Well (review)

2 Comments

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.

View all my reviews

Passport Through Darkness (review)

Leave a comment

Passport through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second ChancesPassport through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances by Kimberly L. Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kimberly L. Smith and her husband Milton are introduced to the horrors of human trafficking almost by chance, when their missionary activity in Spain leads them to an orphanage in Portugal. There they come face to face with Uncle Buster, a man who is bringing in children from Africa, filming their abuse, and posting images on the internet. Passport Through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances is Smith’s first person account of this event and what happened next.

On exploring trafficking in more depth, Milton and Kimberly discover that the real hotbeds for this activity are Eastern Europe and Africa. Over time they establish Make Way Partners to help raise funds for anti-trafficking work. Then, through a chain of events, Kimberly finds herself in Sudan—a place PJ (Voice of the Martyrs’ Eastern Europe and North Africa Regional Director) identified as “… the worst place on the planet for this evil” (Kindle Location 517).

The bulk of Smith’s story happens in Sudan. She falls in love with the people, especially the orphans, returns numerous times, and ends up building an orphanage in the heart of Sudan’s most dangerous and forsaken region. The sights and events she describes are often raw and heartbreaking. Her ministry is inspiring and off-the-charts of possible, as God steps in again and again to open doors, protect, and make dreams come true.

But all is not sweetness and light. The sub-plot of this memoir involves Kimberly and Milton’s relationship. When his diabetes doesn’t allow him to be part of the Sudan trips, the couple spends long stretches of time apart. Kimberly, not wanting to burden her ill husband more, keeps many details of her Sudan experience secret from him. Their own relationship comes under threat.

The book is vividly written, both in its descriptions of life in Sudan and the life of the heart. I found it a fast, sometimes horrifying though definitely relevant read (It seems anti-human trafficking initiatives are popping up all over. In the last several months, I’ve encountered two new-to-me ministries that also focus on it.)

I recommend this book to people who love kids, those interested in human trafficking, readers with a heart for missions, or anyone who enjoys a well-written memoir. I’m not the alone in recommending it. Passport Through Darkness is also endorsed by such Christian literary luminaries as Philip Yancy, Randy Alcorn, and Ken Gire.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“On some level, praying ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done’ haunted us, though. Gradually we began to understand that God didn’t give us that prayer so much to comfort us as to mold and transform our hearts and lives.

“The more we prayed ‘Thy Kingdom come …’ the more it convicted us that God chose to use mankind—His incarnational presence in this world—to usher His Kingdom in, one fractured attempt at a time.

“But who of us wants to give up our notion of what we think our lives should look like so that we are available for Him to use?” – Kindle Location 501.

Passport Through Darkness is part of my own Kindle collection.

View all my reviews

My Life’s Journey (review)

Leave a comment

My Life's JourneyMy Life’s Journey by Janet Kataaha Museveni My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I told you Janet Museveni was the first lady of an African nation, could you name which one? Until last week, me neither. But now that I have met this talented woman in the pages of her memoir, I know that Uganda is blessed to have her as its first lady, wife of President Yoweri Museveni.

She is currently also serving as MP for Ruhaana County and Minster of State for Karamoja. This mother of four, grandmother of twelve has had a challenging life. In My Life’s Journey she tells her story beginning with her early years in rural Uganda.

After a year of college in Wales she returns to a country that is falling into chaos under the terror of Idi Amin. When some of her family members oppose him, they become a hunted lot. During her years in African exile (spent in Tanzania and other countries) she meets her husband. When she asks him what his occupation is, he says, “Fighting Idi Amin.” It turns out that fighting for Africa’s political well-being becomes the passion of his life.

Amin is eventually routed but since Yoweri Museveni is a rival of returned President Obote, the family is soon on the run again with Janet and her four children spending years exiled in Sweden before Yoweri becomes president and the family is reunited in a Uganda that is in shambles after years of civil war.

To add to the inspiration of Janet Museveni’s story as a tale of political overcoming is its spiritual aspect. After she decides to put her faith in Christ as Saviour her life takes on a different cast. She speaks openly about her practice of starting each day with prayer and Bible reading and how her faith influences the way she raises her children.

When she feels that God would have her enter politics, her faith is tested as she comes against the expectation that she will campaign using traditional means of bribery and buying votes with gifts and alcohol. She resists but wins her seat anyway.

Her motherly heart, listening ear, habit of close observation, and administrative common sense has made her a successful leader with numerous completed roads, schools, and hospitals on her list of accomplishments. In her time as leader she has asked God many questions including why Africa is so often at the bottom of the world’s nations. The answer she has arrived at contains wisdom that leaders of all nations—mine included—would do well to heed:

“This scripture (referring to Acts 17:26,28) simply put says that ‘the fault is not in our stars’ so to speak; God created all people from ‘one blood,’ which means there is no one inherently inferior to another. He also determined where people should live on the earth with a purpose …. This scripture tells me that it is impossible to find an identity and national consciousness apart from God. A nation that will stand and last for generations is one that has been built on the Chief Cornerstone” – My Life’s Journey, p. 278.

If you are interested in Africa and enjoy memoir, you’ll love My Life’s Journey. Thank you to my brother and sister-in-law, who gave me a copy after discovering this book during a recent trip to Uganda to visit their missionary son and his family. View all my reviews