May 31

To Africa With Love, by James Foulkes, M.D. ???

I enjoyed this read, knowing that I soon would be going to Africa, and appreciated the insights of a veteran missionary surgeon. Foulkes went to Zambia, in a quite rural hospital. The read on this book is very personal, giving you a sense of Foulke’s character, but less of a sense of deeper insights into issues. He had a tendency to be a magical Christian, coming from a Arminian-Wesleyan-Pentecostal tradition. I certainly appreciate his issues with spirit possession, but, he also tended to be a total cowboy, and to get himself into unnecessary trouble. This is not a text that offers any rich insights into either Africa or missions. It is more a personal encounter that is most relevant to those who know Jim, or who have worked in Zambia.

 

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May 30

Christianity versus Fatalistic Religions in the War Against Poverty, by Udo Middelmann ?????

Christianity versus Fatalistic Religions in the War Against Poverty was read at a most timely period in my life. The book arrived in the mail just before departing to Bangladesh with my wife, where we worked for 10 weeks in a Baptist hospital south of Chittagong. Owing to weight restrictions, etc., we were unable to bring the book. That was probably for the best, since the serious questions of “rich” Christians dealing with abject poverty had not come to bear in my mind, and we left Bangladesh quite troubled about a true Christian approach toward poverty. Your book helped tremendously.

Let me explain the situation. As you are aware, Bangladesh actually used to be the richest region in all of Asia. With the coming of the British, they successfully raped Bengal of all its wealth, destroyed its industry, and yet refused to bring in Christianity for fear of “upsetting” the population. It was only a few missionaries like William Carey in Kolkota that any Christianity in Bengal existed at all. The rest of the story you are indubitably aware of, how east and west Pakistan broke away from India in 1947, again, in part because of serious religious and racial friction that the British created to maintain their control of the Indian subcontinent, by dividing the Muslim from the Hindu sub-populations. Bangladesh then achieved independence from Pakistan in 1971 through a viciously bloody civil war. What is left is a small country the size of Wisconsin with a population of 160 million. The average wage is about $200/year. The cost of living is quite low.

We have had the chance to encounter many Nationals while in the country, all of them quite poor, save for a minor handful of wealthy Muslims. Among the poor, Christian or Muslim or Hindu, we noted particular mindset issues…

  1. 1.An almost magical belief in certain commodities. We have had many Nationals beg of us to help them purchase a camera and a computer, since those items would create the difference that would allow them to rise to a position of wealth.
  2. 2.A terrible sense of use of money. As an example, when one gets married, they are culturally required to provide a large feast for the entire community, which typically sets a young couple many years behind in debt. I suggested that the Christian community band together to create an alternative solution, which did not go over so well.
  3. 3.There is a sense of indifference to life. While the Bengali can be a very hard worker, there is also a sense that hard work will only lead to pain, and not achieve a higher social or economic status.
  4. 4.A strong sense of sharing of wealth and generosity, but more for cultural status, rather than care for self or family. This would often set somebody back financially and can be quite destructive to family economics, while preserving social status. There is no sense of admitting that one is poor, and that generosity is not sometimes possible.
  5. 5.A sense of total absence of integrity. This was true even among the Christians, who simply could not fathom that debt must be repaid, that truthfulness was of greater value than wealth, that integrity in every interaction with another human being must prevail over any economic need that existed. In economic dealings, many of the National Christians (more often than not, actually), when given control over ex-pat finances, have stolen large sums, without any sense of remorse or guilt.
  6. 6.Ultimately, the universal desire and focus on wealth rather than character identified the Bengali as just as materialistic as us Westerners.

So, we came home with multiple requests for clothing items, shoes, money, computers, cameras, invitations to the Western world, etc., etc. There was only one young Christian man of the thousands we encountered who told us that he didn’t want our money, but just prayer.

I was very troubled as to how the missionaries dealt with the situation. Often, they would form a revised “caste” system. I was very troubled how they would sometimes treat their Christian National brother or sister much differently than the ex-pat. But, the missionaries have been frequently burned. The examples are exceedingly rare of National Christians that have held true to the faith when offered substantial wealth from the ex-pats for schooling or business in an attempt to get them out of poverty.

So, Betsy and I came home with very troubled minds. Should we have been more generous? Were the missionary rules of no greater than $20 gifts to strict or oppressive? How do I deal with the scriptural command to love my neighbor, and care for my Christian brothers and sisters when they manifest true needs and I have the ability to help?

I feared that this book would be like virtually every other poverty/wealth book out there, a variant of finding a balance between the Marxist/Socialist vs. Capitalist struggle. Thankfully, it was anything but that. The postscript admits that the writing is primarily an ideological approach, yet that is the approach that is missing from all the other Christian books on wealth and poverty that I have read. I need not quote Ron Sider’s “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” (I think that’s the name), who takes an essentially Marxist stance toward wealth, and leaves one guilty for not sharing until they have achieved the same level of poverty of those being shared with. Or Ron Nash’s books on economics, with a blind capitalistic mentality that fails to prioritize Christian moral values as the oil that allows the capitalistic gears to turn. Or any book that emphasizes the value of personhood, and our approach to the needy as persons rather than simple economic holes.

There is one thing that Udo mentioned only indirectly, which is that oftentimes poverty can be as a result of governmental mindset rather than individual mindset. Bangladesh has a corrupt government (persistently #1 in a well-known corruption index), moderately oppressive Muslim (we had to be very careful about speaking about Christ) social structure, that causes even right-minded Christians to suffer. There are times when we suffer for another person’s sins. I’m not sure as to the solution, except to encourage truth to be spoken about the true etiology of the suffering.

So, this book was a very welcome read, answering many questions that I had about a Christian approach to poverty. I’m sure more questions will arise. Betsy and I will be headed to Northern Cameroon for two months at the end of September, where we’ll probably see similar circumstances of abject poverty. I will be purchasing a few more copies of your book to hand out to friends and missionaries in the field. Thank you for a thought-provoking text.

 

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May 24

The flight to Bangladesh was incredibly long, with a stop first in New York City, then in Doha, Qatar, and finally to Dhaka, Bangladesh.

We then took a flight down from Dhaka to Chittagong, where we were picked up by our friends Stephen and Stephanie Kelley.

 

After a brief stop for lunch in Chittagong, we were on our way to Malumghat Hospital, with a first stop at Moonshine, the equivalent of Costco in Chittagong.

Because we were doped out on sleeping pills to reset our clocks, we remember only a few aspects of this part of our venture. The weather was warm but only mildly muggy. Here are some views of our guest house and the scenes immediately around it.

Betsy and I were soon jumping into  helping at the hospital. It is totally amazing to see the variety and intensity of cases occurring. The general surgeons are performing all of the Urology and Orthopedic cases, including rodding femur fractures, doing TURPs, etc., etc. They are also doing some chemotherapy, and I will be working with the nursing staff at establishing a serious chemotherapy program, while helping them to decide what the best and safest cases for chemotherapy would be. I am quite happy for the training that I received in Chicago, and never thought that my moments writing chemotherapy orders with Linda Wild would ever come useful in the future. Well, it is.

 

Betsy and I are both having a daily language lesson. I love Bengali! Nomoskar! Kaemon achen? Ami bhalo achi. Eckon jay. Pore dekha hObe. The natives are friendly, and while very poor as compared to Amerikans, are rich in spirit. Betsy and I have so far not had too much time to get out into the neighboring villages. Last Saturday 21.MAR2009, I took a motorcycle ride up into the Chittagong Hills Tract. This is just east of the hospital, and sitting between us and Myanmar. It is very rugged country, with lots of rubber tree plantations, and banana plantations.

You are not allowed to go far into the Hills without passing checkpoints. Fortunately, the lead person we were with (Dr. Kelley) was able to explain that we were only going in for tea. This we did, stopping in a cafeteria, that by Western standards would be described as filthy beyond belief. Yet, when you order tea, it is boiled and thus safe. They drink a hot milk tea, which I have not gotten used to, and so usually will drink lal cha (red tea) with a teen-kon-shomasa, which is a small triangular pastry, with a very spicy curry filling in the middle. Again, since these are baked, they are safe, even though they are from restaurants beyond belief in filth.

 

The weeks are a bit unusual. Friday is the Muslim holy day, so, Friday and Saturday are the week-end. Friday is the usual day for Muslim and Christian church services, and Saturday is a day like our Saturday. We would attend the Friday AM church in Chittagong, which was all in Bangla.

Notice how sandals are taken off outside a building. Sunday is a work-day. Clinic is on Sunday and Thursday, and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are operative days. The OR’s are nicer than what we had in Jamaica, but still a touch below average standards in the USA. It is common to loose electricity at least 3-5 times a day, usually while operating, which is one of the only reasons we typically wear battery powered head-lamps. The lights go off. The work goes on.

 

26MAR2009 Today is Bangladesh Independence Day. I worked in the hospital, and then went on a motorcycle ride with Stephen Kelley up into the Chittagong Hills. Afterwards, the hospital threw a large feast for the hospital employees, about 300 people showing up. This was a mixture of expatriate nurses, doctors, and other missionaries, along with a large component of natives. Goat curry, fish and rice were served. It was excellent. Traditional meals are not eaten with a fork or spoon, but with your hands. It is just a little too odd, eating curried rice with your fingers–it’s exactly what we were taught not to do.

 

 

31MAR2009 Today, we went to a Bangladeshi funeral. One of the beloved orthopedic techs, Lawrence Halder passed away unexpectedly early in life, possibly due to mismanagement in Dhaka of a simple eye problem. He had a son and daughter. Funerals occur within 1-2 days of death, as they have no embalming or means of corpse preservation. Lawrence was buried in his back yard, next to his brother and father. The funeral was late at night, since they were waiting for various people to first arrive in town. He was laid in a simple pine box and placed six feet under. It was quite emotional, with family showing a great  amount of wailing.

Unfortunately, in this culture, there is no welfare or social security, and the death of a father can be a serious tragedy in life, his in children in college, and wife with limited earning potential. There was recently one young pregnant lady brought in by her Muslim husband in eclampsia, seizing, and required a c-section for infant delivery. A girl was delivered. The husband promptly abandoned her and was nowhere to be found. The reasons? 1) A c-section means that all other children will require c-sections, which is expensive in Bangladesh. 2) There will be a large hospital bill. 3) An infant girl has absolutely no economic value, since a dowry must be paid to marry her off, and she will have no means of supporting the family. When people speak of how wonderful the Muslim religion is, I just consider the terrible absence of value held for the females in that society, where cows or goats are of more value than females.

 

03APRIL2009 Friday is the equivalent to Sunday in America, which is the day where people either go to church or to Mosque. Saturday is the free day, and Sunday is a usual work day. This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, and next Sunday is Easter, which are also taken off by Christians as holiday in Bangladesh. Today, we went to the Bengali church, and then afterwards went over to the house Dhirjidon, our language teacher.

He had invited us in for tea and rice pudding, both of which are very good, though I don’t really care for the milk-tea that they drink. They live in a mud-house, but is fairly nice by Bengali standards. They have gardens outside their house, and are attempting to grow some banana trees and mango trees. Dhirjidon has two young daughters and a fairly young wife (long story, but not typical for Bangladesh). They are all very proper, for instance, when you enter their house, they bow, and then touch both your feet. The house kitchen and toilet are out behind the house. It makes sense doing that. Their life is very hard, and family life is completely dependent on the male being able to work. This is why they wish for sons, who could support the family when the parents get too old to work.

 

04APRIL2009 – Boat trip – I wish it was a boat trip down the Rhein, but such was not to be. No Lorelei, no castles, no good German beer. Oh well! We had a great time all the same. Uttam was our connection to some native fishermen. We went out in their wooden boat, powered by a diesel motor, built in Shanghai.

We had to wait for the tide to come in, then walked the plank onto the boat. We saw some people doing a boat repair on shore- the Bangladeshi version of the Krupp-Thiessen boatworks in Hamburg. We then puttered down the river to the farm of a friend of Uttams’. He had multiple shrimp ponds, as well as a salt refinery. We watched them catching shrimp, and one of the men went off for some bird hunting with his shotgun. We had some drinks in the raised hut, which was actually very cool and comfortable. Baba (father) lived out on the farm, keeping an eye out for poachers, which are many. Finally, we climbed back on the boat, and headed back home as the sun was setting.

02MAY09 Several days ago I performed a c-section with Dr. John, and everything went well. Post-operatively, the patient would not stop vaginal bleeding. We took her back to the OR and found an atonic uterus filled with clot. After multiple attempts to stop the bleeding, I finally ended up doing a supracervical hysterectomy. She did well, though she lost quite a bit of blood. Tonight, at 1 am, I was again called to do a c-section on a breech delivery. It went well, but with the anxiety of the complication of my last c-section.

 

Please proceed to Bangladesh -2 & -3. This blog was broken down into three sections to facilitate easier downloading.

 

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May 23

23MAY2009 Vol. 5, Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man, How Should We then Live, Whatever Happened to the Human Race, A Christian Manifesto. ????

All but the last book of this volume were read by me in Malumghat. Since it belonged to the Malumghat library, I decided I’d read A Christian Manifesto at home. Pollution and the Death of Man speaks of Christians being seriously involved in the environmental movement, since we believe the world to be created by God, and thus have a rational basis for caring for it. How Should We then Live is a short history of philosophy from the viewpoint of Schaeffer’s thesis. This set would have received a five star, except that I felt that the third book,  Whatever happened to the Human Race, which is a treatise on the pro-life movement rationale, was weakened by Dr. Koops’ chapters in the text. The book is an argument against abortion. Unfortunately, Dr. Koop assumes blindly that we should throw every ounce of technology into medicine to preserve life. As a pioneer pediatric surgeon, that is a reasonable thing to do in research, but does not provide practicality when it comes to the practicing physician out of the ivory towers. Thus, he remains clueless of real life. Unfortunately, I have many families of patients with Koop’s mentality insist on maintaining medical care at all cost, since they don’t have to pay, yet really not out of concern for their loved one, since they would rarely ever lift a finger to help out. This is where the third-world model is much better, where, if a patient received medical care, the family was expected to stay in the hospital to also assist in the bedside care of the patient. The end of HSWTL was excellent in Schaeffer providing a theological basis for the pro-life movement. Unfortunately, Koop could have thought out the basis for medical economics a bit better, but seemed to be more self-serving that theologically correct. A Christian Manifesto is written from a legal perspective for the Christian Legal Society, and speaks about the problem of law without a Christian basis leading to anarchy or oppression. Schaeffer calls for civil disobedience when necessary, but to always remember that the laws of God always take precedent over the laws of man.

 

12MAY2009 Vol. 2, Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, No Final Conflict, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History, Basic Bible Studies, Art and the Bible. ????

I continue on with the works of Francis Schaeffer. These books deal with either expository writings from Genesis and Joshua, and argument for the absence of conflict between science and modern knowledge with Scripture, ending with simple thematic bible studies, consisting mostly of references for personal review. Art and the Bible deviates from these former themes, by focusing purely upon the world-view of art throughout history. I appreciated the art book the most. If all of these texts, Schaeffer competently defends the Scriptures as the true propositional revelation of the God who is there, without mistake or error. This, of course, goes counter to modern thought that it is only a fool who thinks that Scripture is infallible. Yet, Schaeffer, as many authors since have argued, the basis of inerrancy and infallability is not a blind leap of faith, but based partly on the failure of anyone to substantially prove that the Bible contains error. His words need to be reread in modern times, where Scripture tends to have decreasing importance, even among Christians.

 

07MAY2009 Vol. 1 Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, He is there and He is not Silent, Back to Freedom and Dignity ?????

As with Vol. 3 &4, these are books that I have read in the past. These texts are the most seminal statements of Schaeffer, the books that led to his rise to fame. During the late 60’s, and early 70’s where student revolts were happening on all the campuses, Francis Schaeffer was also heavily discussed by many intellectuals. I had read these books during that time period, though I confess that they seemed to be a  little challenging to understand. I it is comforting to know that they are now somewhat light reading. I have thoroughly enjoyed re-reading these texts, because I can now see them in a much broader light. They remain significant and true to philosophical principles. I find several issues though of concern. 1) Schaeffer often makes broad statements that are not well backed up, such as Kierkegaard being the father of secular existentialism. He’s probably right, but he never discusses anything from Kierkegaard’s writings that would substantiate that claim. There are numerous other examples that I will spare the reader 2) Schaeffer’s focus tends to be limited to general philosophy and art. He also discusses other cultural activities such as music and literature, both of which I think he could have done a much better job at, and would have better supported his general thesis. Both the discussion of music and literature left out many vitally important artists and writers of the 19th and 20th century, manifesting the “leap to despair” that typifies modern man. I’m surprised that he spends so little time on the scholars of linguistic analysis, and leaves out important characters such as Chomsky and Jacques Derrida, while very briefly discussing Foucault in a highly oblique fashion. All in all, these books are truly great works. Schaeffer has deeply affected many people, myself included. I only wish that his untimely death could have been a bit later, in order to see how he would have engaged the modern world. Perhaps it is best. Schaeffer probably would have been frustrated by the fact that students no longer ask deep, important, probing questions. They are content to live in their upper story world without ever being disturbed about the philosophical inconsistencies of their fantasy world, with the real world about them. Having started college at the end of the student revolutions, several teachers lamented the fact that students were more worried about getting good grades, than demanding answers to the harder philosophical inconsistencies of life. Those of us that continue to think about the serious metaphysical, ethical, and epistemological questions of life will soon be dinosaurs.

 

01MAY2009 Vol. 4 Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, The Church Before the Watching World, The Mark of the Christian, Death in the City ?????

As with Vol. 3, these are books that I have read in the past. Now that I know more about the particular history of Francis Schaeffer, these books seem to make more sense. In the first book, Schaeffer speaks of the student revolutions of the 1960’s and the philosophical changes that affected thinking even in the church. Schaeffer goes to length in talking about how the church should respond, by speaking truth as truth, and by showing a community of love for each other. The second book delves deeper into the changes in the church, including evangelical churches, that have been affected by theological liberalism. He discusses the case of the Presbyterian church as to what has been done right and wrong in the church. Specifically, the emphasis is on a tough balance between not wavering in our theology, and yet showing love for each other and the world at large. The Mark of the Christian addresses particularly the importance of Christians as a community showing love to each other. The last book, Death in the City, studies the situation in Jeremiah’s time, as reflective of the church and society today, i.e., both situations being “post-Christian”. He then delves into a study of the first several chapters of Romans and suggests the response of the church being a return to belief in God as a God that is real, and not a leap in the dark thing that we interact with only on coming to faith and at death.

 

 

27APR2009 Vol. 3 Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, No Little People, True Spirituality, The New Superspirituality, Two Contents, Two Realities ????

It’s been 30 years or more since I last read these books, which came out in the early 1970’s. I had owned the Complete Works, but they collected dust on my bookshelf. Now, after having read all of the books that I brought along with me, I discovered these works in the Malumghat Guest House library, apparently with Viggo Olsens’ name in the front. They looked like they had been read 0-1 times. Vol. 1 contains Schaeffer’s most distinct works, but I decided to attack vol. 3 & 4 first. Rather than do individual book reports on each book in the volume, I felt it best to do blanket summaries. This volume relates to a Christian view of spirituality. No Little People is a set of sermons that Schaeffer gave preaching through the Scriptures on various people of Scripture, like, Joseph, David, Elijah, and Christ himself, to name a few. The point was the significance of all people who trust in Christ. True Spirituality comes in two sections, the first is essentially a fast review of basic theology, and the second relates to the application of theology to the Christian view of self (psychology), others, and the church. TNS spoke about trends in the 1970’s on the religious scene that were considered advancements, such as the new Pentecostalism and new forms of legalism that really were not Christian at all on final analysis. The last book, TCTR was a speech that Schaeffer gave detailing four issues that Christians must focus on, including 1. correct doctrine, 2. honest answers to honest questions, 3. true spirituality, and 4. human relations in Christ’s love. Most of what Schaeffer says remains contemporary, in that we continue as Christians to not walk the walk or talk the talk, and our Christianity remains in our own style and invention. His is a plea to return to biblical Christianity.

 

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May 23

Bangladesh-Reflections on the Water, by James Novak ????

This was an excellent read after returning from Bangladesh. The book provided a better insight into the history and mentality of the Bangladeshi people. It was written by the experience of a Westerner who spent 30 years in Bangladesh, providing a reasonably fair review of the culture and mindset of a typical Bangladeshi, as well as the problems and hope that the country will have. My only issue with the book is the unfettered praise that the book gives toward the Islam religion, which, in my experience, is part of the reason Bangladesh is in the condition that it is in right now. This is an important read for anybody who comes to spend any time in Bangladesh.

 

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