by lyle e davis
I reckon we all have, at one time or another, asked ourselves the question . . . “what is my purpose in life? Why am I here? Will it have mattered, when I am gone, that I once was here?”
There are those who have asked themselves those very same questions . . . and, somehow, they heard a call and responded.
And the world is a better place for it.
This week, we take a close look at just four individuals. Four folks who have made, and are making, a tremendous difference in the world.
Desiree' is a young lady who spoke to our Kiwanis Club about three years ago. She made quite an impression. She was working at Starbucks but had been looking on the Internet for a career change. She stumbled across an article that mentioned help was needed in Uzbekistan. Intrigued, she researched Uzbekistan, reading most of the night. She read it, then went to bed. The next day she met someone whose parents were missionaries in Uzbekistan. She met the parents, later went with them on a three week trip, met little children from an orphanage and held them in her arms.
After returning home and back to work at Starbucks, an uppity lady one morning complained that there was too much foam on her latte. Desiree thought . . . “Last week I was holding starving children in my arms. Today I’m worried about too much foam on a latte. I think I have a greater calling.” She took off her Starbucks apron and began a new life.
She had heard the call and followed her heart. She accepted a mission to go to Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan, officially the Republic of Uzbekistan, was formerly part of the Soviet Union. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south.
The stories she sends home, I find, are very moving.
Not as a matter of complaint, but more one of fact … it’s COLD. Few residents, actually none, can remember it being this cold and lasting so long. In Fahrenheit, we have not been above freezing at our warmest and have actually dipped into the negatives. Some may think that’s not so bad, but add to that limited heating, (inside our house it is about 53 degrees), no electricity at night, and occasional hot water (the pipe leading to the hot water boiler is freezing over). However, life goes on.
The Q Orphanage has no heat at all, occasional electricity and are trying to cook food for 80 kids on one electric stove. Obviously, meals are a bit off schedule, so all the kids are miserably hungry and frighteningly cold. It doesn’t help that the kids are left to sit (or lie) in their urine soaked clothes, which feel like actual ice. In one such case, I stripped the kid naked and just held her, with my arms extended, pleading for the staff to give me dry clothes. The look on this kid’s face, while hanging in my arms, even before she got on dry pants was pure satisfaction. And to think, it could be that easy.
Because of the extreme cold all the babies and kids are dressed for outside weather. In my kids group, I had the kids running, chasing me or kicking a ball around and chasing that. I tried to get them moving as much as possible just to warm them up. Those who can’t walk, I held and rubbed their backs. One kid’s hands were actually purple.
There are more kids now, and more babies, too. One little girl is gorgeous and so tiny at two months old. Her face, already bright, actually lights up more if you talk to her. She was born with no arms and the staff call her a little bird, because the three fingers she has on either side seem to extended from her shoulders and are tucked up against her petite chest. My guess is the defect was caused by the medications her mother was using for TB.
Another baby in the room is 18 months old and suffering. The cheeks one normally sees on a baby are absent, and she actually has creases or wrinkles around her mouth, where the skin seems to be falling off the bones. Her face screams pain; her voice comes in little whimpers. Soon, I hope we will be allowed to bring in formulas and other obviously needed supplies. Because the Q is off the beaten path, the road getting out there can be dangerous and yesterday, we narrowly escaped a collision, as we slid on the ice.
As we entered the Q, one could tell something was not right and we soon were told that the deputy director’s mother had died. The grieving process and rituals are so non-Western, but probably much healthier. After working, we went to the house where the woman had died. It is customary to do this for the first 3 days.
The men were all gathered in the bitter cold, outside the front of the house. We entered the doors (our heads covered-unfortunately I had no ramahl, so I wore a borrowed hat) and were immediately embraced by three wailing women (the female children of the deceased). Each daughter hugged us in turn, screaming and sobbing, saying "My mother is dead. My mother is dead." The other women on the room stood back and wiped their own tears. We were escorted to a room where we sat on the floor, which held a spread of food. After five minutes of every woman greeting every woman individually, we were given tea and told to eat from the "table."
The scene was emotionally difficult. I struggled to find words (hard enough in English) and to not be culturally offensive. I wondered if saying, “sorry,” was appropriate, so I was down to one phrase in response, "I know." This for me was very hard to say, without crying. Most of the time, I just nodded and sat in amazement. The family will do this for three days and greet all the guests that come in the same manner. It was said that the amount of guests that come to pay respect decreases the deceased’s time in purgatory. As soon as the next group of guests came, we offered a blessing and departed.
Rafshat & Marat at Q
It seems this cold has taken quite a few lives, as is evidenced by the men standing out in front of so many homes, honoring the tradition, despite the bitter temperatures.
If you would like to support Desiree’ All contributions can be sent to:
Uzbekistan & Humanity Inc
Mission Viejo, CA 92690-4224
Dr. Erin Gray, DDS
Erin Gray is a beautiful young dentist who hails from Kentucky. She graduated from the University of Louisville dental school. Her dad is an oral surgeon, her mom also a dentist; her entire family has been oriented toward missions to serve. In fact, her dad adopted the philosphy that life was about ‘making people feel good.’
On one occasion, Dr. Gray accompanied her dad to the Appalachians in Tennessee, providing a dental clinic for the poor. Together, they pulled over 200 teeth in one day. “Dad was used to it but the next day I was absolutely exhausted,” she recalls.
Erin’s mom, Anita, also a dentist, is equally at home providing service to the needy. Erin’s mom, her dad, and Erin herself have all adopted the mission statement of La Cima, We didn’t Come Just to Watch . .”
A Christian based world mission organization, La Cima, headed up by David and Marty Sperow, conducts world missions, answering calls from the poor and needy around the world.
Recently, Dr. Gray traveled with 24 other dental professionals to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to provide free dentistry for the needy, most of whom were children.
"Hygiene was a major problem,” she said. “Children would come to us with swollen faces and in acute pain. We’d see abscesses, gum infections, decayed teeth, anything imaginable in the way of dental problems.”
Erin, her mother, and Gary’s younger sister, Mary, a student at the University of Kentucky Dental School, worked in Honduras from December 15th through the 22nd.
Erin worked on approximately 200 people.
The weather reports throughout the week said it would be 75° F. But 75° in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, is unequal to that same temperature anywhere else on earth. The air is heavy, hot, and unbelievably humid. It enveloped us- scrub-wearing dentists, dental students and spouses- as we journeyed to villages and suburbs, classrooms, churches, and porches in an effort to provide dental relief. That was our mission.
We arrived at the airport in San Pedro Sula a day later than scheduled with eight of our 39 checked bags. Our mission began, and would end, with the clothes on our backs, whatever we carried on, and the contents of the eight bags that made the trip.
DAY ONE: San Pedro Sula
It was raining, as it had been, so the pastor that contacted us to help his people took us to them. We walked up the muddy roads- past women braving the terrain and the weather in high heels-recruiting people. We saw everyone that came to be treated that day.
DAY TWO: Santa Cruz de Yojoa (50 miles south of SPS)
Centro de Desarrollo Infantil
The clinic was prepared for our arrival. Five plastic chairs faced away from the entrance, allowing enough room for the workers: an operator, a flashlight holder, and a gauze applier (suction). We worked efficiently in shifts, taking mandatory breaks to prevent unexpected dehydration.
DAY THREE: Village suburb of SPS
Our five plastic chairs sat side by side on the porch of a vacant school house. People were triaged in a designated area beneath the porch. They waited patiently for a friend, family member, neighbor, or stranger to be escorted down the stairs with treatment completed. A clean chair was available.
We treated children that traveled long distances- alone- to be seen by us. They heard we were coming.
Relaxing with the neighbours
DAY FOUR: Choloma
While waiting for out patients to arrive, we walked past the homes of the people we would be meeting. Each house was built close to the next, beside, above, and below, from the valley and around the hill. Looking at all the homes, thinking of all the families, and knowing all the statistics, we set up clinic for the last day.
Of all people testing positive for HIV/AIDS in Central America, 60% live in Honduras. The epidemic is concentrated in its two largest cities: Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. In Honduras, 23% of all people living with HIV/AIDS are estimated to have active tuberculosis.
It was our busiest day. Without the rain, the hot we knew was even hotter. We were sweating through our clothes. Syringes broke, flashlights quit working, and we used the last of the suture materials. Slowly, we ran out of gloves. We saw 50 patients before lunch.
With sore hands, drenched scrubs, and gigantic-humid-hair, I left Honduras with a greater sense of accomplishment than I had ever known. I didn't come to watch.
Since Honduras has the highest HIV and AIDS rate in Central America, the crew had to be extra careful about sterilization techniques. Often, it would take 30 minutes to sterilize equipment.
Dr. Erin Gray practices locally at Grandon Village Dental Office, San Marcos.
Her office can be reached by calling (760) 891-0606.
At work in the ‘dental clinic’ - plastic chairs and a porch
Dr. Harvey T. Hoekstra:
For 30 years Dr. Harvey T. Hoekstra and his wife, Lavina, lived and worked in the Sudan and Ethiopia. Sent to Africa as missionaries by the (RCA) Reformed Church of America and working with the American Mission (a partnership between RCA and the United Presbyterians), he and Lavina not only ministered to the needs of the natives, but managed to raise six children, three of whom are now full time missionaries.
They lived in a mud house with a grass roof. Mosquitos and midges were constant visitors, as were rats, and snakes and army ants, which gave frequent and painful bites which lasted awhile. There were lions, leopards, baboons, monkeys, hyenas . . . this was outdoor living at its finest . . . and at its worst. There was no running water, one had to haul water up from the river, boil it, then cool it. They managed to rig a shower but bathroom facilities consisted of a privy adjacent to the hut in which they lived.
Dr. Hoekstra and his wife had first been sent to the Sudan as missionaries with the overwhelming task of learning the Anuak language, both spoken and written, so that they might not only preach in the language of the natives but also to write the New Testament in their language. While he had studied at the Summer Institute of Linguistics at the University of Oklahoma, there was no known recording of the Anuak language. This was Harvey Hoekstra's mission.
Just getting to Akobo, his mission station, was an adventure in itself. He and Lavina sailed from America, flew from Cairo to South Africa, landing in Khartoum, where it was 110 degrees in the shade. Then 750 miles south of Khartoum, by steamer, by boat, by canoe . . . to get to Akobo. It took 25 days.
Once in Akobo, their small hut was a mile downstream from the mission station . . . somewhat isolated. This turned out to be a good thing as they were forced to try and communicate with the natives in the Anuak language. Slowly, but surely, Harvey began to learn the language. He would then convert the spoken word to the written word and build his vocabulary and his understanding of the subtle nuances of the language. He would eventually reduce the Anuak tribal language to writing, then translate the entire New Testament into the Anuak language which was then printed by the American Bible Society. Later, he would translate the Murle language into Mark, John, Acts, and Romans, which was then printed by the British and Foreign Bible Society using both Roman and Arabic script. In addition to his linguistic work, he worked in the area of literacy and evangelism.
They learned to suffer from, and contend with, typhoid fever, rheumatic fever, malaria, scarlet fever, dysentery, many exotic tropical illnesses and, eventually, hepatitis. It was hepatitis that eventually brought Dr. Hoekstra's 30 year missionary service in Africa to a close.
An idea that started in the Sudan and grew rapidly in Ethiopia, was Dr. Hoekstra's belief that new technology . . . a tape recording of the New Testament in a small cassette recorder, taped in the language of the local tribes, would allow the spreading of the Gospel much more efficiently than one missionary trying to cover all the villages.
Soon, the natives would listen to "the talking box" and ask to take it home with them to share with the rest of the village. They always returned, often to get fresh new batteries so the "talking box" could "talk" some more.
Dr. Hoekstra began to believe that this concept had larger ramifications than just in the Sudan and Ethiopia. Why not share this idea with the world? And, further, why not make it available to indigenous people who had left their native land, were now living in a new land, and had no other source of information in their language?
In 1989 Dr. Hoekstra founded Audio Scriptures International, which has offices in Escondido.
Today, they live in Escondido, in a retirement home where Harvey continues to serve as Chairman of the Board of Audio Scriptures International and can be reached at PO Box 460634, Escondido, 92046-0634. You can reach them by phone at 745 8105, or by website at: www.audioscriptures.org.
African man tending cattle and listening to “the talking box” Bible.
Finally, there is Johnny the Bagger.
A while ago a motivational speaker, Barbara Glantz, was hired by a large supermarket chain to address the question of how to build customer loyalty. “Think of something you can do to make your customer feel special,” she said.
About a month later she got a phone call from Johnny. He proudly announced he was a Down’s Syndrome individual and was also a bagger at one of the supermarket’s stores. “I liked what you talked about,” he said. “At first I didn’t think I could do anything to make my customers feel special.
After all, I’m just a bagger.
But then I had an idea and I went home that night and looked up special thoughts for the day. My dad helped me and we printed them out on the computer, I cut them up into separate thoughts for each day. I wrote my name on the back of each slip of paper and put a thought for the day in every one of my customer’s bags, and I say, ‘Thanks for shopping with us’.”
About a month later, the store manager called and said, . . .
“You won’t believe what has happened. As I was making my rounds in the store today I learned that Johnny’s checkout line was three times longer than anyone elses. It stretched way back to frozen foods. I said, ‘we need more cashiers, we need to get another line open.’ But no one would move. They said, ‘no, we want to be in Johnny’s line. We want his ‘thought for the day . . .’
The store manager continued, “It is a joy to see Johnny delight the customers. I got a lump in my throat when one woman told me, ‘I used to shop here once a week; now I come everyday just because I want to get one of Johnny’s Thoughts for the Day.”
A few months later the manager called again . . . “Johnny has transfixed our store,” he said. “Now, when the floral department has flowers that are slightly bruised or have a broken stem, we take them and give them to an elderly lady or a little girl and pin it on them.”
“Everyone is having a wonderful time creating memories . . . and the customers are not only talking about us, they’re coming back and they’re bringing their friends and neighbors.”
A wonderful spirit of service filled the store . . . and all because Johnny the Bagger decided to make a difference!
Johnny’s idea came from his heart. It was real. That’s what touched his customers . . . and his peers.
Great service comes from the heart.
The stories of these four people prove that folks who follow their heart . . . who provide service to others become very, very wealthy. Perhaps not in material goods, but knowing that just being on this planet, helping others, making life easier, healthier . . .is a good thing.
And that is where the wealth comes in.
There are many others we could cite, right here in North County. I think of Joe Heard, a retired Marine Captain and retired contractor who, as a member of his Escondido Kiwanis Club, got involved in a major project that involved traveling to Romania with Heart to Heart Ministries, out of Ramona, headed up by Jim Sorrels, its CEO.
Upon arrival Joe saw there were 200,000 homeless kids. Today, that number has been reduced dramatically, to approximately 20,000 thanks to Joe and a lot of Kiwanians, working with Heart to Heart International.
They worked together with the child protective agency in Romania and soon there were foster homes available. Orphans were literally picked up off the street and placed in a warm, comfortable foster home. Much like we do in America.
Joe wasn’t done.
Joe was so moved that he jumped in with both feet, enlisted a number of Kiwanis Clubs and managed to get a trade school built; this was to teach the children the skills and trade of their culture and give them employment. He continued the effort by establishing both an orphanage, a transitional home, and a new Kiwanis Club in Romania.
The grade school for orphans, was built by Heart to Heart Ministries. It has a capacity of 24 boys and 22 girls. They are allowed to stay 1 to 1.5 years before they are trained and then enter the labor force of Romania. Kids come into the trade school - then out of the orphanages, into a transitional home, where they have an opportunity to move into society with the learned skills and rrades of their country.
Kiwanis built the facilities and Heart to Heart runs them. Joe Heard brought the Kiwanis clubs from Division 37 together to make all this happen. Recently, he secured a $2.5 million grant to further that work. All this because one man cared, and got involved.
I think of the many members of Kiwanis, of Rotary, of the Lions Club . . . of many civic and service organizations who take it upon themselves collectivley, and many individual members on their own, to accept challenges and listen to their heart . . . to ‘hear the call’ and respond.
When we check out . . . I reckon it would give all of us great comfort to know that we left this place a lot better than when we found it.