Greetings my friends!
In my last link letter, I wrote about being content in all circumstances. However, I recognise that discontentment can be a motivator, a springboard for action. It is not always good to accept things just because “that’s the way things are”! A maternal death earlier this year left me feeling discouraged as I believe it was avoidable. I met this woman, whom I will call Grace, the day before she died and spoke to her mother who was caring for her. Coming home from Kampala to attend her father’s funeral, Grace went into labour.
She eventually had a caesarean section but her baby died shortly after birth and Grace died seven days later. Sixteen women like Grace die every day in Uganda through childbirth. Many of these deaths could be avoided if there were sufficient resources, prompt decision making and action. The people around me were upset by the death of this mother and yet they accepted it as part of their everyday experience, quite a different reaction than what would have happened in a UK maternity unit!
I am writing this on the International Women’s Day, a good day to remind us of the plight of women in low income countries such as Uganda. Since the 1990s it has been recognised in midwifery and obstetrics that delays contribute to unnecessary maternal deaths. And yet delays continue, for many reasons such as a lack of sufficient medical staff. As a consequence, mothers die and children are left orphans.
This is best illustrated by the example of the assistant chaplain at Kuluva who has adopted two of his brother’s children when their mother died from sepsis following childbirth. The children, Ivan aged six and Doreen aged four, are evidently loved but poverty will thwart their prospects as their education will be limited. This is a stark reminder of one of the continued impacts of maternal deaths.
Word and deeds have to work together; knowing deaths can be reduced is not enough – it requires action. The attitude of “that is the way things are” is a barrier preventing progress and reducing expectations, hope and, most of all, people who do not expect God to intervene in what seems the impossible. Just as in Jesus’ day, culture blinds us to God’s purposes and seeing things from his perspective. I have heard people say when someone dies unnecessarily that it was God’s will. This seems to be an excuse to absolve us of our contribution. It implies that God does not use us, yet Jesus told us that we are his witnesses, his hands and feet to those around us.
Dr Chamberlain Froese in her book “Where have all the mothers gone?” describes how she was desperately praying to God asking where he was, as she was waiting alone with a young woman in urgent need of a caesarean section which she could not perform without an anaesthetist. She expressed her frustration as she wrote: “I am a doctor not a miracle worker”. Whilst waiting, she was rubbing the back of the woman in extreme pain, encouraging her with words when she heard the answer to her prayer. She heard God say: “your hands are my hands, your voice is my voice, your presence is my presence.” These are challenging words, when feeling isolated and frustrated, knowing that you cannot do anything without the help of others who are not there!
God’s blessing… my story of the stranger who became a friend
As you can imagine, Grace’s story has had quite an impact on my thinking but Paul says we may be perplexed but not despairing (2 Corinthians 4:7-9). I confess I was quite despairing, saddened, frustrated and wondering what difference if any I was making. Yet God gives us hope in the midst of the storms of life.
At the same time as Grace’s death, I had a visit from a UK midwife who was in Uganda, based in Kampala for a Royal College of Midwives project. I did not know this midwife but she took time out to make a special visit to me in Kuluva, paying for the trip herself. Her reason for the trip was prompting by God through her husband. As you can imagine, I was in awe of their generosity and response to God’s guidance, especially since I did not know them. The timing was amazing as when Grace died we were able to do clinical teaching for student midwives and the diploma nursing students on key midwifery skills. We had a hectic time but it really helped me to have another midwife there for practical clinical teaching. However, this is not the end of the story, as she was able to share a health issue that I too was experiencing and was able to encourage me. I was blessed and surprised, as it again demonstrated to me a God who sees and hears and who is interested in all of us. He sent someone with the right message at the right time just for me!
Blessings from a UK link church to the widows and orphans of Kuluva
I had an amazing privilege of meeting and praying with local widows and orphans before Christmas as one of my link churches donated money specifically for these groups of vulnerable people. Eleven families were blessed and gave thanks to God for their unexpected blessing. It was heart breaking to hear their stories of rejection and poverty. Ninety-year-old Kazi has been a widow for many years as her husband died after just 10 years of marriage. She had no children and, just as in biblical times, bearing children is important culturally in Uganda to the value and status of women. She was rejected by both her husband’s family and her own siblings, leaving her destitute. However, the church intervened and she was given a mud hut on church land.
God praised as students continue to be blessed with financial provision by individuals and link churches
I receive many requests from students for financial help with their school fees. It is not easy to hear their stories and, inevitably, some students will be told no. It is a challenge to discern who to give to but God spoke to me through my daily readings; giving should result in God being praised and be an investment in the kingdom of God. The following examples testify to this principle.
One of my link churches was able to provide the whole semester school fees for Agnes, a midwifery student who had stolen, by a former family member, the money she had raised from her small market stall. She was devastated and left without hope as her only alternative was to sell her cassava crop at a loss (as it was the wrong season) which would then leave her with no money for the next semester. When I told her that she would receive a one-off donation for this semester, she was left shocked, in awe and immediately praised God!
Emmanuel, a student nurse in his final semester, was helped by someone with a link to my home church. He never asked me for assistance and yet I felt God prompting me to help him. Emmanuel was the Christian Union leader for the school last year, while also leading worship and is a diligent student. I have witnessed his practice on the wards and it is evident that he puts his faith into action when caring for patients. His father normally provided all his fees but the family resources had to be suddenly diverted for medical care as his mother had a stroke and was taken to Kampala for treatment. Again Emmanuel was left praising God as his mother’s health improved and he was able to give testimony to his family that a donor had met the shortfall in his school fees! Investing in this student resulted in praising God and investing in the kingdom as his hands are God’s hands to the sick.
A UK midwife, one of my former students, helped 11 student midwives with their fees at the end of last semester. Investing in student midwives means more midwives which I hope will improve care for mothers and babies, thereby investing in God’s kingdom.
I hope that my letter encourages you that God is at work, even in the midst of apparent despair. Thank you my friends and unnamed donors for joining with me in God’s mission.