Well (review)

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Well: Healing Our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West AfricaWell: Healing Our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa by Sarah Thebarge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Well, Sarah Thebarge immerses us in her three-month experience of working as a Physicians’ Assistant in a missionary hospital in Togo, West Africa. From her first days of climate and culture shock to her trip back home, she shares not only what she sees, hears, and smells, but also what she feels on many levels—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Many chapters are short. Some are narrative—wonderful storytelling. Others read like essays that speak to large themes of love and the meaning and purpose of life in the shadow of unspeakable suffering and the inequality of the developed versus the developing world. Scattered throughout her chronological account of her Togo experience are flashback stories about her medical training, her battle with breast cancer, and her experiences in Portland.

Thebarge is an excellent writer and a delight to read. She remembers events in amazing detail—though I’m sure some credit goes to her journals, which she repeatedly refers to keeping. However, many of the stories are hard to read because of their content. The book is heavy with heartbreaking tales of death disease, and primitive conditions. Over and over Thebarge refers to Togo as the saddest place on earth. She is deeply affected by the inability of the medical staff to help more people and prevent what appear to be the meaningless deaths of newborns, children, mothers and fathers needed as parents.

Thebarge’s dedication and love are Mother Teresa-esque. One of the most beautiful passages in the book for me was this short exchange between her and Omari, her Togolese work partner:

“I want to see patients like you do.”
‘You already said that,’ I teased him.
“No, no, I mean, I want to look at people like you do.”
“What do you mean? How do I look at people?”
“You look at people with love,” Omari said.
O thought about Massiko’s words, that love looks around.
And the father’s words, “There is love in your eyes.”
And now Omari’s words, ”You look at people with love.” – Well, p. 219.

I would like to recommend this book without reservation, but can’t quite do that. For Thebarge’s theology does not, as I’ve picked it up from Well, agree completely with the Bible. She seems to take a Universalist approach toward the mostly Muslim patients that come to the hospital, implying that in death all will find themselves transported in love to the same loving God.

She is sharply critical of what she calls the “fundamentalist” Baptists who support and run the hospital, offended that the chaplains speak to the dying of hell and how to avoid it.

I found her explanation of the Incarnation interesting as well.

I wondered what, if anything, was the point of Jesus being physically present in our world. What was the significance of Emmanuel—of God being With Us?

If we look at everything Jesus left undone when he departed from the earth, then his presence hardly mattered at all. People were still sick, they still died, they were still oppressed, and they still suffered.

So why did it matter that Emmanuel was here?

As I thought about it, the question became its own answer. Emmanuel’s value did not lie in what he did or didn’t accomplish while he walked the earth. What mattered was that he was here. – p. 294

Maybe I missed it, but in Well I never came across the crux of the Gospel—that Jesus came to earth to show the Father’s love and be with us, yes, but to also die in our stead, to pay the death penalty our sins deserve. His atoning sacrifice is the reason we can look forward to spending eternity with Him and God the Father. Though this is a free gift, it’s a gift we receive when we, with our volition, accept it.

I have nothing but praise for Thebarge’s loving empathetic heart and tireless work. I have much to learn from her. The theological critique notwithstanding, this book is a worthwhile read because of the part of the world it shares and the way it challenges the reader to grapple with issues that Thebarge has faced and worked out in her way.

I received a copy of Well as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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God’s Word #BibleJournaling

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I recently joined a group of friends for a creative Bible study in Psalms. Using the book Psalms Alive by David Kitz, we’ll be working our way through several Psalms in the next weeks. We share our thoughts and creations in a Facebook group (since we’re far apart geographically).

We started our study by reading David’s Preface. I underlined statements like:

“Within the Psalms we hear the deepest longings of the human heart.”

“When we handle the Word of God, we are handling life.”

and

“When we take hold of the Word of God, it takes hold of us.”

That last really grabbed my imagination, so I decided to reflect on it in a drawing. I paired it with Psalm 119:25-32, which is full of how God’s Word, interacting with us, brings changes—positive changes.

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Bible Journal  entry for Psalm 119:25-32 (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

Let’s accept the challenge to allow God’s word to revive us, teach us, strengthen us, give us understanding, remove things from us, and more as we move toward the goal of a God-enlarged heart:

“I will run the course of Your commandments,
For You shall enlarge my heart” – Psalm 119:32.

 

Stillness #BibleJournaling

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There is something about walking in moonlight that makes me feel reflective. Experiencing the mountains on a moonlit night is also a good place to feel the mystery of light and be awed by the beauty and bigness of creation.

Stillness, awe, and majesty were feelings I was trying to portray in this water color painting to go with Psalm 46:8 and 10: “Come, behold the works of the LORD, … Be still and know that I am God.”

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Bible Journal entry for Psalm 46:8,10 (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

(I prepped this page with clear gesso before doing the water color painting and used a white GellyRoll pen to do the lettering and highlights.)

Listen #BibleJournaling

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At the beginning of each year I choose a word for the year. My word for 2017 is LISTEN.

I also always choose a Bible verse to go with that word. My verse for 2017 is John 10:3,4, where Jesus talks about the Good Shepherd calling his own sheep by name and the sheep recognizing his voice:

“To him (the sheep’s real shepherd) the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.

When I started Bible journaling some months ago, my first entry was on those verses from John. I illustrated them in an old journaling New Testament I had from way back (the copyright date in that Bible is 1973). The owls in that entry signify the wisdom of listening to Jesus’ voice.

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Bible Journal entry for John 10:3,4 NIV (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

When I got my NKJV Journal the Word Bible, I illustrated that verse again. This time I did it with a cartoon-type lamb, delighted when she hears the shepherd calling her by name. How wonderfully personal it is to know that Jesus my shepherd leads me individually and personally and by name!

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Bible Journal for John 10:3,4 NKJV (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

I have done other entries on listening this year too. One is from Isaiah 50:4,5. It is in a passage prophetic of Jesus:

“He awakens Me morning by morning,
He awakens My ear
To hear as the learned.
The Lord God has opened My ear;
And I was not rebellious
Nor did I turn away.”

 

Though this is a prophecy about Messiah, I have experienced this in my own life over the years I’ve written and posted devotional writings on the blog Other Food: Daily Devos. Every morning I wake early (without an alarm clock) and as I read and study the Bible, I get something for my own life and to share with others.

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Bible Journal for Isaiah 50:4,5 (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

I am really enjoying this year’s focus on LISTEN. I’d like to find some more listening verses to journal before the year draws to a close. Any suggestions?

Materials used in these doodles:
Top: black pen and pencil crayons.
Middle: Pigma Micron pens, pencil crayons, water colour crayons.
Bottom: Pigma Micron pens, pencil crayons, washi tape.

Receptive Soil #BibleJournaling

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Jesus’ parables are full of artsy drawables. Yet, when I contemplated journaling the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:11-15), illustrations of the old fashioned process of sowing grain and it falling into the literal destinations named in the parable seemed like avoiding the issue somehow. And so I asked myself, what would examples of unfruitful and fruitful soil be in my life?

That’s what I tried to portray on this page. The gold oval-shaped image in the middle is a grain of wheat. Where will it find receptive soil? Social media; preoccupation with news; involvement in sports; focus on money; interaction with friends; attending church; the whirlwind of mental stress, worry, fear and anxiety; clothes and all they imply of absorption with personal appearance and image; Bible study?

Simplistic, I know, but the passage and trying to illustrate it made me think again of my day to day life and how much of it may be unreceptive soil.

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I prepared this page with gesso before doing the art work, then used brush markers and pencil crayons to do the coloring. The grain of wheat is colored with an acrylic marker (gold). The gesso worked great—there was no bleed through with the brush markers that usually seriously mark the back side of paper much thicker than Bible pages.

It Happened in Moscow (review)

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It-Happened-in-Moscow0001It Happened in Moscow: A Memoir of Discovery by Maureen Klassen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It Happened In Moscow begins with a surprise phone call to Herb and Maureen Klassen’s Moscow apartment in 1993. That call opened a Pandora’s box of secrets.

Herb’s parents (C.F. and Mary Klassen) had immigrated from Russia to Canada in 1928 in the nick of time, just before the doors to exit Stalin’s Communist Russia slammed shut. Though Mary’s children knew that she was a divorcée at the time she married C.F., she rarely spoke of her early life and never mentioned her 10-year first marriage. Even Harold (her son by that marriage) only found out about his birth father at his 16th birthday when C.F. and Mary sat him down to reveal the truth. Both C.F. and Mary had since died, so many questions about Mary remained unanswered.

Now the female voice on the other end of that phone call claimed she was Harold’s younger sister Erika.

If this was indeed so, could Erika hold answers to the mystery of Mary’s first marriage? Did she know what had happened to Mary’s first husband (and Harold’s father)? Could she shed light on how an entire generation of Russian Mennonites had fared during that period in Russia?

It Happened in Moscow is memoir—the unfolding of a fascinating family discovery through Maureen Klassen’s eyes. In 1993 Maureen and Herb Klassen were working for Mennonite organizations in Moscow and were fluent in Russian and German. These things made them the perfect recipients for the information that Erika had gleaned in her search for family. Via Erika, the family learned the fate of Jacob (Mary’s first husband) and thousands of Mennonites who were hindered from or chose not to immigrate from Soviet Russia.

Maureen Klassen’s charitable depiction of the two main players in this tale (Mary and Erika) make this an uplifting and pleasurable story to read. Historically, the way it shines a light on years of religious repression under the Communists makes it an integral piece of the Mennonite puzzle. It is also a testimony to God’s faithfulness through generations.

If you’re interested in Mennonite history or even just enjoy a well-crafted memoir with lots of human interest delivered in cultural detail with historical accuracy, you’ll love this book.

(My sister-in-law who, with my brother, lived for a time in Mary’s “glasshouse” in Clearbrook B.C., lent me this book.)

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The Ick Factor – #BibleJournaling

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I haven’t put up an art journal post for a couple of weeks, but I’m still drawing (and coloring and painting) in my Bible!

Today I’ll share a quote with you. It relates to a subject that’s been on my mind a lot since the internet has made it possible for anyone to blow their own horn about their own work and excellence and popularity and success.

As a member of several writing groups, I see such horn-blowing all the time and know how real is the temptation to broadcast every success, contest win, sale of a manuscript etc. I know too, how yucky I feel after I’ve done it.

Therefore, when I read the below quote in the workbook of the Beth Moore study I’m currently doing, I knew I wanted to save that quote in my Bible. I paired it with a verse from Proverbs that I’m trying my best to live by:

“Let another man praise you and not your own mouth;
A stranger, and not your own lips.” Proverbs 27:2.

 

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Bible art journal entry for Proverbs 27:2 (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

The quote (in case you can’t read it from the image):

“I ask God on a regular basis to give me swift and powerful conviction of sin when I’m crossing a line … The Ick Factor works effectively for me: when I’m self-promoting and self-serving, I want my insides to respond with a nauseated ‘Ick’” – Beth Moore, Entrusted Workbook, p. 85.

 

(The green colored glob is meant to represent slime. I used pencil crayon and black Pigma Micron pens for this.)