(I apologize. I’ve been without internet since starting to travel before dawn Monday morning and have just now gotten Wi-Fi access.)
My last day at Bongolo fell under two categories: final packing and good byes. Final packing was a lot more time intensive than I thought, because I was taking back more than I expected, even after leaving most of my clothing, work boots, flash lights, safety glasses, gloves, etc., for Paul’s guys. I placed it on my seat where we all meet every day for prayer and assignments. They don’t get access to first world items very often, and, even though I’m considerably bigger than all but two of them, I know this will be a blessing to them. This was a real ‘feel good’ for me. Thank you, Sally, for turning me onto this concept! Note to self, bring the next size up suitcase next time!
A second – and surprising – blessing was the act of clearing leftovers out my refrigerator. What started as pure drudgery turned into great joy. Two families had invited me to last minute to meals and I was able to give away several complete and partial meals! It almost felt like a mini ‘fishes and loaves’ experience. I was stunned how much food was in my fridge! Most of it was local cooking, so the natural recipient was my Gabonese neighbor, Christine, who works in the hospital’s accounting office. She was thrilled! The more American items ended up with a few of the missionaries. For example, the rest of my Seattle’s’ Best decaf coffee and dried mango snack went to Izzi and Renee’. I love to give things away I thought I would need but didn’t.
The rest of the day, until close to 11:00 pm, was spent visiting and dropping off thank you cards. Each person on the Station impacted me differently, and I thought it was important to tell them how God worked through them. This rolling set of good byes started after church with surgical resident Dr. Sam, Amanda and two year old Bela. I’d gone to the Palm Sunday service with them and they invited me to come to lunch after a short break. They reminded me of the power of generosity of including me in their life.
I ran into Drs. Zach and Jen, with two year old Caleb on their way back to their house and thanked them for sharing their story with me over meals, leading the jungle hike, and for offering some logistical strategies on how God could bring me back to Bongolo to help in the future.
Siko (a pastor and head of the laboratory) and Delphine (surgery recovery nurse) were next. They were another example of acceptance and love. Between the three of us, we could communicate pretty well. Delphine (with Siko) had been bringing me Gabonese meals for the last couple of weeks, and it was with great joy that I gave Delphine back her Tupperware along with an over-sized jar of unopened Peanut Butter I’d brought with me on the well-meaning advice of an experienced friend who was concerned I wouldn’t get enough protein. Ha!
I finally got that hug from Dr. Izzi, who impacted me beyond my ability to express myself by asking me to help a very sick Mom and her unborn child through donating blood for an emergency C-section delivery. She also made it possible for me to meet with the two of them two weeks later for a short conversation and a couple of photos. The three of us will forever be linked. Also, Izzi included me in some missionary team activities not normally open to visitors, which I really appreciated. I hope to connect with her when she visits Pittsburgh during the summer during her home assignment.
Dr. Renee’ wasn’t home, but we had pretty much said good bye after she, Izzi and I played cards until late the night before. Renee’ got me involved with her attempt to save the life of the high school principle ten days earlier. I felt used by God even though the patient passed away right in front of me. She’s also going to be in Pittsburgh later in the year to get advanced ultrasound training.
Ophthalmology resident, Dr. Bintu, and her pilot husband Rob are became soul-mates even after such a short period of time. Rob was in Cameroon servicing the airplane, so I emailed with him, instead talking in person. Bintu and I chatted and laughed for 20 minutes on their front porch. She is a passionate, enthusiastic woman who makes you believe more in yourself just by spending time with her. One of her passions is the worship band and singers at Bongolo Church. She’s preparing them for a concert in May and loved my idea of a future US tour. I could see the wheels turning as she considered the possibilities.
Eric and Dr. Wendy Hofman and their three children (Esther, Ely and Hannah – 5, 3, and 1 respectively) truly welcomed me into their home. I had dinner with them more times than anybody else, and the kids had started calling me, “Uncle Doug” which left me feeling warm all over. My best memory will be reading Cinderella to Esther while she cuddled up next to me. I didn’t mind the extra body heat and sweating in the slightest!
Paul and Malodee were both selfless in their own ways. Malodee, in her role of helping visitors feel more at home, kept me supplied with canned and fresh foods and juices. She was always cheerful and made me feel welcomed. Paul – what can I say? He never once told me to stop asking questions or kicked me out of the truck because he was sick of me. I’ll never forget the clear and subtle lessons I learned from him, whether it was how to replace the pump on a washing machine, drive the back hoe, lead his men and manage the expectations of everyone who has a repair problem. I can’t wait for next time so that we can work together, again.
My last good bye was with Dr. Keir Thelander, the amazing Medical Director and Team Leader. I’d said goodbye to his wife Joanna earlier. As the head of the Visitor Ministry, she was my point person for lots of things. Their kids, Luke (13) and Sarah (11) also impacted me because remind me of my kids, Tom and Katie.
It personally makes me sad that Keir and his family are moving to Cleveland in a couple of months to take over leading the PAACS program as Medical Director for all of Africa. It’s clear that God wants him there, but Keir, along with Paul, are two of the human reasons I came to Bongolo in the first place and it felt very natural to work with both of them. I like the way he leads and can learn a lot from him.
Keir actually came over at about 8:30 Sunday night and we just talked for a couple of hours. It was super that he was able to unplug for a bit. One of several big topics was his response to an earlier question, “How might ACAC (my church) contribute in non-financial ways to Bongolo?” His considered responses were very encouraging and will be well-received back home. He also spoke into my life in a couple of very personal ways that also touched me deeply. We concluded our meeting with prayer – in fact, several of the other good byes involved praying for each other, a very cool custom I’d like to take back to the States with me.
I think the good byes were as impactful on some of the missionaries as they were for me. They closed this chapter and left doors open for the future. I left feeling like I’d become part of the family, and that’s a great emotion!
Lessons so far:
Taking the time to intentionally say good bye to everybody individually conveyed the message, “You are important to me.” I’d thought seriously about napping, writing or exercising as part of my last day, but I’m glad I pushed those other activities to the sidelines this time.
Writing out and delivering thank you notes will be part of my life when I get home. I’ve said it before, but this time will be different. Even though it took quite a bit of time, it was worth every minute.
Giving away food and personal items motivated me to clear out an embarrassing amount of excess at my house. Clothing, furniture, accessories etc., that is just cluttering up my home could be used by others. I think I’m going to have a ‘come take things’ event of some kind and then take the rest to a thrift store or simply hauled away.
Sometimes you get surprised by things people will say to you when you say good bye, things you needed to hear but never expected to. Thank you, God!
How might I aggressively give things away to people who need them more?
I am generous and other people oriented!