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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Work as Communion, and the Humility of Sabbath: Resting during a Strike

After ten days with very little respite, I took a sabbath.  Long ago I'd signed up for a Women's Retreat to join the women on the Kijabe team for some spiritual refreshment, courtesy of AIM and a church in Iowa.  We had planned a day of silent retreat on Friday, followed by the conference from Friday late afternoon through Sunday.  But as the week wore on, with no end of the strike in sight, I was wavering.  It's difficult to walk away from a job that no one is going to do while you're gone, and a job that involved life and death situations.  I plowed on, through Friday afternoon, a bit irritable and grumpy truth be told as I thought of what I was missing.  But Scott and a trusted friend both said, GO.  (Scott in the meantime stayed to work another 12 hour Saturday day, doing 4 C-sections in the process, but he's stronger than I am . . . ) . So from Friday evening to early Sunday morning, I did.  The retreat was a gulp of fresh air (theme:  Just Breathe, with teaching from Psalm 139).  Sweet hours with friends who have stood with us for many many years, fun conversations with new ones.  Solid teaching, solid sleep.  Worship and walks.  By the time I was back in the hospital on Sunday morning, facing cerebral malaria and feverish newborns, I felt truly renewed.

But that decision had some consequences.  Two babies died.  I was on the phone many, many times throughout the day away.  Kijabe graciously accepted one of my sickest, deteriorating 3-week olds with encephalitis, a transfer arranged from the car and the edges of meetings.  I walked the Clinical Officer through resuscitating a 5-day old born in a truck-stop town with poor options for care, who came in with a nastily infected umbilical cord and succumbed.  Friday evening as I left, Scott was doing an emergency C-section on a mom who had been pushing for 3 hours and the baby was very distressed.  That one also died on Saturday.  Most likely all that would have been the same if I'd been there; these were babies with very poor options and advanced disease.  But it's hard to be sure of that.

Is a day of Sabbath justified in the middle of a doctor's strike?  What would Jesus do?

Interestingly, there's no formula here.  Jesus walked away from the needy at times to rest.  He didn't heal everyone.  People still died in Palestine.  People he could have saved.  There is a humility to taking a sabbath.  The work is God's, we are only a small instrument, and the restoration of all things continues when we wear out and have to sleep.

Jesus also broke the sabbath rules by healing on the prescribed day of rest.  He pointedly valued the life of a sufferer over the centuries-old rules.  The authorities didn't want him to work, but He did. The crowds didn't want him to rest, but He did.

Bethany recommended a great Greg Thompson sermon on Christ the Labourer.  on John 5 and the disabled man who sat by the pool of Bethsaida.  A healing story, so I was thinking, great, as a doctor let me learn from Jesus the healer.  But in this story, we are the man who can't walk.  We are out of options, and Jesus breaks in.  In making that connection, Jesus gave the man a trivial but impossible task:  Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.  Go write notes on 30 inpatients.  And as the man did that work, Greg says, his work became a catalyst exposing the darkness of hearts that resented his recovery, revealing the life that the new Kingdom brings.  But more than that, his work became a moment of communion.  Of joining with Jesus in the all-things-new.  An ordinary obedience that joined the bigger picture of all Jesus was doing.  They were in this together.

Would you pray for us, that our work during this strike becomes a means of communion with the Creator of the universe?  That we don't just plug away, push through, struggle on, but that we experience a true presence of the Spirit as we enter into our work?  That we depend upon Jesus just as much as the paralyzed man?

Because we're going to need those prayers.  Word on the street:  Nurses, who had briefly joined the strike at the beginning but returned, may walk out again this coming week because the government did not come through on their promised raise.  I find it hard to imagine anything worse than what we have, but a nursing strike at this point would be a worst case scenario.  The mission hospitals may be included, meaning there will be NOWHERE to go for the vast majority of Kenyans.  Even our willingness to continue will not be possible if every hospital shuts down.

Well, if you read all that, here are some photos of the babies this morning for whom a little care is making the difference between life and death.  Someone has to notice the jaundice or the fast heart rate or the labored breathing, and take some action.  Given today's sermon, that someone is Jesus and it is our privilege to happen to be handy to take part.  Hope you find some communion with God in your work this week too.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Jennifer, for your dedication and service in Naivasha and for your faithfulness to all of us back home who draw comfort from your blog messages. Praying for C. God bless your and Scott and your work. Judy in HMB

Martha Ritchie said...

We are praying for you. What beautiful insight into the big dilemma of taking humble rest. Our hearts and prayers are with you. It is hard not to be there.