Friday, October 3, 2014

Why I Hijacked My Sister's Blog (Guest Post)


On August 15, 2014, a friend (also my co-worker) emailed to see how my family in Nigeria was doing when she heard it had spread there. Below was my response (written on August 16th) and it answers why I partially hijacked my sister’s blog… I initially tried to use the Note function on Facebook but it didn’t seem to be working so I gave up and just wrote in dependable Microsoft Word – this reminds me to give a special shout out to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for donating money ($50 million) and services to the Ebola epidemic.  –TAI

Thanks for always being so sweet... I have mixed emotions about it all: sad, hopeful, bitter, guilty, relieved, confused, and honestly... terrified...I think the scary answer is that only time will tell. What is known is that Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have been struggling with this crisis a long time and any numbers reported are underestimations. For Nigeria, it's so new and yet has the potential to be disastrous.

It's horrible this is happening, but not entirely unexpected (in some ways, it's a surprising relief it hadn't spread sooner). Any hope I have that Nigeria's cases will be limited is based on the fact that Nigeria is more developed than the other 3 countries. However, our healthcare system is still not something to write home about... in fact in a separate matter, there is currently a national physician's strike and in retaliation, the President fired the resident doctors (ALL of them)! Sigh... Back to Ebola, they reportedly have been keeping tabs on those who came into contact with the infected individual, so again only time will tell. I think the total days to hold one's breath is 60-120* days past the last case [my overestimation was based on a news clip I watched based on other past epidemics]. So far in Nigeria, reportedly only 11 people have been affected and 3 have died. I was extremely saddened to hear yesterday that an old schoolmate of mine passed away from the virus. She was a nurse who helped the affected man (Patrick Sawyer) from the plane. She wrote on her Facebook page that the hospital was taking appropriate precautions, but I doubt her hospital had [reliably] running water talk less of antiseptic wipes... Infection control does exist but it's certainly more vulnerable than anything we do over here. Double sigh... So everyone just has to be careful. The city affected (Lagos) is the most populated in Africa and people travel in and out of it all the time. I can only hope and pray, it stays limited. Another thing in our favor is that people in that city are largely educated and would at least in part understand the importance of this situation. In the other 3 countries, the education is a big problem as well as mistrust of the medical system (so some people run away from care and inadvertently spread it).

It's right out of a Hollywood movie (cf. Contagion or Outbreak), complete with a ground-breaking miracle drug - Zmapp! Triple Sigh... I've always felt strange with "compassionate use" scenarios. I'm happy that the favored individuals caught a break, but it's hard to know that there are those who didn't make the cut (this is something I struggle with even in our Oncology world). Now I've learned since that there are other companies working on other Ebola drugs too (all in the pre-clinical stages, though some are close to phase 1 trials). For some reason the Zmapp company offered their services and it was a risk, but it was also hope. A few days before my schoolmate died, one of our mutual friends posted on Facebook that everyone should sign a petition to get her Zmapp. What made her more worthy of it? Because her friends were educated enough to know such a drug exists? Because she (like the two Americans) were sacrificing themselves to help others? And so on... I can't judge or finger-point because I am clearly blessed living here in my First World existence. I can only pray for the best and try not be so stoic/ignorant of the craziness in the world (including in our hem/onc world).

Sorry for venting on you like this, I think I've been bottling it up inside, hehe. Thank you for caring! That's the most important and appreciated thing. :)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Problem with Ebola, Part 2

More thoughts from my sister about Ebola. --B :-)

The Problem with Ebola, Part 2                                                                         October 2, 2014

[May] the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. – Numbers 6:26

Ebola is especially terrifying to people, EVERYwhere around the world. As a doctor, I was reflecting, the ER was one of my most dreaded places because anything (i.e., any virus, bacteria) could show up and for at least a period of time, you were exposed to them. After you assess someone and then later fear they may have Tuberculosis (TB), you get a little/lot nervous (this is the year my TB skin test will turn positive, I would think) or learn that the person you are caring for with/without gloves has Hep C/B/HIV (let's not even get to the accidental finger sticks). I even remember taking care of a pregnant woman who was sick and turned out to be H1N1 flu positive (during the year it was viewed with most fear)... I washed my hands and face so many times, people would have thought I had OCD. But in our post-vaccination world, we are actually missing a lot of craziness that exists out there (i.e., other parts of the world). 

I did a month of clinical work outside of the US and saw Measles for the first time, but I didn't see the cute mnemonic I learned in med school (rash + the 3 C's - cough, coryza, conjunctivitis), I saw a child with disfiguring skin lesions, horrible stridor, and significant respiratory distress. Measles KILLS, a fact sadly, a few communities in the US have been learning recently with the "return" of it. In the US, I've seen Pertussis turn a thriving 1 month old (someone too young to get vaccinated) into a neurologically-devastated, machine-dependent infant. Her mom believed in vaccinating but some of her family members didn't get the vaccine and hence, the baby was unprotected. Again, in the US, I've seen RSV make babies look like snotty, yet happy, messes to the other end of the spectrum where it horrifically makes them "lose their breath" leading to brain and other vital organ damage. There was even a period of time that I had my fill of seeing teens and adults with STIs and refused to shake hands with anyone (for fear that they had the syphilis rash on their palms). I am a semi-recovering germaphobe... My condition worsened with med school after my Microbiology class (which I had wisely/unwisely skipped in college). Though much better now, I will probably always be more of a "2-second" rule girl and never a "5-second" rule person. 

The point I'm getting to is, I feel this Ebola crisis has made people more conscious of our invisible microbe frenemies. The general population is now experiencing the world more like how I feel in an ER (or in a grocery store). I previously posted (on Facebook) a NYT article on how Ebola has modified the social structure of Nigeria (and I've read similar articles from other countries faced with a worse outbreak). Now that it has "arrived" in North America (notice how I generalized that instead of focusing specifically on Dallas, Texas - yes, welcome to an "African's" world), I can feel the ripples from the waves of pandemonium. So why this fear with Ebola? I didn't see this much social outcry/fear with the SARS epidemic in 2003 (a virus that is airborne), but then again no American with SARS was ever privately flown to a hospital for fear of spreading the infection either. That means to the general public (and the world), no matter what the CDC or WHO says, Ebola MUST be different… Ebola MUST be feared...

I don’t think I can assuage everybody’s fears (and I feel some fear/respect is healthy), but I will share this: Currently, as a doctor who only sees patients with cancer and blood disorders, several of my patients have poor immune function so there is a germaphobe ideology we spread to their caregivers – but it’s pretty easy to follow –
1) good hand-washing which includes hand sanitizer (necessary for everyone); 
2) immunizations (necessary for everyone, especially if the child can’t get vaccinated due to their condition);
3) avoid sick people (not necessary if you have a normal immune system, if you do the above 2 things); and 
4) avoid large crowds (also not necessary if you have a normal immune system, if you do the above 2 things). 

Now back to Ebola - NO person or country or city asked for/deserves Ebola! I first became aware of the devastating epidemic when news broke out that national hero Dr. Sheik Umar Khan of Sierra Leone had contracted the virus and sadly passed away. Now, I am speaking as someone who is experiencing slight déjà vu – at the close of July 2014, I and other Nigerians gulped/gasped audibly when we heard we had the first case of non-endemic Ebola was diagnosed in “our” land); fear gripped us in different ways. We were sad (another devastating thing to add to our growing list), angry (why did that guy get on the plane and other questions abounded, along with several conspiracy theories), devastated (with each new case, with each reported death), the list goes on… I was one of many who had family in Nigeria (and some specifically in Lagos). I got a little nervous (only a little because I already knew the virus wasn’t airborne like the flu) when my dad (who lives in Ogbomoso) called me from Lagos saying he was at a meeting (although he reassured me that he was nowhere near the affected hospital or the airport). 

Then the world began to respond in varied, unpredictable ways; for instance, Korea stopped all flights to Kenya (which is in East Africa) as a preventive measure. Then, I became light-headed when I received an email from work stating anyone who traveled to the affected countries (including Nigeria) would not be able to come to work for 21 days! (This was even beyond the CDC recommendations, which the email said it was following.) My first thoughts were: when am I going to see my fiancé and parents again… what about our wedding (which is scheduled to occur in a few months)... I began to dedicate time to CDC and Nigerian news daily for any updates on the “case count.” During this time, a dear friend reminded me why Nigeria was blessed in comparison to Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Yes, Nigeria is a third-world country like the other three, but we had the benefit of a warning (the others’ didn’t) and we had several brave (and generous) people (native and foreign) step up to the plate (the same spirit of the types who stepped up for the other countries). And praise God, Ebola CAN be controlled! 

I learned this last week, but I don’t know if I fully believed it until I saw several confirmatory articles, including the most recent that another dear friend sent me on October 1st (Nigerian’s Independence Day poignantly), which discussed the fall of Ebola in Nigeria due to the nation’s response. Underneath that headline was an article that described the first Ebola case in Texas. The déjà vu feeling came upon me because Dallas/Ft. Worth is a place I also consider home and I have loved ones there too. Yet, my fear is less… Here is why: the article my friend sent had this quote from the director of CDC: “For those who say it’s hopeless, this is an antidote – you can control Ebola.” He was talking about… Nigeria?! On the wake of its 54th Independence Day, Nigeria is giving other countries in our increasingly small world HOPE. My native country has given me hope in my adopted country, and I’ve never been more proud to call myself Naija. I hope those who are afraid, can also take heart in this message. And more importantly, do our part to provide hope to others.  –TAI

Below is a list of organizations that are currently serving countries affected by Ebola, you’ll notice Nigeria, Senegal, and United States are not at the top of any of their lists, because the pain/fear/loss we have experienced is a drop of water compared to the overwhelming ocean of suffering taking place in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. For better or worse, you’ll also be reminded that Ebola is not the only horrible thing happening in today’s world. We can only pray for the Lord’s mercy and show gratitude for His grace.

Doctors without Borders http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
World Vision http://www.wvi.org/
Samaritan’s Purse http://www.samaritanspurse.org/

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Problem with Ebola, Part 1

Over the past few months, there's been a lot of talk about Ebola in West Africa. And this has sparked a lot of responses from Africans, both on the continent and in the Diaspora. It's also sparked a lot of responses from the Western world--many that have felt ignorant and upsetting to me as an African.

My biggest pet peeve has been how the media has portrayed it. I was in journalism for a while, and I've always found a strong distaste for articles that were more about sensation than about clear, objective reporting. Most of the articles I've read have promoted ignorance and a "panic" about Ebola versus really presenting the reality of the disease and how it's being handle. An example: West Africa has a lot of countries. And only 4 of those countries have been dealing with Ebola. Two of the four have contained it and it is no longer a problem. Yet all the articles simply just reference "West Africa." 

As a doctor, my sister has had lots of thoughts and conversations about Ebola, and has also not appreciated the mass media's representation. So the following is a guest blog she has written to share her thoughts and ideas and the issue.


The Problem with Ebola, Part 1                                                 original written: August 16, 2014

Streams of tears flow from my eyes because my people are destroyed. – Lamentations 3:48

In a developed country, it's easy/natural to have a poorly calibrated suffering meter. Even those in poverty have at least the potential to access healthcare, food, and shelter - the basic rights, right? (And yes, sadly, I know not everyone actually receives these resources.) This of course does not mean that people don't suffer, as the title of an old telenovela states "The Rich Also Cry." It seems that tears are universally-understandable in some situations (death, isolation, illness, etc.) and in others, they fall under the area popularly-termed "First World Problems." We give Scrooge from the Dickens' story a bad rap, and although he is an extremely negative caricature; to some extent, he represents many of us with First World Problems. How many of us use a version of this line "are there no prisons... no workhouses?" to defend our ignorance and detached views on others' suffering? There's a disconcerting truth to those words... After all, aren't there established non-profit organizations set up to deal with all the messy kinds of suffering? We don't need to be touched by it because it's not our calling to work for these said organizations (God bless the people who do, we say). We do our part by giving them money - after we prove they are legit (you know how crooked some of these people can be) and also in a setting where people see us doing the good deed (my tree should not fall in a quiet forest, but perhaps in a glitzy fundraiser). Those cachectic, malnourished kids on the commercial can't be real, right? And even if we are convinced they are real, a part of us are soothed by the fact that it's not our problem... it's someone else's bad fortune... the cards we/they were dealt (excuse me, blessed with)... Again, these words have truth to them and the money is needed (fundraiser or not), but they cannot justify ignorance or callousness. Some of you may feel I'm preaching to the choir and some of you may feel guilty... Well, this is more of a wakeup call – to those in the choir (myself included), stop patting yourself on the back and continue to sing (i.e., do good works, love your neighbor) and those who feel guilty (again, myself included), expend your energy on worthy things (i.e., feeling guilty won't help anyone, but caring about someone other than yourself will). 

The summary of my mini-diatribe:

- Take a moment out of each day to care about someone other than ourselves. Mr./Ms. Good Samaritan, your neighbor may be a family member, a co-worker, or a complete stranger. Make caring a habit...

- Don't be too comfortable in your version of goodness (that’s great that you watched Blood Diamond and now wear a conflict-free diamond, well done for getting a “#Bring Back Our Girls” t-shirt, Props for going to the latest rally, it's great you donated money at that benefit concert, etc – just remember that caring is not a trend or a one-time thing… again, make caring a habit).

- Avoid being guilt-motivated but instead be conviction-motivated (otherwise your caring deeds end up being ironically selfish).


This note was originally intended to be about my views on the "current" Ebola crisis and in a way it is, but the fact of the matter is... the problem is way bigger than Ebola... We live in an "Upstairs, Downstairs"/"Downton Abbey" existence, and it's only when the worlds start colliding or when they hit close to home (or for some, when they show up with a Twitter hashtag) that we begin semi-caring... Our global "small" world has always been and continues to be full of social injustices and tragic inequality. 

Not Caring about them would be the biggest First World Problem of them all. 

 –TAI

Saturday, September 6, 2014

30 Days of 30

I've decided.

Next year, when I turn 30, I'm celebrating my birthday for 30 days.

My birthday is on the 1st, and September has 30 days... so it's perfect.

I know... it sounds crazy. And maybe a bit self-absorbed. But as I got closer to my birthday this year, I realized that I had never really gone all out for my birthdays since I became an adult.

As a kid, we planned our own. My sisters and I would come up with themes and execute pretty stellar parties. But I think my last big party was when I was like 10. After that, they remained pretty simple--dinner with family and friends, maybe a movie or a show. Even most of my "milestone" birthday passed with little fanfare.

Age 13: I think it was a Wednesday and my church family came over afterwards for cake and ice-cream. I remember asking for only one thing: A Bible... which as a pastor's kid, you know I got.

Age 16: Four friends came over and we went to the mall. I used my birthday money to buy a bunch of musicals and then we returned home for a slumber party and to watch them all, plus other movies.

Age 18: It was Labor Day. And my first day of school at A&M. I found out the journalism program was getting the axe. And I got lost and cried like a baby. Nikki and TJ brought me a cookie cake, an Aggie pillow and an Aggie ring (but not THE Aggie Ring) to welcome me to the family and celebrate my day. Nothing huge, but it was super special.

Age 21: Okay... this one, there was some major fanfare. I had planned a last-minute dinner that got switched to a surprise party. And I was definitely surprised. (And the very next year, I got to spend my birthday in NYC.)

Age 25: I don't even remember. I remember planning to go to Disney World, but losing my job weeks before the big day killed those plans. I'm sure some friends came over and we played Just Dance on the Wii in my living room.

So for 30... I want to go big. I'm starting to get to the point where I feel awkward making a big deal about my birthday. It's a lot easier to celebrate when people do the planning for you :-) But it's always been a habit of mine to drag my birthday beyond just one day. Mini-celebrations happen weeks later, with different groups of friend. Next year, I figure, why not just be super intentional about it.

The idea came about last year when a friend of mine was turning 30. Her family and friends did a "30 Days for 30" surprise for her. Each day, she got a new gift with a tag that counted down the days until her 30th. Sometimes the gifts were big or expensive. Other times they were simple things to just brighten her day. Each gift was personal. And each day got her pumped to turn 30. I was obsessed with it and waited for her to post each day.

I was also extremely jealous because I knew it'd never happen to me. I mean... it could, but I doubted it. And it's not like I can just say, "Hey! Family... friends... for my 30th, you need to do this!"


A friend suggested an alternative... create a wish list of things I want and have friends and family sign up to send me something from that list each day. Which would also be cool... but then takes away the element of surprise when you open a gift.

And while I'm not huge on gifts, I do love surprises. And what I love most about getting gifts is that they are a surprise... it's super cool to see how well people know you, or the thought that they put into picking this out just for you. That type of surprise is the best. That type of gift is the best. Not so much when I have to tell you want to get (although I would still love it).

So what's where the 30 days of 30 idea came about. It's be a cool way to celebrate my birthday in a big way, get others involved, feel showered with love and ultimately just indulge in this beautiful thing called "my life."

A few things I do have in mind: a trip every weekend of the month (Prince Edward Island is high on the list, and other suggestions are welcomed) and I would like to rent out a space and have a DJ and throw a party and have Photo Moto there to capture all the fun (and possibly get proposed to, but we can save that crazy idea for a different blog).

I'm obsessed with this proposal.

I'm still not sure what exactly I'll do... but I guess I have quite a while to plan.

Let me know if you want to help!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Last Year of My 20s!


Yesterday, I began a new chapter in life. I turned 29.

Holy cow! It's the last year of my 20s!!! I don't even what to contemplate what that means... should I be excited? terrified?

Last year, I was not all that thrilled about turning 28. I think I was just down about life not being all I expected it to be. And as the days grew closer to my birthday this year, I could feel myself feeling all down and pathetic about life. Like getting older was a curse, instead of a blessing.

So I decided to change my tune and celebrate life.

FRIDAY: I got to sing the National Anthem at the an Astros game!!! Granted this wasn't planned in honor of my birthday, but it was a great way to get the weekend started. I'm not a huge sports fan, but I am a huge fan of new experiences. And this was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Check that off the bucket list!

And the best part is that the Astros were playing the the Rangers! And... THE RANGERS WON! (Sorry, Astros fans... I'm originally from the DFW. Gotta support the home team). And the night ended with amazing fireworks.



Our fearless leader

SATURDAY: Earlier in the week, when I decided to get out of the doldrums and celebrate life, I planned a "party" and invited a few friends. I decided to go to Pinot's Palette. I was so thankful for the friends who decided to spend their Saturday with me since it was so last-minute. And it was super awesome to actually get GIFTS from the girls! Completely unexpected and just made me feel even so loved since all the gifts were very personal and it was obvious thought was put behind them!





Later that night I did dinner at one of my new favorite places in Houston, Adair Kitchen (it is just too cute!). Again, these ladies decided to come out super last-minute and it was nice to catch up.


I struggle a lot with feeling like I have good friendships and stuff, but this day showed me the opposite: I'm surrounded by awesome people who am beyond thankful to have as friends.

SUNDAY: Fun day :-)

Of course there was church, and then an epic nap... and then in the evening I went to see the documentary Finding Fela.

A few friends joined me for this, too. And while again--it was exactly all planned for my birthday, it was part of the weekend fun. And I did get my dinner paid for because it was my birthday, so... :-)

Afterwards, we decided to walk to Miller Outdoor Theatre to watch the Bollywood Bash. After my time in India this summer, I've felt an affinity towards all things India, so this was a nice treat.

The show, overall, was good.

And ultimately, it was just a nice night with friends.







MONDAY: My actual Birthday!

Since it was Labor Day, I didn't have to go to work so I slept in :-)

Texts, Phone Calls and Facebook messages streamed in starting at midnight.

And then I spent the day with my family. Super last-minute, and so again, I felt super-loved. We had lunch in the Heights and then the "men" (in quotes only cause my nephew is three, haha) went off to do their thing, while the "ladies" (my neice is only 4 months old) did our thing. We spent some time at my place before going on a shopping adventure. I finally got a chance to go to Fat Cat's ice cream parlor. And then as they left, a good friend invited me over to have dinner and desert... which was divine.



Love!
Shopping!

Yum!

All in all, it was a GREAT birthday.

FINAL THOUGHTS: There's a lot of things about 29 that could feel disappointing... mostly because life isn't what I planned or expected when I was 12, 21, 25 or even 28. But I think the one thing I learned as I entered this new year is that happiness in life can be measured in a lot of ways, but the way that matters the most is LOVE. And there is a lot of love in my life, so I can't help but be happy with it. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Learning About Myself (and My Students)

For work, we recently had to take the StrengthsFinder test. The test gives you your top 5 "talents" and those talents, plus knowledge and skills, become your strengths and can make you better at whatever you do in life (in this case, teaching).

Doing this made me think: What if my students were equally aware of who they are and what natural talents they have because of their personality? How might this shape how they work in class? And if I am aware of their talents, how might I better relate to my students? Could it make me a better teacher if I knew both my talents and my students?

Well, we're giving it a shot. And so during the 6th grade Culture/Testing Week, one of the sessions will be about personalities. I'm not actually teaching/leading it, but I helped plan it and during that process we took a variety of tests to figure out the simplest version for 11- and 12-year-olds.

We settled on the True Colors test (another version we considered and could be cool to pursue throughout the year or in future years is one my sister is trained on through her job: E-Colors).

Both tests sort people into four colors. For True Colors, it's...

  • Gold: People who are orderly, dependable, like structure. (Apparently most teachers are gold... although I am very much NOT a gold. That's my polar opposite.)
  • Blue: Sensitive, loyal, enthusiastic, empathetic people. (Based on the test, this is me.)
  • Green: Analytical, logical, intellectual folks. 
  • Orange: People who tend to be active, Competitive, Impulsive and Energetic (this was my secondary color, but only minimally over being green).



With E-Colors, it's similar but looks like this:

With this test, I am a Relating Socialiser (Blue-Yellow).  


What I like about these tests is that, first of all, colors are super easy to remember. When I did the Meyers-Briggs test a while back, it was fun and all and informative, but I can never remember the dang letters (all I remember is that I am the same personality type as Anne of Green Gables and that made me giddy as can be). 

The second thing I like is that we've been able to find a whole lot of simple resources to use to explain basic things about each color: how they like to work, what frustrates them, what makes them happy, etc. And I think this could be really cool in helping figure out jobs/tasks for students, talking to them when they are in trouble, and just motivating them to be successful. 

It just feels so exciting! I can't wait to try putting this into action during this upcoming school year! 




Solid Gold

Curious Green

True Blue

Action Orange

Esteemed for

Being dependable

Discovering new insights

Being a good listener

Being fun and taking risks

Stressed by

Lack of order

Feeling inadequate

Feeling artificial

Restrictions

Highest virtue is

Responsibility

Objectivity

Loyalty

Courage

Key characteristics

Being prepared

Ingenuity

Authenticity

Talent and skill

On the job

Organizer

Pragmatist

Peacemaker

Energizer

Perception

Structure

Abstract

Concern

Excitement

Primary needs

To provide stability and order; be in control

To be competent and rational

To be authentic and care for others

To be free and spontaneous


Longs for


Security

Insights and knowledge

Love and acceptance

Freedom

Strives to foster

Traditional values

Thoughtful consideration

Harmony

Fun and recreation

Take pride in

Dependability

Competence

Empathy

Impact

Specialty is

Accomplishments and results

Research and conceptualizations

People

Entrepreneurship

Validated by

Being appreciated

Affirming their wisdom

Acceptance of others

Achieving visible results

Trust

Authority and tradition

Facts and logic

Intuition and feelings

Impulses


P.S. In case you're one who likes extra details, here's some more specifics about my color personality types:

I am a person who enjoys and thrives on having people around me. My focus, though, will be on the others, not me. I have a naturally warm disposition and people are generally comfortable opening up to me. I have a natural desire to help others, even doing volunteer work for organizations that allow me to aid others. I love parties. I am creative and in some cases, musically oriented. I am adept at starting and sustaining harmonious relationships. I am tolerant, understanding, supportive and a natural listener. I love life and I love people. I have an inherent desire to help people and I have to be aware that this in-built need could get me hurt or even killed. I find it virtually impossible to stop myself from jumping in to help someone else. 

My tendencies include:
  • I project a warm and caring attitude and prefer the same from other
  • I enjoy displays of affection and approval
  • I dislike aggression and conflict
  • I get turned off by complexity and confusion
  • I have a tendency to be more expressive or emotional under pressure
  • I am a challenge for RED / GREENS - GREEN / REDS, as my focus is generally on people, not tasks and objectives

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Pros and Cons of Going on a Mission Trip to India

So just before I left for this mission trip, I re-read and finished the Gallagher Girl series by Ally Carter (awesome author, by the way). So... I'm going to take a page out of Cammie Morgan's book and create a pro and con list for everything I've experienced so far and what I've been taking away from this mission trip (also the amazing sisterhood I've seen among the daughters of As Our Own kind of reminds me of the GG sisterhood... only this one is real and a lot more life-changing, in my opinion).

While the approach might be a little tounge-in-check/silly, there are two things I want to point out:

  1. There are infinitely more pros than cons. Many of the cons are actually just pros in disguise. Writing both out is in a way recording the little and big joys and gifts of this trip.
  2. Whether pro or con, I've learned so much about me, God, my relationships with Him and others. I'm still processing, and I don't feel radically different right now, but I also know that this trip has already begun to be a catalyst for change in my life. 

So here it goes...

PROS AND CONS OF GOING ON A MISSION TRIP TO INDIA
a list by Bunmi Ishola

Pro: I'm in Asia, and have now been to 5 out of the 7 continents. Pretty cool and a check off my bucket list.

Con: It took two 8+ hour flights to get here, and life sped up by 10.5 hours. While I don't mind flying and I don't get jet-lagged, it was still pretty tedious.

Pro: The food is delicious. Some of the other team members feel like they may not eat chicken once we're back in the States, or probably will not be frequenting Indian restaurants immediately after we return, but I am loving it. I rarely eat this well in my daily life and will miss having three full meals (plus at least one tea time) a day and all the variety of meals we've been served.

Con: We can't eat everything and I do miss having fresh fruit and vegetables (which is funny, since it's not like I eat a whole lot of it when I'm home, haha).

Pro: Bananas can be eaten and are easily available.

Con: I don't really like bananas.

Pro: The culture is super service-oriented. Everyone wants to do everything for you and make things as easy as possible. They will go out of their way to make sure that you are happy, and will often refuse your offer to help or do it yourself.

Con: Sometimes there are things you just want to do for yourself or you feel guilty because you know it won't be done how you would prefer and you plan to redo whatever it is once they are gone. Like putting food on your plate (so you don't get too much or something you don't want), pushing in your own chair (I don't like to be too close to the table), turning on your own lights and TV in your hotel room (we have instantly turned almost all of them right back off and have never even watched the TV).

Pro: At church and both homes we visited, the girls had made us these long, gorgeous leis. They smelled divine and were so pretty to look at.

Con: There's no way to keep them! And the one time I tried, the hotel staff threw it away when they cleaned our room.

Con: We lost one of my bags. And really,  it belongs to my brother-in-law.

Pro: It didn't have any of my clothes or anything that couldn't be replaced. And it was one less bag for me to worry about!

Pro: We are loving the clothes. Tunics and jeans/leggings all day, everyday? Bring it on! It's so comfortable and can be casual yet still dressy/nice looking. 

Con: I might head home and spend a fortune to completely try to revolutionize my whole wardrobe. 

Pro: This has been a great opportunity for me to build new relationships and walk through life with new friends. It's been a struggle for me since I moved to Houston and with the amount of time we have all spent pre-trip and now on the trip, we definitely have all grown close.

Pro: We have spent a lot of time in prayer and fellowship. As a team, we have devotions together every morning. We pray before drive from one place to another, we pray together before every meal and at every transition. We eat every meal together. It has been so good and such a sweet time. And it's so fabulous to constantly have God at the forefront.

Pro: On that note, it has been super cool watching my roommate use most of her downtime to read Scripture and journal (we have also had some hilarious conversations). 

Con: I will miss this when we go home. I definitely do not spend most of my time, nor my company, in such single-mindedness on the Lord.

Pro: I feel convicted enough, or really I just have loved it to much that I plan for that to be a change in my life. 

Con: It's easy to say and do now, a part of me is terrified I won't have the dedication to follow through (but maybe this is a pro because if I feel this way, it shows how much I want it if it scares me to not have it).

Pro: Meeting the girls As Our Own now calls their daughters. 

Con: Not being able to show you pictures of how cute, happy and well-taken care of (or at least not online, ask me in person).

Pro: Meeting the wonderful house parents and caretakers and staff who have dedicated their lives to raising these girls up into a new identity. Without these people, the girls could still be in situations where they would be vulnerable to sec-trafficking and abuse. And grown up with a low-standard of care and lacking empowerment.

Con: Occasionally there was a language barrier and it wasn't always easy to talk and share with each other.

Pro: Love is a universal language and there was definitely no love barrier between us and the As Our Own family.

Pro: Seeing the girls and the staff act as a real family. Knowing that through their loss, they have no found love, and will have a beautiful legacy. That there is a second chance. There is redemption. 

Con: Knowing that this organization would exist if it wasn't for all the sad stories that have brought them here. Worse is knowing there are millions of other girls who are not blessed in this way, who have no one standing in the gap for them.

Pro: Knowing As Our Own has a plan and vision to help combat this (I'll share this in more detail in my next post. It's very exciting stuff!).

Pro: Getting to be part of that vision. Our mission trip here wasn't the typical "patch band-aids on the wounds" deal. A lot of the work we did was with the goal to leave behind tools and ideas that can continue to help build the connection between daughter and caretaker.

Con: Because the connection between the daughters and caretakers have been growing strong, the girls didn't need me to guide them through an activity or reaffirm them that they were on the right track--they had their parents. So there were a lot of times where I know I felt pretty useless.

Pro:  The girls didn't need me to guide them through an activity or reaffirm them that they were on the right track--they had their parents. These are real relationships, ya'll! 

Pro: I ended up occupying my time taking a lot of pictures for the team. And since photography is something I love to do, I found joy in that. I can't wait to make a photo book to share them!

Pro: Not feeling "used" or "needed" has also allowed me to observe that honestly, God can work without me. He doesn't need me for things... He is able to do great things whether I chose to step up and be proactive or not. It has also let me realize how much I want to feel needed and important and just used by Him. This is also a little bit of a conviction because...

Con: There is so much more work to be done. Not just in India, but the world. There are so many orphans in the word that are not truly being shown the love of God. And even if you're not a Christian, there are too many who do not even have a quality standard of care. What we would want for our own. There are many who are victims of human trafficking, even in Houston. Many who are waiting for someone to dignify them, notice them, show them mercy.

Pro: Knowing there is so much more work that needs to be done. Not just in India, but the world. And knowing that while God doesn't need me, He does want me to be involved. He is calling me to work alongside Him. To help in the redemption of the poor, oppressed and orphan for the glory of His name. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Identifying with the Oppressed and the Fatherless

How is God calling us to care for the oppressed and the fatherless?

As Christians we tend to do good works often--we spend a day volunteering or we donate a certain sum of money. We do our due diligence. We tell ourselves that we've made their lives better than it could or would have been. It's easy to think that providing a place for them to live, feeding them, and meeting basic survival needs is enough. But is it really?

Earlier this week, one of my devotions was on identifying with the poor. It started out looking at Nehemiah 5: 14-18. Nehemiah was governor of the land, and his position entitled him to many great perks. But knowing that his people were poor, that they were suffering, led him to forsake what was rightfully his for their benefit and for God's glory.

After all, isn't that what Jesus did for us?

"Have in mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2:5-8

Christ didn't use his position for his own advantage. Instead, he chose to identify with us and use it for our advantage. And if the word "Christian" means "little Christ," should we not do the same for those we chose to serve?

So how is God calling us to care for the oppressed and the fatherless? I've thought back to this devotional for the last few days and strongly feel that the answer is to identify with the oppressed and the orphan, be willing to walk through life with them and share in their story.

As Our Own starts with the story of an orphan. One who goes through the traditional system that was the status quo of the time. Most of the kids within this traditional system stop school in 4th grade, a few go on until 7th, and even fewer up to 10th. And then they are on their own to figure out life and find security and a place in society.

This orphan eventually gets married and has two children who eventually become fatherless themselves. Their story is one of blessing, and because she is able to get a good job, her sons are able to get a top education. But their story is a rare one. There are many more orphans who easily become targets and are sold into some form of slavery. Without anyone to stand in the gap on their behalf, they live an oppressed life.

There are so many girls who are taken from their families, or sometimes even sold by their families, because they are in a vulnerable state. Orphaned, impoverished, uneducated with few job prospects... and in this already vulnerable state, they are made even more so as they are beaten and coerced to be sex slaves. Many have children, for whom they want a better life, but unfortunately 95% of girls who are born into Red Light Districts become 2nd generation sex slaves.

Unless they are rescued. And unless the aftercare gives them an identity and a purpose. Does more than provide for their basic survival, but also provide for their spiritual and emotional healing, too.

It's easy to blame these women and girls for their plight, or to treat it like it's no big deal... until you identify with them. Until you think about yourself being in their shoes, think about that little girl being your daughter.

I look at the faces of the sweet girls I've met on this trip and my heart breaks that this is their story, or at least their mother's story. And now that I know them--I have seen them--I know I wouldn't be okay with them simply being in some institutionalized orphanage, getting a minimum education, and then being sent out to wolves in sheep's clothing when they hit 18 and have no where else to go. I would want them to have a family, an identity, a sense of worth and empowerment.

We tend to take care of our own so much better than we take care of others, but to really make a difference we need to see others as our own. This organization works because the founder, and most of the staff, identify with the oppressed they seek to help and redeem. They know that to make a difference in their lives, they have to see them as their own daughters. And everything you and I could desire for our own daughters is what they desire to give to these girls.

And it really does make all the difference.

It makes all the difference when mothers willingly give up their own children, but only if they know the organization will treat them as their own daughters.

It makes all the difference when you watch 30+ kids interacting with their new mothers and fathers, thriving under their attention, and interacting with each other as a true family.

It makes all the difference when every daughter gets a quality education and you now have around 20 daughters in college and being empowered versus remaining an easy prey and possibly ending up exactly where they began.

It makes all the difference when I can look at these girls and feel that if I had a daughter, I would expect this level of care, and perhaps want even more.

So, how is God calling us to care for the oppressed and the fatherless?

It might look differently for each of us, but I've been praying that God shows me how to identify with these girls and others like them. That I'm not content to focus on my own comfort and living a life a privilege without forsaking it to identify with those lose fortunate than me. All I have comes from God, and I hope that I don't use my blessings for my own selfish reasons but instead I look for a way to stand in the gap and advocate for the oppressed.

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