Sierra Leone - Part III of V

The storms make for beautiful sunsets in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Saturday Sept 10:

Today was a bit of a day on cruise control. The team is feeling good about where we’re at so the urgency of getting through the work has relaxed a bit. The data gathering at the sites is mostly complete, so now it’s a matter of compiling the information into recommendations and writing the report.
When we woke up this morning, it was a very gray and rainy day. I had been scheduled to go out to visit a previous EMI project site that has now been constructed, but because of the foul weather the Liberian man who was to pick me and intern Mike up called to say that the trip was cancelled. So, we all worked on the report around the lounge areas of the ship. After lunch, I took 4 of the guys into town to do souvenir shopping. It’s always fun to see the different personalities of the shop vendors in different countries around the world – some places are more aggressive, whereas some are passive. In Sierra Leone, the vendors are a little more insistent than in Uganda, but overall they are still pretty passive.
After shopping, we ate and worked a little more on the report. Overall, it was a much more low-key day since no one had to go to the sites. It’s always nice to get to that point of the trip when the team realizes that we have ample time to complete the project, so people can relax a bit and enjoy the experience a bit more. Good conversations are much more likely to happen once people don’t feel stressed about the work.
One of the things our trip has brought out in the group is a discussion about relief and development work in places like this. The problems we see are so wide and deeply layered that it’s hard to imagine our small group of engineers making any progress at all. But as Mark Thompson, Mercy Ships’ program director, said on day 1 of our trip, when you’re faced with a seemingly hopeless situation as these hospitals appear to be in, you have two choices: you can do nothing, or you can choose to try to do something.
We keep coming back to that statement. Ultimately, our job certainly includes thinking and talking about these things in order to make sure we’re giving our best and most intelligent effort possible in the situation. But ultimately, it is really up to God to do the impossible. If you’re not sure what I mean by impossible situation, here’s one example (out of many) of a situation we’re facing at one of the hospitals:
The sewage system at the main hospital in the country consists of a few septic tanks that catch the sewage solids and allow the liquid to seep out into two pipes that drain directly out to two places: 1) the Atlantic Ocean; and 2) a fishing village on the beach (which is completely covered in several feet of trash).
Well, the septic tanks are all plugged and therefore there is a constant spillage of raw sewage out onto the hospital grounds. These tanks are located out where the hospital laundry services are located, so the service workers are out hanging clothes while standing on soggy ground with raw sewage scattered and floating around. In some places, the sewage forms large ponds (2-6 inches deep) that the workers must navigate through to get in and out of the laundry building. Of course, not only is this sewage, but sewage from patients in the hospital who have highly infectious diseases. Obviously, the hospital is creating new patients all the time simply by staying in operation!
So from our standpoint, to come in and make recommendations for fixing the septic tanks ultimately would, as one of our civil engineers bluntly pointed out, result in the sewage systems actually transferring the sewage to the ocean and fishing village quicker! What a hopeless situation – even the solution results in significant health hazards!
Well clearly, the long term solution we will be recommending will include a massive overhauling of the existing sewer system, including a treatment facility that will clean the water before it is discharged to the ocean and village. But can you guess what else protrudes from the ocean front wall just meters away from the hospital’s drainage pipes that spill into the ocean and village? A pipe that’s three times the size of the hospital’s pipes where the city’s sewage system drains out! Hopeless!
Ultimately, we have to persevere, and realize that though we’ll only be making a small dent in the problem, at least it’s a start. Who knows, perhaps others around will be inspired by the hospital’s efforts to stop these practices of dumping raw sewage into the waterways. As the main hospital in the country, it seems important that they at least make this attempt.
Oh, by the way, did I mention that the water below the village is routinely filled with people bathing and doing laundry?!

Sunday Sept 11:
Today was the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since hearing the news on my car radio that morning on my drive into work. The televisions in the dining hall (where we’ve set up our makeshift workstation) have been playing the memorial events in New York City live all day.
As we sat here working, the background noise has been the solemn reading of the names of all the victims. I paused for a few minutes to stand there and watch as family members read the names of their loved ones. I imagined what it would be like if one of my boys was there reading my name. It made me sick to my stomach to think about the terrible tragedy that day was for those families.
I prayed for them to have comfort from God, though I’m not sure how you comfort someone on that level of despair. To have your whole existence altered forever – how do you find hope in that situation? If my family were taken from me I think I’d lose the will to live. At that point I think trying to pick up the pieces to move on with your life would feel selfish and even disrespectful to your lost loved ones – as if you were turning your back on them for the selfish reason of trying to be happy again. I think that would be my humanistic response.
I am thankful that to date, I have not had to go through that level of despair in my life, and I pray neither me nor my family ever has to.
I know God is there with us in those situations, but I don’t think God’s plan for our life includes such tragedies. I know He shows up big at these times, but why He chooses to step in and prevent some things while sitting back and allowing other things is something I’ll never fully understand about Him. I don’t believe He orchestrates such events on earth though, as it would be contrary to His divinely good nature. Somehow, in some way, I think God limits Himself, and in a way subjects himself to the horrors of sin in our world despite His ability to intervene.
Of course Jesus was a good example of this, as He hung on the cross and allowed himself to be tortured and killed all the while possessing the full power to stop his own suffering in an instant. So why would Jesus, who is God, subject Himself to such terrible forces that could be under His control if He desired? And why would God the Father do the very same thing in our world today? I think the answer could only be one thing: relationship. For Jesus, it was for the purpose of gaining us salvation, paying the price for our sins. Similarly, for God the Father, I think He does it for the sake of having true relationship with us. In other words, God limits his own ability to prevent evil from occurring in order to allow free will into the world such that we can choose to believe in him and come to know Him intimately.
If God were to intervene and control each and every aspect of life here on earth, would he really have a true relationship with us? Or, would we simply be doing what he preprogrammed us to do from before time? My belief is that God is able, in some mysterious and complex way that I can’t begin to understand in my finite mind, to both be in full control of His creation and at the same time be grieved to the point of crying and feeling sadness and despair as that same creation continues to make choices that have consequences that He oftentimes limits Himself from preventing.
I realize my view of God is a speck, just like anyone else’s is. (Maybe my speck is even a little smaller than average!) I have no desire to redefine God’s nature so I can understand Him, only to do my best to interpret and understand the small aspect of his nature that He chose to reveal to us in the Bible. Someday, every human who arrives in Heaven will see and feel the wonder of an infinite God…and realize just how limited their understanding was and that overall, their perception of who He was and how He works was somehow skewed from who He is (I certainly count myself among that group.)
I realize this doesn’t have a lot to do with the project – today was a day where we sat around the table working on the report so there wasn’t much in the way of exciting stories anyway. But in light of the 9/11 anniversary, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on how to reconcile these tragedies with the notion of a good and loving God. I certainly recognize that others have very different beliefs about God’s nature. I look forward to one day all standing together in Heaven and laughing together as we think back on how simplistic our thought capabilities were here on earth!

In-between storms - it's amazing how much rain this place gets!

Joe and Geoff "working" with Intern Mike watching, approvingly.

The crowded streets of downtown Freetown.

(L to R) Sandra (the doctor who works at the Children's Hospital with another ministry), Intern Mike, me and Joe

Downtown Freetown

Driving through the streets is more about carving a path through people rather than cars.


Traci Morrow said…
Loved this post, brother Brad. You are SUCH a great writer and I'm so glad you journal your thoughts and experiences - it greatly encourages me and sometimes gives me a deep "aha" moment. I do a lot of "mmm...hmm.."ing in agreement as I read- God has really developed a gift for communication through writing in you. Not sure if you sense it, but just wanted to give you feedback from the perspective of the reader. Good, good stuff. :) xo

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