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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On tsetse flies, fractures, and the mysteries of grace

Tsetse flies swarmed us occasionally and pestered us often during our game-park visit.  They are large, bothersome flies, with sandy-colored wings and fierce bites, a bit like horse-flies in America that used to hover around the pool ... Their bites leave itching welts, but more ominously they can be the carriers of a deadly disease, sleeping sickness, which devastates cattle and on relatively rare occasions infects humans too.  Thanks to control programs the flies in the parks no longer carry this disease (or so the tourist books claim . . ), but in the past they were a significant impediment to human survival in large swathes of East Africa.  

The wildlife, however, were unaffected.  And as a consequence, a hundred years later, we can probably thank the tsetse fly for the existence of national parks and millions of wild animals.  In tact Tanzania has such large expanses of unsettled parkland, and such massive herds of animals, precisely because the tsetse flies infested this country and kept the people at bay.  We can glory today in the open vistas, the roaming predators, the grazing herds, because the tsetse fly exists.

I've been thinking about this as a picture for mystery.  From the perspective of a Maasai herdsman, or a German settler, the tsetse fly was an unmitigated danger.  But from the perspective of a 21rst century lover of nature, it was an instrument of God's gracious preservation of an important ecosystem on our earth.

The problem is, in the midst of the flies, it is hard to see God's mercy at work.  And much of our life is spent in the flies.  We took a brief stop at a picnic spot on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, to look back down into the bowl from the heights.  Luke and Caleb started jumping on some logs.  And Caleb fell, on his arm, which had healed with a curve after a severe fracture two years ago.  Whether it was the instability of the curve, his rapid growth spurt, or just an unusual angle of his fall, he ended up with significant pain which did not resolve in the next day.  So when we went through Arusha, we took a insider's tour of the Lutheran Medical Center by signing in as patients to get an xray.  The xray showed a new fracture, a pretty large one considering Caleb's stoic patience.  Thankfully we were able to get a diagnosis and a cast.  But sadly, this once again puts the biggest draw of RVA, the opportunity to play football (soccer) on a team, probably out of reach.  The fracture itself is not a huge deal to Caleb, but the loss of the dream of playing football is crushing to him, and to all of us.

Just like last year when Luke injured his knee at the start of the season, we struggle to see God's mercy in the timing of this suffering.  And we may not see it, with our limited grasp of the mysteries of grace.  Perhaps in eternity when we look back over life with eyes attuned to the unseen worlds of spiritual reality all around us, it will all make sense.  Or perhaps even then we will have to merely gasp at the depth of God's impossible-to-plumb grace.  

But the tsetse fly bites seem a small price to pay for the glory of a sauntering giraffe.


Anonymous said...


So sorry to hear about your arm!


Tricia said...

I am sorry about the arm, the letting go of a dream. I understand in a way few do. Praying that it will heal quickly and that you will have the blessing of actually seeing God's grace, protection, and provision in these moments. God bless.

One Dusty Traveller said...

Thank You for the "back door" perspective on suffering - Your family is a total inspiration to "do the hard things"
May HIS peace, mercy and grace cover you all -

Barbara Elwood said...

Dear Ones,
You are in our prayers daily. We will uphold Caleb as he navigates this difficulty. Thanks for taking us along on your journey.

Anonymous said...

Great post... thanks for the reminder - perspective in trials makes all the difference.

kfenton said...

I started following your blog about a month ago. I can't even remember how I stumbled across it, but I am glad I did. I have always dreamed of missions work in east Africa, and reading your blog has been a blessing to me.

This post in particular is one I will be passing along to friends who are currently "in the flies."

Thanks - and thanks for what you do for the people of Africa.

Cindy Nore said...

It has been so much fun to "visit" so many parts of Africa along with your family through your blogs and photos. I'm so sorry to hear about Caleb's arm and the impact that will have on his ability to engage in soccer. Praying for quick physical healing and more importantly, emotional and spiritual support from the Great Physician, who knows and feels all our deepest pain. I hope the rest of your journey is simply full of joy and rest. With love - Cindy Nore

KevinandJD said...

So sorry about Caleb's arm! We'll be praying for alternative ways for finding his place at RVA. Perhaps, activities or people that he otherwise would not have tried or noticed. But we do grieve with him over the loss of this year's season.