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Sacred encounters

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Jan. 25

We are near Cartagena, which is famous for a walled fort called the Centro, and is over 500 years old.

I am so glad to see green, smell the air without my nose hair freezing and not bundled up. Even at 10 p.m. it is still in the low 80s. To have Deb and Britt experiencing this with me is a dream come true.

We got here without any problems in customs and with all of our stuff. They have just changed customs officers, and we weren’t sure how this was going to play, especially me with all of my dental gear.

The lady collecting our customs tickets asked what we were doing, and Brittany was translating for me and since I thought telling the truth (we are on a mission trip after all) might be the ticket to honor God and all. Brittany is a great translator, and the customs lady seemed to know our organization (Bridges of Hope).

As they were putting our suitcases on the X-ray machine and choosing the ones they wanted to go through (and possibly charge us taxes), the customs lady told them to let us go. Thank you, Jesus!

Jan. 26

Clinics start tomorrow, and I can feel my spirit stilling. I love this time before clinics.

Chris Elmore did the devotion today, and it was very appropriate. She is one of our good friends and actually her and her husband, Mike, started the medical portion of the Colombia trips. She spoke about our reasons for coming on our first trip, what kept us coming back and what this meant to us.

 She hit it perfectly when she said she came to have a Sacred Encounter. That is, with each other, our patients, but particularly with God, just seeing how he leads us in this time — being open to his leading and just

“being” with him.

I don’t know if I have ever used those words exactly, but that is what I love about doing this stuff.

Along those lines, I continue to be amazed by the power of the question, “How can I pray for you?” I shared how the first trip here a woman came into my clinic and told us how she was eight months pregnant. In this culture, as a dentist, you don’t touch anyone eight months pregnant.

I asked that simple question, and she absolutely broke apart. When she found out she was pregnant again, she curled up next to her husband and told him, and he got out of bed, put on his clothes and left. She has not seen him since. She was devastated because she didn’t know where he was or if there was another woman. She could not feed herself or her other two kids. She was selling herself to have enough to eat.

I did not have words and did not even know how to begin to pray, but as always, God showed up and filled my head with words.

When I was in Guatemala one time, I had just finished working on a former military guy, and he was older, stood ramrod straight with his barrel chest sticking out. I asked him, and he fell into the most pathetic, sobbing broken little man I had ever seen. He told us his son had just been murdered, and he couldn’t sleep, couldn’t function. He said he should have been there to protect his son, yet he could not and how would he ever forgive himself.

Five words are all it takes. This is what it is about for me, to give people a chance to voice their burdens and pray with them.

Jan. 27

She saw me when I turned the corner and started walking down the hall toward her. She stood with tears in her eyes and showed me that beautiful baby girl of hers. Last year, as I stood outside of clinic, taking in the chaos of people desperate to be seen, I saw her out of the corner of my eye. She was walking straight toward me, and it was almost scary how intentional she was focusing on me.

She was holding a baby girl who had a cleft lip and palate. The little girl was dressed beautifully. It is not unusual for people coming to clinic to put on their best clothes, but this little girl would take your breath away. I texted a picture of her to a colleague in surgery, and he said to send her, they would take a look.

The repair is amazing, and she wanted the cleft palate done, but the team wasn’t here this time. She asked if they would be back next year, and I told her I did not know, only God does. Three times she came to thank me for helping her little girl, and each time I told her that I had done nothing, but I would pass it along.

To be a small part in changing a little girl’s life forever brings such joy. And to show the mother and daughter to Deb and Brittany made my heart swell. I love my life.

The crowd as we pulled up was large, and they were pushing to get in. It was loud and too close to squeeze through all of the people. It was perfect — I love anarchy. The people need the help and are so incredibly grateful.

Today we prayed for problems in families, a daughter that needs surgery, knees that hurt, work to feed their family, mad for people to become healthy again. Sound familiar? We are all the same and want the same things no matter where we are, who we are. We had several patients bless us today, much like a priest does, and it is so humbling to have those you serve serve you as well.

Jan. 28

I was pretty swamped and saw about 20 patients. “About” because I don’t count — quality rather than quantity; and we take time to pray with everyone. No huge prayers came out of our side today, but always nice to be blessed by those we are serving.

I was able to spend some time watching Deb work today while I was escaping the heat for a bit. She is really sweet with these people and to see their faces when they can see well enough to read again is quite the thrill for everyone involved. She told us of one ancient lady that once she picked the right glasses got out this well-used tiny pocket Bible and opened it up and was ecstatic to be able to read it again.

Jan. 29

I have been asked not to share our locations for the security of the people and places we work with. We are safe and not in danger in any way, but the patients, staff who live there, and the police with us may be risking harm if we stayed later.

This is an internally displaced peoples area, and they are desperate and sometimes not very nice. They are used to being lied to, pushed down and abused by the government and anyone else who has ever promised them anything. The people are forced to move into the city by the FARC guerrillas, who murder, threaten murder, kidnap, extort, intimidate or burn out houses if the people don’t leave in that moment with nothing, not even their papers, which is huge here.

This kind of intense poverty creates its own social problems and disorders in the community that really becomes a problem.

Since we were an hour late, it was pandemonium. Everyone is on edge. They are thinking the same thing, “Which one of us will not be seen. How do I make sure I am one of them?”

Today of all days, one woman decided she would try to get into a clinic that is being held near her. With all of the pushing and shoving, fighting and scrambling, the things desperate people do to be seen, she feels fortunate to be one of the lucky ones to get a ticket to be seen.

She finds out that she is 12 weeks pregnant, and she is a little shocked. And here is the crazy part, because this woman chose today to fight the crowds, to wait in the oppressive heat, she gets to see her baby. She didn’t even know this was possible! And her smile is at least ear to ear, and the joy, such pure joy fills the room.

One of the translators sat down next to me today and told me he didn’t used to like Americans. He said we were bullies and made every other country do what the U.S. wanted or we wouldn’t play ball with them. But, he told me, since he had worked with us he felt otherwise.

I asked him why, and he said he really felt like we’re there to take care of the people.

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