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Transition

Dear Praying Friends,

I hope that this letter finds all of you doing well. Zambia has become my home, and my home is doing well.

In my attempt to discover what the last thing I related to you, I was astonished to find that the last time I wrote was in July 2015. I am hoping that most of you were able to get a verbal update from me when I was home in December, but I know that is not true for all of you. It seems like all I do is apologize for not communicating enough, so I will attempt to spare you this time.

From my last letter, and also from my trip home in December, the fact that July 2016 and my 3 year commitment coming to end are both approaching rapidly is obviously something that has been on my heart and mind. I would like to share with you the decision that I have made after much prayer and wise counsel. I have decided to leave Zambia and return to America. I must admit that even writing those words are difficult for me.

I have never been more at home in Zambia, counting as family the people who are surrounding me. The clinic is moving on well, with more activity, and a desperate need for more staff and assistance to accommodate the growth. I have a beautiful apartment and a vehicle that works well. There is solar power at my apartment which means that I have never run out of electricity. The instances are few when water has been unavailable. And so, with all those things, sometimes it comes as a shock to me that I am choosing to leave.

It was neither a decision I made quickly nor lightly. I realize very much that my departure from Zambia will leave a gap not only for the clinic and the Bible college, but also leave a huge gap in my life. I have realized that there is never a good time to leave something that you love. I know that God will provide for any need that arises from my departure. Please be praying with me for the right person or people to replace me at the clinic, as well as for my adjustment to life in America.

The last almost 3 years have brought to my attention not only some of my weaknesses, but also things that I would like to accomplish in my life. One thing that I have noticed in Zambia, is that education is incredibly important. I would like to be able to teach someday, and I currently have an Associate degree that needs to be upgraded to a Master’s Degree. Also, as far as medicine goes, I have learned a lot from Dr. Marjie as far as diagnosing and prescribing, but truthfully my license as a Registered Nurse in America has not provided me with enough to serve the people in Zambia as much as I would like to. Returning to school would allow me the opportunity to earn a Nurse Practitioner’s Degree that would also be a Master’s Degree, allowing me to operate in a larger clinical capacity as well as teach.

Lord willing, I will be returning to America, where I will be returning to school for the next 4 years, with the intent of increasing my education with the long-term goal of returning to the mission field in Africa. Without any doubts in my heart, I have fallen in love with the people who I have been able to serve here, and I hope to have the same opportunity in the future. I do hope to return to Zambia in the next 4 years on short visits to help as I am able.

I cannot thank each of you enough for the important part you have been in my time here in Zambia, and also for the continued interaction I will be able to have as I return to America. None of what has been happening here in Zambia would have been possible without you. I am forever grateful for the experiences I have had here and would not trade them for the world. Thank you so very much.

I would greatly appreciate your prayers for the change that is coming soon. Please pray for the clinic as I leave, that the right people will fill the right spots as the growth continues. Pray for me as I return to America and the inevitable culture shock that it will bring. Pray that I will finish my time here in Zambia well, loving the people so that God may be glorified.

Once again, beyond words, thank you for your support and continued prayers.

God Bless,

Kristi

Isaiah 43:19

 

Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

 

 

The Fabulous Five

They are the first faces I see.  Sitting in a little group along the rock lined path leading to the clinic. Five young boys.

Hopeful little faces smiling at me.  Recognizing me, acknowledging me, far from dependent on me.

I love these little guys.  There is some amount of bravery in their coming that cannot be touched.

The oldest is not even a teenager, and he looks so much younger.  A leader and yet so little.  He always leaves with a bag of soy in his hands.

He escorts his charges in individually as we call their names.  He answers to their health.  He takes directions on their medications and general health.  A guardian of four at age 12.

I explain slow and carefully, making sure they all know.

The smiles and chatter take a break when I mention the word injection.  The youngest, with a surly face declares that he does not want any injections.  He then proceeds to fall asleep in his chair.

A million blessings in their visit.

I watch them leave with their bags of provision, the oldest in the lead, followed by the younger.

Far from ideal there is something perfect about their care for each other, about their bravery facing an unknown world…and I hope that somehow I can help them face the unknown without making them any less brave.

Update

Dear Praying Friends,

Life in Zambia is never boring. Dr. Marjie reminds me of this all the time. I usually need no reminder, and confess that sometimes a little more boring would be just fine with me. The days have been full, the clinic has been meeting more needs than ever imagined, and God is working.

I recently told someone that the hardest part of my job here in Zambia is turning people away from the clinic. The last week has been testament to this fact. Between Monday and Tuesday I turned approximately 40 people away from our clinic. I walked out the door, looked in their eyes, and told them that we would not be able to help them.
I was visiting with some fellow staff here on campus and we were talking about being tired. We came up with the stages of tired and exhausted. At the time, I couldn’t think of anything but those two words. I said that tired can happen, but you can only be exhausted if there is a baby delivery involved. I am now going to add to that list. You can be tired after a long day. You can be exhausted after a long day and a baby delivery in the middle of the night. And you can be DRAINED after a long day, a baby delivery, another long day, and then you turn 40 sick people away from the clinic.

Drained, as in every last drop has been squeezed and pressed and sucked and drawn and pulled from you.

I think I am learning why it drains me so much to turn people away. When I am simply tired or exhausted and I can HELP people, they always give something back to me. Whether it is a new baby taking his first breaths or a sick woman saying thank you, they give you something back just by being ALIVE. But when I turn people away the things they give are anger and disappointment and hurt and possibly desperation.

One woman begged me in the name of Jesus to take care of her needs.

My heart does not know how to deal with this properly. I desperately want to be Jesus’ hands and feet, but I can tell you that I will never be Jesus. I can tell you that when someone pleads with me, begs me, or holds up their sick baby in front of my face asking to be seen at the clinic, it pulls many strings in my heart. It pulls the string that wants to help everyone. It pulls the string that says someone is deliberately trying to manipulate my emotions to get something from me. It pulls the string that makes the tiredness turn to exhaustion. It pulls all these strings at the same time, the same moment, and the emotions that come with it are intense.

Emotions like inadequacy and insufficiency. Emotions like anger and frustration.

It has started me wondering about the life and ministry of Jesus. I don’t know how many times the Bible says that Jesus saw the crowds of people and felt COMPASSION on them. I have no doubt that there were people in the crowd who were seeking to manipulate Jesus for their own selfish needs. I have no doubt that Jesus was faced with frank physical NEED. I have no doubt that many days Jesus was tired and exhausted.

I long to respond in the way that He responded, to walk and live and breathe COMPASSION on those in need.

But I can’t.

Not alone.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, spent His time communing with the Father. Just as many times as Jesus showed compassion, He went to pray.

Hallelujah. Because that I can do. I can pray. I can pray for wise eyes to see the patients who are the sickest. I can pray for an understanding heart when someone tries to manipulate me. I can lean on the God of grace and strength who covers my every weakness. I can pray to the God who offers not only physical rest, but soul rest. I can pray for the physical healing of patients we couldn’t see or fix.

Every day I am faced with my own humanity, my weaknesses and failings and faults, by realizing how hard it is to meet another’s need completely. How blessed it is to know the God of the universe, who sacrificed and loved me even in my imperfection. How blessed it is to know the God who meets my needs completely.

If there is one thing that I can ask for prayer for concerning my time in Zambia, my prayer would be that God would show me how to LOVE well. Love is built on sacrifice, and I must be willing. Love would mean looking to Jesus to learn how, and ultimately pointing to Him when I fail.

FEBRUARY
– Welcomed the first of hopefully many medical teams to come. We were privileged to have 3 American doctors, who also obtained their Zambian licenses, overseeing 4 medical students in residency. They kept us very busy at the clinic. Incredibly thankful for their help!
– Saw over 2,000 patients at the clinic. WOW.
– Had our first baby delivery in the car, and also our first two babies in one night experience. Thankful the medical team was there for both of these.
MARCH
– Celebrated my 27th Birthday by getting completely soaking wet Zambian style. This is the first birthday I have celebrated in a country different than the US! My family, both American and Zambian, made it very special!
– Our nutritional soy program has over 200 patients participating. We are beginning to see the effects of the program, and have even had some graduates. It is such a blessing to see weight gain and decreased illness in patients! Thank you to those who contributed to the Nutritional Program!!
APRIL
– The three shipping containers arrived on the Bible college campus. I must say that it was like Christmas when I found my plastic totes that I packed over a year ago for my stay in Zambia! I packed things I thought that I “needed” but living without them for my entire stay here REALLY made them seem like presents.
– Started groundwork on the microburn incinerator for the clinic. When completed this will help us dispose of medical waste appropriately, a very important thing for our clinic!
– Expanded our computer program for the clinic to include an ever increasing list of reports that we have to complete. (I don’t think I have mentioned it yet, but we have an office manager, Shalon Bellmore, currently raising funds to come help at the clinic. We desperately need her to help with the paperwork that is starting to overwhelm us. Please pray that her funds come in quickly and that she gets here soon!)
– Mike and Dee Miller arrived along with their 4 kids. Mike will be in charge of construction here at the Bible College! Very excited to have them here!

MAY
– I am going to be visiting my family and friends in the United States for the month of May, and I could not be more excited to see everyone again!! If you are getting this letter, you are probably one of the people I will be seeing and I CAN’T WAIT!!
Praise and Prayer Requests:
– Please pray for the clinic and Dr. Marjie while I am in the States. The last few months have shown me how much the clinic has grown, and it is much more than a 1 person job. We have a wonderful bunch of employees, but much of the load will be on Dr. Marjie’s shoulders.
– Please pray for my time in the States. That my time with family and friends will be relaxing and resting, and also that the times I will be speaking to churches and different groups about what is happening in Zambia will be beneficial.
– Praise for the results from the Nutritional Program. Pray that we will continue to be able to provide help for those in need.
– Praise and pray for all the people that we come in contact with through the clinic. This is truly a bigger ministry than I ever imagined it would be!

Once again, I cannot tell you how THANKFUL I am for your continued support and encouragement. There have been beautiful days, and also very long and hard days. It is such a blessing to me to have your support.

God Bless,
Kristi Johnson

The Proposal

We were short one health care worker on Monday morning, so as the Director of Nursing, I signed myself up to do malaria and HIV testing.

Everyday we have one person screening people for malaria and HIV. I figured it was the job that required the least amount of talking, and therefore the job that required the least amount of Nyanja speaking skills, which is why I chose to do it.

There is nothing romantic about pricking a person’s finger with a small, sharp needle. Drawing just enough blood for the right tests.

Well, I guess I should say, I didn’t THINK there was anything romantic about it.

A man possibly twice my age entered the room and sat on the metal chair as I directed him.

I figured out that he could speak a decent amount of English and discovered all the information I needed before I started the testing.

I had my gloves on and was cleaning his finger with cotton soaked in methylated spirits when he asked his first question.

Man: “Are you married?”

Side note: remember that post about the man who was “happily seeking”? Well, here is a very good example of what happens when I DON’T lie about my married/single status.

Me: “No.”

Man: “Are you very old? Or very young?”

This was a very good question that I was debating how to answer, I decided to go with sarcasm.

Me: “Oh, I am VERY old!!”

Which turned out to not be such a good idea. I was being sarcastic. This man was being serious.

Man: “Will you marry me? I will give LOTS of cattle!”

I am not sure where, but at some point I had stabbed this man’s finger with a needle and he didn’t even flinch or get distracted from the purpose of his conversation.

Also, at this point I was trying very hard not to burst out laughing. Note to self: If you are ever in a foreign country and someone asks you to marry them…THEY ARE NOT JOKING. They are incredibly serious, and sarcastic answers are NOT appropriate.

Me: “I will have to ask my dad. I am not sure what he would do with a bunch of cattle.”

WRONG ANSWER.

This man thought he had a living, breathing, fighting chance.

I was laughing at the thought of my dad taking care of a bunch of cattle.

Man: “Your complexion made me say these words.”

…I’m sorry…WHAT?

I had no answer for this except suppressed laughter.

Man: “When can I come get you?”

I think he thought I said yes. Oops.

I guess my sarcasm was not quite clear enough.

Thankfully, I was finished with his lab tests and he could leave. As he walked out the door, I finally indulged in the laughter that had been plaguing my words and thoughts.

Everyone in the clinic thought I had gone crazy.

I am not sure what impression that man left the clinic with. I can promise you that I am not going to marry him, no matter how many cattle he would give.

Foreign Nursing Exam

I was late.

One hour wasn’t enough to travel to the University Teaching Hospital.

Thankfully this is Zambia, and even if you are taking the Foreign Trained Nurses Exam, you can be a little bit late.

The first waiting room I found looked promising; there were a couple other white people.

One took a look at my concerned expression and offered a, “You must be here for the nursing exam.”

Perfect. I wasn’t late. I even had to wait.

At the end of our nervous conversation, I learned that the pass rate for the exam was 13%. I looked around at the 20 people there and wondered if that meant all of us were going to fail.

We were taken upstairs to a room with the most uncomfortable wooden chairs and desks.

We had to search for our names that were taped to the desks. Just like in first grade, except this time I wasn’t at all concerned about who I was sitting next to.

My desk was a wobbly one. Too much pressure and it rocked back and forth. The straight back chair didn’t offer much help, and I knew that in 3 hours I was going to be hurting.

The back of the desk in front of me said, “SON.” Only it looked like “gON” because of a paint job gone wrong. It took me a few minutes to realize it stood for “School of Nursing.”

The blackboard had a faint message of hope stating, “Wishing you all the best tomorrow.” Our presider erased the “tomorrow” and wrote, “today.”

There was nothing I could change now. No more papers I could study or last minute facts to cram in. What is done is done. Now it was just the 3 hour test and the challenge of an uncomfortable desk.

The test presider asked if anyone would pray. I volunteered and prayed that God would help us remember what we studied.

The test that was supposed to start at 9:00, started at 9:55.

I wrote, and thought, and wrote some more.

Multiple choice. Matching. Fill in the blank. Essays.

Made me miss the NCLEX exam.

After 2 ½ hours, I had finished the exam. I raised my hand and was escorted to the bathroom, just to get out of the ridiculously uncomfortable chair.

The last half hour I read over and changed things. All those things you’re not supposed to do when you take a test.

Our time was up at 12:55.

There was a ceremonial touch to the process of picking up the tests and sealing them in envelopes. We couldn’t leave the room until we had witnessed that our tests had been taken out first.

The results won’t be complete until March.

I joked with my fellow foreign nurses that we will get the results back just in time to start studying for the Foreign Trained Nurses Exam that will be held in June. The exam we would have to take again if we didn’t pass.
What is done is done. I can’t change anything. It is good to have it done.

I took the Foreign Nursing Exam on November 28th, I wrote that shortly after. Two months of waiting, and the results finally came back.

I passed.

Hallelujah.

I have honestly never been so excited about such a low grade on an exam before. I passed, and that is what matters.
I don’t have to sit in that awful, uncomfortable chair for 3 hours again. I don’t have to study how Zambian nurses write tests.

I have a paper saying, “Registered Nurse.” I have a laminated card with a very unflattering passport photo on it that I can pull out at any time to prove that I am a Registered Nurse in Zambia.

Thank you for praying. I know God heard every prayer, and I am very thankful that He did.

She came to the clinic in a wheelbarrow pushed by her mother.

Her mother tall, skinny, high cheekbones, beautiful. And exhausted.

Past all the staring eyes. Past all the people who already know the unsaid truth.

She came to the clinic in a wheelbarrow.

Folded up like a small child. Knees to her chest, one arm under her head, one arm on her side.

The look on her face spoke of a headache from the bumpy road and metal wheelbarrow.

I bent down to pick her up.

I have done this before. I know that she is not too heavy. I bend my legs, not my back, just like I teach all the patients who come with muscle problems.

One skinny, frail arm reaches up and around my neck.

And I lift.

She is easier to carry than the 25kg roller meal bag.

Maybe it is because she is alive, and she holds on.

And we walk into the clinic. Past all the staring eyes. Past all the people who already know the unspoken truth.

Her head rests on me. Her weight is 1/3 of mine, but we are the same age. She has a small boy at home, just a baby.

I feel her ribs, immediately under my fingers, as I lay her on the bed. I place a pillow under her head.

A compromised immune system. A disease that has grown and multiplied and destroyed.

She has the same high cheekbones as her mother. She is beautiful.

And.

There is nothing I can do to save her.

Absolutely nothing.

Dr. Marjie sees her and gives medications that will comfort and ease. That is all.

And I start to think.

She knows. She knew a long time ago.

But that does not make it easier.

A few days before, I had opened my eyes and looked at my reflection. A nurse who accidentally punctured her skin with a used needle. There is a small possibility, and it enough to open doors and windows and a future that is not. What could be in a few months, a few years.

I close my eyes and I see a glass pane shattering. Small shards of glass flying and penetrating. And I wonder if that is life.

Things. Circumstances. Choices.

They happen.

And at the end I am always more broken. Or something in me, around me is more broken. A broken that I cannot fix.

I don’t want to see her bones through her skin. I don’t want to see that her legs are thinner than my arms. I don’t want to know that her family is watching her through this.

I want to fix, I want to save, I want to change things.

But I can’t.

And that can be overwhelming. Because she is not the only one. There are more.

My mind wanders to a story. And something that was given.

“But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk!”

BUT WHAT I DO HAVE I GIVE TO YOU

I know something better than a physical cure.

I know Someone who heals and restores and saves souls.

And knowing Him is a gift. A gift that I can give.

The thing that I can do.

Merry Christmas!!

Merry Christmas from Zambia!

This has been a very full day. A wonderfully full day. A day where I can’t seem to count all the blessings.

I am very, very blessed.

Blessed by an early morning surprise present from my family, who snuck it here through a visiting friend’s suitcase.

Blessed by wonderful fellow staff here at the Bible college who bring treats and food and all sorts of goodies.

Blessed by skype. Beyond words. We connected three people in three different countries and time zones for 2 hours today. It was amazing.

Blessed by parents who stayed up really late just so they could be the first ones to wish me a Merry Christmas.

Blessed by students here at the Bible college who allowed me to be part of their family today.

Blessed by a water balloon fight on a really warm day.

Blessed by laughter and smiles.

Blessed by a beautiful sunset.

It has been a very lovely day. Full of blessings.

I began the day by reading Luke 2. The Christmas story that we always read, when I was a young, before we opened presents, and so that is what I will end today with:

Luke 2: 10-11

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

And I cannot think of a more amazing blessing than the gift of Jesus’ birth, who was born as the Savior for all people.

Without Him, none of these other blessings would be possible.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is please!”

A promise

It worked.

She made me promise.

A Christmas package that might get here in time for my birthday in exchange for a blog post.

How sad is that.

I had such great dreams and ambitions of writing on my blog weekly. I am afraid weekly is slowly turning into monthly.
Sorry about that.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about. In fact, it is quite the opposite. So many things happen in one day that I can’t seem to capture it all in words.

But let me stick to the facts, and try to catch you up on my life:

I spent 2 wonderful weeks in South Africa thanks to a generous friend. I climbed mountains. I was COLD. I attempted double kayaking and got incredibly wet. I went on picnics, and enjoyed sunsets. It was lovely.

I ate more than enough food for Thanksgiving, and when I look at the calendar, I can’t figure out why I am wearing a tank top and sweating in December. No white Christmas for me.

I sat for four hours in a ridiculously uncomfortable chair and completed the Zambian Foreign Trained Nurses Exam. In true Zambian style, the results will not be available until February or March.

And things have been moving at the clinic. In the two weeks that I was in South Africa, Dr. Marjie distributed 3,000 mosquito nets with the help of the Bible college students. The clinic started it’s first therapeutic nutrition program, and we are already seeing the impact of peanut paste and soy protein mix on the children in our community. It is an amazing thing to be able to give nutritious food to someone who does not have it.

Thankfully, the babies waited for me to come back from South Africa, and we have been running a Friday afternoon special on babies. I am now used to grabbing the emergency bag and hopping in the car, rushing to see if the baby has arrived or not. After yet another afternoon of returning to the clinic a funny pale/green color, Dr. Marjie said maybe next time I should stay at the clinic. I think the next nurse that gets hired should not get motion sick so easily.

And Christmas is coming soon.

And time goes by so quickly.

Aren’t you glad my sister promised me a package?

Now if only I could get someone to promise me a package for every blog post that I write…

I just might be influenced to write a little more often…

Grace

Her dress was white. A ribbon and flowers. Beautiful brown skin in stark contrast to pure white.

I held her during the church service. I held Grace in my arms as her mother, Mercy, sang. I held Grace in my arms as her father, Pastor Isaac, prayed.

I held Grace in my arms during a sermon preached on faith.

She started by turning the pages in my Bible. Beginning in Genesis, determined to make it to the end.

I showed her that my Bible holds small papers that are notes, treasures and memories from my life.

She leafed through the pages, looking for the next treasure.

Hidden in The Sermon on the Mount was a dried red leaf of some kind. I honestly can’t remember what country I picked it up in. Whether it was China or Haiti. It came to live in my Bible years ago, holding its important place among the beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer. Holding some memory.

Grace picked it up, and played with it in her hand.

Funny how worlds and countries and lives can mix so easily.

She kindly replaced it, only this time it went to live in Ezekiel, amid visions of heaven, of God.

She wrapped her arms around my neck.

Her head rested on my chest.

I felt her eyelashes tickle the nape of my neck, and her hot breath on my skin.

Her arms lost their grip as she moved closer and closer to sleep.

Her breathing slowed and became even.

I sat in the middle of a church in Zambia holding a sleeping girl in my arms.

It was hot and still.

Sweat gathered on her neck, next to her braided hair with plastic beads attached at the end.

Her weight, heavy and perfect.

This young girl is cared for and protected. Her mother and father love her very much. She was secure enough to fall asleep in my arms.

Her head resting right by my heart. She must hear the beating.

How did I get to be here?

Memories of nieces and nephews, their little hugs that seem so big.

How do I capture the memory of this moment and put it with the rest of the treasures in my Bible?

I pray she knows the meaning of her name.

I pray that as she grows, God protect her.

Keep her. May Your face shine upon her.

Two

Two babies were born this week.

Two big boys who went home with their respective mothers, happy and healthy.

Two strong names.

Charles. Who I like to call Baby Charlie.

And Samuel. Who I like to call Baby Samuel. Creative, I know.

New life. Life that struggled to begin.

Life that looked a little blue longer than I wanted. Life that didn’t cry right away. Life that had to struggle to enter this world. Life that had a little bit of help from medical intervention.

I held them both in my arms.

Baby Charlie was crabby, and I held him on my shoulder, pacing up and down the clinic hall while his mother took a break from his cries. I sang him a lullaby and his cries stopped.

Baby Samuel was wrinkled and peeling. He hung out in his mom too long and came out looking like an old man. His first bath did him a world of good.

Baby Charlie made me nervous before I even saw his face. His mother went through a lot of pain before he was born. He almost earned her an ambulance ride and an emergency c-section. My favorite part of the day he was born was when he opened his eyes. His big, brown eyes. A declaration that he wanted to breathe, wanted to live. A fighter.

Baby Samuel made me carsick. He was born at his home, before we could get his mother to the clinic. A dark hut that required a flashlight to see him. A suctioning bulb and an ambu bag that helped get the gunk out and the air into his lungs. I held him in my arms as we bounced across the red dirt roads and rushed to the clinic. My favorite part of the day he was born was when I heard him cry. A crying baby never sounded so good.

Two strong, handsome baby boys.

I wonder what the years will bring them. What God has in store for their lives. They are miracles, I have no doubts about that.

Their entrance into this world caused me stress, but no one can measure the blessing of that stress.

Two thankful mothers left the clinic with their two healthy boys.

Yes. I am blessed.

treasures

"But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart."

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