In Canada, a change of seasons is starting. Kids and teachers go back to school. The weather begins to cool off. My family starts picking pumpkins to sell. I’ve always loved September. This time last year, I was heading to North Carolina for a Missionary Medical Training course. After that, it was a whirlwind of activity as my sister Amy got married and two weeks later, I was on a plane to Guatemala. It’s been almost one year.
It’s been a good year. The Lord has been so faithful to me. What brings me to tears is thinking about how God has been with me since I was a little girl. He was with me in elementary school, when I went to high school. He was with me when I moved to St. Catharines for university. He was with me in Guatemala those summers. He was with me when I moved to London for nursing school. I moved to Goderich and He was with me. I said goodbye to my family to move here, and He was with me.
Not only was He with me, but He also placed people in my life to help me through each transition. I’ve found friendships in unexpected places. Isn’t He faithful?
I want to tell you about what has been happening here the last few months — what God has done — and I’ll throw in some stories along the way.
Most of you will remember that on June 3rd of this year, one of our neighbourhood volcanos erupted. It covered us in ash and volcanic rock and it was not more than a minor inconvenience for us, living several miles away. But the devastation just down the road from us was incredible.
It has been three months since the eruption, and clean-up is far from over. Thousands of people died. Thousands of people are still living in temporary evacuation centres. One of the country’s main highways was badly damaged and only recently was it opened again from 6am-2pm. Since it is rainy season, excessive rain makes the drive very dangerous. The highway has sections that are now just dirt roads with grey barrenness on both sides. Towns were buried, all the vegetation died. There is nothing left. To get to the birth centre, I drive this road. If we are chatting in the car, when we hit the dirt road all the talking stops because it’s all we can do to look out the windows and silently take in the magnitude of the destruction. It’s incomprehensible. Life has moved on for most of the country but towns have literally been buried in ash and you can only see a few roofs sticking out. Here are some photos.
Birth Centre Dedication
On August 8th we dedicated our birth centre. For months I had been asking God what we should name the clinic. I felt like nothing was coming to me. The dedication was coming up and we needed a name! It needed to be the Lord’s name. It needed to be a declaration of what God would do in the place. Names are important. In July I listened to a sermon from the Meeting House about Genesis 16 and I knew what I wanted to call the clinic.
Centro de Partos El Pozo
(The Well Birth Centre.)
It’s about Hagar. She was the disposable character in the story. The Egyptian slave girl. No money, no influence, no rights. She becomes pregnant and Sarah send her away. She is alone, pregnant, traveling to Egypt, and without hope for the future. God meets her at a well. A well is a place of life, it’s open to all; it is non-discriminatory. Everybody has a right to draw water from a well. He says to her, “Where have you come from and where are you going?” The Lord knows the answer but He is gently helping her locate herself in her own story. Sometimes we need to pause and answer those questions too. “What is really going on here?” Then the Lord blesses her with a blessing similar to Abraham’s of being the father of many nations. Then He gives a name to her unborn son. “Ishmael.” It means, “The Lord hears.” Naming a child would be the husband’s role, but Hagar has no husband. God fills that role. So every time she says the name of her son, Ishmael, she will be reminded that she is not alone and that God hears her. Then Hagar gives a name to the Lord, “the God who sees me”. She confesses that she has seen the God who sees her.
Women who come to my clinic, I want them to know that they aren’t unimportant. Their past doesn’t matter. Their mistakes don’t matter. Their poverty doesn’t matter. I want this clinic to be like the well where God met Hagar, the unlikely character, and blessed her despite everything. I want women to come in and feel safe, and leave confessing “God hears me, and I have seen the God who sees me.”
Please pray that I would direct the clinic in a way that brings glory to God. Pray that lives will be changed and saved here. Providing quality health care to save physical lives is a means to save spiritual lives. Pray that God would have favour on the work that we do and that He would bless it so more women might come and have an encounter with the God Who Sees and Hears. Pray that we would be good stewards of what God has given us. Help us to be faithful workers in His harvest field.
It is truly a privilege that God would choose me to work with Him here. It is nothing that I have done, and nothing that I could ever do to be worthy of His kingdom work. He is faithful and kind and generous to us.
I posted a video tour of the clinic on Facebook. You can watch it HERE.
I want to share the stories of three women with whom we have worked in the community recently.
The first is Joselyn. She is 19 years old and this was her 3rd pregnancy. She came to the clinic for prenatal care at 33 weeks. The doctors had told her she needed to have a cesarian section because she had had a leg amputated (where is the logic?). I wish you could have seen her face when I told her that we could deliver her at the clinic — no c-section necessary! Her pregnancy was seemingly healthy. She came back the next week for a check-up. Everything looked good until I tried to find the baby’s heartbeat. Nothing. I don’t know if I’ve ever prayed as hard as I did that morning while I listened. “Has your baby moved very much today?” I asked her. She thought for a second, “No, actually not really since yesterday.” I tried to find a heartbeat for what seem like forever. I didn’t know what to do because I had never dealt with a stillbirth- not in Canada and especially not in Guatemala. First time for everything, I suppose. Do we take her for an ultrasound? I don’t know where an ultrasound clinic is. Hospital? Ultrasound at the hospital? We took her to the hospital and they wouldn’t let me or her family in the emergency room. Eventually I went home because there wasn’t anything I could do. Her father called me several times over the next couple of days, “The doctors aren’t doing anything…She’s just lying on the bed…They tried to induce her…They’re going to do a c-section… They won’t let us in to see her” and then a few days later “She had the baby…They won’t release the body to us… We have to pay Q800 ($140), we don’t have that kind of money.” It went on and on. Thanks to all of you who have given financially to this ministry, we have funds for emergencies like this. We went to the hospital the next morning to help deal with the funeral home and funeral arrangements. The undertakers came to the hospital in a minivan, went to the morgue to pick up the baby’s body, and we all piled into the back of the minivan with the casket and drove to the funeral home. It was a surreal experience. After the arrangements were made, the family loaded themselves into the back of a friend’s pick-up truck, with the baby, and drove home where they would hold a wake all night long, as is the custom here.
It was a very difficult experience for me and I felt uncomfortable not knowing how to navigate the hospital system for her. But I’m thankful for the difficult experiences, because I grow the most during them. This situation reminded me of the practical importance that a birth clinic can be for this community. I don’t want to send women to the hospital where they will be (sometimes) treated as if they have no value. Bersabe spent a few nights outside the hospital on a bed of concrete blocks because there were no beds available in the hospital. She delivered a dead baby at 34 weeks and no one was allowed to be with her. I don’t want anyone else to have this experience.
The second woman, Carmen, had a c-section. Her baby was 9lbs at birth. The doctors told her that the baby was “muy gordito” – literally “very fat” and they kept the baby in the hospital for two weeks on a diet. Did you catch that? They put a 9lb baby on a diet and on antibiotics until she lost weight. The mother was allowed 5 minutes of visiting time three times a week. They were feeding the baby once in the morning and once at night. Finally the baby was discharged once she had lost sufficient weight. I could not believe what I was hearing. Thankfully the baby is okay, and is gaining weight at home now. It is a frustrating situation because now the baby can’t breastfeed and the family must buy formula, which is extremely expensive. In situations like this, the mother often tries to stretch one box of formula as far as possible, or they begin to supplement with other milk, rice or corn drinks, juice, coffee or coca-cola. In this case, it was completely preventable. Now that our clinic is open, we will hopefully be able to reduce the number of cases like this by keeping women out of the hospital as much as possible.
The third story I want to share belongs to Saida, who came for prenatal care two weeks ago for the first time. She is due at the beginning of January. Her first baby was born in the hospital. Telling us the story, she said, “No one was there. I was by myself. The doctors were somewhere else, I was alone. I caught my own baby, but he wasn’t breathing. No one was there to help him. My baby died because no one noticed that something was wrong, no one helped me. I was alone and then my baby was dead.”
Story after story after story. These women deserve more. Their children deserve more.
The First-time Birth Dilemma
I learned two weeks ago that midwives in the Escuintla department are not allowed to attend first-time births. This means that every woman that comes to me who has NOT had a baby before, I have to send to the hospital to deliver. This is because first-time moms are higher risk than others. I was discouraged when I heard this because this is what would likely happen: mom goes to the hospital. If she doesn’t deliver within 4 hours, she is probably given a c-section. She isn’t allowed to room with her baby so she doesn’t get a good start to breastfeeding. She isn’t given any instructions on how to care for her incision. She goes home to a dirty house with less-than-ideal sanitation. Her incision might get infected. She doesn’t want to walk for an hour to the health centre to have them remove her sutures, so she asks a lady from the village to remove them for her. The lady complies, but doesn’t use sterile instruments and if there wasn’t already an infection, there is now. On top of all that, the woman will not be able to have a normal delivery with her next pregnancy because doctors here will insist on another c-section. The situation will happen over and over again.
We want to keep these first-time moms out of the hospital! I set up a meeting with the health centre director to ask for special permission since we have all the same equipment as in a hospital. She said she would talk to her superiors. A few days later, she set up an inspection at the clinic and they were very impressed with everything. We talked to them for two hours and they are very excited about what we are doing. They told us they would recommend us to the doctor who would make the final decision. A few days ago we were told that they would not be giving us permission to attend these births. I was frustrated, but at the same time I had peace because this is God’s work, not mine. He knows what He is doing. We did everything we could to gain permission — there is nothing else we could have done.
We still really want to attend first-time mothers. So, we are going through a process to licence the clinic as an official medical centre. It’s a tedious, expensive process but we believe that God is leading us in this direction. Once we have the licence, we won’t have the restrictions that we have now. In the long run, it will be better to be licensed this way. Pray that the process goes quickly and smoothly. God has opened so many doors for this ministry, and we aren’t discouraged by the hoops we have to jump through!
Let me finish with something personal. My attitude was wrong, but it’s worth it to share because there is a lesson in it.
Before I had these meetings with the health centre, I was afraid. I felt like my worth was dependent on what they thought of me. If they support me, then what I’m doing is worthwhile. If they give us permission for first-time births, then they think I am trustworthy. If they don’t, then why am I here? Someone else could do this better, and they would probably receive the permission I am looking for. I thought that someone else could articulate in Spanish better than I could. I thought that it would be my fault if they didn’t give us the permission because I didn’t speak well enough. The bottom line was, “I am not the person for this job.” I had made it all about me.
Obviously, none of this was from the Lord. It’s not about me; it’s never about me.
I watched a short video clip of Kris Vallotton, a pastor from Bethel Church. He tells the story of meeting with a powerful political figure. He describes sitting in the room, waiting for the world leader to come in and feeling inadequate and under-qualified. Then he felt the Lord say to him, “You belong here. You’re one of the kings I’m king over. Kings disciple kings. Slaves don’t disciple anyone. Now act like a son. He is coming into the room.”
This encouraged me because I could imagine Him saying those words to me as I met with different people from the health centre. I felt him say, “Steph, you belong here. You are my ambassador. I’m the King of Kings and I’ve sent you. So act like a daughter now; they’re coming into the room.”
I am very unimportant. God doesn’t need me or my help. Nothing happens without His hand. He controls the wind and the waves; I control nothing. Nothing in the clinic, both now and in the future, will be my doing. It’s all Him. He chooses to work through broken vessels who often forget their identity in Him. He picks me up again and again when I fall. I am so far from perfect, yet He has allowed me to serve Him here. He continually has to remind me, “Stephanie, act like a daughter! You belong here.” He doesn’t get tired of me though. Like King David, I can have utter confidence in God’s mercy and His steadfast love if I come back to Him with a humble and repentant heart. There’s something that happens when we shift our awareness from the fear and the lies and we fix our attention on the One who walks on water, the one who calls us His beloved.
So I am telling YOU, you patient reader who has made it all the way to the end of this, YOU belong. In the situations you find yourself, God hears you and sees you. We are like Hagar— unworthy, disposable — but He hears and He sees and if you belong to the family of God then you can say with confidence, “I am a son/daughter of God. I belong here because God sent me, and he is the King of kings and He makes no mistake.”
PS– I’m coming home for Christmas!! I hope and plan to reconnect with many, many of you!