2016: a year in review


2016 was a year blessed by both productive and encouraging trips and projects. By the end of the year, I had traveled to eight different countries.  Of those countries, Haiti, was visited three times. The trips included project assessments, new equipment installations, support for two surgery teams, mentoring of biomedical engineering students, and service on a wide variety of medical devices.  As much as I wish I could, this blog could never begin to share the countless stories of what the Lord is doing in the individual lives of those I was able to serve and serve alongside.


 In addition to the technical support, there were multiple opportunities to encourage missionaries and national healthcare workers, assist short-term medical team members, encourage hospital patients, and speak at several churches and schools.  One of the highlights for me was to be able to share the Word with the extreme poor in India. In addition to presenting the Good News, I had the amazing opportunity to dedicate a baby girl and her parents to the Lord and even name the baby girl.  I chose Grace as her name.  


This year also allowed for an exciting opportunity to take two biomed engineering students to both Haiti and Dominican Republic.  This trip provided Matt and Katarina with hands-on experience, giving them the opportunity to understand what technical support for mission hospitals looks like. An added bonus was working with Joe Leier and his special training on anesthesia service.  Please pray for both Matt and Katarina as they seek God’s direction after they complete their education.
  

The Haiti/DR Biomed Team

God continues to raise up men and women to serve in the biomedical field and I have had the privilege of seeing some exciting plans on the horizon. There were many educational/biomed training opportunities this year, which included a meeting with a Christian university in Kenya that is developing a biomed engineering training program.  Not only in Kenya, but there are ongoing discussions with a Christian university in Indonesia that is also developing a biomed program.  We plan to continue to work with both universities to help them develop programs that will educate and support national biomeds to work in Africa and Indonesia.


2017 is already developing into a busy year with exciting opportunities. My first scheduled trip is to Bolivia to serve with the Samaritan’s Purse cleft lip team in January.  The second scheduled trip in February is to Indonesia to begin discussions with the Christian university regarding their biomed engineering program development.  Sadly, the needs for technical support around the world exceed the willing and available biomeds.  My schedule restraints have resulted in me having to decline multiple requests for help.  This is heart breaking and reminds me of Luke 10:2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”


As I travel to remote areas of the globe and witness the devastating effects of sin, I am thankful that God has loved us despite ourselves and offers hope and forgiveness to those who will turn to Him.  Providing quality healthcare in His name is a great demonstration of His love and opens the hearts of those who are physically hurting.


I want to thank all of you who have faithfully prayed and financially supported this work.  You are an encouragement and make these opportunities to serve possible.  I praise Him for allowing us to be a part of what He is doing among the nations.

waiting on a plane

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations…” Luke 10:40

I have a “Martha” personality. You know the story. As Jesus and his disciples were traveling, they stopped to stay at the home of Martha, where they spent time with her and her sister, Mary.  While Martha was distracted by the fine details, her sister was distracted by the presence of her Savior. Captivated, Mary could not leave his side. Busy, Martha could not leave the kitchen. After a pity party that now goes down in Biblical history, Jesus stopped her in her tracks when he told her, “’Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” 

I often find myself so busy “on a mission” that I miss the obvious “only one” thing that is needed opportunity.  Such again was the case on a recent trip to India.

I began my flights to India going from Nashville to New York’s JFK.  This was a smaller plane and as is often the case, I was people watching at the gate and as people boarded the plane.  The occasional “who are these people and where are they going” thoughts came to mind. Although it is rare, there have been occasions where I see one of the passengers show up at the next gate for the exact same flight and destination that I am on. My next stop on this particular trip was Dubai, UAE, and so the likelihood of anyone on this flight being on my next flight was extremely low.

Due to a ticketing issue, I was required to go to baggage claim at JFK, retrieve my checked luggage, proceed to the departing terminal and recheck my luggage.  I headed to the Air Train after getting my luggage in terminal 8 so I could proceed to my outgoing terminal 4. Thinking the train options would be limited and obvious, I did not read any of the Air Train instructions posted at this terminal’s platform.  I did, however, notice the large signs saying one of the two tracks was shut down for service.

It was at this terminal platform that I spotted a young African American girl that was on my flight from Nashville.  Like me, she seemed confused that the first train to arrive announced specific destinations that did NOT include the terminal we needed to go to. She must have also recognized me from the previous flight as she began to ask me for instructions.  Another person overhearing our conversation informed us that multiple trains will come by and we simply need to wait for the one going to our terminal. After the third train had come and gone we discovered that the trains running on this single operating track only left the airport for rental car and hotel sites.  Therefore, we needed to take any one of them out of the airport and then catch a returning train coming back to the terminals.

This unexpected circumstance provided us ample time to chat and get to know each other better. She asked my name and gave me hers.  Unlike me, she used the wise method of repeating my name back to me and did so repeatedly.  Sadly, thinking this is a brief encounter and there was no need to remember her name, I paid no attention to what it was when she told me.  Therefore, I will now have to refer to her as “Jane”.

Out of curiosity, I asked Jane multiple questions and learned she was also going to terminal 4 for a flight to the UAE.  She had recently and suddenly received and accepted a call to become a primary school teacher full time in the UAE. Jane told me how she had not slept for the last two days because of the anxiety and emotions of making such a significant life decision and leaving behind family and friends.  She also asked why I was going that direction and I gave my standard short answer of “medical mission trip”.  Jane smiled and said that was great but we did not discuss my work any further. 

Although our flights were scheduled to depart within minutes of each other, she was on a different airline heading to Abu Dhabi and not Dubai where my next stop was.  Both of our flights were on the large Airbus A380 and the two end gates at terminal 4 were the only gates able to handle these large planes.  Even though the odds of seeing each other at these adjacent gates was high, we said the usual good bye of “nice meeting you” and “safe travels” as we went to check in at our prospective airlines. After checking in and finally dumping my checked bags again, I caught up on some phone calls and found a reasonable place to eat before heading to my gate.  I noticed Jane right as I approached the two end gates.  We picked up our conversation again, but then I headed to my gate to check on the status of the pending flight. 

I noticed Jane’s plane was approaching her gate but I could see mine sitting out on the runway as another A380 was delayed and still sitting at MY gate.  Instead of sitting down and/or resuming the conversation with Jane, I stood at the window and watched the slow process of getting the current plane pushed away and mine coming up to take its place.  This took over 30 minutes and by now the lengthy line to board Jane's plane had already formed.  I began watching the line with the hopes of seeing Jane one last time and wishing her well.  When we finally spotted each other we both smiled and waved goodbye. Jane then left the line to run over to give me a big hug.  I wished her the best and for God’s blessings on her life. She smiled and then dashed for the gate and I watched her depart down the jet way.  There were unspoken words exchanged during our conversations that day. I felt a prick in my spirit that hinted to a closer and more eternal bond that I believe we may have shared. 

Why is it that only moments later did God say to me “Rick, Rick (Martha), you are concerned about only one thing (your plane that is stuck out on the runway), but only one thing was needed.  Why didn’t you ask Jane for more specifics, her reason for the decision she made, does she know me?  Why didn’t you tell her you would pray for her (and mean it) and give her your email address so you could keep in touch and encourage her while she is alone in a new country?”

Tragically, this was yet another blown opportunity because I still have a Martha mentality. I have confessed this sin and did and still do pray for “Jane”.  Thankfully, God knows her name, her heart, and her needs.  May HE bless Jane even though I failed to take advantage of the opportunity He gave me to encourage her more.  May I and all of us grow to be more like Mary, not Martha, and not miss the obvious opportunities (what is needed) that He places before us. Even when we're just waiting on a plane.

remembering the 4077th

I was among the 125 million viewers of the M*A*S*H television series that ran from September 1972 to February 1983. Team members of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital treated the injured during the Korean War. To cope with this very difficult assignment, they used a variety of methods such as humor and alcohol to escape from the horror and depression of the situation. While the show was traditionally viewed as a comedy, many episodes were very serious and dealt with life and death issues, including PTSD and compassion fatigue. The show could change from silly to sobering very quickly.

Although most people my age and even younger can quickly remember and hum the show’s theme song, it is amazing how few actually know the lyrics to the song or that the sub title to the theme from M.A.S.H. is “Suicide Is Painless”.  The following partial lyrics give you a sense of how many feel and want to cope when faced with the difficulties of life.

Through early morning fog I see

visions of the things to be

the pains that are withheld for me

I realize and I can see...

that suicide is painless

it brings on many changes

and I can take or leave it if I please.

The game of life is hard to play

I'm gonna lose it anyway

The losing card I'll someday lay

         so this is all I have to say   

The only way to win is cheat

And lay it down before I'm beat

and to another give my seat

for that's the only painless feat.

A brave man once requested me

to answer questions that are key

is it to be or not to be

and I replied 'oh why ask me?'

'Cause suicide is painless

it brings on many changes

and I can take or leave it if I please.

Samaritan's Purse responded to the major earthquake in Ecuador by sending down an Emergency Field Hospital (SPEFH). I had (have) the opportunity to serve at this hospital for two weeks and reflect on the similarities and differences between the two. Life and death at the MASH 4077th had many fascinating aspects, as does life and death at the SPEFH.

The similarities include an up close and personal exposure to life and death, long hard working conditions, limited resources, people who are physically, emotionally, and spiritually hurting, etc.

At the same time, there are some stark differences between the MASH unit and the SPEFH unit.

The differences between the 4077th and the SPEFH include hospital staff motives and attitudes, ways of coping with the tragedy they’re being faced with, and most importantly, a better option than suicide. The better option was demonstrated early one morning when a man was brought in to the hospital after attempting to “lay down his card before he was beat”. The SPEFH staff quickly responded and saved his physical life. However, they also were prepared to “answer questions that are key, is it to be or not to be”.

The earthquake was devastating to this young man, as it was with all others, in many ways.  He finally got to the point where he wanted to end it all. In contrast to the ending of the MASH theme song, instead of responding with “oh why ask me”, the caring and sensitive hospital staff shared how there is hope in the midst of loss and tragedy.  By God’s grace, this man understood his need and surrendered his life to the forgiveness and gift of life that is only found in Jesus Christ.

His story is one of many that we have seen at the SPEFH.  Although “the game of life is hard to play” and many have suffered greatly here in Ecuador, God is bringing hope and healing and changing brokenness to life. May we say like Paul, I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.  II Tim. 4:7

Rick

what’s wrong with this picture?

A few years ago, I shared a picture that was taken on the field with a cleft lip surgery team. In the picture, I stood over an operating table between two doctors as they were diligently working on their patient. I stood in the middle with a wrench raised, ready to “help”. The picture was a joke. Clearly, a biomed is the last person you would want to assist in any surgery you may need, however the response to the picture was quite interesting.

“Why don’t you have gloves on?”

“Why aren’t you wearing a mask?”

There seemed to be little concern that I, a biomed, was attempting to assist the doctors with this delicate surgery, not to mention using a wrench.

There was no concern regarding my actual attempt to perform the surgery because the very thought of a biomed doing surgery is unfathomable. However, the reversal of roles (a surgeon preforming biomed repairs on equipment) is not only acceptable, but expected.

All clinical staff, including doctors, will frequently be called upon to serve in the roll of a biomed engineer. Although unfortunate and often discouraging, this technical requirement is usually anticipated. The lack of biomedical technicians or any other technical support often leaves the clinical staff and surgeons responsible for repairing the equipment they are using.

Equipment problems and failures occur at a much higher rate in the LMIC (lower and middle income countries) than in the U.S. health systems. There are many factors contributing to this unfortunate situation and they include the wide variety of available equipment, the source and condition of this equipment, and the shortage of biomedical technicians or qualified maintenance personal to maintain it.

“The introduction, utilization and maintenance of health care equipment require substantial financial, organizational and human resources. Often, this is either not recognized, or not enough attention is paid to it. In the Sub-Saharan Africa region, for example, a large proportion (up to 70 per cent) of equipment lies idle due to mismanagement of the technology acquisition process, lack of user-training and lack of effective technical support.” *

There is zero tolerance in the United States healthcare systems when it comes to proper biomed (technical) support. Sadly, technical support in many LMIC and mission healthcare settings is considered a luxury and not a necessity. Worldwide Biomedical Charitable Services (WBCS) is attempting to change this inappropriate practice. In addition to making as many trips to the field as possible, I am also working on taking more young biomed students or experienced biomeds to the field with me. There is a serious shortage of short and long term biomeds willing and able to serve overseas. We need to correct this problem. 

Stay tuned for updates on how this is happening and how you might be a part of this important work.

Rick

 

*GUIDELINES FOR HEALTH CARE EQUIPMENT DONATIONS, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION, Evidence and Information for Policy (EIP), Organization of Health Services Delivery (OSD), March 2000, page 17

 

what's in a car

Sometimes a mission field looks like the backseat of a car.

The typical technical stories and/or pictures that I share contain very little excitement or interest. Medical equipment and the related technical stories can put most people to sleep. Therefore, I would like to switch the subject of this story from medical devices to a car. Although this Subaru Forester appears to be just another car, the story it carries is far from boring or insignificant.  Moreover, it is really not as much about the car as it is about what happens inside the car.

Working at several of the CURE Hospitals in six different countries has been an honor for me.  Their work with disabled children around the world has blessed an unknown number of patients and their families and it is a joy to serve them as they serve others. CURE Children’s Hospital of Uganda is a little different from the others that specialize more in orthopedics. CURE Uganda is one of the world’s leading hospitals for treating children with hydrocephalus, spina bifida, and other neurosurgical conditions. The research, developments, and reputation of CURE Uganda are internationally known. Health care professionals have traveled from around the world to be educated and trained on new neurosurgical procedures developed at this hospital.  But more importantly, families have traveled many hours from surrounding countries to obtain critically needed medical care for their children at this hospital.

These neurosurgical conditions are most often life threatening and very challenging to treat. Additionally, due to cultural beliefs, transportation challenges, and  other hindrances, many children arrive at the hospital too late to be successfully treated for their condition. Even in the best surgical hospitals like CURE Uganda, the hospital still faces three to four patient deaths per month. When this tragic loss of an infant occurs, the traditional and cultural practice is for the mother to wrap her baby in a blanket and place it in some sort of bag to carry the child home. Most often she then must board a bus and travel anywhere from two to ten hours on this public transportation while carrying her child.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Romans 5:8. It says that “God demonstrated His love for us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. God does not say, I love you and have a pain-free life waiting for you here on earth, but demonstrated His love by giving His own son so that we might receive forgiveness for our sin. There is no promise that life will be easy or even long. But because of His love, He offers us the gift of eternal life.  A gift that says, I love you and have a pain-free life waiting for you in Heaven. He demonstrated this gift by sacrificing His own son.

So what is so significant about this Subaru Forester?  CURE Children’s Hospital of Uganda uses it to demonstrate Jesus’ love for the mothers and families of the children who have passed away at the hospital. Instead of having the mom’s place their babies in a bag and climb on to a public bus, the Subaru Forester is used to transport the mothers and their deceased children back home. Not only do they not have to travel home on a crowded public form of transportation, but they also do not have to make the trip alone.

In addition to the driver, the mom is accompanied by a hospital spiritual care giver or pastor. They do not return to their villages bearing their burden alone, but receive compassionate spiritual care and support from someone who demonstrates the love of God by grieving with them during this difficult loss and painful journey.  The spiritual caregiver can provide answers regarding life, death, and a proper relationship with Christ.  The CURE staff who travel back to the villages are also able to share the truth about the child’s medical condition and the fact that the mother and baby were never cursed.  They can educate the village surrounding the true causes of hydrocephalus and the urgent need for these children to be brought to the hospital.  They also demonstrate to the entire village that Jesus makes a difference in the lives of his followers – those who then go the extra mile to care for the suffering in His name. 

The mission field for this Subaru Forester is not an easy terrain, but CURE is using this simple vehicle to provide life-changing ministry, bringing hope and comfort in the midst of sorrow and death. In the backseat of a car, these mothers learn about a Heavenly Father who says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).  While their arms may carry loss, their hearts will carry hope.

Rick

 

without faith

"Without faith, it is impossible to please God." Hebrews 11

I decided to pick up where I “kind of” left off on my January 7 blog. Some of you asked about the details on how we were able to get the ticket changed, clear security and get to the plane before the door was closed.  Before I give a brief answer to that question, let me first start with a story...

It was in 1969 that I decided to seriously become a follower of Jesus Christ.  I received some great discipleship training from a ministry known as the Navigators.  They taught me that a lot of things which are considered optional in the Christian life to many are actually normal daily requirements and activities.  One of the very basic requirements is knowing, believing and obeying God’s word.  I began to work on this immediately.

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One of my early experiences of seeing the results of this occurred while flying home to Michigan from where I was stationed with the Navy in Norfolk, VA.  This was in my early years of travel, so my experience with flying could have been counted on two hands.  The flight departing from Norfolk was an hour behind schedule.  No problem, if it was a direct flight.  However, I only had a one hour layover in Cleveland.  With my limited travel experience, I began to grow anxious regarding the probability of missing my connection.  How would I contact my folks, when and how will I catch another flight, where will I stay, etc. etc.?

This is when my discipleship training kicked in and I pulled out my pocket Gideon’s Bible and began to read in the Psalms.  All I remember was that the word “trust” seemed to appear over and over as I read. I finally closed my Bible and with great relief prayed, “Lord, I trust you and realize you have this all under control.”  I smiled to myself and sit back in my seat to relax. The pilot immediately came over the speaker and announced that we just picked up a 60 mph tail wind and we would be arriving in Cleveland 30 minutes earlier than expected.  Yes, to no surprise to myself, I made my connection.

Skip ahead a few years to a conversation I was having with two men at church. The subject was regarding something like faith or answered prayer.  In any case, I shared with them the above story. To my surprise, they both said that the tail wind “just so happened” and had nothing to do with prayer or God’s ability or desire to intervene in the situation.  I wondered if they had ever heard the story of when Jesus had calmed the wind and the storm on the lake.

Unfortunately to many, God is either 1. Not interested, or 2. Not able to do what He has promised. They believe that things in life just so happen and we are on our own to deal with it under our own power, resources, and abilities. I am thankful it is not that way for those who have faith in Him.

So how did we get on the plane successfully in Cincinnati this last December? God intervened.

So, how did we get on the plane successfully in Cincinnati this last December? God intervened. I am not sure how, but after being told Mr. Lim could not make the trip, the ticket agent made one more attempt to correct his name. “Magically”, or what some would say “just so happened”, the name change went through on all airlines and we sprinted to the gate. I am thankful that some of my supporters have that same faith in a God that delights in showing Himself strong and trustworthy.

While I am still finalizing travel arrangements to return to three African countries during April and May, I will begin my trips this spring in Uganda.  The continued prayer support of those people of faith will again be honored by Him who loves us.

Keep checking back for more updates!

Rick

i get by with a little help from my friends

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Ephesians 6:18

In 1969, Joe Cocker sang a familiar tune about his need for friendship and the support that follows.  The inspiration and true quality of such friendship penned in the song are unclear, but life on the mission field proves this famous line to be true.  I get by with a little help from my friends.

I struggle for a way to tell you, my friends, how appreciative I am of your support in helping me get by in my ministry. Perhaps one way might simply be to share with you the results of your help through prayer so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor and love. 

Can you hear me now?

All trips to the field are in critical need of prayer support, and my most recent trip to Uganda was no different.  The need for prayer began immediately before we even started our journey out of Cincinnati.  There were five of us on the team.  Three of the team members had already checked in and began their way through security, as our fifth team member (a Korean brother, by the name of Kangyu Lim) was still waiting to check in.  I decided to stay behind to make sure there were no complications getting through, as he was traveling with a Chinese passport.

If you are familiar with flying, than I am sure you are also familiar with the complications which easily arise when dealing with travel plans.  Houston, we have a problem… 

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Complication #1   The Delta ticket agent informed us that the name on Kangyu’s ticket did not match the name on his passport.  Somewhere in the purchase process, Kangyu Lim’s name was reversed and improperly spaced; the name on the ticket read Lim Kang Yu.  A simple mistake.  Not a simple correction.

Complication #2   Our team was flying on multiple airlines.  We began the trip on Delta and switched to KLM.  Our return trip began on Kenya Air, then on Air France, and finally back to Delta.  The ticket agent said he “might” be able to correct the name on the ticket for the Delta flights but could not for the other airlines.  He informed me that I would need to get that changed.

At this point, we were only a few minutes before boarding was scheduled to start (Complication #3), so I began making phone calls and was working with the travel agent that the tickets were purchased through.  As the minutes ticked by, I was put on hold several times while the ticket agent and Mr. Lim intently watched my facial expressions as I attempted to get this corrected on the spot.  The last time I was put on hold seemed to last forever and now the boarding process started for our flight (#4).

When the travel agent finally returned on the line she regrettably informed me that Mr. Lim could not make the trip and I “might” be able to get a refund on the $2000 + ticket.  I was at a loss for words and not sure how to inform Mr. Lim and the ticket agent, who were still watching my face very intently.  I said “OK, thank you” to the travel agent and hung up.

And then you prayed.

The flight was already boarding and we still needed to clear security and travel through two terminals to get to our plane. Not only was this something beyond anything I could solve, but I still had to deal with informing Mr. Lim of the bad news.  While my head began to swirl in unanswered questions, God began working out the details.

I cannot overstate the importance of and appreciation for those of you who pray, but I can tell you that they are answered and your investment is drawing interest in His Bank.  About 15 minutes after hanging up from the travel agent, Mr. Lim and I had cleared security checks, traveled through the two terminals and boarded the plane just before the doors were closed.

Prayers answered and we had yet to experience take-off.   What I do through Worldwide Biomedical Charitable Services (WBCS) is only made possible by you, my partners, as you pray, encourage and financially support this ministry.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  May you be encouraged as you see how He responded to your prayers on our behalf.

Stay tuned for more stories from my time spent in Uganda…

Rick