Previously Published, Spiritual Musings

a study on christ’s priesthood

(This is a Bible Study written for small group leaders and previously published by Adult Bible Study Guide)

STEP 1—MOTIVATE. Help your class members answer this question: “Why is this lesson important to me?”

Franck Kabele, a 35-year-old preacher shared a revelation he received with his congregation. He told them that he believed he could walk on water just like Jesus if he had enough faith. To demonstrate this, he invited them to join him on a beach in Gabon, West Africa so they could be eyewitnesses to this divine fete. With the intention to walk across the Komo estuary (which takes 20 minutes to travel across by boat), he stepped into the water. Within seconds, the water passed over his head and he was never seen again. (, August 30, 2006)

Ask the class: What is it about human nature that urges us to attempt to be God? What is the difference between being God and being Christ-like? How does this human trait get in the way of letting God be God in our life?

STEP 2—EXPLORE! Help your class members answer this question: “What do I need to know from God’s Word?”

Commentary (Read Hebrews 1:1-3; Revelation 1:13; Psalm 110)

Helpless and Hopeless. Every time David tried to control his life without the help of God, he failed. And every time he failed, he fell to his knees in recognition of his unworthiness and God’s power and grace.

Beloved of God, King David represents each of us. Because we can’t escape our sinful nature, we have a need for a priestly mediator.

Consider This: Randomly read passages from the Psalms. Meditate on the bi-polar behavior of the sinful heart, the vacillation of emotions and needs. Then give praise to God for Jesus the Mediator.

Revelation and Reconciliation. Christians—born in sin, living in the constant awareness of this sinful world—have two basic, spiritual needs: to know God and to be with God. Constrained by this sinful world, we learn quickly that life is more manageable when we know who God is and what His purpose is for us. Unaware of our inadequacies, we yearn for ways to be with God.

So God, in his love and mercy gave us His Son—someone who understands both parties 100%, someone who can mediate and straighten out the problems and misunderstandings that exist between God and us.

Consider This: God’s plan for Jesus to be Mediator is the most efficient solution to the sin problems that take place between the Fall of Man and the Second Coming. Could there have been any other way for Jesus to be Mediator and Priest without His death? Explain.

Jesus, Customized Savior. The role Jesus plays on our earthly journey is so multi-faceted. Writers of the Scripture, inspired by divinity, have used metaphors to describe the function of Jesus to enable us to appreciate and apply Jesus’ presence in our daily living—Jesus is described as the shepherd, the door, the light, the vine, the cornerstone, etc.

The Bible uses more than 100 names/titles to describe Jesus. The meaning His life hold for us is beyond our fathoming; His role as priest and mediator will be appreciated in its fullness only when we see and understand God’s divine government in heaven.

Consider This: Have the class think of other metaphors that symbolize the intimate, concerning, priestly role that Jesus plays in our lives. (The metaphors don’t necessarily have to be biblical; they may have modern implications) Ask how the many titles and functions of Christ help them keep the faith?

STEP 3—PRACTICE! Help your class members find the answer to the following question: “How can I practice the information I just learned?”

Thought Questions:

What would your prayer life be like if you didn’t have Jesus as your priest and mediator? What would your prayer be lacking? Do you think that works would play a bigger role in salvation without a mediator? Explain.

To be someone’s advocate is relatively risk-free; but to be someone’s savior is a commitment beyond death! How does Jesus’ death as Savior make Him the most competent priest and mediator you could have? How does Jesus’ title “Priest” affect your relationship with Him.

Application Questions:

  • Talk to a lawyer about the pros and cons of his job. Compare your findings with what Jesus does as a mediator. Share this with someone in your family.
  • How can volunteering in a social service activity (such as tutoring a child) help convey the attitude of Christ as a mediator to someone? What other kinds of interactions could help us be mediators like Jesus?

Witnessing: Help your class connect their community projects with Christ-like attitudes and behaviors. Help them see how they can be “mediators” for the church.

Consider This: Jesus came to show us how we can access divine power for meaningful life on earth. Our interactions with people give us opportunities to be a Christ-like mediator. Encourage your class to match their spiritual gifts with opportunities of mediation (e.g. spiritual gift of listening enables one to be a problem-solver)

STEP 4—APPLY! Help your class answer this question, “With God’s help, what can I do with what I have learned from this lesson?”

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2: 5,6, NASB)

During the second century Irenaeus of Lyons taught that Jesus was offered as a ransom to the Devil to free people’s souls. The Devil, however, was defeated because he did not know that Jesus was God himself!

For hundreds of years, this theory was adopted by the Christian world until Anselm of Canterbury pointed out that Irenaeus’ theory assumed that the Devil had far too much power. Instead, Anselm said that Jesus’ life was paid to God and not to the Devil!

What a more poignant picture that makes—Jesus’s life given as ransom to God in exchange for MY eternal life!

  • A ransom is required to free the hostages. Sometimes, a hostage exchange is demanded to guarantee the transaction. How is Jesus’ death more than a “hostage exchange?”
  • What are the benefits of having a Savior who is superior to anything or anyone else? How can His superiority motivate you in your life? What is your potential if you maximize the use of His superiority?
  • Compile verses about the power of Jesus as Savior and Priest as a gift to a neighbor or friend. Or email your friends a verse a week about the power of Jesus.
  • How can you actively bring Christ as a mediator into the workplace and thereby be a witness of your Christian lifestyle? What role can prayer play in this endeavor?
    Feature image by Yekaterina Golatkina on Unsplash
Previously Published

cancer center creates hope

(published August 2010)

It was November 2009. Herb was in his doctor’s office and nothing could prepare him for the words he was about to hear. “You have cancer.” Over the next few days, numbness enveloped his family. They didn’t know what to do.

Despite rising survival rates, cancer continues to be the second most common cause of death in the United States, claiming 1,500 lives every day. Regardless of type, cancer is a complicated disease with a tedious and stressful treatment regimen. A heavily-involved and fragmented process, cancer treatment necessitates a variety of specialists, procedures and tests. Often, these services are not available at a single facility. Some hospitals may have an oncology department, but no oncology surgeon. Patients and their families are shuffled from one place to another over the course of several months. Cancer takes a toll not just on the victim, but on the entire family. In addition to the physical and emotional devastation, families must cope with time away from work, travel costs, childcare, side effects of treatment and financial drain.

Facing a daunting future, Herb and his family were gripped with fear. They felt helpless at the prospect of navigating a future so uncertain, so out of their control. But all that changed when Herb and his family met Cindi Cantril and the caregivers at Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center. “She took the pressure off of everything. The center was the absolute perfect setting for healing from every aspect.”

Personalized Treatment Eases Fears
Established at St. Helena Hospital in Northern California, the Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center is designed to be more than a medical facility. It is a healing center with personalized cancer treatment. Here, patients and their families can find everything they need for physical, emotional and spiritual healing. Three key elements — comprehensive services, a caring medical team and a message of hope — combine to create this incredible healing environment.

The 12,500 square foot facility was built with patients and ease of use in mind. Describing the concept behind the center, St. Helena Hospital President/CEO Terry Newmyer says, “We designed our cancer center to provide convenient, centralized care. Patients and their families are literally steps away from everything they need to navigate the healing process.” With all aspects of patient treatment housed under one roof, Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center is able to provide truly comprehensive care.

In addition to these centrally located services, the center has developed a partnership with one of the top 10 cancer research facilities in the nation — University of California, San Francisco. This affiliation allows patients access to National Cancer Institute-sponsored clinical trials. Their unique brand of specialized, patient-centric care attracts cancer sufferers from beyond the Napa Valley. Forty percent of Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center’s patient-base comes from the economically-disadvantaged areas of Lake County, 90 minutes away. To accommodate those patients, the center operates a free shuttle service — picking them up from a sister clinic in the area.

Offering a Complete Package
But services at the center extend beyond traditional cancer treatment. The facility’s staff focuses on whole-person integrated care with behavioral therapy, nutritional support and spiritual counseling. The center’s restoration spa is paramount in providing a peaceful, healing environment for patients and their families.

Also available is the resource library. A free service open to the community, the library houses a large collection of books, magazines and other media. Here, patients and family members are guided by a resource specialist. The resource library has proven that a better understanding of cancer and its treatments can alleviate the fear of uncertainty that can accompany diagnosis.

The team at Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center is comprised of 11 oncology specialists in a variety of fields, including radiation, chemotherapy and surgery among others. These caregivers collaborate to create personalized treatment plans for every patient. Shepherding these patients through the treatment process is a “nurse navigator,” Cindi Cantril. An oncology-certified cancer nurse, Cantril has more than 30 years of experience. But her greatest asset is her genuine interest in her patients. She makes a point of forging personal relationships with patients, making them feel comfortable and secure throughout their treatment. She is available 24/7, even giving out her personal cell phone number to patients. “I want my patients to know I really care,” she says. “I’m like their GPS. I follow them on my computer while they are at the center and make at least 12 to 15 face-to-face contacts every day.”

Visually Depicting Hope
There is an overriding theme at the Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center — at the heart of its personalized treatment plans, resource library and nurse navigator. It is hope and it is embodied in the 13-foot high sculpture that adorns the lobby.

JoAline Olson, vice president of Innovations at Adventist Health says, “The Hope Tree is the first thing you see upon entering the facility. We want everyone who comes through the door to feel peace, relief, to know that they’ve found a place that will help them through this ordeal.”

Bathed in warm yellow and green earth tones, the lobby exudes a feeling of peacefulness. Engraved on the tree are 48 symbols of hope from around the world, representing different cultures and faiths — praying hands, angels and olive branches. A sleeping lamb lies tucked behind its roots, symbolizing peace amidst the struggles of life. In the trunk is an opening that holds messages from patients, family members and caregivers. These are messages of hope, of encouragement, of love. They serve as a hopeful reminder to new patients: you are not alone.

These messages gave Herb and his family the strength to endure their struggle with cancer. Six months later, Herb was declared cancer-free. Now, his story will do the same for others.

The Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center not only inspired hope in Herb and the rest of its patients, but also in St. Helena Hospital as a whole. The team’s care epitomizes the Adventist Health mission “to share God’s love by providing physical, mental and spiritual healing.” Their focused care and success of patients like Herb has revitalized the entire Adventist Health system, imbuing them with sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Feature image by corey oconnell on Unsplash

Personal Ramblings, Places, Previously Published, Reading Life Between the Lines

The Woman in the Trunk

My most memorable journeys have been those punctuated by stories of people I’ve met along the way. This one happened at It’s a Burl in Kerby.

I almost drove right by the hodgepodge of wood carvings piled along the roadside and the tall strange structure that spewed purple waters into a frothy pool. But I’m glad I didn’t. It was a treasure-trove of art and artists, one of whom was Robert Marconkowski.

Oblivious to the people milling around him and the giant fly buzzing in his ear, Robert buried his head in the cloud of sawdust billowing from his chainsaw. Peering into the trunk of a dead cedar, he was looking at something. Moving closer, I hovered.

He was carving out a woman who stretched from the trunk. Slender yet voluptuous, the woman seemed to rise out of the wood — tall and confident, looking upward, letting her curls fall toward her hips.

Robert didn’t see me. It was more his need for a cigarette than my breath on his neck that finally had him turning off his saw and noticing me.

“How do you do that freestyle?” I asked.

“It’s not me. It’s her,” he said, waving his saw toward the trunk. “She’s been in there all (the) time. I’m just letting her out.”

When I asked him to tell me about her, he set down the chainsaw, lit a cigarette and told me a story that went like this:

“The story doesn’t start with her,” he said. “It begins with her friend.

“The friend is walking through the woods one day. She is thinking, meditating, praying “… whatever “… for her friend. They’ve been friends a long time.

“And then she sees this dead tree in the middle of a forest full of live trees. ‘Not fair,’ she thinks. ‘All these beautiful trees continue to live, but not this one? Not fair.’

“The tree reminds her of the friend for whom she’s been sending up good thoughts. It’s not fair. When everyone around her is alive, why should her friend be dying? Life is not fair.

“The friend circles the dead tree, thinking angry thoughts about life, about cancer, about death. And then she notices what used to be the joint where a strong limb grew out of the trunk. The joint is now a gnarly, empty socket; no strong limb there anymore. But there was something else: a tiny green sapling, stubbornly holding onto life, refusing to give into death.

“The woman’s despair turned to hope. It happened in that one moment. So she brings the trunk to me and says, ‘Make something for my friend.’

“So I looked very hard and very deep inside this trunk. I looked for a very long time, trying to see her, to listen to her. The more I looked, the clearer I could see her. She was in there, struggling to come out and say something. She wanted to say something to this cancer that was trying to kill her.

“Look at her! Can you hear her? She’s looking up, head held high in confidence, breasts anew in victory. And she’s yelling out, as loud as she can: ‘#%@!# cancer! You may kill my body, but not my spirit!’ “

Taking one last puff, Robert put out his cigarette and picked up his saw.

“The best part of the story,” he said, “is that the friend went into remission while I’ve been working on this.”

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_(This one was published in the November 16, 2011 issue of the Mail Tribune’s Joy magazine.)

Feature image by Katie Musial on Unsplash

devotion, Previously Published

a study on stewardship

Key Text: Matthew 25:29


1. Know: That stewardship is a lifestyle.

2. Feel: Joy by living a life of stewardship.

3. Do: Maintain a balance in your life and manage the resources with which God has entrusted you.

Lesson Outline:

I. A Life of Stewardship (Luke 16:1-12)

A. This passage is one of the most cited parables when discussing stewardship and in which talents are equated with money. But stewardship is more than a prudent use of money; stewardship is about making God a priority over everything else in life. What are some aspects in your life of which you can be a better steward?

B. Jesus accomplished so much in his three years of ministry, balancing ministry with family, friends and personal spiritual growth. In what ways can you emulate Jesus’ stewardship in your life?

II. The Joys of Stewardship (Romans 12:1)

A. Paul urges us to become living sacrifices, dedicated to pleasing God. A life of stewardship is a continuous state of worship. What joys do you get from knowing that you are worshipping God through your actions?

III. The Balance of Stewardship (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

A. The Bible teaches that there is a time for everything. This suggests a life of balance. We must strive to achieve a balance in all we do. How did Jesus live a balanced life? How can you achieve the same balance?


Stewardship is vital to discipleship. Prioritize life and live in accordance with God’s plan.

devotion, Previously Published

a study on heaven

Key Text: John 14:2,3

1. Know: That the Kingdom of God is within you.
2. Feel: Encouraged knowing that life on earth is but a transient phase.
3. Do: Be focused on the face-to-face communion with your Creator God that awaits you when this life is over.

Lesson Outline:
I. Not of This World (John 15:9) A. We are God’s children and we are “not of this world.” Yet we are called to live in this world until Jesus returns. How can you best represent the Kingdom of Heaven while here on earth?
II. The Kingdom Within Us (Luke 17:21) A. When the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, He responded that the Kingdom was within us. What do you think He meant by that?
III. Focused on the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 13:12) A. Because of our inability to comprehend the reality of heaven, we tend to place importance on tangible earthly, material things. Satan uses our lack of comprehension to skew our view of life and our value system. Identify specific elements in your life that monopolize your time and attention. What can you do to stay focused on heaven despite the fact there is so little we know about it?

Summary: Jesus assured his disciples that He was “going to prepare a place” for them. When discouragement and pessimism creeps in your life, remember that your Creator is getting heaven custom-ready just for you.

Previously Published

sarah emma edmonds: lessons from a mistress of disguise

In 1842 Sarah Emma Edmonds entered this world as a baby girl. It was an era that dictated girls stay strapped in frilly petticoats and master the art of cooking. And Sarah’s determination to prove that she was as good as a boy provoked her father’s temper so much that he became abusive and she had to leave home as a teen.

Answered the call. Civil war was breaking out and when the first call for Union enlistments went out, Sarah responded. Still raging against gender discrimination, she enlisted as a man–She cut her hair, wore a suit and called herself Frank Thompson. Thus on April 25, 1861, Emma Edmonds aka Frank Thompson became a male nurse in the United States Army.

Crossed boundaries. For the average woman, being disguised as a man would be a sufficient dose of drama and point-proving to last a life-time; but not for Sarah. When the Union began looking for a spy to plant in the Confederate camp, she learned everything there was to know about weapons, tactics, local geography and military personalities. She applied for the job and got it.

As a spy her disguise as Frank Thompson led to other disguises. She was “Cuff” a black man working on Confederate ramparts. Using silver nitrate, she darkened her skin to the point where even the people she knew well could not recognize her. “Cuff” studied the enemy’s size, morale and weapons; She was Bridget O’Shea, a fat Irish peddler woman. Bridget returned wounded but loaded with confidential information and a horse she named Rebel; She was Charles Mayberry, a young white man with Southern sympathies. Charles went to Louisville and identified the Southern spy network in the town; She was even a typical 1800’s black mammy, complete with a black face and a bandanna. As a mammy she laundered clothes in the enemy camp and found official papers in the pocket of an officer’s pants!

Took risks. When Private Frank Thompson was not needed as a spy, “he” worked long hours in the military hospital. All was going well until Thompson got malaria. Realizing that her true identity would be known if she was admitted in the military hospital, Sarah decided to leave camp, be a woman until she recovered, and then return to camp as Frank Thompson. But things did not go according to plan. While recovering in a private hospital, she came across a list of deserters from the Union army—it included Private Frank Thompson.

That was the end of Private Frank Thompson but not the end of Sarah Emma Edmonds. She worked as a female nurse, wrote her memoirs titled Nurse and Spy in the Union Army, fell in love, married, and had three sons—one of whom joined the army.


While Sarah’s past secret life had brought her excitement, fulfillment and satisfaction, she sometimes brooded over the fact that her career ended as a disloyal deserter of the army—and that Frank Thompson had gotten credit for Sarah Emma Edmonds. So, in her later years, she petitioned the War Department for a full review of her case. The case was debated and on July 5, 1884, a special act of Congress granted Emma Edmonds alias Frank Thompson an honorable discharge from the army, plus a bonus and a veteran’s pension of twelve dollars a month. And in honor of her duty and devotion to her country she is the only female member of the organization formed after the Civil War by Union veterans-The Grand Army of the Republic.

While Sarah Emma Edmonds got her recognition, there are those who don’t. Many daring women answer the call to do the unthinkable, cross boundaries set by society and take risks for the sake of conviction. Yet not all fight for recognition because a fight for recognition takes on the appearance of arrogance and conceit. More than a hundred years after Sarah, society continues to be biased.

So, if your accomplishments have not been acknowledged, speak up for justice. Then if your society is still not ready to validate you, go to the High Court of God and pray for courage and forgiveness and the endurance to continue to answer your call, cross boundaries, and take risks. Rewards and recognition are for the righteous saints on earths. That’s everyone living under God’s grace—be it a man or a woman. Take heart, there’s a crown of jewels to validate a life of glory of earth.

Think of ways women in your community can support one another in the pursuit of answering their call in spite of the lack of adequate validation. Avoid group meetings where sympathy and sad experiences take over. Instead, encourage encounters that promote self-worth in God.

Previously Published, Spiritual Musings

our lineage and what it means

(published 2006 in the Adventist Review)

When Tom Robinson, an amateur yet avid genealogist, sent a sample of his DNA to a bioarchaeology firm, the resulting discovery required more than a letter in the mail. Robinson received a personal phone call that informed him that he was a direct descendant of Ghengis Khan.

For some, genealogy is just a hobby; for most, it is a pastime that rapidly turns into an addiction. This obsession to trace and document one’s lineage is not a new fad—The Old Testament devotes large portions to genealogy. It is as though human beings are inherently driven to discover their roots—Finding and sifting through the lives of ancestors, in some unfathomable way, brings meaning to the living. Details of family history can heal wounds of an abandoned childhood, boost the low self-esteem of a dull and boring life, explain a harmful habit, justify attitudes and actions, or simply quell a yearning to answer the question Who am I?

Genealogy helps people understand who they are–Robinson’s connection to Ghengis Khan caused him to reflect on personal traits that could be a result of his lineage to this noteworthy world leader (albeit ruthless warrior)— his supervisory role at work and his ability to ride a horse.

For Christians, however, it takes more than family history to understand the significant slots into which we fit. Whether our research unveils a hero or a villain, who we are and what we are destined to be results not from DNA or genes or history, but from a lineage that connects us directly to Jesus Christ. We must remember that we are “all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” Galatians 3:26 (NLT) With this knowledge in our hearts, we must live lives worthy of that connection to the Cross. We must live like children of God.

Previously Published

Ramabai: Overcoming Obstacles

Born in 1858, Ramabai was destined to live an empty life. It was not the best time to be a woman. Society saw no value in women except for procreating and housekeeping. Even these value markers dropped to a zero when the husband died; the expendable widow was thrown onto the funeral pyre to be burned alive atop of her husband’s corpse.

Against all odds. Ramabai was fortunate to have a father who believed that destiny is not predetermined by gender. While society espoused that girls were not worthy of education and opinions, Dongri—a renowned scholar of Sanskrit—educated both his wife Laxmibai and his daughter Ramabai at home. However, his ways contradicted society, and he was soon ostracized. Wherever they went, they were denied a place to stay, food to eat, and the company of others. So Dongri moved his family from town to town, relentlessly trying to bring about positive change. Experiencing little success, they were forced to retreat into the jungles to eek a living off the land. Their nomadic lifestyle even took them through a famine when they survived on just water and leaves for eleven days. Finally, the wanderings took a toll and Dongri and Laxmibai died.

Alone and destitute, Ramabai and her brother continued to stand up for what they believed, regardless of consequences. Ramabai fought against child-marriage and advocated education for women.

Proving oneself. Ramabai’s thirst for knowledge continued. But being a woman, she could not enter into any school system. So she found and created opportunities to prove herself over and over again. Her competency in Sanskrit soon gained attention and stories of her impressive memory spread—of how she had memorized 23,000 shastras even before she was 16 years old. She was so talked about that the elite scholarly group (made up of all men, of course) called her into their presence to check her out. What they saw and heard astounded them and they did what had never been done before. They offered her—a woman—the opportunity to take the most prestigious Sanskrit exams. These exams were difficult and it was common for men to fail several times before passing. Ramabai, however, got high marks on her first attempt. And she was honored with the title “Sarasvati.”

Standing tall and alone. Ramabai became a lecturer. But just when life seemed to be getting better, her brother died leaving her alone. Six years later, she married a man of a lower caste but one who supported her causes. Again, just as her life took a positive turn, her husband died—only 19 months after they were married. Although now a widow with a baby girl, she was unwavering and strong. Next Ramabai traveled to England where she taught Sanskrit and then later to the United States. During this time, she studied the Bible and felt impressed to translate it into Sanskrit and Marathi. Her study of the Bible led her to Jesus and to a journey that reaffirmed her determination to change her destiny. After her respite overseas, Ramabai returned to India where she established shelters, schools, boarding houses and organizations to uplift women—widows, low-caste, homeless, and the suppressed.

For most of her life, Ramabai was alone—physically, emotionally, sociologically. She could have allowed loneliness to cripple her. But she didn’t. She rose above it to stand tall, look over the horizon and see her calling—her destiny.

What is the crippling factor in your life? How do you overcome obstacles. Ask yourself “How important is it for me to stand tall and find my calling, my destiny?”

Check out her Wikipedia page for biographical details.

Life in Nepal, Previously Published

scars are not forever

(I co-authored this with Dr. David Pennington. The article appeared in the Adventist Review in 2004)

Surendra’s is a typical Nepali family—Every day his parents leave home before dawn to work in the fields till dusk; His brother, Suman, and he are left alone at home. Surendra was only 3 months old when his life ended in so many ways.

Baby Surendra and Suman slept bundled together. In the darkness of early morning, Suman awoke to use the outhouse. Unaware that one end of the blanket was tucked in his shorts, he swaggered between the bed and kerosene lamp. In less time than it takes to strike a match, the lamp tipped over and the fire travelled up the blanket and wrapped itself around Surendra’s leg. Suman pulled at the blanket to save his brother, but the fire was faster than the boy. Melting wool and flesh together, the fire won taking Surendra’s future as a trophy.

The village clinic could do nothing. Slowly and painfully, over many months, Surendra’s burns healed, but his leg was deeply scarred and his toes fused together and bent upwards onto the top of his foot.

There are many like Surendra, but there are no methods in place to know how many because 1. People accept the cards life deals with a Ke Garne attitude (What to do?) 2. The labyrinth of mountain villages are connected to main roads only by days of walking, making it impossible to transport burn patients. 3. There is no referral system between villages and hospitals.

A walk through a village will reveal the grotesque “bodies” scurrying along the sidelines—beautiful people trapped in ugly contractures of tissue and bone. Thousands need surgery—not to make them beautiful again, but to give back their life and livelihood.

Nepal has only three hospitals and 18 beds that offer reconstructive burn surgery to its population of 25 million. Scheer Memorial Hospital saw this as an opportunity for Christian compassion where proselytizing can put you in jail. Charles Sharpe (Head, ADRA Nepal Cleft Lip Palate) identified David Pennington for this pilot program. Head of Plastic Surgery, Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, Australia, Pennington is world-renowned (the first to reaffix an ear) and an Adventist with a heart for missions. He arrived in March 2004 with Melissa Goman, a specialty nurse. But what he expected was not what he experienced.

I came expecting to offer my expertise and change lives. What I didn’t expect was the change in my life and perspective!

Melissa and I were overwhelmed with emotion at the line of 40 deformed people wearing big smiles—people who had suffered without even the simplest medication. As a physician I understood their indescribable the pain–how slowly they had healed, how being crippled handicapped them! It was more than about how they looked; it was about being too mangled to eek out a living! (A woman reaped a field with one normal arm and the other so disfigured only one finger poked out of her shoulder.)

The severe contractures were a surgical challenge needing a wide range of plastic surgical maneuvers, including complex skin flap and graft repairs. (I released Surendra’s contracted toes, leaving a large raw patch. Then his foot was sutured to a v-shaped flap of skin on his thigh, leaving one end still attached. The flap on the thigh covered the exposed tissue of his foot. Initially the blood supply of this tissue came from the thigh.  Surendra’s foot was attached to his thigh for 3 weeks. The flap then had its own blood supply from the foot, and could be safely separated from the thigh, leaving a soft patch of skin on his foot)

A Christian’s raison d’etre is service to God and man. For a fourth generation Adventist like me, it is easy to linger in the “comfort zone”… go to church, study the Bible, give an offering. But God uses experiences like mine in Nepal to challenge our lukewarmness.

Before my stay ended I made a commitment to return with more surgeons! Australia and Nepal have the same population; but where Australia has 250 plastic surgeons, Nepal has only 12. Moreover, 80% of plastic surgery in Nepal is either cleft lips and palates or burn-scar contractures—not cosmetic! The need is unimaginable!

People starving or in pain get little solace from a sermon. We must first feed, heal, befriend . . . none of which are illegal anywhere!


Victims like Surendra simply accept their fate. But it’s a new beginning when someone takes the time to trek days to a village to tell the people to gather the maimed for there is hope through a people who love Jesus.

With Surendra there were others: children whose fingers were stuck together; a mother whose arm was plastered to her side; a teenager whose breast was affixed to her groin; a young man whose chin was connected to his chest. Three weeks later: the children wriggled their fingers and waved; the mother held her child; the teenager smiled shyly knowing she was feminine again; and the young man held his head up and smiled!

A few days after his foot was released from his thigh, Surendra dropped his foot into a plastic bag and tied the “handles” around his ankle. His family cheered as he flexed his new toes and took his first step into his new life. Dr. Pennington had long since gone but his reflection of Jesus will be remembered with every step Surendra takes.

Life in Nepal, Previously Published

a cup of tea?

This is the last of a series of 12 articles published in the Adventist Review 

“Where can I get a cup of tea?” he asked, winking exaggeratedly. Must be a nervous twitch, I thought as I pointed down the road and said, “Try the blue stall under the big tree.” His request was strange when tea stalls are plain to see along the roads of Nepal. It took several inquiries about tea before I realized there was something more to tea than tea—especially since all the lost tea drinkers seemed to have a nervous twitch.

Tea here is synonymous with gratuity. Someone does you a favor, you slip them some money. And the favor can be as simple as helping you find the bus station or as complicated as getting an ultrasound machine out of the airport customs office.

“Tea” is a contradiction to my clear cut, no-nonsense Adventist way of doing things. When everything is either black or white, life is simple and uncomplicated; every action redeeming or damning. So I want nothing to do with tea–the sleazy kind you pass under the table or the caffeinated kind you slurp.

Lessons learned from my upbringing in a typical, cloistered Adventist campus play my conscience all the time. But reality is that here in Nepal nothing gets done without at least a tiny sip of tea (If you know what I mean). Last year I met a director of Southern Asia Division who has two different business cards. One reflects his position as Brother So and So, Director of Something Good and Pure; while the other insists he owns a tractor company. The card he presents depends on who he is having tea with. He neither moonlights nor gets two pay checks; The two business cards and the lie are connected to his sincere work for the Lord—It’s just that there are places and situations that he can have access to only as the owner of a tractor company.

These low-key, Mafia-like dealings shatter my Adventist black and white, do’s and don’ts system. To add confusion to my already rattled conscience I think of my Ethics class in College where we discussed (without coming to satisfactory conclusions) grey situations –like telling one lie to protect the truth or taking one life to save many. And I think of Mission Institute where we learned about conceptualization and how morality is often intertwined with culture and that missionaries need to be flexible without being intolerant. And I ask myself “Whose standard should guide me? Is there room for compromise? How can I be ‘Christian-ly’ different when I’m easing into their way of doing things?” So many perplexities in so many shades of grey when I step out of my black and white world!

My husband has taken to tea drinking—both kinds. He does it with ease; yet I know he doesn’t like tea—either kind. So I asked him how and why he did it. In his observations and explanations I found understanding.

Tea—the drink—is weak, milky, and extremely sweet. It is offered when you visit a home or an office. To refuse the beverage would be an insult. You can’t claim to be lactose intolerant, diabetic or even just too Adventist. Talking business over a cup of tea binds two people with a shared purpose. Tea—the gratuity—works the same way. You would offend a Nepali by calling  it a bribe.  It’s a gesture of confidence in the person and assures smooth transactions in the future. Nepalis never forget the people they’ve had tea with. You become friends for life (or until you stop having  tea with them).

“Tea is all about building relationships,” was Roy’s closing phrase. “And without relationships, YOU will never get anything done and THEY may never get a glimpse of Christianity.”

I hear many tea drinkers say of my husband: That Christian is a man of his word. A trustworthy man. An honest man. A fair man. May he live a 100 years.

Of me they say nothing. All I get is a wary smile.

What is right, what is wrong? Don’t ask me. One thing’s for sure—”Missionary-ing,” even in Jesus’ day, was done in a very grey world. As for me, even with Roy’s explanation, I continue having trouble seeing the value of compromising my standards in the grey area of tea drinking.

Oh for black and white again where everything is clear!