Wednesday, July 18, 2007


*I want to start out this post by thanking the ones who have been praying and are continuing to support me while I'm here. Seeing those comments, hearing encouragement from family and friends, and just knowing I have people praying for me makes such a difference. And I can see that difference throughout my days here. Everything has really went smoothly for me. I have more than what I had hoped for in terms of food, water, and shelter. God has also surrounded me with a wonderful team who've already taught me so much. Everyday I just feel so blessed. Nothing can be accomplished without prayer. So any success or experience I have, I give the credit to God and the people who kept me in their prayers. Thank you.*

Sambona (hello in Swazi). It's one of the eleven national languages in South Africa and the main language spoken in the area. Don't plan on me coming back being able to speak it fluently though. I can't click my tongue in the middle of words. I can repeat a word 10 times and still not get it right. For some reason I like to throw in random Spanish pronounciations as well; this generally just makes it worse. I'll be happy to be able master saying "No" in Swazi. Spelled Cha, it's tricky. There's a click at the beginning, and the word itself sounds like a Boston accent on the word car. It's tricky. However, my coworkers appreciate my attempts at the language since most of them speak at least some English.

Today was a great day. I spent it redesigning and updating an information booklet for the clinic. What's your reaction from that last sentence? "She spent the day at a computer? Sitting? She had to go to Africa to do that? What does that have to do with AIDS? Aren't there people dying? Orphans or poor that need clothed. . .hungry that need fed? Wasn't there a better way she could serve God?" If you didn't think it, I did. Those were my exact thoughts my first week when one of the coordinators threw the idea out for possible volunteer assignments. I came to Africa to serve God, to make a difference, . . .I was expecting some hard labor, to get my hands dirty, get into the communities. . .I wanted to learn from the doctors, the missionaries . . .

See the pattern? I came. I expected. I wanted. If I came to serve God, then I should've been asking questions and not making statements. Keep in mind, it took me all of 5 minutes to identify this destructive thought process and mentally shake myself. But what if I hadn't? Since that day, I've washed dishes, scrubbed floors, as well as helped dress wounds, interact with patients, and learned a great deal. I could have been so blinded to where I thought I should be and what I should be doing that I would have forgotten why and for whom I was here. Some of the questions I should've started out asking could have been: Where does God want me? What needs are at the clinic? What abilities do I have that could meet those needs? What does serving God really mean and include?

I had to learn that serving God is more than just doing a good act and seeing its results. When I can see the immediate results of work, serving God is no problem for me. I feel like I accomplished something. I did my good deed for the day. But, God didn't start me off with things that I was comfortable doing. I wanted a stronger relationship in him, so I had to grow and learn by relying on him. It was a test for me because sometimes if I can't see the results of work afterwards, I feel like I must not have been serving God or that I failed. But serving also means being obedient to him. We don't know what impact we can have with the smallest acts. Trusting in his will for me was what I had to do. I can look back now and see the results and know that I was serving God in what I was doing. For example, while Kate and I were helping a few administrators move their offices, books, and then catalogue each one, we helped ease some of their stress and made them available to focus on other matters of the clinic. By the way, there are 557 heavy medical books now in order, catalogued, and entered into the computer. The days we worked in the kitchen also helped the kitchen staff a lot we later found out. They were one short and were thankful for not having to wash dishes for a few days.

We started out by telling them we were willing to go anywhere and do anything needed here. Once again, it was trust. If God got me here, then I can trust him to place me where I'm needed. And he has. It just took me giving it up to him.

In comparison to other things I've learned while I've been here, that was a relatively easy one.

I had worked in a nursing home to become a nursing assistant in high school. You see everything or at least that's what I thought foolishly.

When I went out with the home-based care doctor last Thursday and Friday, I believe I saw some of the rest. I saw a woman who was nothing but bones. Her skin was just hanging on her. When the doctor showed her back to me to let me have a look at the particular infection she had, I never saw it. All I could focus on was being able to see her spine and ribs in detail. I couldn't believe it. Someone could not be that starved and still be alive. But, I could deal with seeing that after I got over the initial shock. However, I knew then what true hunger looked like.

We saw a few other patients that day. Each of them were HIV positive. I saw things we only think are in textbooks. I learned about the treatments, what possible infections to be aware of, etc. After each consultation, we also prayed with the patient and ministered to them as much as possible.

It was when I got back that it hit me. I felt so heavy, burdened, and just exhausted. I also kept thinking about the last patient we saw. She looked much like the first, but her condition was worsening. She was loosing her hearing, dehydrated, and not on any anti-retroviral treatment yet. She couldn't get out of bed. Minutes after we gave her water, she threw it up in the corner of the one room shack made of garbage bags, tin, and sticks. Her family had abandoned her, and the neighbor, who was our contact, wasn't willing to step into the position of caregiver. We found her bed was soaked through as she had been laying in her own urine for days unable to get up. I realize this doesn't paint a pretty picture, but this was the reality.

It was hot, cramped, and the stench was terrible. The woman was laying in her own urine, vomitting in the corner, and starving to death. She had no one to take care of her, and was unable to recieve drug treatment for AIDS because of how dire her circumstances were. There's not enough funding for all of the treatments for each person who needs them, so people are categorized. Those who show adherence to previous treatments get the drugs. Others who probably won't be able to, don't get them. (it's much more complicated, but that is a very brief version) So the doctor was changing her bedding to try and make her comfortable at this stage, and looked up at me and asked, "What would Jesus do?"

Driving away, the doctor told me some history of how they decide who gets treatment and who doesn't. The woman didn't have anyone there for her to give her the medication each day. It couldn't be the clinic's responsibility because there are thousands in the same situation and not enough man power. I left knowing she was most likely going to die. It was what the doctor called 'buried alive.'

I've spent the weekend praying over this. The reality of the life here is something that is so difficult to face. I looked to God to help me deal with this. I have to. In him, I find hope for the situation here. He is the only hope for the people here. In him, they have the chance for comfort, healing, and peace. Amidst all of this, I have to remember there is hope. For instance, it is a miracle and breakthrough in medicine that two people who have been confirmed as HIV positive can now have a child that is negative.

But I think we also need to ask ourselves, as Christians, knowing the needs of the world and even our own communities. .. what would Jesus do? Not only that, but are we truly willing to do what he would?

Please continue in your prayers for the clinic, community, and staff. Pray that I trust in God's will for me here.


"I want the people here to be able to dare to dream. . .to dream God's dreams for their life."


  1. Keep up the good work. I can't wait to here more of what you have experienced there. May you continue to grow in his grace and knowledge. You are in my prayers. See ya soon.

  2. Tiff,
    What an amazing story. My heart is with you as well as my prayers. I wish I could be there with you, but I want you to know that I am praying for you every day. You are constantly in my thoughts. You make me very proud of the woman that you have become. Keep up the great work.
    Love ya, Pastor Bill

  3. Tiff,
    This is awesome, what I reality check for the rest of us. Keep up the great work and know that you are being prayed for daily. Hope to hear more of your stories upon your return. See ya soon.
    Eric Moore

  4. Tiff,
    I couldn't help from thinking about the people that i had met and ministered to on a mission trip to Haiti a few years back, so much hunger,so much disease,so much pain. After that trip, my life was forever more changed just as yours has already been and will continue to be in the future. There will be sights and smells that you will never forget and these will cause you to praise God for all his wonderful blessings and will drive you to serve him more. I will pray for you daily as many in our church family is doing and i will ask God to continue to conform you into image of Jesus. I'm so very proud of you and the God that we serve. I'll be anxious to talk with you when you return home.
    pastor mark

  5. Hey Tiff,
    Here I am two days from leaving for Mexico worried if I will be a hinderance or a help and you are such an inspiration. Thanks so much for sharing how God is using you. I am praying for you and really looking forward to hearing more about your trip when we both get back. Love You! Bronlynn

  6. Tiff,
    Our God is with you and loving others through your hands, heart, and feet. As I read your message I can't help but hear the phrase 'buried alive', and I think of all the people I know in my own community that are 'buried alive'. They may be well fed, but when I take the time to look into their eyes I can see the needs. The question I hear comming from my heart in response is, "am I willing to reach out to them and love them?"
    May our God give to each of us the willingness to be touched with the needs of others, and the courage to love them. Wendy