Not that I expect to live a hundred years, but if I do, I want to be like Dr. Bill Barnette. He's only two years younger than Kijabe. And every once and a while as he talks, telling stories in deadpan detail, his mischievous character shines through.
Two stories from today.
Shortly after the first lab was established by the no-nonsense Justy, Dr. Bill decided to play a prank. He had been given a bottle of wine ("I didn't know what to do with it!," the good AIM-doc comment). He sent some in a specimen container to the lab and ordered a slew of tests as if it was a body fluid. A few hours later, he went into the lab and found Justy and her assistant a bit flummoxed. Oh, he said, there's one test you didn't do. The taste test! Then he opened the specimen container and took a swig, to the horrified faces of Justy and her colleague. Later she got him back by marching into his exam room and presenting him with a long bill of charges for all the tests she had run.
An old photo taken in an operating theatre with meticulously tiled walls in the background led down a path of remembering how he did the tiling, and how the floors had to have strips of copper beneath the tiles to conduct electricity away in case of a spark from the electric cautery . . . because the anesthetic of the time, ether, was basically a potential bomb. Which then led to the memory of a displaced missionary from Congo after the Simba rebellion, Fernando, who helped with that tiling and was a whiz with administration and building, but was not not a medical person. So one day Dr. Bill had a patient with a serious leg fracture. He also happened to have a prosthetic leg laying around, which he tucked under the sheet with the patient with a fracture. When his friend Fernando came into the theatre hall, he called for help. He explained that to set the fracture properly required some traction, so he needed help from someone strong. Could Fernando pull on the patient's foot while Dr. Bill held his shoulders? Innocently Fernando took hold of the proffered shoe, and pulled hard, landing on his back with a loose leg in the air. He yelled, certain he had just pulled the patient's leg off.
I guess the lesson is that the kind of person who can play practical jokes as the sole doctor in a busy mission hospital is the kind of person who lives 98 years.
The other highlight of today was a lunch in which the AIC Church leadership invited all the honored returning missionaries, along with some equally ancient local Kenyans, and all the current missionaries. The Bishop of the AIC for all of Kenya attended, as well as the deputy Bishop and various secretaries and principles and pastors. These formal events can be tedious with protocol. But this time the intent was truly sweet: these senior Kenyan leaders wanted to formally say thank you. They stood up and acknowledged, we are here because you came, you taught us, you believed in us, and we are grateful. They are now in charge and we are partners who serve their purposes, but they demonstrated great humility in this celebration. At the end there was a cake to cut, and the Bishop was given the honor. However he insisted that Dr. Bill and the others come up, and he and Dr. Bill held the knife together. I am certain that missionaries, those past and present, have frustrated the Kenyans time and time again, caused misunderstanding and heartache and despair. So it was beautiful to see the charity, the forgiveness, the modesty, of this gesture.
Another treat of this event: we snagged a table with the Bransfords. Millie invited me into her home for Bible Study when we were beleagered refugees here almost two decades ago.
We are also hosting our own honored returnees, the H's who worked at Kijabe for a dozen years or more. Mrs. H was given an award for her work on curriculum development in the nursing school, and Dr. H reminded us this morning that the current area where they work which is decidedly non-Christian and dangerous is open to them partly because the Kijabe name is respected and trusted even in hostile enclaves. After our boys played rugby together this evening (in a resounding 64-0 defeat of Kijabe Boys High School, which included a 70-meter run from Jack breaking a number of tackles and dodging around people to score a try . . . and several tries from the H's son and conversions from both boys . . .) we enjoyed dinner together.
So another day of paying our respects to the saints who have labored before us, interspersed with taking care of 4 sick kids in ICU and other patients. Not to mention an unexpected encounter in the hall with 3 visiting doctors from Norway's Christian Medical Association. One saw my name and said "That's my mom's name! We're practically family!". Which is true, in the best Kingdom sense.
And did I mention that our Sudanese partners were in town for a conference, unrelated to all the Kijabe drama? The Reeds hosted a delightful dinner with this Bishop and school Principal. I wish you could have heard them telling stories about their travels, many of which related to the unsurvivable temperatures in places non-South-Sudan (anything less than 80 degrees I suspect). That two men from a place teetering on the brink of economic collapse and war could be so relaxed, graceful, and cheerful was somehow heartening.
So it's been quite a 24 hours. In the way that only Kijabe can be, full of memories and learning, challenging cases and juggling responsibilities. We are in many ways newbies, very small threads in a rich tapestry. Weeks like this can make me wonder if we have spent our last 21-and-a-half years well. I suspect we have a lot less to show for it than we could, and I confess I am finding it necessary to pray for contentment to be a toe in the great body of Christ. Nevertheless, we are enjoying the history and the fellowship. And a few good stories!