Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Keeping Christmas Well

“….and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

I love this closing of Dickens’ Christmas Carol.

When we served in Thailand it was easy for me to keep the focus on ‘the reason for the season’ – partly because we were in the very small minority there celebrating Christmas, and then the focus was the celebration at Church, preparations for this with little focus on gifts, shopping and decorations.

After returning to California it became more difficult to keep that focus, and I find that it is so easy to become distracted with baking, shopping, wrapping and all the preparations – not that I become a Scrooge – but rather that the incarnation of God 2000 years ago in Bethlehem becomes secondary to all these trappings.

When lay missionaries are preparing to serve in the missions those of us who have served always try to share this experience with them, and encourage them to enjoy this opportunity to ‘keep Christmas’ in the missions.
Many of us are distracted this year with concerns about finances, uncertainty about the future. Hopefully we will pause and remember what we are celebrating, “For God so loved the World” and this knowledge will deepen in us our awareness of God’s love.

One doctor and his wife will be in my prayers in a very special way this Christmas. Dr. Richard and Mrs. Loretta Stoughton are serving God’s children in Zimbabwe – despite, no because of, the difficulties the people are facing. Babies are born at St. Theresa’s people receive anti-retroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS, and this oasis of care in a country facing huge problems. Please keep them and all the people of Zimbabwe in your prayers this Christmas – If you want to give a gift in support of their work, you can go to our web site (Donate On-line using a check or credit card on our secure site.) You can designate that the gift is to support the work of the Stoughtons in Zimbabwe if you like.

“...he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”
May we all keep Christmas well – remembering what we are celebrating, honoring and comforted by the knowledge of God’s great love for us.

And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

Friday, December 5, 2008


I think it is surprising that Advent is one of my favorite times of year, because like so many of us in the US, I am not one who likes to wait.

It has been my experience that people in many other cultures are often better at this. They don’t seem to be so impatient, or hurried. People I’ve met in my travels seem more comfortable in that vast stretching time that can exist when one is waiting. Maybe that is an illusion; maybe they too feel the same frustration that I experience, and just don’t seem to show it.

But the waiting that is the anticipation of Advent is my time to reflect on how God comes to me. How God comes to me in the form of a child born more than 2000 years ago and how he comes to me today in my family members, in the person with the cardboard sign at the end of the freeway off ramp, or the patient in the rural hospital in Uganda or clinic in Guatemala.

If I close my eyes I can easily see the brightly dressed women who waited to serve a meal after a makeshift clinic had been set up in their small village church in Guatemala. I can see the mothers with children in their laps lined up, waiting to see the doctor at St. Theresa’s in Zimbabwe. They wait, but greet the stranger among them with a smile and shy giggle.

The waiting that is Advent is for me this connected waiting. I am waiting with the women in Guatemala, the children in Zimbabwe. We are all waiting. We are anticipating Christ. We are awaiting his birth into the world again so that all people will care about and care for all people.

We are the body of Christ.

We wait for Jesus to be reborn in us this advent, that we can be his hands in the world.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Inspired by compassion

I have been working with Mission Doctors Association for over 27 years and have had the honor of supporting these doctors and their families. Their stories of courage, disappointment, hope and healing continue to inspired me. But, the countless stories of patients cared for, babies delivered, or operations preformed are written on the hearts of mission doctors and seldom on the pages of a newsletter.

One of my roles as director is to try to persuade them to share their stories. The humble health care providers are often reluctant to recount the numbers of patients seen, or the number of nights that they have been called back to the hospital to see yet another patient.
When encouraged to do so they sometimes share a case that was remarkable; a fisherman who traveled 100 km after a hippo attack and who received life saving surgery. And on the telling, the surgeon only stresses that the patient lived by the grace of God. I agree with him; however I don’t discount the surgeon’s skills and his sacrifices to be there – that night the life of this fisherman was indeed saved by the grace of God and the sacrifice of one, and the many who made it possible for him to be there – acting on their faith in God.

The doctors are just as likely to share their frustration when everything that they could do, with the limited resources at hand, was not enough. When practicing in the states with every resource available - when the battle is still lost - they may walk away feeling powerless in the face of death - but they know that everything that could be tried was tried. The frustration practicing resource poor medicine is in the knowing that for lack of a single drug, that cost only pennies at home, a patient dies, or for the time and distance it took to get to the hospital a child is lost.
These doctors unanimously recount that they have received more than they gave, that the experience made them a better doctor in their own practice and that they have been grateful for the opportunity to share their skills and quietly live their faith. I’m grateful to be witness to their service and their faith which strengthens my own.

Monday, November 10, 2008

As a result of the work of the gen X team member in our office, MDA now has a presence on YouTube, FaceBook, MySpace, Care2, Changing the Present, and other sites as well. Jessica also said it was time for the director to have a blog. So, I step into this arena, a 53 year old mother of four to share stories of the tremendous work that it is I my privilege to witness as the director of Mission Doctors Association.

'Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.'

These words of St. Teresa have always moved me.
I am aware that we are all called to be the body of Christ in the world today, and I am so fortunate to witness a spectacular example of this in the work of medical missionaries.

Growing up second generation Irish Catholic meant that my parents made sacrifices to send all four of us to parochial school. I remember the small boxes that we filled with coins, raising money for children in the missions. In our home mission magazines were stacked on the coffee table and the stories of missionaries recounted with admiration.

In 1977, when my husband and I learned of an opportunity to share our skills in the missions with the Lay Mission-Helpers Association, we felt called to this and were so fortunate to be able to serve in the diocese of Udon Thani for three years. Our oldest son, Joshua was 18 months when we left for Thailand, and during the three years our family was blessed with the additions of son Jacob and our daughter Jessica.

After returning to Southern California in 1981, I was offered a position with Mission Doctors Association, in 2009 celebrating 50 years. Our youngest son Joel was born in 1983 and as our family grew my work with Mission Doctors Association did as well. Once the gang were grown my job also grew to include mission visitation and I have been so blessed to be able to visit with bishops and our lay missionaries serving in Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Cameroon.

I hope this blog will be an opportunity to share my experiences and stories of the work of Mission Doctors Association. The web site also has lots of news, letters and video about the work;