“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
Kirk and I are flying home from Kurdistan together. It was our third trip there this year, as the Children’s Heart Project of Samaritan’s Purse has started a work there. On the first, with a team of three, we screened children for heart disease. On our second, with a team of ten, we added cardiac catheterizations. On this one, with a team of sixteen, we added heart surgeries. It was our eighth international pediatric cardiac surgical trip since 2005 to our third country. It was the first time an international team went to Sulamaniyah, Kurdistan, Iraq to assist in pediatric heart surgery.
Each surgical trip is hard, really hard. I think it must be something like childbirth, where you forget how hard it is until you find yourself doing it again. I think everyone on our team has somewhat of a love/hate relationship with these weeks. The fruit is so, so sweet. But getting to the fruit is so, so hard! Starting in a new country is hard too. We’ve done six surgical weeks in Mongolia. It is still challenging, but that is now familiar territory. I think we’ve been guilty of having amnesia to how hard it is to start in a new country, both last year in Kosova and this year in Kurdistan. The first clinical day of this trip, however, may have been the hardest, largely due to politics that are not worth going into. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tempted to quit. I always start these weeks with these updates on my mind, wondering what the Lord is going to teach me through the trip. I confess I started the week thinking it was going to be a really discouraging update!
We had an idea of what was facing us in the weeks leading up to the trip, but we persevered because we had made a promise to come. Over the course of these many trips, I have learned a lot about my husband as a leader. He has the faith to persevere when many others (including me!) would quit. Most probably would have called it off, given all that went on in the weeks leading up to it. But it was very important to Kirk that we keep our word. In the first day’s discouragement, I thought “well, there’s the lesson. We kept our word. Too bad it didn’t work out.” But every one of us on the team felt we had been called there for a reason. I think each one of us kept being obedient to the next task in front of us. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the days leading up to the trip Kirk had sent each of the team members the following devotional from My Utmost for His Highest:
“We tend to think that if Jesus Christ compels us to do something and we are obedient to Him, He will lead us to great success. We should never have the thought that our dreams of success are God¹s purpose for us. In fact, His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but He is not. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself. What is my vision of God¹s purpose for me? Whatever it may be, His purpose is for me to depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish. His purpose is the process itself. What He desires for me is that I see ‘Him walking on the sea’ with no shore, no success, nor goal in sight, but simply having the absolute certainty that everything is all right because I see ‘Him walking on the sea’ (Mark 6:49 ). It is the process, not the outcome, that is glorifying to God. God¹s training is for now, not later. His purpose is for this very minute, not for sometime in the future. We have nothing to do with what will follow our obedience, and we are wrong to concern ourselves with it. What people call preparation, God sees as the goal itself. God¹s purpose is to enable me to see that He can walk on the storms of my life right now. If we have a further goal in mind, we are not paying enough attention to the present time. However, if we realize that moment-by-moment obedience is the goal, then each moment as it comes is precious.”
Walking in moment-by-moment obedience in the chaos of Sunday, we were able to perform two heart catheterizations…and we were able to have a very productive meeting with the local team at the end of Sunday. On Monday, it was palpably a new day. I love the verse “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).” I felt the Lord’s joy on Monday and His faithfulness in answering our prayers. I think that was the first lesson: are you going to be steadfast in the face of trial? I really didn’t think we’d be back on Monday, but there we were, persevering.
The second lesson for the rest of the week was: are you going to grow weary in doing good? We started Monday with a catheterization to see if we could close a vessel with a device, but ended up needing to go the operating room (O.R.) to do so. We followed with an operation on a four-kilogram baby. On Tuesday, we started in the cath lab with another four-kilogram baby and then went to the O.R. with a seven-kilogram baby. Doing anything on a child less than ten kilograms really stretches our skills and supplies, even in the U.S., but especially internationally. Monday and Tuesday were very long days. All I could think about was how weary I was, that I didn’t know if I had it in me to continue. But I continually learn the lesson that God’s grace is sufficient for me and that His power is perfected in my weakness (2 Cor 12:9). I walked in on Tuesday morning and saw that first four-kilogram baby from Monday smile at me and all I could think of was “do not grow weary in doing good.” All the parents of these children thank us for giving them hope, for caring for their children. All their tears, pleading, and expressions of thanks remind me of why we do what we do. I think that child’s smile on Tuesday morning was the turning point for me. I wish I could tell you I go into these weeks knowing it’s not about me, but the long trip, the jet lag, the long days, and the endless complications of doing these procedures internationally make me start to think a lot about me and my tiredness. But the Lord keeps reminding me to “not grow weary in doing good.”
On Wednesday, we performed a surgical procedure called a BT shunt. One of the sickest patients we’ve ever taken care of on a previous trip was a BT shunt, so we all have a little post-traumatic stress disorder regarding this procedure. In addition, it was in a patient with Tetralogy of Fallot, who is at great risk of dying even with an anesthetic induction. The procedure went well. I took her to the ICU looking “great,” for who she was and what she had been through. We went to the cath lab to do another device procedure, knowing we might have to take that child to the O.R., just like the child earlier in the week. I prayed so hard that the device would work. It ‘s so much nicer for the child to have a small groin wound from the cath versus a large incision in their chest wall, but I also confess some selfishness to my motivations. I really wanted a shorter, easier day! God was gracious to the child and the device worked. I had no chance for euphoria, however, because as we were finishing the procedure I learned that our first patient of the day needed to go back to the O.R. emergently. I thought the Lord’s plans were to give us a shorter, easier day. He just knew we didn’t need to be in the O.R. with another patient when we had that emergency. I think that day turned out to be our latest night but, once again, on Thursday morning, I walked into the ICU to see a smiling patient. Such sweet gifts from God!
We got the most procedures done on Thursday, six in all. It was supposed to be our last day of procedures, but just as I was about to be euphoric about being done, Kirk, in his screening, found a really sick boy who needed an operation on Friday. I must admit that when I learned this I almost wanted to cry. When were we going to get to rest? We successfully took care of this boy on Friday morning and it was, literally, a life-saving operation. I immediately understood in taking care of him that it was the absolute right thing for us to do and was quite repentant of my bad attitude. “Many are the plans in the mind of a man (or woman named Kim!), but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [His] ways higher than [our]ways and [His] thoughts than [our] thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). Thank the Lord that this is true!
We had a debriefing meeting with our team and the local team on Friday afternoon. One of the Kurdish doctors commented that probably the greatest thing the local team had learned from us during the week was that we were merciful to their children. With eleven cath, seven surgical, and two other diagnostic procedures done, as well as seventy-one children screened, the children’s and family’s stories are endless. One family had lost six children before birth. They had sold their home and their car in order to go to Jordan for in-vitro fertilization to have the precious daughter that we performed one of the surgeries on. She pleaded with us through tears to take care of this baby she had spent a decade desiring to have. What a sacred trust…and what a powerful gift of God to return her baby to her surgically healed. One family was part of a religious minority in Iraq and claimed they were always treated poorly. What a privilege to give the same love and concern to this child as to other child we saw. Arab or Kurdish; Muslim, Christian, or any other religion…all are precious in His sight. And what a high compliment for the greatest observation of the week to be an acknowledgement that we were merciful.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us (2 Cor 4:7).” It is only by the grace and power of God that we, who are oh so human, accomplish anything on these trips. To Him be all the glory!
I so needed to read this blog. Thanks!!!! You sharing your feelings in a real way is so encouraging to me. I have been working in Kazaksthan since 2002 and just returned August 9th. The ministry and relationships and the plans that I have been involved in have changed drastically. It is hard to look at this and not feel like I failed. But, as I read this, I know that my time and ministry was not wasted…It was and is about the process. I really needed to be reminded of this. Even if I do not know the future of this ministry for me…it was worth it to show love and mercy to the muslums and the orthodox kids….so THANKS for being real and expressing your thoughts and emotions in a way that helped me today. Amen sister!!!