24 December 2005

My Grown Up Christmas Wish

It's impossible to sing, 'Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..' this season. Not after what we've seen in the mountains. Not when sheets of ice threaten to engulf helpless children in the mountains of Kashmir. It's hard to celebrate. 'Tis the season to be jolly has the emptiest ring about it. And there is no way I'm going to be decking the halls with boughs of holly.

Yet I know that the men, women and children I've seen and touched are the very reason for Christmas. And in a mysterious way I've had a glimpse of what the real spirit of Christmas should mean - of Jesus leaving His glory to walk among the broken, the poor, the downtrodden, and the sick.

Christmas will never be the same for me again.

And so when I hear a beautiful song like this (recently repopularised by Michael Buble and Kelly Clarkson):

So here's my lifelong wish
My grown up Christmas List
Not for myself
But for a world in need
No more lives torn apart
That wars will never start
And time will heal our hearts
Every man will have a friend
That right will always win
And love will never end
This is my grown up Christmas List

I say a quiet Amen, come Lord Jesus. Come again and be born in our lives, our world. A world that knows you not. Come, Lord Jesus.

17 December 2005

The Call of the Day

Jean Vanier writes: 'men and women of today,.. turn away from materialistic egotism, ..burn with new hearts and new spirits - hearts of flesh and spirits of fire. There must be a more authentic receptivity, radical poverty, greater hope and audacity, a keener thirst for truth and justice.

I need to hear words like these every day. I need to find people of like mind. Lest I die a slow spiritual death, choked by materialism, greed, and ambition. I must learn to embrace weakness and poverty - in myself and in others.

The 'mythos' of my middle-age must be Christ the Suffering Servant. To be set free through a life of sacrifice and servanthood.

14 December 2005

Hit the ground running

I've hit the ground running. A backlog of patients in the clinic, cases in OR, and an overflowing mailbox greets me. There is no time to process and to respond to the experiences. Only mustering enough energy to survive this week.

Still there is this all-consuming fear: Will I lose the passion and purpose I felt in Pakistan? Will my heart grow cold? Will I slip back into a self-serving, indifferent life?

This I do. I pray. I pray for a sense of mission and purpose in every day of my work. In every patient I see. That I go with a full sense of His Presence.

And the most amazing thing happened today - I received a research grant from MAKNA for 30K. Not exactly the multi-million dollar priority grants, but enough for me to do my next cancer project. Talk about an immediate answer to my question, 'What next, God?'

11 December 2005

Where do I go from here?

Having returned from the wildest 2-week adventure of my life. Having seen and done things I would never have dreamt of (and it does seem like all a dream.) I will never look at the world and life the same again. The changes are irreversible. And nothing can take that away from me.

My big question in the post-mission period is: Where do I go from here? There is no turning back is there?

I know this is the adrenaline speaking, shouting, WHAT'S NEXT?! I know I've not even begun to unwind and process the experiences.

But I also know I'll be lying awake at night wondering about the children in the mountains and the workers in Bannu. And I know I never want to be a prisoner of capitalist consumerism and the trap of materialism again. The greatest evil of modern life is that self-serving, indulgent, blind pursuit of wealth that numbs the heart and deadens the soul.

Where do I go from here?

10 December 2005

Pakistan Mission Log Index

The Pakistan Mission Log

Day 1 - Islamabad
Day 2 - Bannu
Day 3 - Bannu
Day 4 - Bannu
Day 5 - Bannu
Day 6 - Bannu
Day 7 - Balakot
Day 9 - Amlok Bande
Day 10 - Harori Bala
Day 11 - Nogram
Day 12 - Sharka Bala

Pakistan last days

Salam. Kya Hal He?

I am writing from the comfort of home. There wasn’t any time at all in the last 2 days to sit and write.

We did our last village trip on Thursday, going to Battal town itself. The destruction there was massive. I think I mentioned before that we saw innumerable houses on all the slopes and up to as far as the eye can see up the peaks. And many of them are either flattened are half rubble. The place we setup clinic was one such home whose wall had fallen off. I ran my ‘open concept clinic’ with a chilly draft blowing in! Imagine the countless homeless, already living in sub-zero temperatures now. Many have tents but not all have insulation sheets (the blue sheets you see on some of the tents).

I mustered the courage to pray for a few patients on that last day, and am I glad I did. The people are entirely open to prayer and will say ‘Amin’ with us at the end. And I’ve not felt God's presence in praying for a sick person so strongly like I did up there.

We were all euphoric at the end of that day, and drove back with an overflowing sense of joy and relief, mixed with some sadness for leaving the people behind us. But we remember that the little we’ve done, though it feels like salt in the sea, were our 2 loaves and fishes for God to use. I spent the entire night going through all our medications, classifiying them, boxing them up for the next team to use.

Friday morning we slept in late. We could breathe again and not worry about getting enough sleep, buying drugs, and getting out in time to make it to the mountains and back by nightfall. It was a much needed time for us all to relax and share our stories. Bonds that have formed between team members, Malaysian, Pakistani, British and African are deep and forever. Joan and I both reflected on how we’ve left halve our hearts in Pakistan, and we’ll never be the same again after what we’ve seen and done. We got to see a bit of Abbottabad town and did some shopping. I got a whole bag of every variety of tea from Afghanistan to Kashmir, so anyone who comes visit us can have a cup or even a bag of tea while stocks last.

We reached the airport on time and found the bag we had lost on the first day at Karachi. This time, we got hell in the airports (Islamabad and Karachi.) Two of our team members’ confirmation had mysteriously ‘disappeared’ and they had to be put on standby! We were given the runaround all over the airport for a mistake of their ticketing office’s. Then again and again we were harassed by airport officials and security, wanting to go through our things, body search us, detain us at security posts, etc. It was highly frustrating and disappointing. Even when we produced embassy letters and credentials, they continued to harass us – where are your names on the letter?, where is your official tag? It was a sad day for Pakistan. Then our flight was delayed another two hours. We took off at about 130am (430am Malaysian.)

Thank God though the 4-seater middle aisle seats were mostly empty and we each grabbed a row each to sleep. I took some time to finish my reports and reflections from Islamabad to Karachi, and slept all the way back from Karachi to KL. All my suppressed anxiety about getting home surfaced in nightmares! In one – I dreamt we landed in a dark, musty place, and when I left the airport, there was a solitary neon sign that read – ‘Abbotabad’. I woke up in cold sweat. The second – again, we arrived in strange airport, though in day time, with brick and clay shops. And then a bearded man and scarved woman approaches me and asks ‘Do you want chay (tea)?’. I almost died.

What a relief it was for us to reach KLIA. I could’ve kissed the ground we were walking on. Joan meeting us at the airport was a sight for sore eyes. And she brought me coffee! I am home.

Our hearts and minds have been stretched beyond our wildest imagination. We have been inspired, moved and humbled by the love, hospitality and passion of people we have met there. We have learnt and been blessed far more than we have ever given. We will never see life the same way again. We pray this small step we’ve made is a first in a new direction that God wants to take us on our spiritual journey, and there is no looking back.

To anyone reading this and wondering, ‘I wish I could do something like that’, I have to say – you can, and you should. There is no regretting it. But when the time comes when you just ‘have to do it’, you will know. And if you wonder if you have what it takes, I must absolutely say, no, none of us do, and yes, what you are is what God will use. It is our inadequacy that makes us instruments for God’s grace and power to shine through.

Thank you all for following us on this journey. For praying for us so faithfully. We would never have survived the many dangers, trials and challenges without you.

Please keep praying for the peoples and volunteers in Pakistan. They are still homeless and cold. The race against time is getting closer and workers are still breaking their backs out there on the treacherous slopes. Every little bit we can do will count. I will update you in time on how you can help.

Kuthan Apko Berkat De (God Bless You).

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07 December 2005

Pakistan Day 12

Today was the 2nd last village trip and day 12 of my trip to Pakistan.
To be honest, I'm quite homesick and missing Char Kuay Teow, Bak Kut Teh and Hokkien Mee. Even a bowl of maggi mee would be fantastic right now. One more Naan and I'm going to crack up. Ok.. just some griping.

We were at Sharka Bala village today, again nearby Battal. I saw another 70+ patients and did quite a bit of deworming.

I've been reflecting on lessons learnt on this trip.

One thing that's helped much was learning the language. We got ourselves 'The Rough Guide to Hindi and Urdu' and learnt some key phrases on the flight here. Even with translators, when we ask the questions ourselves, it brings you a lot closer to the people.

I've learnt to say:

'Salam' - Hello
'Kya Hal He' - How do you do?
'Kya Taklife?' - What is your problem?
'Umer?' - Age?
'Dard?' (pointing to part of body) - Pain?
'Pani?' (pointing) - Discharge?
'Shukriya' - Thank you
'Kudhan apko berkat de' - God bless you

The most hilarious thing happened on our 2nd trip out. I started asking the patient questions in Urdu, and my translator, by reflex, translated into English for me! I asked, 'Umer?' and he asked the patient, 'How old are you?' I burst out laughing and almost fell off my chair. Today, I could almost go on seeing patients without my translator. Funniest thing was I started writing my notes in Urdu! I wrote for one patient - c/o - cough, nazlak, bukhare...... oops

Our 8-seater vehicle has been dubbed 'Chariot of God'. If you've seen the terrain here you'll understand. Our van has to climb slopes and terraces you would never have believed could be negotiated by any 4 wheeled vehicle. Two men will run out ahead of the vehicle, throwing off rocks and signaling to the driver to avoid holes, while two others hang on to the back of the vehicle to balance the weight and lay rocks behind the wheel whenever it gets stuck. This is a mountain cross-country in extremis.

We've met many lovely and friendly people here. People on the street will stare at us suspiciously until we smile or say 'Salam' to them. Invariably smiles break out and people will shake our hands and hug us in receptivity. They are thrilled that we have come from Malaysia. I have received many gifts from sundry store keepers - matches, razor blades - refusing to be paid. Chay (milk-tea) is standard hospitality and is hard to refuse. The people feel very rejected when you say no, I've eaten.

Children here are absolutely adorable, green-eyed, red-cheeks, and bubbling with excitement. The third village we visited had been entered before by another medical team. Which was followed by tent distribution work, and subsequently children's ministry. So when we were there, we were pleasantly surprised when the kids ran out with our van and started singing Sunday School songs... something about "Jonah, Jonah, in the belly of the fish..."

God has been absoulutely faithful in opening the way for us to enter villages, taking care of our travels and vehicle, and our health and well-being throughout. Thank you again for your prayers and I look forward to come home and talking to you with the photos on my cam.

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06 December 2005

Pakistan Day 11

Today's village trip was extremely challenging. A small place near Battal, (Nogram) sited on a high terrace, the trail into the village was menacing and impossible to drive through but somehow, with some amazing skill on the driver's part, guidance from our guys, and a lot of pushing and laying of rocks in the right places we managed to get in.

We worked in very cramped quarters, again the women's team in a tent, and myself on a chair & table next to some donkeys! Saw 70 patients quickly and then made a hike up the mountain to see a debilitated patient trapped at the peak. This was the most challenging house-call I've ever made! Me and my translator (boh of us rather hefty, and wheezing up) trekked some 20 minutes up steep slopes until the clinic-tent was a blue spot in the landscape. The ruins that greeted us there was also humbling.

We've become quite efficient at what we do and managed to clear the village sick in three hours, making it back to Abottabad early this time. Thank God.

Hope to rest well tonight.

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05 December 2005

Pakistan Day 10

We travelled some 3 hours to a village called Harori Bala by the Battal river. The terrain was challenging but cleverly maneuvred by our driver Sober.

The drive is always punctuated by torn houses and rubble that indicate what were once homes. I learnt that 50% of the homes have been destroyed completely - mostly mud huts - and the ones we see are the stone/brick ones that have survived. Only tents remain as protection against the winter. Temperatures are sub-zero here at night.

With a little more experience, we were faster in setting up. Quickly we set apart one tent for the women - seen by Ruth (a midwife from UK) and Faith (from Nigeria). I on the other hand saw all the men and some children at my 'clinic' - one table in the open air. Warmed by the noonday sun, the icy cold winds weren't that bad. As we worked, Wolf choppers would fly by ever so often, as eagles also circled above.

I saw some 66 patients while the other team saw 30+. OPD and Sarawak longhouse experience is proving useful here! This village seemed to have a little better standards of hygiene and sanitation. But as you can see from some of the photos - skin infections are bad. One infant I saw was bloated with worms, bleeding per rectally and eating soil.

After the long day's work, we were treated to some late lunch in a home that had a fireplace. We made good friends, gave thanks for our food and ate. Subsequently the men performed their Asar prayers just next to us.

Returning to Abottabad at about 8pm, we hastily headed for the local pharmacies to stock up for the next few days. I almost froze in the night chill.

To be honest, the first village trip was hard for me as I was very tired and nauseous from the journey. The second day was better since I ate less in the morning, slept on the way up, and spent much time meditating on the Scripture: 'Even though the mountains be removed and the hills be shaken, my covenant peace will no be removed and my unfailing love will not be shaken'. It was a promise both for the people who have literally seen mountains shake and hills stripped, as well as source of strength for me. Without the Lord's love, we have no love to give.

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04 December 2005

Pakistan Day 9

Our team of 9 travelled 4hrs from Abbotabad to Amlok Bande, a small mountainside village north of Batgram. Surrounded by snow-laced peaks and terraced slopes, the view was breath-taking.

Seeing the many brick or clay homes reduced to rubble, on the way up, was sobering.

But nothing prepared me for the scale of infectious diseases I would see at the village. In our hastily put-together clinic, dispensary and surgery, we saw 100+ patients and did some dressings. Many patients needed better health care but being in an inaccessible area, and hospitals being completely unaffordable to the impoverished, I felt particularly helpless. Not being able to do more with our very basic medications was very distressing for me at first. But it's where I'm learning what doing your best and letting God do the rest means.

The driving plus work is particularly exhausting. This morning we tried to spend some time remembering 'Even if the mountains are shaken and hills are removed, my covenant peace will not be shaken and my unfailing love will not be removed' speaks to the people (who have seen literally mountains shaken and hills stripped down), and to us who can only give if we are ourselves overflowing with His love.

Night temperature is 5C but bearable. We have indoor heating. There have been no aftershocks so far.

Thank you again for your prayers that are holding us up. We are all small instruments in His greater work. May our work be a sweet sacrifice to Him.

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02 December 2005

Pakistan Day 7

Leave for Abbotabad on an express bus at 4am.

Super breakfast spread of Puris, Prathas, Naans, and the srcrumptious chick-pea dhal.

Take a car to Balakot. Visited a large medical camp run jointly by Diocese of Peshawar, Hospital Christian Fellowship Pakistan, Norwegian, and Military. Huge number of tents, a tent hospital under construction. Preparing for the winter crisis. Medical coordinator Dr David wonders if they are doing the right thing, setting up a hospital rather than going out to the unreached villages who will soon be engulfed by the winter blizzards. Temperatures are already subzero at night here.

Joan gets really close to the children there who wouldn’t let her leave.

Large number of relief camps on the road alongside Kunhar river by various organizations.

Visited APMA (Alliance of Pakistan Minority) camps who provides shelter and education to children.

Reached ground zero, Balakot. Destruction is staggering. Can only wonder what people were feeling in the buildings when everything came down. Hundreds of men working against time to break down old structures and rebuild.

Rush Joan from Balakot to Islamabad, slam jam into a traffic gridlock there. Checks in by the skin of her teeth, without her luggage (still in Rawalpindi hotel room).

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01 December 2005

Pakistan Day 6

Chapel service – Faith prays for healing for the staff and commissions them to heal others.

I share a farewell message on behalf of the team.

The staff organizes a march for World AIDS day, followed by some talks joined in by patients/relatives.

Thought I would close the clinic, but swamped by last-minute patients, so kept on seeing patients way past our departure time.

Was very saddened that I had to pick up so many cases only to tell them I cannot stay to operate for them.

Spoke to daughter of the patient I operated on. A premed student who had to give up her dream of doing medicine because of lack of funds, and no scholarships available for Christians like her.

Left for Rawalpindi at 3pm and arrived at 8pm+.

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