Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. —Matthew 16:24
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death…. —Philippians 3:10
I awoke this morning with pain. I awaken every morning with pain, the consequence of an old injury. Sometimes I can greet it like an old companion from the wars of life…. Other times…. we’re not so fond of each other. Sometimes I can almost count it a blessing (usually after taking enough Tylenol & Motrin). For one thing, compared to the pain I have seen others endure (patients, friends, neighbors and family), compared to the pain I have caused to others almost daily as a surgeon, mine is an inconsequential nothing. It is a butterfly that landed on my shoulder to catch her breath, then flits off, dipping, rising, and zig-zagging her way in search of her next rest stop. Then too, to be awakened by that old compañero de las guerras just means that I am still alive on this Earth, to see another sunrise, to face the hope, the beauty, the pain and the purpose of another day. From a broader perspective, to open with an admission of awakening to pain is as pedestrian an observation as can be made. I might as well have said I awoke this morning breathing. For to live as a sentient creature on this planet is to hurt, with the distinction between sensing and hurting merely a matter of degree. In the end, it is just a hard fact to lean into that almost none of us will get off this planet without passing through some serious pain.
After exercise to shake out the kinks and a cup of coffee to blow away the cobwebs, I (carefully) rode my old moto (the very instrument of that old injury…I guess some of us are slow-learners) in to the hospital to make rounds and check on the O.R. schedule for the day. As I passed Labor & Delivery, there were two women (both named Maria) in various stages of active labor. Now, that is respectable top-ten pain, the ancient yardstick of pain dating all the way back to God’s sad prognosis for Eve in the Garden, “In pain you shall bring forth children” … It was apparent that the two Maria’s had distinctly different ways of dealing with that pain. Maria I, nearest the door, was silently & stoically just sweating it out. Maria II, over there behind curtain # 3, was generously ready to share her pain with everyone. She had the volume turned up so high I think you can hear her through the print. But in either case, this pain was going to be just “for a season” and would produce something of inestimable worth, a living soul born into this world with the breath of God in her nostrils. There was purpose to that pain.
Moving (briskly) down the corridor, I passed Don Nando, who is beginning to respond to treatment for Gout (another pain on the top 10 pain list). There is Doña Yolanda who came in through the E.D. last night for treatment for Herpes Zoster (Shingles). I passed the O.R. staff moving Don Isais down to the Operating Room where we have to remove the kidney stone stuck in his ureter (also on the top 10 pain list), and then the Peds ward with little Olvin asleep in his bed, exhausted with his swollen and infected 3 year old arm (animal bite=> infection). I arrived at my final destination of the morning rounds on the Ortho ward, which is chock full of long bone fracture patients (another top 10) in various stages of recovery. I often think of this ward as The Hurt Locker.
The ability to sense (& respond to) stimuli is a fundamental characteristic of life (along with metabolism, reproduction, growth, development and death). For all that we must disappoint our Creator, the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve have highly developed abilities to sense many aspects of His creation: light and sound, taste and smell, light touch & pressure, heat & cold, kinesthetic awareness, even potentially spiritual senses of discernment and intuition, and sometimes prescience and prophecy. The gift of life comes with the gift to sense and perceive. But if the stimulus of any of these senses is too intense, then that sensation is painful. If life requires sensibility, life requires pain. But suffering is a different matter.
I also had occasion this morning to pass through the back door of the hospital. I was on my way to talk to Mike over at the new utilities building under construction. Just outside the door I passed by a man waiting on the portico for someone to pick him up. He brought to mind the paralytic Jesus healed who had been waiting at the pool of Bethesda for 38 years, waiting for someone “to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.” This man, hunched in a wheelchair, with his head in his hands, was missing all of one foot, and from the bandage on his other foot, one could make a quick bet he was on the way to losing the other to diabetes. He was emaciated & unkempt, smelling faintly of gangrene and strongly of Dakin’s Solution, fresh bandages, and stale sweat. He was dressed in wrinkled and dirty clothes of the cheapest sort. There was no question that this man was sick to his soul. You could feel that from 10 yards away. Sitting as still as death, he paid no notice when I passed by. Back down the corridor, all of those patients there, all of those situations, that was pain. But this here, this is suffering. Suffering is pain so extreme or so protracted that it exhausts your Being. It erodes your Soul. I already had in mind the preliminary idea that I was supposed to write this piece about Pain, Suffering, and Sacrifice. So, part of me thought I should take a photo. “Here is the illustration of suffering,” I thought… and “a picture is worth a thousand words” (certainly worth more than a thousand of my words). But the better part of me knew that I am not going to take that from him too. So I nodded and passed-by thinking, “after talking with Mike I’ll come back this way and check on him.” I did look for him when I came back by… But he was gone.
the paralytic healed at the pool of Bethesda
My Mother passed from this earth the first day of June, 2021. I may write someday of what a special person she was in the lives of many, of what a hole she left behind with her passing, or of her unshakable faith up to the end–but not just now. Just now I’ll touch on her passing only as it helps to illustrate the distinction between pain and suffering and sacrifice. I think she’d be pleased with putting a little purpose to her suffering there at the end. You see, purpose transforms suffering into sacrifice.
Until the last half year, my Mom had been uncommonly healthy most all of her life. In her 89th year she still kept the yards and garden and around the outbuildings at the farm neatly mowed with “her lawn mower,” and she could be counted on to check on “old people”–to get them to church or to make sure they had groceries when the weather was bad. She kept up with an amazing number of young people, sharing her interest and wisdom in their trials and triumphs. Mother had seen her share of suffering in life, but had always looked for and found a purpose to it, transforming suffering to sacrifice. As long as she could see the purpose in it, as soon as her perennial question, “well what’s the sense of that?” was answered, she could make a meal out of cucumbers….and often did.
Then, so quickly that it caught us all flat footed, she entered the hardest and last winter of her life. The cancer robbed her of her energy. It robbed her of her breath. And in the end, at least in her mind, it robbed her of any purpose to her suffering. In her uber practicality she would say: “I’m of no use to anyone now. Why can’t I just go be with the Lord?” When our answers weren’t good enough, she finally got to a point where, for better or worse, she decided she wasn’t going to put up with this foolishness any longer, and she refused food or water. She did not lack for the best of care there at home at the farm. My sisters were there, and my Dad was there, and so many good friends and neighbors came by to see if there was anything they could do. Yet–having recently returned from a trip up to see her–when I heard that she had so set her face toward Jerusalem, that she would not eat or drink, I was once again back here at Loma de Luz, an ocean between us. I knew she would not waiver and there could be only a few days to get there. So we made the earliest arrangements we could to return through the gauntlet which international travel has become. We got back into the country on the 2nd day of June. But Mother had gone Home on the morning of the 1st.
Now, I don’t blame her. If there is fault to be found I see it as mine. For her dying without me there is just one more price she had to pay for what I was called to do. Maybe I can joke with her about it when next we meet…. that she refused to wait for me this side of Jordan. But I know she will counter that she had carried her cross to the water’s edge. “What purpose would it serve to wait any longer? What’s the sense of that?” I can hear her say. She had promised to wait for me on the other side (“so long as Jesus waited there with me” were her exact terms). We’ll have all the time in eternity to talk it through. And that…..is what makes it alright.
In this, my friends, I have found another facet of the incomparable sacrifice of our Savior, another debt this debtor owes Him. He forever changed the “emblem of suffering and shame” into a symbol of transcendence. For we all will suffer in this life. But Jesus carried the most extreme instrument of suffering and shame up a hill, then joined it with the most transcendent of purposes, to conquer sin and death. At the nexus of that cross, where purpose intersects our suffering, there is transformation. There is the resurrection. “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” Purpose makes sense of suffering. The cross makes sense even of death. The transformation, the resurrection, turns the brutish and fearful finality of death into Hope. At the edge of the grave, we then can say with certainty, “O death where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory?”
Before the resurrection, in life on Earth, there seems to be a necessary ordination. Christ, the Great Physician, doesn’t seem to offer us a crutch and a work excuse. He offers us a cross and redemption. He says to His disciples, “If anyone is willing to follow after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” literally, let him take up “τον σταυρον αυτου” (his own cross). Though we are to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” each disciple is to take up their own cross and follow Him.
Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry his cross
It is just another hard fact of the Way. The Master suffered; so will His disciples. Jesus put a point on this in His teaching. The Apostle Paul wrote of it to the struggling church on the North Coast of the Aegean Sea. I learned it mostly here on the North Coast of Honduras nearly 2,000 years later. From early on (& still to this day), whenever I whine and cry & complain to God, “Why does it have to be so damned hard?!?” His response is Philippians 3:10, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” It was one of the first passages I memorized in Spanish: “a fin de conocerle, y el poder de su resurrección, y la participación de sus padecimientos, en conformidad a su muerte.” But the original Greek gives the deepest and most mystical sense to the passage. Koinonia is the word which has been translated “Fellowship” in English and “Participación” in Spanish. It comes from the root word for “common,” but the meaning of koinonia is the bond of commonly shared experience or perspective, as well as the group of those connected by that shared bond, like the immediate kinship you sense with someone who has gone through some deep hurt that you share in common, like the immediate connection I now have with those who’ve lost their mother. It most literally means “communion.” Paul’s desire & commitment is to share in the communion of Christ’s sufferings. While we each have our own individual cross to bear, together, we have Christ’s cross to share. He in turn promised to share our burdens and never leave us alone with the pain.
In that communion, there is transformation, and the disciple learns a little more of the Way of the Master. So, if nothing else, the purpose of suffering for His disciples is to share in the communion of His suffering …. That….and the Hope of the resurrection.
Which brings me back to the man waiting on the portico at the back door of the hospital, the man waiting for an angel to trouble the water. (Actually, I think he was waiting for a ride.) He was gone when I came back by. That still troubles me more than I would have thought, for a suffering person at a hospital is, of course, not an uncommon occurrence. But, I’m still looking for him. I wanted to make sure he had been cared for, certainly, that his diabetes and his gangrenous foot were being attended to. Yet there is also something I thought more important to share. Though admittedly I’m more capable of and more “comfortable” with glucose control, or antibiotics or amputation, I thought he might also be in need of someone to offer him the Cross, to listen to his story, to ask in so many words if he could see a purpose to his suffering and if he could see hope beyond it. I thought I might share with him my mother’s difficult last few steps with her cross, and her certainty of the resurrection. I missed that opportunity. I don’t intend to miss it the next time. So I’m looking for him. If you see him, can you send him my way? Or better yet, you can do it. You can offer him the cross. Though none of us can tell another how far they must carry their cross, we each have our own to bear. And we all can find purpose in the Participación, the Fellowship, the Communion of His suffering,…That…and the power of the Resurrection.
In Christ Jesus,
Jefferson McKenney, M.D.
News & Needs
If one drew a graph of the year by year number of adult missionaries on the field here at Loma de Luz, it would be a steadily increasing upward slope, as the scope of the ministry continues to grow in breadth and depth.
However, if you broke that slope down into week by week or month by month numbers, the graph would look more like a stock market graph with dips & surges. ….
At Loma de Luz in recent months, a combination of the arrest of incoming missionaries during the pandemic and the ongoing natural rate of attrition from the field has produced one big dip… like that one you see in the stock market graph during the time of the major US lockdown in spring 2020. The thing about missionaries leaving the field without replacements is that the scope of the ministry, the workload generated by the vanishing missionary, goes on like a train with its throttle stuck. It continues on in that straight line kind of climb. The workload is just carried by the fewer missionaries left behind.
So, currently at Loma de Luz, personnel-wise, we are in one big dip, while work-wise we can’t slow the train down that much. We need help… The Lord’s work needs workers. We are in critical need of the following:
- An Information Technology missionary… a computer guy (or gal). Here the IT Missionary ultimately also deals with most all technology issues, from ham radios to ventilators, from X-Ray to EMR. You don’t have to know how to deal with those issues. You just have to be able to learn how to deal with them… and willing to offer up the sacrifice of service to the Lord. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, because you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving…Colossians 3:2 …If you are willing to serve the Creator of the Universe in a challenging place, contact: Dave Fields / Loma de Luz at [email protected] and [email protected].
- Teachers: Remember the great commission? “Go ye therefore and teach (μαθητεύω) all nations… teaching (διδασκοντες) them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” –Matthew 28:19,20….If your spirit senses the Lord’s gentle calling about this, contact: Reagan [email protected], Angela [email protected] & Rosanne [email protected].
- Nurses, PA’s, NP’s, CRNA’s, Physicians: Remember another great commission? “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” Matthew 10:8…If you agree with Jim Elliot that “Heis no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,”…then contact [email protected] & [email protected] for Nurses or CRNA’s, [email protected] for PA’s, [email protected] for NP’s, and [email protected] for physicians.
- Construction / Maintenance missionaries: Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Psalm 127:1… If you have skills in construction, engineering, project management, mechanics, plumbing, electric….When you come home from work today and ask yourself who you were working for, if the answer is not “the Lord,” then consider contacting [email protected] & [email protected]
Please keep praying for Jerry Caffey, Mike Yost, and J.B. Kuykendall, regarding their treatment for cancer and remission.
Thank you to the many of you who wrote to us when we sent out the email that Marty McKenney had passed. If you aren’t already on the email prayer list, and would like to be, please contact us at [email protected].
One good thing God can always bring out of our suffering—unless in our bitterness we won’t allow it—is a far greater capacity to care about and deal kindly with those who are hurting. In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul tells us that God comforts us in our pain and then also uses us to comfort others who are walking through pain and trouble. The word translated “comfort” here means “to come alongside.” We are not told that no sparrows will fall; we are told they do not fall alone. We are not told we will be always comfortable on our journey; we are told the Lord will come alongside us as we walk. Our suffering likewise becomes something of purpose when it makes our hearts softer toward others who struggle, especially those who suffer in similar ways. When a woman miscarries, if she is willing to make her pain known, she suddenly finds women from all walks of life who have also suffered that loss reaching out to her. Veterans, especially of the same war, campaign, or battle understand one another in ways no one else but God can. Our pain, of all things, makes us sympathetic and understanding in ways nothing else can. And that is a thing of great worth.
–Sally Mahoney for Cornerstone