Whirlwind

What a whirlwind. Phew.

I haven’t been updating much here on the blog because we simply haven’t stopped long enough for me to think straight. Right now it’s after 9pm, we just checked into our hotel, and Stacy and I are skipping dinner.

I try not to focus on numbers on these trips but Stacy did ask me yesterday “how many patients do you think you’ve seen over the past 4 days?” I had no real clue. Turns out it was over 700. Now over 800. No wonder we’re tired and run down 🙂

Stacy’s stomach has been super upset for the past day. I believe “Thai tummy” is the proper diagnosis. I woke up and felt like I’d been hit by a bus. Those are always fun symptoms when the rest of the day’s schedule is: 5 hour curvy road van ride followed immediately by 4 hour clinic. Tomorrow? Repeat.

However, the van ride was a great time to catch up with David and let me noggin wander a bit. He mentioned about an hour from Mae Sariang that he just had déjà vu. I looked at him and said, “huh. me too.” Halfway through the clinic I had another déjà vu moment followed by another an hour later. That’s never happened to me before. Fascinating.

Clinic ran super smooth due in large part to our great translator Cruze. I noticed right away his left eye looks at his ear. When we were finishing up, he asked if I could look at his eyes. Of course. He mentioned his left eye doesn’t work well because of malaria at age 6 that almost killed him. Yet another issue I’m thankful my kids don’t have to worry about. Perspective is a beautiful thing.

After clinic tonight, our host Roslyn <not her real name> invited us to her home for customary fruit. No chatting about the weather or SuperBowl here. She started telling us about running into the woods to escape the Burma army as a young girl; having her home turned into ashes; seeing things done to women that “we not speak of.” I have no idea what I was thinking before when I thought about “Burmese Karen refugees” but just those 5 minutes of her story made time stand still. We are all looking forward to hearing more of her story over the next few days as we follow the Thai/Burma border and head into refugee camps.

I’ve been humbled many a time on these trips but to hear this was on another level of wow: “word is out that you are coming so we expect quite a few refugees to come over the border in the next few days to see you.”

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“Yeah let’s go do a home visit for one of the students. The parents need to understand how important it is for him to wear his glasses.” “……it far away away, we hop on moto.” Uhh…YOLO?

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I’m not really hungry. I swallowed a big june bug when we were driving.

I didn’t take photos at the students’ house because I wouldn’t want someone coming to my house to take photos and show everyone. Imagine my grandparents’ under home cellar but 60 degrees warmer and the roof a little lower.

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Somehow this has turned in to a foodie roadshow. For an afternoon snack we had vietnamese iced coffee and fried bananas. Fried in cocaine based on the addictive properties; or maybe sweet milk and coconut batter. I dunno.

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Lots of the students live by the river where their parents fish for a living.

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Seriously? Indian food in Cambodia? I’m running out of superlatives to describe our gastro experiences.

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Garlic naan, butter chicken, lamb samosas, curry heaven, some other stuff.

 

 

How sociable

No update last night as I fell asleep on the couch while everyone was chatting. Not because of boring conversation just a toll after travel, heat and heat and travel. We’ve done multiple laps around Phnom Penh traveling from location to location.

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In the morning we went to the Agape Restoration Home (ARC). First stop for the girls after being rescued. Here’s a quick video of their grand opening a few months ago https://www.facebook.com/AgapeInternational/videos/10154008064736629/

This is the one place where things will be going well and then a shock of reality sets in. Yesterday it was two girls in particular. One was deaf and I was worried about Usher syndrome. She would just jump up and start singing “YEAH, YEAH…..YEAH YEAH.” Not really. Retinitis Pigmentosa (night blindness and tunnel vision) combined with hearing loss are the main issues with Usher syndrome so I wanted to give the staff a heads up if that was coming down the road. Fortunately I saw no signs of eye problems.

She perked right up when I introduced myself with my sign name. It’s amazing how just a few words in Khmer, or gestures in sign language, open folks right up. Why do we in the States look down upon someone who is trying oh so hard to work on their English?

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“It’s bright!” Whateva. Stacy, Alison and Ellen (head cheese at ARH).

The other young girl literally hopped out of the room squealing with delight after we got her some mildly strong glasses. Of course she hopped in to the room before seeing me as she only has one leg. She got hit by a drunk driver while she was sitting outside the KTV (karaoke bar). Alison chatted with her about how best to use her one leg and possibilities of a prosthetic.

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Whacked em with a machete myself. Actually that probably would have ended up in some kind of Silence of the Lambs reenactment. I’ll leave the machete-ing to the pros.

In the afternoon we saw all the AIM staff back at the school. Not only do we see familiar faces but we see familiar glasses. It’s also fun to now see more and more of their babies in the day care program. Time marches on year over year.

The evening was great as Allan and Alison headed up the creation of a taco bar and the Butlers came over. Little India is doing absolutely amazing after her surgery. Honestly we couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. Little brother Judah is doing well with his glasses and now he has a backup pair. We got him the same pair as Berto so now they can be twinsies. We were also able to confirm Judah’s twin sister has perfect eyes. After the kids wrestled me for a half hour, I guess I really was tired.

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I’m thinking tonight’s update will be: saw a bajillion patients; too tired to type. 8 hours of community clinic here we come!

Eye Care? Oh yeah forgot about that

It’s so funny because the eye care we provide is obviously an integral part of our trip but I seem to focus on everything else. Last Sunday a guy at church asked if I had a PhD. “No sir I’m not that smart.” “Oh….I wasn’t sure what kind of clinic you were going to be doing.” Hmmm. Maybe a little loss of focus on my part when discussing our trip.

Well after a day of 200+ patients I have a grand total of one picture of me putting drops in one kiddos’ eye. Plenty of pictures of everything else.

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A small smattering of the school supplies graciously donated by Cornerstone Church.

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More smattering.

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I’m gonna fly some of these kiddos back to the States to show American kids how it’s done. Barely a wince; let alone full meltdown requiring a straight jacket as is so typical back home.

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AIM is now doing screen printing as one of their ministry jobs. Part of what we love about this organization is their self sufficiency.

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Every building is a former brothel and AIM occasionally keeps some of the pieces as mementos. Here we brave a near vertical staircase that has doors at the top…..doors that lock from the bottom. Very useful when you need to keep people in an upstairs prison.

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Funny enough the doors weren’t shocking because we’ve been here before and know what this is all about. However, this patient made me wince. We were taking care of the girls at AEC 1 “Agape Employment Center 1” where most of the workers are girls who have been rescued, restored, and are now being reintegrated back into society. A good job and job skills are an integral piece. Her shirt made me pause….thinking of the hell she has been through….and how different her life is now because she has been adopted into the family of Christ. 

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I usually don’t have rats the size of an NFL football scampering about while I provide eye care.

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That’s a terrible picture but we finished off the day with amazeballs Iraqi food. Holy smokes. One of the top 10 meals I’ve ever had. All for less than $8 per person.

Back to the eyeballs:

-my buddy Kemhang is still blind as ever and his glasses are falling apart. We brought him 3 more pair.

-in the past if a patient had a lot of astigmatism, I’d ask the local staff to get them to the local eye doctor. That is such an individualized prescription it is tough to line up used glasses with a new patient. Kind of like trying to fly a helicopter somewhere: you could get the distance exactly right (43.2 miles) but miss the direction (north north east vs. north east) and you’ll still be miles away from where you want to be. Turns out even the really good local doctors are not really good at prescribing. So this time around, I’ll make the glasses myself and then send back in a few months when missionaries are visiting Arizona and can pick up from me to hand deliver back here.

-it’s crazy to have a girl in her mid 20s walking around uncorrected, having never seen an eye doctor, when she is 5 diopters nearsighted. For those out there who know what their Rx is, hers is -5.00. I guess that’s why working in the employment center as a seamstress works for her. She can sort of see clearly up close.

-and it’s always funny at the end of the day to look at my translator (who is the head school nurse) and say “let’s check your eyes” only to come and find out they are in the top 5 blurriest of the day.

Allan asked me “What was your favorite part of the day?” Easy. Seeing all the familiar faces. I’m not a hugger but I gave out plenty to missionaries and school staff. It was also fun to exchange dozens of smiles with returning patients. The familiarity is simply amazing. I don’t need it to be a wild adventure; late January in Cambodia just feels right.

And now for the easy part

Of course I say that a bit tongue in cheek but after many many dozens of hours of planning and preparation, the trip itself often feels like the easiest part.

 

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We told Allan and Alison we invited them along this year just so we could use their checked baggage allowance. 

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Amazon loves us; USPS delivery guy hates us. This was just one day over many days of school supply deliveries.

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After nearly half a decade, we’ve learned to ask others for help. Here our church community group helps sort glasses and medications.

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Stacy is working us toward minimalism and our house is generally very clean and streamlined. For the past 4 Decembers and Januarys our back door has been far from clean and streamlined.

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Terrible picture but thanks to Arizona Lions and Jeanette Russel for letting us borrow equipment for our eye clinics.

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Lion Kit runs an amazing operation down in Mesa. Every Friday and Monday she and her team clean and sort donated eyeglasses. They were gracious to give us a couple hundred to fill in the gaps of what we were missing.

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And these two boogers are always eager to pitch in and help.

 

I say easy part because our van wouldn’t start but one of those nifty small package jump starters took care of that in a jiffy. Our first flight was not very crowded and we got in early for a leisurely layover here in San Francisco.

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Seems reasonable enough. How about our cohorts double A? Well they booked their tickets months after us and they are taking a bit of a different route.

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As we were waiting for our plane to take off in Phoenix, we got a text “Hey. We’ve landed but we’re still on our plane and they are boarding our next flight.” I guess we’re just contagious 🙂 I calmed them down by saying “You should journal about your current emotions.”

I figure if you’re not running through at least one airport then you’re not on a mission trip with me. They told us they made it just in time and are en route to Frankfurt.

Lord willing we’ll meet up in Phnom Penh in 24 hours. This is, after all, the easy part.

Sometimes I get to be the ring finger

….and other times I’m the belly button lint.

Most people reading this are familiar with 1 Corinthians 12 and the description of many parts of Christ’s body. This lesson from Paul has truly come alive for me over the years and especially over the past month.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Well if I were an eye doctor, I would….” and all my eye doctor buddies and I are saying, “I can’t do X,Y,Z.”

That story in 1 Corinthians 12 is so cute but it’s antiquated right? Of course we can’t all be an ear and we can’t all be a foot. Duh. Yet when it comes to putting it into practice we all struggle applying it to ourselves.

My buddy Allan is coming with us this year to Cambodia and Thailand. He has said in the past, “I’m really not that handy.” Whateva dude. When our missionary hosts emailed him to ask what he could do, I jumped in and said “Don’t be all false humble. Tell them what you can do.” I laughed at this quiet reserved dude listing all his handy skills over a few paragraphs. Holy smokes did I feel inferior. Me personally? I can plunge our toilets and change the oil in our cars but that’s about it. Obviously we have different skill sets.

Yet when it comes to what Paul was really getting at I can be super dense. And then God often has a trick up his sleeve (or white glistening robe as it may be).

That incredible story you read about on Facebook with the missionary kid who needed surgery? That tore me up for weeks into months. I was so excited when I heard that there was a missionary kid who needed eye care and we’d get to help her while in Cambodia. Yet when she showed up I quickly realized this was going to be a problem. I couldn’t help. At all. As in my buddy Allan could have done just as much eye care in this instance as me.

Yet God revealed that I could help. I just had to tap some keys on a keyboard which took way longer and lots more stress than simply eye doctoring. So a thousand bajillion emails between one pediatric surgeon, another surgeon 1500 miles away, surgery scheduler and parents 9000 miles away, little India had her procedure done.

I don’t share that to say look at me. I share that to say “What can you do?” I have a buddy Gary who brought a young homeless lady to me for eye care. She’s running around looking like a golf ball got implanted under the skin underneath her right eye.

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Long story short is Gary has been amazingly faithful getting her the care she needs. It wasn’t just convincing her to come into the office. It was that; followed by many conversations about signing up for Medicaid; followed up by her not following up which was followed up by another follow up and on and on it has gone. At this point she needs specialized care that only about a dozen folks in Arizona can provide. My hat is off to Gary for his faithfulness. He’s not a doctor (and 99.9% of doctors wouldn’t be able to help here anyway) but he’s listening and being willing and open to helping.

I have another story in the pipeline where I was so sure I could help someone, yet God had other plans. And that story my friends is almost too amazing to believe.

Request for 2017

You’ve probably received our letters before discussing our upcoming missions trip to Cambodia. Well here it is for 2017!

 

The details: we’ll spend a week with the Grace & Peace Gals (www.graceandpeacegals.blogspot.com) in Phnom Penh working with Agape International Mission (www.agapewebsite.org). This is the anti-trafficking group we have worked with before. We’ll probably see 300 community members, 100 staff and over 100 students in their English school. More importantly, we’ll spend some good quality time supporting Kimberly, Becki and Rachel.

 

After that we’ll fly to northern Thailand to work with David and Lorna Joannes from Within Reach Global (www.withinreachglobal.org). David is from Prescott but has spent the last 20 years on the mission field in China, Philippines (where Lorna is from) and Thailand working with unreached people groups. I met them when we first moved to Prescott and they are the real deal when it comes to pioneer missionaries. Check out David’s book “The Space Between Memories” on Amazon.

 

We will head to the Thailand/Myanmar (Burma) border to work with the Karen people; refugees from Myanmar. These folks were the impetus for the plot of Rambo 4 released in 2008. Christian missionaries want to go upriver to help them escape the rape and plunder from the Burma government so they hire Rambo to show them the way. We won’t be doing that.

 

This year we have another couple going with us: Allan and Alison Crary. They’ve been in our home group (aka small group aka community group aka missional group) for a couple of years. Alison is an occupational therapist and the Gals have been mentioning they would love an OT to come help their staff know how to work with folks with special needs. Allan owns a construction company and is willing to do anything…”I’ll even shovel horse poop if I need to.”

 

I’d like to share two stories with you: We met Brandon a few years ago in Siem Reap, Cambodia. He was supervising AIM’s employment center where they give rescued women a useful skill and meaningful work in order to support themselves. Brandon’s from Cali and met his English wife in the UK while they were both in a traveling dance troupe (no joke). He’s one of the best storytellers I’ve ever met. Not sure I’ll ever forget the recounting of his vasectomy in Bangkok. Anyway: their daughter, India, is the cutest 7 year old and has an eye turn….she’s cross eyed.

 

I evaluated her and recommended surgery. Long story short they wanted to get it done in America but the price tag on a missionary budget was borderline impossible. I got back home from our trip and went to my Lions club board and told them the story. They approved $4000 on the spot. It took dozens of emails between myself, Brandon, a few potential surgeons and their schedulers but India was able to have her surgery in mid December 2016 in Florida!

 

My other story is about Kemhang. He’s a little younger than our Lilly (age 9) and we met him a couple of years ago in Svay Pak where AIM has its English school. Kemhang was well known to the school staff because he was a bit of a troublemaker and there was some thought he may be mentally disabled. Turns out the kid is extremely farsighted and simply couldn’t see. We got him glasses and his behavior immediately improved and he’s made great strides in his schooling. Now when we go back I have a 3 pack of glasses just for Kehmang. He’s still a young boy so they’re going to get broken. The glasses are super thick but we keep the lens shape small to reduce the thickness and bug eyed appearance.

 

Our living room is full of about 1000 pairs of eyeglasses, school supplies they can’t get in Cambodia, prescription eye drops and a bunch of suitcases.

 

If you’d be so kind as to donate to the supplies fund we’d be eternally grateful. Eyes4Life is our sponsoring organization and they are a 501(c)3 qualifying charity so contributions are tax deductible.

Eyes4Life

3217 Jack Drive

Prescott, AZ 86305

Donate online with PayPal at http://www.eyes4life.org

 

We can’t thank you enough for your continued, ongoing, prayerful support.  –Jon & Stacy