Feb 23

Blood, Sweat & Jesus, by Kerry Stillman ★★★★★

In the year 2009, my wife Betsy and I did several medical mission trips, one to Bangladesh, and the other to Cameroon. While both trips were to remote villages that were of Muslim orientation, there were great differences that we noted in how the hospitals operated as well as the style of the missionaries. The Cameroon experience was in the Sahal, or Extrem Nord of Cameroon, in a small town called Meskine just outside of Maroua. It was a hot, semi-desert environment, and many of the patients lived a nomadic lifestyle. While many languages were spoken, including French, Fulani, Arabic, German, and Hausa, one of the languages was not English. Thus, my communication was mostly in French to patients, and German to the surgeon from Leipzig that I was working with. It was in this setting that we met Kerry Stillman, who was a physiotherapist from England who was working at the hospital. The hospital in Meskine was built in the early 1990s by a trio of families that came out from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They were able to construct a mission hospital that has had a tremendous influence on the surrounding villages, and many Muslims came under the influence of hearing the gospel. The most peculiar aspect of this hospital mission that Betsy and I appreciated was that everybody seemed to get along quite well with each other. I say this because it is unusual to see the friendly spirit among co-workers as was seen at Meskine. Scott and Lee Pyles, as well as Danny and Frances Kennison, ran an enjoyable operation that kept peace with the hospital workers as well as patients. Dave and Patsy Alfors (from deepest darkest Africa!), the Kretschmar family from Leipzig, Kerry Stillman, Dr. Jacqueline from the Netherlands, and many others were all a great joy to be around. It was truly a great honor to have worked with them.

Kerry chronicles the events that led up to the founding of the MCWA hospital in Cameroon, based on the inspiration of a surgeon named Bert Oubre. Kerry details the original vision, the Pyles’, Kennison’s, and Oubre’s first trip to Meskine, and how the hospital slowly took shape, including how she was eventually recruited from England. Much of the book that follows are multiple anecdotes on how the hospital touched the lives of so many people in northern Cameroon as well as Chad and Nigeria. Each story was a moving experience of how the faithfulness of a few missionaries was able to bring the gospel and salvation to many people lost to the darkness of Islam. The challenges of becoming a Christian in a Muslim country were emphasized. Finally, events of terrorism from Boko Haram affected the hospital community, ultimately leading to the foreign missionaries pulling out of the hospital, though leaving it operational with native doctors and nurses. Kerry included descriptions of the challenges of life during Ramadan. She describes the process of a Muslim held funeral, and how it differs from a Christian funeral. She also had a chapter that described the many ways in which the hospital had positively affected the village of Meskine. Kerry is a master story-teller, and it was difficult to put the book down. She was artful at painting the lives of so many people whose lives she and the hospital community affected and led to Christ.

I enjoyed this book tremendously since Betsy and I were there in Meskine, worked in the hospital, and saw much of what Kerry wrote about. It brought back precious memories. For those who have never been to Cameroon or this mission, the book is still worth reading. It is a wonderful story of how many lives have been affected and blessed by the gospel and a few missionaries faithful to God’s call in their life. Perhaps someone will be motivated to even spend some time on the mission field?

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Oct 16


Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, by Alister McGrath ?????
I had varied throughout the reading of the book, at rating the book between 3-5. I finally settled on a 5 in spite of a few serious misgivings. Alister McGrath is known as a conservative Protestant scholar working out of Oxford. McGrath takes a fairly event stance in spite of his supposed academic and conservative stance. Sometimes, he goes a little too far in trying to be moderate, such as when he seems to side with Fosdick in the Fosdick/Machen controversy, Machen accusing liberal Christianity of having abandoned Christian roots and thus not being Christian at all. I think Machen was correct. Yet, McGrath also is very even keeled in his presentation of Pentecostalism as being the dominant force now driving the massive spread of Protestantism throughout much of the rest of the world, including South America, Africa, Asia and Korea, as well as possibly the Philippines. Thematically, McGrath holds tight to his thesis of displaying how the Christian “dangerous” idea that put the Bible into the hands of the layman, allowing them to read and interpret scripture outside of the forced interpretation of the church, has allowed the Protestant movement to adapt to other cultures and societies well beyond the expectations of the west. The book is divided into three parts, the first being a standard historical outline from Luther and Zwingli and Calvin to the present day. It is a focused history, examining the fundamental thesis of what happens when you put the Bible into the hands of a layman. True, you get diversity, heresy, secularization, etc., but you also get adaptability to various cultures. The second part outlined Protestant influence on Western culture, including music, art, science, etc. I’m not sure all of his analyses were entirely accurate, especially with issues of evolution and science, but again, McGrath is possibly attempting to not takes sides in the issue. He still leans toward the evolutionists, sadly. The third part speaks of the rapid growth of Christianity through the rest of the world, and his hypothesis as to why that is happening, which is, as mentioned above, Pentecostalism and other forms of spirituality that are more directed to the culture, thinking  of the lifestyle of people outside of the Western world and adapting Christianity to those cultures, rather than forcing a pure Western cultural interpretation on Christianity. Missing in the book is discussions as to how a large part of Christianity has trashed the Scripture. This is especially true of liberal Christianity. Since the basic thesis of this book is the freedom to interpret Scripture, when you deconstruct Scripture rather than interpret it, does that produce a Christian? I don’t think so. Also not included is the concept of the “heretic”. Essentially, Islam, as well as Jehovah’s Witness and Mormonism are heresies, that I would fail to define as essentially Christian, yet he doesn’t address this issue of deviants of interpretation and belief that delegitimize being a Christian. This is a book worth reading, though a bit dense and sometimes controversial, it reads easily and is very thought provoking.

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Sep 22


Don’t Let the Goats eat the Loquat Trees, by Dr. Thomas Hale ????
I really wanted to give this book 5-stars as I truly enjoyed reading it. Thomas Hale is a wonderful writer, mixing an entertaining style with a story line that is quite fascinating. I truly appreciated his frank, honest style, that seemed to hit home with the experiences that I had in Bangladesh, with the overwhelming number of patients, the extreme poverty, the prejudices against Western medicine, the personal struggles, the struggles with natives and their own peculiarities. He never paints himself as the miracle doctor, and seems to spend more time describing his failures than his successes. The book starts out as a chronological narrative for several chapters, which left me ready to put it down. He describes himself and his wife as not having a clue as to exactly where they were going, or under what conditions they would be living. The first thought was that I was reading the story of a quasi-clueless but deeply atruistic missionary dragging God along as the magic puppy-dog who bales him out of every trouble created by dumb decisions. This book ended up being anything but that, and reflected a very pragmatic, hard-working surgeon who had a very realistic sense of what he could expect and accomplish in Nepal. Much of the book was written in non-chronological order, but with chapters divided into various topics, such as the living conditions, certain events, and philosophical reflections. I enjoyed the chapters where he vignetted various patients.  So, my criticisms. 1) I get a flavor for his character, but read almost nothing of his wife, kids, other doctors, or other people involved in his life. 2) He speaks some of Christ, but little about the intention to bring Christ to the Nepalis. I am not certain whether his motivations were altruistic vs. Christ oriented. 3) The final few chapters entails rhetoric of a Malthusian nature, with him fretting over population growth and food supply and wealth distribution. It seemed like a chapter right out of the clueless mutterings of Tony Campolo, Thomas Sines or Ron Sider. Overlooking the criticisms, this is a fun book to read and reflective of what it is really like to be a missionary surgeon. I hope that someone like Dr. Kelley offer an autobiography of their own experiences in the field, which certainly would be as enthralling, but leading toward a more appreciative conservatism and reflective of a work of God in the mission field.

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