I move a resolution that we ignore the lack of posting that seems to best characterize my blog in recent months. All in favor? Opposed? Looks like the yeas have it! Well done. Moving on...
... to Lesotho! So I spent the better part of this week visiting the Mountain Kingdom and I must admit, I would have gladly stayed longer to explore! After months of nagging my boss at HOPE Africa to send me to the small country bordered on all sides by South Africa, she finally relented and I had my bags packed before she could finish saying, “Pack warm socks!”
(TRIVIA: There are technically only two other sovereign enclaves in the world, that is, countries surrounded on all sides by only one other country. Can you guess which ones? Please note: “Guess” is not an antiquated synonym for “Google.”)HOPE Africa supports St. James Mission Hospital in the mountain area called Mantsonyane, which is where my friend Jared is volunteering. It has a remarkable history that dates back 50 years. Today it serves a catchment area of more than 70,000 people spread out over many small, rural villages throughout mountainous terrain, many parts navigable only by foot or horseback. With a small budget and only three doctors, the hospital does a pretty incredible job serving the needs of the communities, relying heavily on its many health clinics and healthcare outposts. From what I could tell in my short time there, the large amount of work gets done because a few employees and volunteers recognize the great need of the people and dedicate their time and energy to meeting those needs despite the many challenges. For example, the primary health care unit has one week before school starts to get every child under five years old in the district all their immunizations. For some of the most remote areas not reachable by vehicle, this task requires health workers to carry a cooler box with the medications and visit every village on foot.
Oh yeah, it’s also really cold. A vast majority of the homes in the region are traditional stone and thatch huts heated by wood fire. They’re also experiencing one of their worst draughts in years, with no rain since February. On one of our excursions, we walked on a footbridge that crosses a large dam that supplies water to the people of the Mantsonyane area. Looking down from the bridge, all I could see was a tiny trickle of water; the rest was bone dry. The sight would have been harrowing in any context, but knowing how much these communities- made up primarily of subsistence farmers and their families- depend on this precious resource made the sight absolutely heartbreaking.
Encouraging though, was the work that we were able to do with the hospital leadership staff in two days of meetings. With the hospital’s 50th anniversary celebration approaching in October, the goal of our partnership is to help revitalize St. James’ and promote primary and preventative healthcare, which could help relieve much of the stress of overcapacity and waning resources it's currently facing. Father Chris, an Anglican priest and consultant, led the process of constructing a strategic plan for 2020 based on the vision of the hospital and its existing strengths. The process was long and tiresome, but as I’m learning, sustainable community development can’t rely on quick fixes in the same way fad diets can’t realistically keep the weight off. Over time, measured and fervent commitment to community empowerment with both eyes fixed firmly on justice is the only course of action that will yield development worthy of pursuing, particularly that pursued in the name of our Creator.
|Lots of strategic planning going on in this very cold room.|
As a country, Lesotho has one of the world’s highest HIV rates, with the UN describing 40 % of the population as “ultra poor.” From what I could see, few people living in Mantsonyane outside of the hospital have electricity, modern machinery, or running water. And while the realities for the people there are likely shocking to me and the people I suspect most likely read this blog, what was most astonishing was the warmth and hospitality we received there despite all the obstacles the people of that community face day in and day out. Every person we encountered, with little exception, met us with a bright smile and welcome conversation. The sight of it would likely be alarming to most New Yorkers!
I must admit, the information I gleaned from this experience far exceeded that which I contributed, a common sensation in mission work. When discussing this with Father Chris, he reminded me that the challenge volunteers (particularly American volunteers) routinely face is refusing the culturally-informed pressure we place on ourselves to do, when the task is often just to simply be. Be present to those around you. Be a listener. Be a blessing to others. Measurable outputs like number of houses built or trees planted are what we often look to in order to gauge how much we’ve “helped others.” But I think the true work of the missionary or the volunteer or the Christ-follower is not to help others, but to live in kinship with others- particularly those who appear altogether unlike ourselves. It’s not to reach out to them, but to open our hearts and let them into us. Thats the hard work that cultivates the fertile ground where compassion is sown- and I’m talking real compassion, the boundless, Jesus-y kind.
Today I read a quote, "God created us-- because He thought we'd enjoy it."
And I think when it comes to making this world more like what we believe God intended, a place where everyone gets a fair shot at a life lived to its fullest potential, compassion is both our scarcest and most vital resource.
Though I didn’t write a blog post about it, here’s a link to what I had to say about Reading Camp- which was one of the best weeks of my life. And below are some pictures. Enjoy!
All my love,