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Sunday, April 08, 2018

Survival against the Odds

Today we celebrate FIVE YEARS since our friend and colleague Dr. Travis Johnson was diagnosed with colon cancer, shockingly cutting short his family's mission service in Bundibugyo.  His tumor had spread by the time he was diagnosed, and his prognosis has never been very encouraging.  We have asked and asked for a cure, for a miracle response to surgery and chemo and radiation and now immunotherapy.  Instead, we have received survival without assurance.  Another month and another year, as Travis and Amy suffer toxic treatments, travel to the best care, eat and exercise like olympic athletes, raise prayer support, and pursue every possible avenue of help.
In fact, what we would like to see for Travis (NO TUMOR LEFT so we can hope for not just a year or five, but decades) is what we'd like to see for all those we serve.  Not just a moderate extension of survival, but a clean slate, a hopeful future. Instead, we have an incredibly unlikely gift of a 5-year struggle that finds Travis completing yesterday a 100-kilometer bike ride, with three growing kids and a meaningful job and a life that looks outward to the needs of others, without the cloud of cancer being removed. I'd like the babies in our Newborn Unit to stop getting fatal infections, but instead of 100% survival we get some dramatic rescues and too many sorrowful deaths.  I'd like to have Dr. Jonah alive, but instead we have his sweet daughters and his precious posthumous son and his hardworking wife and six medical students graduated or near-to-do-so following in his footsteps.  I'd like to have a financially and spiritually thriving school in Bundibugyo, instead we have an institution beset by riots and rumors on a regular basis that still manages to turn out the best in the district but never feels like a sure bet.  I'd like loose ends tied up, rogue cells zapped out of the body, jobs for our unemployed dear ones, and while we're at it, peace in South Sudan.

What we get, though, is the obscure uncertainty of living by faith.

Easier for me to say than for Travis and Amy, though I know they do say it.  We get to keep plugging through the next treatment or the next day.  We get to do our best, even when it feels pitifully too little, jerry-rigging oxygen tubing to share the molecules like the loaves and the fish amongst too many patients.

We get to keep walking into an uncertain day, facing absences and strikes and shortages and desperate needs.  We get to keep praying for our dear ones when beset by thieves or illness or failures or injuries.  

And on milestones like today, sometimes we get to look back and give testimony that maybe God's hard plan contains the best in some mysterious way.  Our sermon in church today talked about the times Jesus' disciples wanted what they thought was good and reasonable to ask for (help in the storm, healing for Lazarus) but in the silence of God's seeming non-response, they were set up for something unimaginable:  waves and wind stilled, resurrection.  That's what we look for for Travis and Amy, for Africa, for us.  We don't live by the odds, which is unsettling but hopeful.

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