Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Three more goodbyes this week, these ones, happy ones!

March 2010 011

Three of my little lovelies left our center to return to their families this afternoon.  While I am rejoicing with them (and their families) I am definitely sad that they are gone and will really miss them.  These three boys are three of my favorites!  Three of my thirty-three favorites that is!  But seriously, these boys are such dears, great personalities, very bright, helpful, fun, kind, respectful, well-loved members of our family.  Our home will not be the same without them.

September 2009 067Two of them are brothers, the one in the Hawaiian shirt and the one on the far right.  They came about two years ago because their mom died and their father is blind so he couldn't care for them.  They had been staying with an auntie but she lost her job.  So we took them in while she found another one.  She now works for our Iris center in Machava, about 40 minutes from here, so they are able to go back to live with her.  They have spent all Christopher's photos 059their holidays there and the father visits often.  I am excited that they will still have a connection to Machava and that will make it easy to visit them.  It also means they will have the opportunity for a continued Christian influence in their precious little lives.

The boy in the middle has a really interesting story and we are praying that this move home goes smoothly.  I first saw him and his brother on the streets, picking thru garbage bins.  I tried to talk with them but by the time I had turned around (I was driving) they had moved  on.  Then they were both brought to our center by our street ministry team.

It turns out that my little darling, at 7, was influencing his older brother to run away to the streets with him.  But that was from his Christopher's photos 072father's home and now he is returning to his mother's home where his brother and sister already live.  He visits all holidays and enjoys it.  There was even a period of about a year where some of our youth and a couple missionaries were doing a weekly kids' Bible study at their house for the community although that isn't happening currently. 

So, we are praying that he will feel welcome and settled at home and will have no inclination to return to the streets!

Whenever my boys move on, either home or to the next dorm, I am always threatened by a sense of panic that I haven't taught them enough, hugged them enough, spent enough time with them, imparted enough to them.  Do they know how to write their full name?  Do they know the difference between Daniel and David?  Do they brush their teeth properly?  Do they know I love them?   Do they know Jesus loves them?

Well, I may not be able to answer all those questions with a resounding yes but for the last two I definitely can!  They know me and Jesus love them!

Nevertheless, I find myself wanting to run after the car carrying them to their old/new lives, shouting, "Brush your teeth!  Talk to God every day about whatever you feel like! God has a plan for your life!  Don't hit!  Wash your hands after using the bathroom!  It's ok to cry!  Talk to God about whatever you feel like!"  (that one's important so it needs shouting two or maybe a thousand times!)

Good thing I know there is One who can speak to them much more capably than I could ever hope to, who can speak to the deepest parts of theirs hearts and spirits.  They are not going on this journey alone!

Tchau my little darlings!  Famba na Jesu!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Laying Naftal to Rest

"I feel such peace!"  That was what I said to my Tia, Eliza Julieta, as we left the family home after Naftal's funeral.  But I'm ahead of myself.

Thursday.  March 25th. 2:00pm. The day that we buried Naftal.

In the morning at one point, I went into his room, Room 1,and something on the wall caught my eye.  It was a piece of construction paper, beginning to curl at the edges.  It was his name - NAFTAL - written out in fun block letters by Rebecca who works with me in my dorm.  She had written out the boys names for the Afternoon Program and the boys had colored them in.  The sight of Naftal's name that he had colored in . . . well, it near about broke my heart one more time as memories of him in our home came flooding back, replacing the more recent awful memories of him at the hospital.  Memories of him playing and laughing and being in the Afternoon Program - normal little boy memories, not sickbed images.

Naftal's family lives not very far from our center really.  So a room full of my boys, several friends of his brother Samito, many of our staff and missionaries all headed over to the cemetery.  The good news is that I believe the presence of the Lord went with us as well because this was certainly the most peaceful funeral I have been to here in Mozambique.   

March 2010 008













Naftal's father (that's him sitting down and yes, he's an albino) is a strong Christian, part of a local church and many of the believers were there celebrating Naftal's life.  There was no mixture of traditional beliefs with Christian beliefs.  There was certainly grief and tears and pain.  There was definitely sorrow and sobbing.  But amazingly, there was peace as well.  There was - how do I explain it? - an absence of heaviness that would normally accompany the funeral of a child who has suffered.  There was an absence of the darkness that I have felt at so many other funerals here in Mozambique.  There was the peace that passes all understanding!

March 2010 015During the initial part of the ceremony, there is a time where they remove the top portion of the casket and it is traditional for all family members and then whoever wants to to walk past.  There is talcum powder and perfume as well that people can spritz into the casket (a tradition which stems from the Biblical story of Mary attending to Jesus' body).  While I was approaching the casket, a woman put a young girl of about five into my arms and directed me to show her Naftal's body.  This little five year old was hysterical!  And I had never seen her before nor had she seen me.    My first thought was "I'd like to tend to my own grieving, thank you very much" but I would not refuse in that setting so I began to comfort her and she calmed down, amazingly.  As soon as we had passed by Naftal's body, the woman came and took her back again.  I later discovered it was Naftal's sister, Madalena!  That was a rather strange thing to happen but it's not altogether surprising, things like that happen here.  (The photo is the little girl and Naftal's brother, Samito, being comforted by their uncle.)

March 2010 010

The funeral party then follows the casket over to the actual grave and the burial is part of the service.  It's an aspect of the funeral that I really like here.  The family and then anyone who wants to can throw some soil onto the casket in the grave and then men take turns actually filling it.  A lovely older woman tended to the dirt during that time, pulling out sticks and roots and leaves.  When the dirt is complete and arranged nicely, the family, and whomever wants to, puts flowers (this was a small cemetery so there were no flowers available, only some little bits of foliage) into the dirt and then they water it.  It looks like a little garden and it is lovely in a sad way.  March 2010 012

Afterward, everyone heads back to the family's house for more speaking by the pastor and then a time of sharing by anyone who would like to.

Naftal's father, Lucas, his "madrina" was there (the closest thing we have is a godmother but the madrina or padrino or way more involved than most godparents) and she shared a wonderful story about the father.  He was a twin and his brother died.  Traditional beliefs here state that a twin can't go to their twin's funeral or they too will die or some evil will befall them.  Lucas responded, "show me where it says that in the Bible and I will stay home!"  Because they couldn't, he went to the funeral and preached at it as well!  I love the story of him having the strength to respectfully break from traditional beliefs when they conflicted with his own beliefs. 

One of the pastors at our center was helping with the funeral and he came and asked me if I'd like to speak on behalf of Iris Ministries.  Well, I know God was with me as He helped me share without hesitation, in Portuguese, without crying - I was amazed.  I shared about how when Naftal first arrived he felt most comfortable in church.  And that once I met his father and family and the pastors from his church who visited at the hospital, that I was not surprised and could clearly see why.  I shared about the faithfulness of Naftal's father during his time in the hospital, the examples of his loving care, as well as other family members.  And that although we don't need to hide our tears and our sorrow that we can be encouraged that we will see Naftal again in heaven, where he is now rejoicing with Jesus in his completely healed body!

That is the comfort we have, that this world is not our final home and Naftal has already reached what is our goal!

There is a finality that accompanies funerals and yet it does not close the chapter on grieving and processing and dealing with the loss of a precious little boy in our lives.  That will take some time and patience and the grace of the Lord.

Yet as we were driving away, I turned to my Tia, Eliza Julieta, and said "I feel such peace!"  She said she did too.  Thank you Lord for the gift of your peace that passes all understanding! 

And thank you Lord for the gift of Naftal that you blessed us with. 

 January 2010 027

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A heartbreaking day

Christmas 2009 091 I got the phone call early this morning.  The phone call that everyone dreads.  The it's-never-good-news-in-the-middle-of-the-night phone call at 1am.  My Tia, her name is Laura also, was calling to tell me that sweet Naftal had just died. 

I was shocked.  I cried out and literally said "please don't say that Tia, please tell me that's not true."  I wept my way to the main room of the dorm where I woke my Tias with my cries.  I wanted to hand the phone to one of my tias - yet another Tia Laura - because I could barely speak, let alone speak and understand in Portuguese.  She in turn couldn't speak thru her own tears.

I tried to compose myself enough to call our center directors, Ros and Steve, but as soon as I opened my mouth to speak, I lost all composure again and cried thru my awful news.  They were so kind to offer to come up to the dorm (which I declined) and prayed with me over the phone and commiserated over the senselessness of it all. 

Then ensued the discussion of how and when to tell Naftal's father.  Being a westerner, I (as well as Steve and Ros), preferred to call him straight away, even though it was by now about 1:30 am.  But we wisely deferred to my Tias who are, obviously, aware of cultural norms that we can't grasp.  They were horrified at the thought of telling him on the phone.  And since none of us knew where he lived, we couldn't go tell him in person.

Christmas 2009 144 We called my head Tia, Eliza Julieta, who knows where he lives, and decided she would come in by 5am in order to go to his home and tell him as early as possible, hopefully before his day could begin and he left home.

(This was very hard for us Westerners to relate to as we can't imagine waiting to tell a parent six hours that there child had died.  But I recalled that when Pedro's grandmother died, his mother was in South Africa.  When the family called her, all they told her was to come home, they didn't tell her she had died.  They waited to tell her in person, something all my Tias agreed was the absolutely right thing to do.  So that experience had kind of prepared me for this.)

Naftal's older brother, Samito, lives in our center as well.  So we brought him to the dorm, only knowing he would be visiting home with the Tia.

When my Tia arrived, she found the father at church already, at a prayer meeting praying for his son.  Of course, when he saw them, he knew straight away that something was terribly wrong.  This poor man, my Tias description of him is "a strong man, strong in his faith who is suffering greatly."  It seemed an apt description when I met with him later in the day to arrange the funeral.

We met with Steve as well as our head Mozambican over the children and one of our pastors to make the arrangements.  He was staying so strong until we prayed for him when he just broke down in sobs.  Crying for Naftal but literally crying out to Jesus as well. 

December 2009 077

Can I give you a little window into my culturally foreign world?  When the tia came back from the hospital, she brought two bags, one which held food and containers and the other which held his clothes and little toys I had brought in for him to amuse himself.  I had to ask my Tias two things:  1.  Do I give the father back the food (unopened juice and biscuits and chips and yogurt, along with his food containers?  and 2.  Do I give his father the clothes to use for the ceremonies they do here?  Because sometimes I'm not sure what things are traditional and what are of a spiritual nature that we don't want to encourage.  I feel I have learned so many cultural norms here and yet when these things happen, I feel I have a million and one things still to learn.  That's likely true.  (the consensus was, give him the cooking pots but not the food and don't give him the clothes.)

However, one of the worst parts of the day followed:  arranging an outfit to give the father for Naftal to be buried in.  Little boys shirts and pants are for playing in, for climbing trees in, for tearing out the seat of the pants in, for getting scolded for getting dirty in.  Not for being buried in.  It.just.isn't.right.

Naftal will be buried tomorrow at 2pm. 

But he's already been in his real new home - heaven - for almost 24 hours now as I write this.  He IS healed, he IS free from pain, he is NOT suffering.  He is - no, he HAS been comforted by Jesus and his heavenly father, as there are no more tears and no more sorrow and no more suffering. 

And yet we miss him here with us.

January 2010 027

The heartbreak of Naftal's death has been complicated for us by the tragedy of the circumstances surrounding it.  I choose not to go into all the details I could in this public blog.  I will not share the detail by detail horror of it all, and I do not use that word lightly.  Let me share that my director Ros is a nurse.  She told me tonight that in 32 years of nursing, she has never seen a patient suffer so greatly yet needlessly  (don't misunderstand, she has seen people suffer more but everything was being done for them that could have been done).  His suffering could have been greatly alleviated by very simple and inexpensive (like, $5!) treatments that simply were not done for him.  He was given absolutely no treatment beyond paracetemol (tylenol) and a multi-vitamin.  Ros discovered today that this was not accidental or lack of knowledge, it essentially was a decision of the head doctor in charge. 

This extra burden is perhaps the most difficult of all to process. 

Wednesday night is Home Group here for the missionaries and we joined together to worship the Lord for his goodness and his sovereignty, as well as to "cast our cares for him for he cares for us."

I'll leave you with the scripture I read and one of the songs we sang that was deeply personal and applicable for me during this time.

In Job 41:10, the Lord says, "Who then is able to stand against me?  Who has a claim against me that I must pay?  Everything under heaven belongs to me."

Job replies in 42:1, "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.  You asked "who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?"  Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know."

I was comforted by these Scriptures that God is indeed sovereign and although I grieve, and I don't understand (as Job acknowledged), I have no "claim" against God.  My heart will not be hardened and my faith will not waver.  No plan of the Lords can be thwarted.

And the song that means so much to me:

Lord, I surrender all, though I'll never understand all the mysteries surrounding you, I'll just trust your perfect plan.

When I don't know what to do, I'll lift my hands.

When I don't know what to say, I'll speak your praise.

When I don't know where to go, I'll run to your throne.

When I don't know what to think, I'll stand on your truth!

Christmas 2009 033I know this has been long and I thank you for reading.  It has been somewhat cathartic to write.  I so appreciate your prayers and encouragement and love and concern.  I know there are no words but I appreciate them anyway. 

Please pray for his family and our center, especially tomorrow for the funeral.  Thank you friends and family!

I'll miss you sweet Naftallly-bally!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Honey, Baby, Lovey, Naftal

Christmas 2009 091 Oh, my heart is breaking friends.  It is breaking to watch my little Naftal suffer so much.  Breaking into a thousand sometimes angry pieces knowing SOMEthing could be done to help alleviate his suffering and yet for reasons I cannot fathom, nothing is.  Breaking into confused pieces as to why God has not yet chosen to heal Naftal when he so easily could.  Breaking into helpless pieces when I call and hear his sweet voice say "Mana Laura, I'm not good" when I've asked how he is.

February 2010 021 

(Naftal on the far right just a month before entering hospital)

Some other feelings?

angry at the hospital processes and trying not to translate that into angry at individual people.

frustrated that I can do absolutely nothing to advocate for him.  Nothing.  There's no talking with doctors or nurses, no asking for updates or can they try such and such.  No one has even spoken to his father yet nor gotten his permission for anything.  I literally cannot affect his care at all. 

touched by his sweet father who visits sometimes twice a day (the second time comes if he manages to sneak in while it's time to bring the caregivers food or other necessities like toilet paper, etc) and loves his son so obviously and joyfully.January 2010 027

humbled by the faith of small children who are praying for Naftal every day with such clarity and such utter confidence.

grateful that I can drop everything and visit him every day, even though it's about 3 1/2 hours in total every time.  Grateful for a car, money for gas and flexible work that allows for those visits.  Sometimes his dad wasn't able to visit because he didn't have the .65 cents to take the public transport!  (One of my amazing friends has given $50 specifically for his father's transport and so he can buy him a snack or drink each day!  So precious the Body of Christ!)

amazed at Naftal's perseverance and lack of complaining!  He's never even once asked for us to take him home.  

awed/grateful/humbled by my Tias who spend 24 hour shifts with him, sleeping sitting up in a cold metal chair, eating sick people's soup for lunch and dinner and returning to care for their normal room of kids the other three days of their work shift.  They NEVER, EVER complain!  Please keep them in your prayers as well!

March 2010 010


Please keep praying for Naftal, for God's will to be done and for people to act with compassion and kindness and mercy toward him!

I REALLY appreciate your prayers and encouragement and support, more than you know!

Sweet Honey, Baby, Lovey, Naftal!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Precious Naftal

January 2010 027 News is not good for Naftal.  He looked much worse today than he has all week.  Our director spoke with our "inside man" doctor today (not Naftal's doctor) who confirmed there is a secondary tumor on  his heart.  Also, it looks like there may be a tumor on each kidney rather than just the one we thought, which only occurs in about 5% of Wilm's Tumor cases.  This is obviously not good news.  They are now thinking of starting with chemo before surgery to try and shrink the tumors. 

His condition is so rare that they will likely publish an article on it which I'm sure will help other cases in the future.  But I wish they would just treat him in the present, his symptoms and the underlying cause.  He has now been in the hospital for two weeks and five days with no identifiable treatment, several tests (including an MRI!!  that was a nice surprise they could do that here!) but no treatment. 

Please keep praying for Naftal for it's clear that only a miracle of God will really be able to help him now.  And we are trusting for that miracle!!

I appreciate your prayers as well. I go to see Naftal every day except Mondays and it's about a three hour trip.  That's taking a toll on the rest of my day and time and I feel very stretched for time with the rest of my boys.  These past two days, my little Lucas gave me a scare and was vomiting everything he ate and deteriorated quickly to not being able to hold his head up or sit up on his own.  I was nervous he was going to repeat his awful condition of last November but, praise God, he is better now, nearly back to his normal self today!

I am going to South Africa Friday, giving a ride to a couple who are leaving and bringing back a newly arrived couple who will be joining us long-term.  I'll go to two dentists, the mechanic and an assortment of other errands but also hope to REST! 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Please pray for Naftal - urgent!

Christmas 2009 144            March 2010 010

One of my precious boys, Naftal, who is eight, is in the hospital as I write this, his tenth day.  Two weeks ago he began complaining of symptoms that sounded like malaria but then his stomach just got bigger and bigger and he was obviously jaundiced as well.  We took him to the hospital last Saturday thinking he likely had a liver infection.

But this Tuesday he was finally diagnosed with Wilm's Tumor, a childhood cancer of the kidney.  In the US, the prognosis is quite good but I've no idea what it will be here in Mozambique.

Naftal 001-1       Naftal 002-1

Naftal will have surgery on Monday to remove the tumor after which he will begin chemotherapy at some point.  To quote my friend Erin, one of our nurses, "This is a huge thing for any child to go through in the Western world where we have amazing technology, good monitoring, wonderful doctors, nurses, and support staff, and cutting edge medicines.  Little Naftal is in a very infectious environment with medicine from 50 years ago, staff who are less than brilliant to look after him (most is done by the tia staying with him that is not related to him and is not in anyway medical), and little to NO monitoring with labs or machines or vital signs, and to top it off a heart valve problem which will complicate his surgery and anesthesia during."

In the natural, we have much to fear on behalf of Naftal.  But we are trying to keep our hearts and minds set on the promises of God and not the natural! 

Naftal 001Please join with us in praying for Naftal, for complete healing and protection of his body and life.  Please pray also for his father who has been so present during this time, visiting every day and calling my Tias morning and night to get an update and pray over the phone with him.  He even asked if he could stay the night with Naftal but was told he couldn't, only women are allowed to stay the night with the children  (one clue as to the state of medical environment here). 

Please pray for God's peace and presence to be a great comfort to Naftal who is in physical pain and doesn't understand what is happening to him.   We love our little Naftal and want him home with us, safe and healthy and loving life as he normally does!

(You can see in this photo, he's been a room for ten days with no machines and no monitoring.  It's pretty scary.)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


There once was a little boy who had diabetes in a poverty stricken nation, where health care is usually inadequate, where electricity is mostly non-existent, where little children don't live with their parents for a whole variety of reasons.

Fernando was already living in our center, Iris Ministries in Zimpeto, Mozambique, when I came to visit in 2000, ten years ago.  He was a wee little thing, I SO wish I had his photo on this computer so I could show you.  When I moved here in 2003, I used a photo of he and I front and center on the information sheet I sent out to friends and family as I was preparing to leave.

One of my cherished little miracles I've seen in my life involved Fernando.  As a diabetic, it was important that he kept his feet protected by wearing shoes.  You know how little boys are, cuts and scrapes and stubbed toes are the norm when you are constantly barefoot in a center made of sand.  It was hard to keep little cuts clean and he'd end up with dangerous infections.

So I was given the job of finding a pair of shoes to fit this boy in the donations.  The trouble was, the donations consisted of two shipping containers of things that had been sorted through, moved around, packed and unpacked many times!  This was during the horrible floods of 2000 here in Mozambique so Iris had received a lot of donations in response to the tremendous need. 

In all the chaos of the donations, I was so delighted when I happened upon a shoe that was the perfect fit for Fernando in a black bag of adult shoes.  The trouble was, there was no matching partner!  I must have searched for hours!  I returned multiple times, and was so frustrated not to just find a different pair of shoes even that would fit him. 

But the next day, when we were in the second container, looking for bowls to take to a refugee camp, I found the matching shoe!!!!!  I was so amazed.  And I remember sitting in that container marveling about the sweetness of God, caring for something so simple as a shoe for a child.  And also being struck but just how different my life was than this little boys would ever be. 

Fernando was still here when I returned in 2003, still battling diabetes and by this time, battling other demons as well.  He has since lived in a succession of centers, each time not being able to live under the authority and care of loving adults who want to help him.

Most recently, he was living with his aged grandmother, very close to another Iris center which stored his insulin in their refrigerator for him.  He simply had to walk less than five minutes to the center to get his insulin. 

But there must have been complications because I just found out last night that Fernando died last September.  I am so sad.  And shocked.  He would have been about 18 years old (although when I visited in 2000 he looked about 4 or 5 he was in fact about 8). 

I just keep thinking - you can't always help everyone, no matter how much you want to.  They have to be able to want to help themselves as well.  I have cried over Fernando personally as well as the numerous other people we try and reach out to but can't quite seem to help make a change in their lives. 

Lord, please help me always have a teachable spirit!