“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
What a strange way to start a For Hearts and Souls’ trip update. Sounds like a “downer”. And these trips are so not “downers.” They are some of the most amazing experiences of our lives. But I realize I have been on three trips now without writing about them. What is that about? I believe it’s about Ephesians 6:12. But, I digress. I am truly a chronological story teller. So, probably for my sake more than anyone else’s, let me tell the story in order.
We were in Mongolia the last two weeks in September. The statistics from that trip are impressive. There were around fifty team members over the course of the two weeks. The first week was the Mending the Broken Hearts week, where we performed eleven surgeries and fourteen heart catheterizations. The second week was the Searching for the Broken Hearts week, where almost eighteen-hundred children were screened for congenital heart disease. But, we had a death: beautiful 5-year-old Undarmaa. Hers was the most complicated operation we had undertaken there. Medically speaking, she did not act “right” from the moment I put her to sleep. She required a lot of pharmacologic support to keep her blood pressure up in the operating room and in the twenty-fours she lived after her operation. She had us all scratching our heads. Even her death was a surprise. She had had her breathing tube removed. She had been speaking and interacting with her family. Then she had a sudden cardiac arrest. Our ICU team was incredible. I cannot praise them enough. They did everything right. Sure, hindsight is 20:20. And when something like this happens, we all wonder what we could have done differently. We wonder if she would have lived if she had had her surgery in the United States. We’re not sure. But, we’ll never know. The Lord knows though. He is good and He is sovereign. I rest in that.
I don’t know how to describe a scene like that though. It is truly terrible. The wail of a mother who has lost her child is unforgettable. My dear husband Kirk always counsels physicians he is training to never, ever forget that wail so that we always remember the sacred trust granted us when we take care of people’s children. I confess that the night she died everything went black for me. The Mending week in Mongolia is thoroughly and utterly exhausting. As the team leader’s wife, I confess I worried that it would ruin everything. People travel at their own expense and work really, really hard. Would they be too discouraged to go on? Would they ever want to come back? Would the Mongolians continue to trust us? Would Samaritan’s Purse, who has so graciously and abundantly supported and partnered with us, continue to trust us? She died late Wednesday night. Not everyone on the team knew she had died until morning. We met for breakfast in the hotel when most everyone found out. We had this precious cook who made to-order eggs for us every day. He found out what happened and tried to reassure our team members “Everything will be all right. You are here and you serve the children. I am here and I serve you…eggs.” What a sweet man we all have come to love as he has made us breakfast over the last two years.
After breakfast, we gathered at the hospital for our usual team devotions before starting our work. Kirk put the question to the team “are you willing to continue?” The answer was a resounding “yes!” I don’t know that I remember the specifics of that devotional time, but I knew we cried, we prayed, we sang…and we continued to trust a loving and “faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:19). This was my first lesson in Ephesians 6:12. There really is an enemy, Satan, who wants us to get discouraged and lose heart. The team acknowledged this reality and refused to give him the victory. I was so blessed by their faith and their resolve. The rest of the week went very well. Twenty-four lives changed. The number currently escapes me how many children are brought to the U.S. and Canada out of Mongolia per year for cardiac care, but it’s about the same. That’s a year’s worth of impact in one week.
However, I didn’t learn the lesson of Ephesians 6:12 well enough to be courageous enough to sit down and write an update about it. It’s so much easier to write an update when all goes well. I in no way want to come across as defensive or as minimizing the loss. The loss is tragic. But I believe that beautiful little girl is in heaven. And her family is continuing to be ministered to by members Samaritan’s Purse Children’s Heart Project in Mongolia. And we will not know until we get to heaven how many learned about and began to trust Jesus because of what happened. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul” (Mark 8:36)? That is why our organization is called For Hearts AND Souls. What does it profit those we serve if we simply medically fix their hearts and do nothing for their souls? In our human thinking, a medical mission trip is successful is we have no deaths or complications. But “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways’, declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). In God’s economy, there is victory in human death, if it is exchanged for eternal life with Him.
Continuing with the chronology, over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in January, thirteen of us went to the Mayan Riveria, near Cancun, Mexico, to screen several hundred Mayan children for congenital heart disease. Part of my writing these updates is, I confess, an opportunity for me to process personally what the Lord taught me in each trip. You who read them have to somewhat suffer from my “thinking (or, more appropriately, typing) out loud.” In keeping with what I believe the Lord is teaching me about spiritual warfare, the only thing I can think about that trip in that vein is that I didn’t write about it. It was a great trip. The Lord put together an absolutely wonderful team. Our accommodations the first night were really quite sub-optimal, but they willingly endured it without a single complaint. As team leaders, I cannot tell you what a blessing that is! We were rewarded the following nights with truly beautiful (and cheap!) accommodations. This was supposed to be the first trip that I was supposed to lead without Kirk, as he was supposed to be headed to Iraq. His departure to Iraq got delayed and he got to go down to Mexico on Thursday night with the team. He left Mexico on Saturday morning to head back to the U.S. and then on to Iraq, but it was such a huge blessing to have him there at the beginning! And I am truly grateful for how the team loved and supported me through my grieving his departure and for how they provided for spiritual and medical leadership in his absence. OK, I did get stuck for 48 hours trying to get home due to the freezing weather that hit Texas. I think the spiritual warfare there is trying to convince me it’s just too difficult to get the time to get away and do these trips. My absence affects my partner greatly in terms of workload…and I feel awful when I’m gone too long because I so appreciate her willingness to support what we do by bearing the brunt of the work and call when I am gone.
So, I just returned from Zambia this week. A team of ten of us went there to conduct a pastor’s conference and to minister to the thirty-six orphans collectively being taken care of by what we call For Hearts and Souls Children’s Village. In terms of spiritual warfare, this was what I began to call a “Satan Attack Fest”! The four of us who left San Antonio together were delayed from the start. Our flight out of San Antonio into Chicago was delayed due to weather, causing us to miss our connection and ultimately delaying our arrival by twenty-four hours and our luggage’s arrival an additional three days! Due to a collision of circumstances, three of us did not get to the airport on time to depart Zambia, thus delaying our return home another twenty-four hours. My partner, tragically, is getting way too used to these delays! There were numerous other little frustrations during the week that are not even worth recounting. But, call me crazy, it was still a fantastic trip. The delays allowed for some wonderful quality time with the people I was traveling with. And not having my luggage really taught me what I really need to have, versus what I would like to have. The Lord may have taught me more on this trip than ever…and I truly felt closer to Him than I have ever felt.
This is the first time I’ve led a trip without Kirk. I confess this caused me a lot of anxiety, as did the fact that the trip did not seem to be working out in keeping with the vision we had for it when we started planning it over a year ago. Joshua 3 relates the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. The river only parted AFTER those carrying the ark stepped into it. Sometimes the Lord’s plans only become evident and accomplished AFTER we take the initial step of faith. I went to Zambia not really knowing what exactly we were supposed to accomplish there and the Lord made it perfectly evident as the week went on. We thought we would take a team of doctors and do medical outreach. Only two doctors went: me and my loyal friend Audrey, who decided to come at basically the last minute because I told her, on so many levels, that I needed her. (I have to give credit to my friends Tae and Richard who did the exact same thing for the Mexico trip. I am blessed beyond words by our many wonderful and supportive friends.) The two of us only had the capacity to examine the thirty-six orphans, but this was exactly what was necessary. Other outreach would have distracted from the quality time we needed to spend with them. We thought we would take dentists to do dental outreach. No dentists came. We thought we would do building. There were two couples that came for the pastors’ conference. The other six of us were women. Not exactly a strong building team. But a strong team for simply loving on the orphans, which again was exactly what was necessary. And, sorry men, it was such an incredible bonding, ministering time among these six women, I can now see why the Lord didn’t call other men to come. All that being said, we would love it if doctors, dentists, and builders felt called to come with us same time next year! And if you want to come just to love on orphans, as they say in Africa, you are welcome!
We did partner for the first time with Shepherds’ Support (www.shepherdssupport.org) to conduct a pastors’ and wives’ conference in Kitwe, Zambia. Shepherds’ Support is the international ministry of my former Pastor Steve Troxel and his wife Connie that they stepped down from over thirty years of pastoring our church to start. They did a three-day conference for around one-thousand pastors and wives that was wildly successful. This was the fulfillment of a dream for Pastor Edward Mwansa, who oversees the orphanage work in Kitwe. He, like Steve, has a heart to minister to and teach pastors, so it was a beautiful fit.
What has been accomplished in Zambia since we first met Pastor Edward and his wife Barbra there in 2001 and since For Hearts and Souls Childrens’ Village (FHASCV) opened in 2003 is truly miraculous. FHASCV started in a rental home. You may remember last year we went to open Mimi’s House, a home FHASCV owns on land it owns. There are now twenty-eight AIDS orphans living there. A foundation has been laid to build a home of equivalent size on the same site. A house has been rented for Betsey’s House, which is a home for eight teen girls who have been rescued from a life of drug abuse and prostitution on the streets. Land has been purchased to make their home permanent as well. There are twenty orphans in the capitol, Lusaka, who are going to school because of FHAS. Another ministry has donated land to build a home for teen boys and building is going on there. Meanwhile, Pastor Edward and his church members are ministering to the street boys once a week there with food, showers, clothes washing, and Bible study. Barbra’s crisis pregnancy ministry, Silent Voices, continues to grow and counts over three-thousand babies alive because of it. They’ve recently had an ultrasound machine donated to them. We are praying for a doctor or ultrasound technician to go spend a significant amount of time with them to train them how to use it. Pastor Edward’s Church on the Rock has been lavishly supported by Solid Rock Church in Portland, Oregon and they have purchased land to build their own building. Someone else is assisting Pastor Edward and Barbra to build a guest house that will be so helpful for people going over there to minister.
There is so much need there, it can easily become overwhelming. Without being guilty of being satisfied and thinking it is enough, I do marvel and praise the Lord for what He has already done there. A favorite song the Zambians love to sing when we’re there is “Come and see what the Lord has done.” He has done so much…and it is so important for me personally to “come and see” it. There are thirty-six children with names and personalities that have woven themselves into my heart because I’ve gotten to see and touch and hold and hug and interact with them. Team members took their pictures and wrote down their stories. We’re going to try to get them on our website so people can specifically pray for them. And we continue to pray for how the Lord keeps expanding the vision. We’d still love a farm for the orphans to move to once they get older, where they can learn skills they can use to support themselves. There’s now a pre-school at Mimi’s House. We’d love to have a school for all the orphans at FHASCV who now go to public school and for the orphans in town who may have family to live with but no money to go to school.
There is a spiritual “high” in going on these trips that is indescribable. I honestly wasn’t tired the entire week I was there, which is miraculous because, ask my husband, I’m an expert at being tired! I think it has to do with this: “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father [is] to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). There is simply a blessing in taking care of orphans that is palpable. In contrast, I’ve been exhausted all week since I’ve been home. This is probably the hardest time I’ve ever had writing an update. It’s weighed on me all week. And, like I said, it’s the first update I’ve written in three trips, despite the fact that people have told me they’ve missed them. I finally realized it’s all about Ephesians 6:12. The Lord is doing amazing things in the world through those of you who go with us, pray for us, and support us. I named some names in this update, but there are so many names I’ve left out. Please know that we are blessed by every single one of you. What we are doing makes Satan mad. And I consider it an honor. If he weren’t mad, I’d question the effectiveness of what we’re up to. The good news is we know who wins. We are children of the King. Through faith in Him we are able to “extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). “In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). For me, the lesson is not to be discouraged by, but simply to be aware of, the spiritual battle. I will continue to “be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). And I will continue to be thankful for all of you who make the ministry of For Hearts and Souls possible.
Dr. Kim Milhoan, President, For Hearts and Souls
As a footnote, praise the Lord that Kirk’s time in Iraq is over half over. The last time he was there he got to screen around sixty children for congenital heart disease, many of whom have traveled throughout the world to have treatment. He’s praying for a similar opportunity this time. In February, he did have the opportunity to travel to Yemen in an official capacity as an Air Force physician to screen children for congenital heart disease there. He’s been invited back and is praying he’ll get to go on his way home from Iraq. Stay tuned for a potential FHAS trip to Yemen. Kirk never goes anywhere without getting the vision for more ministry! Meanwhile, Lord willing, our upcoming schedule consists of Mending and Searching weeks in Mongolia in September, a Searching week in Mexico again in January, and a trip to Zambia again next March. Is the Lord calling you to come with us?