incredible girl in a coffee shop, going out on an epic date, getting her number, then instead of calling her for another date, going back to the coffee shop in hopes of getting that same experience all over again. We have access to the “source of our joy,” so to speak, but instead we return the vehicle through which the joy came. It’s foolish, but it is fallen human nature, and we do it all the time. Instead of turning and worshiping God, we worship the thing He made.

Now to the big point: relationship with the God that created us is, in the end, the ultimate fulfillment of every (holy) longing and craving that we find within our souls, and that relationship is only found through Jesus Christ, not any created thing (4). So, if we would be true Hedonists and not just “lazy, half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex, when true pleasure if offered us,” we would go to the Source of the pleasure, and not just our first brush with it. If you are a church kid, you know how this works. If not, it works by accepting Christ’s offer of letting His death pay for your sins, His life stand as your righteousness, and His Sonship replace your rebellion.  It means entering into a relationship with the God of the Universe and following His Son wherever He would lead you (that’s a daily thing, not a one-time-at-church-camp thing, by the way). May we have the wisdom know what is true Pleasure-seeking, and the courage to lose our selves in its finding.

Christ, let us find You amidst our pleasure and joy, and even more so in our suffering. Amen.

1.       I am going to use the male pronoun here because at no point do I even want to imply that I understand the inner workings of the female mind at any stage of life, let alone high-school…it is a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong…I just don’t understand it

2.       Note: if you kissed dating goodbye, feel free to skip this paragraph and avoid the scandal within

3.       What is amazing is that the creation I have listed only reflect a miniscule part of Him. In the account of creation, male-female romantic relationship, which Hollywood would have us make the crux of our entire lives, only gets about two lines…but back to the point at hand

4.       An interesting fact about created things: they give us a glimpse into the character and attributes of their Creator. If a created thing is pleasurable, wouldn’t that seem to imply that the Creator values pleasure? Or, if the created thing is beautiful, doesn’t that imply that the Creator values beauty? Not only that, if He can create that finite beauty or pleasure, wouldn’t it be fair to assume that He can create things that are even more beautiful and pleasurable, or that within Himself is a limitless store of pleasure and beauty from which the created things spring? Let that blow your mind for a minute. Maybe we should worship Him instead of the stuff He creates. Just a thought

Saturday, November 17, 2012


There are many things that make the Gospel the “good news.” The one with which I have struggled often and with varying degrees of success is that of identity. Why is this important, you might ask? Let me answer your question Socrates style: is it not? Is it not true that your whole life up until now (unless you have grasped this aspect of the Gospel) has been spent trying to establish you identity? No? Ok, well then, I guess I will just talk about myself.
Recently I have been surprised with how insecure I am. At a simple word or gesture, I have felt my whole being called into question. Am I really a good doctor/medical student? Do I really love Jesus? Do I really have what it takes to be a surgeon? Do people even really like me, or are they just putting up a front? Is my life going to mean anything in the end, or am I spinning my wheels and taking up oxygen? These are the kinds of questions that can crush a person. I know. I have felt their weight bearing down on me.  And the truth is, I don’t have the answers, and neither do you. All this new-age “look inside yourself for the meaning of your life and who you are meant to be” is, in the end, hollow hallmark-card fluff. Why? Not because it’s not a nice idea, but because it crumbles under the weight of reality. If I look inside myself to find my meaning, all I really find are those same questions glaring back at me. Those questions came from inside of me. How can I go to the same place to find their answers?
We have to look outside of ourselves. We all intrinsically know this, and unfortunately, this is where most of us get into trouble. Step one: look outside of myself to find out who I am—check. Step two: where to look—uh-oh. We don’t know, so we just start guessing. Maybe if I become a world-famous fill-in-the-blank. If random strangers know my name, that will give me an identity, right?  Maybe if I get married then my wife will tell me who I am. Yeah, that’s it. Or maybe if my kids become professional athletes. Oh, I’ve got it. Maybe I will work 90 hours a week to impress a bunch of people I don’t really like to get a position I don’t really want to make a bunch of money I won’t have the time or energy to spend. No? Then I’ll just go out, get drunk, and have sex. That’ll definitely give me an identity (it will, by the way…just not one you would want to talk about in front of you grandma). For me, it looks like this: “maybe if everyone likes me, I become a surgeon from a good academic program, I get an attractive, witty wife, and I do a bunch of spiritual/humanitarian stuff for the rest of my life, maybe then I will be happy and fulfilled and I will earn God and everyone else’s love. Maybe then I will be somebody” I’m not saying any of those things are bad (you know, except the getting drunk, sleeping around, idolizing your wife…actually, nevermind…some of those things are definitely bad) it’s just that they will not provide the identity you or I are looking for. In fact, looking for your identity in each of those things will wreck you, and if those things are people, you will crush them. Wanna know why? Because they were never meant to hold the weight of you identity. It is simply too heavy. Why do you think it is that people get married and divorced so often in our culture? Why do famous people with beautiful wives and beautiful lives commit suicide? Could it be because those things simply do not give us meaning?
I know I’m not really blazing any new trails here, but the point is important: if we can’t find identity within ourselves, and we can’t find it in the people and activities around us, where then is it to be found? The answer: as an adopted child of the Living God. That answer too churchy for you? Too bad. Have fun trying those other options. You see, the reality is that the weight of our identity is eternal. That’s why no finite thing can bear it. You are going to live forever, like it or not. Everything on this earth ends in 80 years, give or take. Is it really a wonder that we find them so…limited? We were created. You may not like that fact, but it’s true. We are not the Eternal Creator. Therefore, we cannot find our created identity outside of the One who created it. We weren’t meant to define our own identity. That’s why we cause train wrecks every time we try our hand at it. I wasn’t created to be a surgeon. God wasn’t sitting up in Heaven thinking, “You know what I need…another guy who finds ultimate joy and fulfillment in cutting holes in my creation.” He just wasn’t. That’s why I feel so insecure when I try to put my identity in that: it is, by definition, not secure. I could loose both my hands tomorrow. What then? I would have no identity. Yet this is how most of us live our lives, Christians and Non-Christians alike. We seek to be defined by what we do and what we have here and now. God invites us in the Gospel to be defined by what He did and what we have in Him. The difference is subtle, but important. On the one hand, we can put an eternal weight on a finite support, resulting in the chaos and destruction of ourselves and said support when it (inevitably) collapses, or, we can put an eternal weight on an eternal support, and find that it is safe and secure, with no risk of failing or faltering.  
In my adoption into God’s family, I am safe to say that no matter what my life comes to, no matter if I get married or die single, no matter if I become a world-renown missionary or a quadriplegic, who I am and who I am loved and accepted by remains unchanged. I will receive God’s love and acceptance, not because of how awesome I am, but because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, unchangeable and eternal. I was adopted when I was an orphan and an enemy, and it was Him that adopted me. He picked me, not the other way around. If He picked me, He has already said all I need to know about who I am and what my worth is. This is a hope from which life can spring. If you don’t define who I am, I am free from needing to manipulate you to make me feel worthwhile. If where I do my residency doesn’t define who I am, then I am free to love the people I work with rather than trying to tear them down so I can get ahead and build my resume. And if my performance doesn’t define who I am, I am free to spend my life loving God instead of trying to prove to Him that I deserve His love.
This is the hope of the Gospel: we can stop seeking our own identity, leaving behind us a trail of broken hearts and lives, and start seeking His Kingdom and His Glory, which will bring us the identity that we sought in the first place. May we have the courage to cast our faith on the Rock, even when we are sure it will shatter us in the process.

In Christ alone, my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All-in-All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Thoughts on Support Raising

Thoughts on Support Raising (at the request of my sending church, Port City Community Church)

Please allow me to preface this by saying that I am in no way qualified to be an authority on support raising. I am simply one individual who has had a few different experiences. I have been on four mission trips, ranging from ten days to nine months. I raised support for all but one of these trips (the ten day trip to Kenya). So take the words that follow for what they are: the musings of a 25 year old would-be missionary.
I would also like to begin this essay by saying that I have not always loved the idea of support raising. Let’s be honest: I don’t like asking people for money. It feels awkward. Not only that, I come from a family and a profession where I could easily pay for the trips myself, either through cash on hand or through loans. Why burden others? God has already provided, I tell myself. In the end, if I can be honest, my real reason for trying to avoid support raising is pride. I don’t want to have to admit I needed anything. I don’t want to feel responsible to anyone. I don’t want to have to put myself at the mercy of others. I want to be my own master. This is the very heart of pride. The sooner you and I can put this sin to death, the better off we will be.

So, with that said, why raise support?

1.       Prayer
The first reason for support raising is to gain a prayer base. I assume you are reading this because you are going on a Christian mission trip. If that is true, then you are going to do the Lord’s work. As such, you are going to do a work that, ironically, you are unable to do. That’s because it isn’t your work. It is the Lord’s. You are simply following His calling to join Him in it. In the end, the success or failure of the work rests not in your hands, but in His. You cannot save anyone. Not only that, but there is an Opposition who would prefer that your trip, and the Lord’s work, fail miserably. And this Opposition is not a theoretical idea, but rather a powerful force that has already led a rebellion on a celestial scale. He is not greater than, or even equal to, Christ, but he has power none-the-less. Thus, you need all the help you can get. This is where prayer comes in. I am not in any sense of the word a theologian, nor do I understand how exactly it is that prayer works, only that it does. Throughout the Old and New Testament, you can see countless examples of the power and value of prayer. Talking with many missionaries has only reinforced this fact. I would venture so far as to say that the building of your prayer base is the single most important factor, outside of your own relationship and obedience to Christ, in determining the success of your trip. I don’t have any scripture to back this claim, so please take it with a grain of salt.  Just know that many missionaries would support it.
2.       Partnership
It’s not just about you. Hard words to hear, but they’re true. The trip the Lord has called you to take is first about His glory, and secondly, about the people He is calling you to serve. It is easy to think that this only includes the people at your destination. It doesn’t. There are people you are already in contact with that the Lord is calling you to serve. How? I’m glad you asked. There are countless Believers you already know who love Jesus and want to see His Kingdom furthered across the globe. They see the same hurt, pain, disease, and brokenness that you see. Only they, for reasons over which God alone is sovereign, cannot go. That is where you come in. You are going to address the needs that they see. You are going to the places that their hearts hurt for. They know and trust you. Invite them to partner with you. Take them with you through prayer letters, blogs, and email updates. Show them the needs that their prayer and their resources can help address. You have no idea how badly people who have been changed by Jesus want to partner with you. They are just waiting for you to ask. Don’t rob them of the blessing of doing the Lord’s work by letting your pride keep you from asking them to join your team.
3.       Community
I love people. I love meeting new people, and I love catching up with old friends. I recognize that not everyone is built the way I am, but everyone has relationships. Support raising is an excellent opportunity to form new partnerships, strengthen existing relationships, and revive old friendships that have grown cold from distance and time. I cannot tell you how many amazing conversations I had with people who had either been mere acquaintances or with whom I had grown apart, as a result of the support raising process. It gave me an excuse to invite them to dinner, take them out for coffee, shoot them a facebook message, or give them a call. It allowed me to hear about their dreams, their lives, and how the Lord had been at work since I had seen them last. Caveat here: if you are only looking to these people for their money, forget everything I have just said. Support raising will be a miserable experience for you. If, however, you are looking to form a team of co-laboring friends who will partner with you in your work, then I can assure you that the Lord is faithful. He will provide. And you will be blown away as you watch people step up in big ways that you could have never anticipated. And, as a bonus, you will likely walk away from the whole experience with deeper, richer friendships then you had when you began.
4.       Calling
This one is probably the scariest of them all. It is the real reason why I was so afraid to raise support in the beginning. You see, raising support puts the trip firmly into God’s hands to give the final ok. If the funds come in, you can be more confident that the trip really is part of the Lord’s plan for your life. On the other hand, if the funds don’t come in, it requires you to take a long hard look at whether the trip was the Lord’s idea or yours. I, for one, don’t like giving up that control. But, if you can overcome the hurdles of pride and fear, the end result is quite wonderful. The confidence that the Lord raised funds you could have never raised gives a sense of peace that is priceless when things get tough on the field and you start doubting whether you should be there at all. Not only that, but you have a collection of people who have affirmed your call (and continue to do so) by giving of their own resources. These people often provide the reaffirmation of that call through email and phone conversations at times when it is most desperately needed. This support alone is worth all the awkwardness and inconvenience that support raising can bring.

To conclude, raise support. Just do it. Stop making excuses. Don’t give in to the faux-noble temptation to “not burden others.” You are going to the front lines of a war for the eternal destiny of souls. You need cover. You need support. You need a team around you when things get tough (and by the way, they will get tough). You need encouragers to remind you why you volunteered for this in the first place. You want those people to be invested. Christ made it clear, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And you want people’s hearts with you, because where their hearts are, their prayers will be also. Those prayers are invaluable. You are doing what you as an individual, and we as the Church, have been created to do. Go do it, but don’t forget to take others along with you. Remember that it is the Lord who goes before you. Godspeed.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Quick and Dirty Update

So, I had dreams of writing this great blog post to summarize my two weeks here at Galmi, then I got a viral upper respiratory infection (aka a cold)...then it became a viral GI infection (I think you know the kind I mean). So, instead, a list in no particular order:

1. We flew from Niamey to Galmi two weeks ago in a little six-seater plane. It was wonderful. This is by far the best way to be introduced to a new land.

2. I arrived in Galmi, and immediately was taken to my apartment. It is bigger than my apartment in Greenville, NC. This fact does not upset me.

3. I began work in the hospital  a few days later. This consists of rounding at 7:30 am on the 25 or so patients that the surgeon I am working with, Dr. Starke, has on his list. Around 8:30 we go to "La Bloc," which is the OR. There are two surgeons here: Dr. Starke and Dr. Sannoussi. One operates the whole day, and one operates till lunch. I usually assist Dr. Starke the whole day or until he leaves, then if there are more cases, I will stay and do those with Dr. Sannousi. We generally do between 4 and 8 cases including every area of surgery except neurosurgery. A list from my first day goes as follows:

Perforated Typhoid Repair
Perforated Peptic Ulcer Repair
Ex-Lap revealing Tuberculosis Peritonitis
Removal of a Axillary Cystic Hygroma (Wikipedia it)

This is a pretty standard day. We usually finish around 2 or 3 pm, at which time we break for lunch, and return to the outpatient department to do outpatient clinic until everyone is seen (usually around 6 or 7 pm). This is the schedule 5 days per week. So far I have had the weekends off. Last weekend we rode camels through town and took a hike to a village about an hour away. Soon I will start taking every third night call and working weekends. This will limit my dream of becoming a professional camel rider, I think.

4. It is really hot here, though there have been days where it rained, which cools things down. It is generally somewhere between 85 and 95 degrees F. The OR has AC. This is another fact that does not upset me.

5. People die here. Sometimes you will come into the hospital in the morning, and there will be an empty bed where your patient was yesterday. No one calls in the middle of the night to tell you your patient is crashing. There is no M&M conference to figure out what went wrong. You just move on. Usually it is because people here wait waaaay too long to come to the hospital, and by the time they arrive, they are too far gone. Sometimes we don't really know what happened. Some are severely malnourished. You need food to heal wounds and fight off infection, and without it, the chances of survival dwindle. Many of them have chronic illnesses like TB, HIV, or cancer. Almost all of them have malaria. I am only beginning to react to the death around me. For the first few weeks, I could tell my mind was treating it as if it wasn't really real. Now, I am beginning to face it. This is a huge prayer need.

6. I have the tendency to be a critical person, especially of myself. I am also a people-pleaser. These two character traits combined to make my first few sleep-deprived, jet-lagged days in the OR very difficult. My hands shook. My mind was not very clear. I made countless mistakes I would not usually make. I got frustrated with myself. I made more mistakes. So on and so forth. It was not fun. That being said, it taught me and important truth: I need to give myself grace. God created me. Christ died for me. Neither of those were mistakes. If God created me to be a surgeon for His Glory, so be it. If not, then I want to be what He made me to be. This realization has allowed me to relax. Relaxation in surgery is key. Things have gone much better since, praise God. Turns out I might be able to do this after all.

7. I love orange Fanta straight from the bottle. They make it with real sugar here. I have already had about a case-worth. I have missed orange Fanta.

8. Fun fact: Dr. Sannoussi was born and raised here in Niger. I spent today with him rounding and in the OR. He is a product of PAACS, which is the organization I came here to investigate. He is also an awesome dude. I am excited to get his perspective on life here, missions, PAACS, etc.

9. If you ever travel in Africa, and iPad is a great thing to have. Just trust me on that one. Mine currently carries approximately 200 pounds of medical and surgical textbooks and another 50 pounds of fun reading, not to mention the few thousand songs. Thank you, technology.

Well, my stomach is growling, so I am going to attempt to put food in it...we'll see how that turns out. Thank you all sooooo much for your prayers. I have needed them desperately over the past few weeks. The spiritual opposition here is real. Your prayers are part of combating that. So, thank you.

Until next time....

Friday, August 17, 2012

Fear and Giraffes

Hey Team!

So, as you can see by the pics, Twiga finally came home! It was great to be back among my "people" again. Seriously though, that was def one of the craziest things I have ever experienced. I knew that giraffes were incredible, but it doesn't really hit home till you are standing 10 feet from one looking 25 feet into the air looking into it's eyes. Speaking of which...story time:

So, we were leaving the area where all the giraffes were (20 or so of all ages and sizes), and I was lagging a bit behind the group because I saw that one of the giraffes that we had scared off was coming back, and earlier one had come pretty close to check me out, so I thought maybe this one was doing the same. I wandered in a circuitous fashion back to the car, hoping to leave the giraffe time to catch up to me if he wanted to. As I was wandering, I saw some others nearby and was watching them as I was walking. I neared a tree/shrub and was in the process of walking around it when, from the other side of the tree came a 50 foot (ok, probably more like 20 foot) tall giraffe. We saw each other at about the same time, at which point we were 5 feet apart (ok, more like 10-15 felt pretty close, though). Pause. Sidenote: giraffes are NOT aggressive creatures. In fact, they run away at the slightest hint of trouble. Earlier in the morning I stepped on a twig and one of the 20 foot one's jumped and started running away. So, deep breaths....and back to the story. So, I was looking straight up at this giraffe, who was looking straight down at me. Neither of us was moving. I was awestruck. It felt like a minute before I realized that he wasn't going anywhere. Unfortunately, he was directly between me and my ride. So, I took a very cautious step to the side. Then another. He just kept looking. I took some more steps, and he just kept looking. I eventually got to the point where I could walk around him in about a 15 foot radius. This whole time, he didn't even really flinch. He just kept watching like, "that's right...walk away." And I did. The crazy thing about this story (other than the fact that it's true) is that the whole day we had been trying to get close to these amazing creatures and they kept running away, and here I was face to face (ok, face to thigh) with one of the larger ones, and he (I assume it was a he...who knows) wasn't going anywhere. I tell that story for a very real reason. I had a rough night last night. I woke up at 1 am filled with doubts and fears. After lying in bed for about 45 min thinking and stressing, I got up and got my Bible out. I opened up and started reading 2 Corinthians. Nothing particular stuck out to me, it was just the gradual peace that spread over me as I read God's Word and realized the largeness of the Savior I am here to serve. I was overcome with His peace. He didn't answer any of my doubts or fears specifically. He was just there. And like that giraffe, I knew He wasn't going anywhere.

Giraffe Pictures

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thoughts from an Airport Terminal (and Plane...and Restaurant)

So, I feel like I need to state some things from the outset. First, I am by no means a “writer”, so don’t come here expecting great works of art. Unless you consider a four-year-old’s finger painting a “work of art”. Second, I tend write in short sentence fragments, especially when I am excited. Prepare yourself. Third, I have intention to be as honest as I possibly can here. Henceforth, I will refer to this as “real church” in honor of Matt Chandler. Example: I know as a man, I should probably say that I am not at all scared right now. But, if we can have real church, I am mildly terrified. I have never been away from my friends and family for nine months straight before. I am going to places that consistently have reports of civil war. These things are scary. I am not above admitting that.

Now that we have that out of the way, on to the fun stuff (Oh, by the way, I LOVE lists, so expect to see a lot of those over the next nine months). Today’s post will be for those of you who have ever wondered what thoughts/feelings/emotions go through someone who is about to board a plane to fly to a foreign country for nine months. In no particular order:
1.       1. Excitement. I am going to do what I love for nine straight months. I am going to meet people who have very similar goals and convictions to mine. We are going to cut people open in order to heal them. We are going to tell them about Jesus, the only One who can really heal them. All of these things excite me more than I can express.
2.       2. Fear. See above.
3.       Anxiety. My flight is leaving a good hour late. What if I miss my connection in Paris. What if none of my bags make it to Niger (a very real possibility). What if…you get the picture. Anxiety is tempting. It lets me feel like I have some control. Luckily, I know the One who is actually in control. Also, I’m kinda secretly hoping I do end up in Paris overnight. I can imagine worse fates.
4.       3. Curiosity. I have never been to most of the places I am going this year. Therefore, I have absolutely no clue what to expect. See number 1.
5.       4. Sadness. This year I will miss graduating with my best friends in medical school (Ben and Dan) as well as being in one of my best friend’s (Chris) weddings. Frankly, both of those things kinda stink. I will also miss Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc with the family. Not pumped about that.
6.       5. Peace. This one I have trouble explaining. Have you ever just felt like everything was going to work out, even though you have no objective reason for feeling that way, and especially when you have great objective evidence to the contrary? I have felt that about this trip, probably since day one. That can only be the work of the Holy Spirit.
7.        6. Humor. I forgot my stethoscope in Wilmington. We had to do a drive-by stethoscope purchase in Cary. The stewardess (I’m on the plane now, FYI) just handed me a 16 pack of those airplane cookies for “the kids at the mission” who apparently “love those.” Not kidding. That just happened. And she has an awesome European accent that I can’t place, which makes every conversation with her that much more challenging to follow/awesome. You really can’t make this stuff up. I think I’m going to enjoy this trip.

That’s probably all you can handle for now. That is certainly all I intend to type. Thank you all again for your love, support, and prayers. They mean more than you know.

In Him,

Update: I am safely in Niger. We are hanging out at a restaurant in Niamey waiting to fly out to Galmi hospital.
One more fun story from the plane. I boarded in NYC for Paris on Air France. I had no idea that the vast majority of those on the plane spoke minimal English. I arrived at my seat, and a gentleman approached me and asked “are you lonely?” Many responses ran through my mind, but the one that came out was “excuse me?” And, of course, he simply repeated himself. It was around this time I realize (let’s be honest: hoped he was asking) and said “do you mean ‘traveling alone?’” He confirmed my hopes, and we subsequently traded seats so he could sit with his wife. Needless to say, I laughed about this to myself for the next few minutes. Oh, and neither of my checked bags made it…luckily I packed a change of clothes. Such is life…that being said, I am sooooo happy to be back in Africa. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I was riding in the taxi to the guesthouse from the airport. More on that in another post…