Guatemala 2013 (Day 5)

Guatemala 2013 (Day 5)

Clap! Clap! Clap! That is the noise of the Guatemalan cooks patting out homemade breakfast tortillas on the veranda. Every time I completed a lap this morning I was met with their clapping. I imagined it was for me. Little things go a long way to helping my self esteem. Three miles is all I managed today. Adam joined me for the last mile. Typical. Also in the mix was 100 sit-ups and 60 pathetic looking push-ups.

Breakfast: Ham and cheese omelets, salsa, Guatemalan cream of wheat, black beans, pineapple, flour tortillas.
Because JoLee does not work steady in the sterilization room I have neglected to post about her adventures. JoLee is a fixture here, so she wanders around and does a bit of everything as needed. She sometimes works as a translator, at other times helps in the recovery ward, and on occasion gives us a hand in sterilization. This week she has busied herself translating ABC children’s sponsor letters. The children in the HTI ABC program write letters in their native tongue to their sponsors in the states. Obviously not all sponsoring families speak these languages, and so the letters have to be translated into English. JoLee to the rescue! The ABC children are very creative, however, and douse their letters with glitter. In the hot and sticky climate the glitter sticks to skin. JoLee is very sparkly.

Today was an adventure. The surgery load was light so HTI scheduled two trips to Lake Attitlan for the surgical team to see some of the amazing countryside of this beautiful country. I had been before, but I decided to accompany Courtney so she did not have to strike off alone. Adam stayed behind to assist on a hernia surgery, and Steve stayed behind to wash the last surgical set.

Lake Attitlan is a volcanic crater lake and is surrounded on every side by lush green volcanoes that climb to a smoky point. The ride to the lake is a windy assent through far reaching coffee plantations. It is breathtaking. The bus taking us on our journey was the sketchiest looking bus I have ridden on in my times in Guatemala. I made a comment about it to Courtney and then did not think much more of it. We all piled in and left the clinic for our fun day of sightseeing. Ten minutes before reaching lake Attitlan, on a steep slope, the belt that turned the radiator fan snapped. Because the bus was a flat nosed bus the engine was located underneath the first set of seats. The radiator exploded and sent scalding water into the cabin burning one of our team members legs. The burns were not severe, and they were immediately treated (we were, after all, a bus full of medical professionals). Once the wounds were treated we took in our situation. We were stranded. The bugs swarmed on us. The sun beat down on us. Courtney, who is taking malaria medicine that makes you photosensitive, immediately turned pink. We waited an hour and finally help arrived. They sent a 13 seat van to pick up 21 of us (not including the driver). I have never been in such an overcrowded vehicle. We had people on top of people who were then on top of people. The sticky heat made this especially unpleasant.

When we arrived at lake Attitlan we all piled out of the clown car and had a nice lunch at a local restaurant overlooking the lake. It was truly lovely. We explored a little and then waited for a replacement bus to show up and take us home. The bus never arrived. We called the bus company multiple times and they kept telling us that the bus was close. We continued to wait. As luck would have it the town we were in was having some kind of festival which included a tuck-tuck parade (tuck-tucks are tiny three wheeled taxi buggies with no doors). The tuck-tucks in the parade were all decked out (like you would decorate a float). There was a batman tuck-tuck and a transformer tuck-tuck and a Jesus tuck-tuck. I was impressed. After the parade the locals gathered at a makeshift bandstand and were laughing and carrying on with someone leading them (we could not see the bandstand itself from where we were). At one point someone threw a pack of firecrackers into the crowd that sent the crowd scurrying. Instead of being upset the locals just laughed it off. I thought it was pretty funny too (aside from the possibility of losing an eye).

Lunch: Courtney = Bacon wrapped filet mignon, potato au gratin, mixed vegetables, broccoli soup, dinner rolls, lemonado soda (cost about eight U.S. dollars). Jesse = Steak, corn on the cob, rice, refried beans, guacamole, flour tortillas, salsa, broccoli soup, dinner rolls, lemonado soda (cost about 6 U.S. dollars).

The bus never arrived. We arranged for two vans to take us back. On our way back we got stuck in a standstill traffic jam. We all got out of the vans and walked up and down the road between the traffic talking with the locals (many of which were riding in the back of pick-ups on their way home from the fields). Finally the traffic moved again and we made it back to the clinic.

Because of the nature of the day I don’t have my usual outtakes. Here are a couple of candid moments that Courtney and I did share, however:
Jesse (to Courtney while walking along a more shady remote part of the shoreline of lake Attitlan): I should tell you that I’m not chivalrous. Don’t expect me to save you from assailants. Maybe if there’s one assailant, and I size up the odds and they seem in my favor…but if there are five or ten you’re out of luck. I run faster than you. The odds of my getting away are much better. There’s no sense in us both dying. It’s nothing personal, it’s just logic. Sometimes you have to take one for the team, Courtney.


Jesse (to Courtney as we walk to another part of town to see what a commotion was all about): I know we’re safe because we’re following two other dumb Americans.
[This is true, two other Americans were ahead of us]


Little Guatemalan boy who seemed to be a ring leader for the other little Guatemalan boys to Courtney: Facebook?
[He kept repeating “Facebook?” over and over again. I think he wanted to friend her.]


Adam (to Steve as he edits Jesse’s day 5 blog): He spelled dinner rolls with R O L E twice! That means he didn’t know better.

Adam (to Jesse): Can you even spell grammar?

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Guatemala 2013 (Day 4)

Guatemala 2013 (Day 4)

Up at 5:30.  Ran four miles.  Pumped out 100 pushups.  I’ll be mush tomorrow.

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, salsa, reddish/brownish beans, tortillas, fresh cantaloupe, Guatemalan cream of wheat with cinnamon.

Courtney has the day off from her nursing responsibilities so she spent the morning with us in the sterilization room helping out.  We enjoyed watching her clean her first yankerur (the fancy medical term [named after the doctor that invented it probably] for a suction tube).  The suction tube goes into a wound and, well, sucks up fluids and fatty tissues, etc.  You clean them with a fuzzy pipe cleaner.  She was not impressed.  We found it infinitely amusing.

Adam continues his work as a circulator.  I forgot to mention that yesterday he scrubbed in on a surgery and was the assistant to the surgeon.  He is learning a lot, and his observation skills are good.  Part of me thinks if he was able to be here for a year he could bypass medical school and just have at it.  He will do his time of course, but I am glad is getting these experiences.  Rick is treating him well.  Rick is smart.  He knows HTI has a future, and surgeons will always be needed.  Adam is being courted I think.

The morning has been busy.  We began the day with a dismal amount of cases (four total!) but the local doctors, not wanting to waste the talent available them, beat the bushes and came up with a number of other patients.  We have barely had a moment to stop.

They organized a trip to the cocoa farm, and since Courtney had never seen it I encouraged her to go.  The Cocoa farm has a giant tree that is a must see.  When I say giant tree I mean GIANT TREE.  No, for real, you are not thinking about it correctly.  This tree is bigger round than your house.  It has been designated a national treasure of Guatemala.

Lunch: Chicken in a brown mushroom gravy, rice with carrots, flower tortillas, fresh watermelon, hibiscus juice.  There was a harmless looking green sauce in a little clear bowl.  It ended up being not so harmless.

Things I learned about Rick Harper: His mother dated ELVIS!  And she WASN’T IMPRESSED!  This is a true story.

This was by far our heaviest surgery day.  We worked steady, and we turned out so many patients that Courtney, who had the day off, was asked to come back into the recovery room.  She is also working the night shift tonight because they had 26 patients on the floor and only two nurses.  She is hoping once the vitals are taken and people are asleep to be able to catch some rest in one of the white plastic chairs they have for the nurses to sit in.

It appears that tomorrow there will not be a lot of surgeries so they have scheduled two trips to Lake Attitlan, which is a crater lake formed by high rising volcanoes.  It is quite high up, and I am hoping they are above the clouds when the go so they get a clear view of the smoking volcanoes.  There is a nice restaurant there and she will share a meal with the rest of the group that goes with her.  If I remember right there is a fountain pool by the restaurant where you can go and pick out the fish that they will cook for you.

Supper: Steak, salsa, macaroni salad, refried black beans, tortilla chips, homemade tortillas, tres leche cake.

One of the patients had a heart attack during supper.  They gave her three nitro and she was still having radiating pain.  The doctors are deciding their next move.  The patient only had a small cyst removed which required a local anesthetic so it is not likely that the heart trouble had anything to do with the procedure.

I am going to post this now and try to get some more work done on the rest of the Heirs to the Kingdom courses.  If I am lucky I might be able to get enough internet signal to upload them to the church website.


Mike (to me as I came into the community bathroom): Good morning Jeff.



Jesse (to Adam as I met him after donning a beautiful pair of aqua marine scrub pants): You’re jealous of my pants aren’t you?

Adam: You’re jealous of my monkeys aren’t you?

[I have no idea what this means]


Carlos: Did you get your luggage?

Jesse: Yes!  Finally!

Carlos: Have they made you take a shower yet?

Steve: Nah, he’s got a couple of weeks before he is scheduled to have one.

Jesse: Yea, I don’t take showers often because I don’t want the ‘awesome’ to rub off.


Adam: Michelle and my anniversary was on Thanksgiving last year.  I had asked her a few days before the previous year, but then it was leap year, so it ended up on Thanksgiving.

Jesse: So what you are saying is she celebrated with two turkeys on that day.


Steve (to me as we were walking to dinner): Did we lose Courtney?

Jesse: I think so.  Quick, if we take evasive actions we might be able to lose Adam too.


Adam: It’s ridiculous.  He’s cut the cake into tiny little pieces.  He’s the cake-boss.


Adam (elated while working on a crossword): I got the boat one dad, it’s aboom!

Steve (in disgust): No it isn’t.

[Steve is not impressed with the skill that Adam and I employ on the crossword puzzles.  At one point last evening he had to get up and remove himself from our presence because he knew so many of the answers that we were struggling and he could no longer keep it all in.  He’s kind of a know-it-all.]


Steve (as he comes into the sterilization room where Adam and I are sitting): Did I miss anything?


Steve: I doubt it.



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Guatemala 2013 (Day 3)

I wrote my day 2 Guatemala blog until midnight last night (2 AM eastern time).  I tried to post it but the internet was down.  I set my alarm for 4 AM today and woke up hoping to get to the internet before anyone else did.  I managed to send one gmail before the internet bogged down again.  I could not get wordpress to work.  I don’t know when I will be able to post these.

Carlos (a different Carlos then my shuttle driver–this Carlos speaks English, we went to Harding together) found me at breakfast this morning and said that he received a call from United Airlines at 6 AM.  They have my bag in Guatemala City (a hundred plus miles away) but the courier will not deliver it until tomorrow (it was supposed to be delivered today).  The airline was very generous in letting us know that if we wanted we could come and pick it up. I told Rick Harper and he let me know that this was fairly typical because they hope you will need it so bad that you will travel in yourself and save them the cost of delivery.  We are going to wait for my bag.  Dejected, I walked back to my room and found a neat pile of clean socks and underwear on my bureau.  Thanks Adam.  Mi underwear es su underwear.

These are the things I learned about Steve today: he grew up on a dairy farm.  He had six brothers and sisters, none of which went on to be farmers.  He was raised Catholic, and was baptized and confirmed and spent some time as an altar boy and read scripture regularly (except for the gospel reading, the priest always read the gospel reading).  He was educated in a parochial school about an hour away from his home.  It was quite rigorous so he did not have time for much leisurely activity as a kid.  He spent some summers working on the farm.  His mother kept the books for the farm and managed the household affairs.  The last thing Steve does before he goes to bed is iron a shirt for the morning.

Lunch: BBQ Chicken, rice with corn and cheese, homemade tortillas, green beans in a butter sauce with onions, fresh watermelon.

We got news in the afternoon that a few patients from January were being rescheduled for our October surgery week.  That should keep us busy.

The surgeries were pretty standard today.  We had three gynecological cases and thirteen general cases.  The general cases use a much smaller set of instruments and they are far quicker to clean and sterilize.

I forgot to mention earlier that Courtney went on a mobile medical clinic.  Each day Clinic Ezell sends out trucks full of medicine and supplies to mobile clinics set up all over the Guatemalan countryside.  The mobile clinics screen patients and supply them with medicines when needed and refer them to clinic Ezell for surgery.  Courtney will spend her time today taking blood vitals and weighing patients, and doing intake for the doctors.  Hopefully she will have a translator.  If not she will have to be creative with her charades.

Courtney is now back from her mobile medical clinic.  She did not fare well.  Apparently four hours on cross country bumpy roads, and humid jungle heat don’t agree with her constitution.  She looked like Casper.  She downed some pedia-light to get her electrolytes back up, took about a twenty minute break and started her eight hour shift.  [#toughasnails]

The thunder was particularly loud and disturbing today.  I only jumped once.  And no, I didn’t look like a sissy.  It was very understandable that I would yelp like I did.

Steve and I talked music for most of the afternoon.  It was cool.  He listens to some good stuff.  Don’t let his mild mannered, semi-mature persona fool you.  He’s a witch’s brew of a little bit of rebel, a pinch of silly, an a whole lot of hip.  Yea, that’s Steve Cotter.

We finished tonight around six o’clock.  This should allow me some time to tackle a good bit of my sermon and my other responsibilities this week.  I should try and post this now.

More silly outtakes:


Adam: You do know you’re wearing a girl’s scrub top?

Jesse: Darnit, how can you tell?

Adam: It has these little pockets, and it’s more slender at the shoulders.

Jesse:  For real?

Adam: You did this last year too.

Jesse: I know.


Mike (who we have been on a number of surgical clinics with, to me as we passed in the hall): Good morning Jeff.

[He’s been calling me Jeff all week.  I’m wearing a name tag.  It says “Jesse.”  Sigh.]


Jesse (to Adam): When you’re the big man on campus and you are doing the surgeries can you recommend me as your anesthesiologist.

Adam: What are you going to do, tell them a joke and put them to sleep?


[The nurses in Adam’s O.R. heard that he used to have long hair and came looking for a photo that Steve or I might have.  I did not have one in my church photos on my laptop.  Steve, however, found an old photo in his wallet.]

Adam: I’m actually surprised you had that photo.

Steve: I kept it because the dog was in it.


[Adam and I are stumped on the crossword]

Adam: A four letter word ending in “ed.”  The clue is “________ tea.”

Steve: [without hesitation] Iced.

Adam: Okay, you can leave now.

[Steve exits the room]

Adam (to Jesse): He could have at least thought about it for a while.


Methel (from West Islip via email): I hope you are eating “flour” tortillas and not “flower” tortillas.

[whatever!] 🙂

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Guatemala (Day 2)

I don’t recall falling asleep last night.  I am rooming with a young man named Daniel, and I remember laying down on my bed and talking a little sports.  I don’t recall the conversation ending.  The next thing I remember was my alarm was going off at six.  I jumped out of bed and made my way to where we meet to run each day.  Adam had already put in two laps (yea, I can’t believe it either).  Dr. Grady Bruce also ran with us (general surgeon who I have run with before in Guatemala), and Courtney was a trooper and joined us for a couple laps as well.  We were an impressive ensemble, teeming with athletic prowess.  Actually we all sort of hobbled along, but we did it, and sometimes that is all that matters.  I only ran eight laps (2 miles–no laughing Rebecca!).  I had to run in scrubs since all my running gear is in my lost suitcase.  I’ll regroup and double up my efforts tomorrow.

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, salsa, sour cream sauce, fried plantains (think bananas on steroids), black beans, FRESH pineapple, flower tortillas, and a kind of thin cream of wheat that you topped with cinnamon.  The thin cream of wheat was a new item I had not seen before.  It was AMAZING.

Courtney’s first shift went well.  She commented that the difference between nursing here and nursing in the states is that you actually get to spend time with your patients here instead of spending ninety percent of your time at a computer typing in everything you did so that the hospital’s liability is decreased.  She enjoyed the one-on-one patient time.  During one of her bedside moments with her patients she had a translator assisting her.  The patient was a young boy and the mother of the child, a thin short woman, was next to him.  The mother was missing an eye.  The translator asked the woman about her injury.  The woman answered that she received it from the end of a pistol grip when she was hit on the head by assailants the day her husband was shot and killed.  The stories of suffering seem endless here.

The surgery load was light today.  Two patients were sent home because they failed pre-surgery screenings.  The general surgeries were finished before lunch.  The OBGYN surgeons had a full day however, and we were tied to the sterilization room to make sure they had what they needed and of course to scrub and sterilize their instruments.

No day is complete without a few minor emergencies.  We usually expect these emergencies to originate with our patients, but whenever 50 plus people are gathered together from all parts of the U.S. and put into new environs there is bound to be a few glitches that cause tense moments even in the helping staff.  Today one of our nurses who was allergic to peanuts ate a sauce that was made with peanut oil and had a reaction.  She was treated for the allergy and sent to her room with two people (one to stay with her at all times, and one to go for help if needed).

Lunch: Chicken with an orange sauce (it also had peanut oil in it), rice with mixed vegetables, FRESH watermelon, flower tortillas and hibiscus juice.

After lunch a woman came in for surgery who could not eat any solid foods.  They were doing exploratory work so they could determine what was the matter.  They tried to discover the problem with cystoscopic (sp?) instruments.  That did not work so they opened up the patient and found she was filled with cancer. They did what they could to remove the infected tissue and will give her a referral to a cancer clinic.  However, the odds of her receiving the medical care she needs in a timely and economically viable way are slim to none.  To make matters worse the cancer seemed advanced.  These are sad moments.

We were able at the end of the day to schedule a few more patients which allowed us to work until Supper (7 PM [9PM Eastern]). 

Supper: Pork roast, mashed potatoes, mixed veggies, gravy, flower tortillas, cantaloupe juice, and carrot cake (carrot cake is my favorite).

After supper we gathered for devotional.  We were reminded that “doing good” is a higher way than merely “not doing harm.”  After our devotional time we went into the recovery room and sang hymns for the patients.  In the middle of our songs two of our team members spontaneously walked over and held the hands of a little girl recovering from hernia surgery.  She erupted in a smile.  It was a very human moment, and it was beautiful.

Adam and I worked the rest of the night on a crossword puzzle.  He was dead in the water without me.

BTW, the internet is VERY spotty.  Worse than ever.  I type out my blog post on Microsoft word and then cut and paste it to wordpress, but it takes many attempts.  Loading Gmail is very difficult and I have only managed to get on once, and when I tried to send stuff it would not let me.

Here are the days outtakes:


Surgical Nurse: Where is that L.M.A. that we gave you to wash?

Steve: L.M.A.?

Jesse: I think it is that thingy they stick down your throat.  Ah, here it is [hands over the correct instrument].  What does L.M.A. stand for anyway Rick?

Rick: It stands for laryngeal mask airway.

Jesse: Lary…um…L.M.A it is then.


Rick (to Adam): I just hope that medical school works out and I see you down here doing surgeries someday.

Adam: That’s my dream.

Jesse (whispered to Adam): Yea, and your patient’s nightmare.


[After Adam wadded up and threw a paper wrapper at my head…]

Mike: Good thing that wasn’t a weighted speculum–eight pounds of solid steel.

Adam: Ha, you’d be a unicorn.


[Adam is attempting to choose a wrap that is the right size to wrap a large stainless steel kidney bowl for sterilization.  Adam is out of practice because he doesn’t slum with the sterilization crew anymore.]

Adam: Is this the right size? 

[It wasn’t]

Jesse: That’s what happens when you don’t hang out anymore in the sterilization room.

Adam: I’m rusty.

Jesse: Yea, you are like Rocky in Rocky III when he loses the eye of the tiger.


Gary (to Adam at the end of the day): Thanks Adam, I really enjoyed working with you in the operating room today.

[Gary exits]

Adam (to me): Did you hear that?  Why didn’t I ever get that when I worked in here?

Jesse: The short answer: it wasn’t true.



Gary (to Jaquie the surgical nurse in the same O.R. as Adam): I really enjoyed working with you in the operating room today.

Jesse (to Adam in a whisper): See, he says that to everybody.


[Jesse is sitting working on his final sermon for the W.I. Church of Christ]

Steve (to Adam): Have you seen how they have been labeling the trees outside in the courtyard so you know what they are?

Adam: Yea.

[Steve points to me.  I am sitting next to a sign that reads “Basura Comun”]


Jesse: I’m basically an icon in Montellano.  I’m surprised they haven’t built a statue of me already.

Adam: They can’t find stones round enough.

Jesse: Shut up, I’m not chubby anymore.

Courtney: “Chubby” is not the word for what you were.

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Guatemala 2013 (Day 1)

We woke at 1:30 AM and left retreat at the Teconic Christian Retreat Center in order to make a flight out of Newark at 5:20 AM.  The kids were not impressed.  The G.W. bridge was closed on the lower level, which we did not find out until after we chose the lower fork and were committed.  Thus we were sent scurrying down the west side of Manhattan to the Holland Tunnel.  I made my flight, but just barely.  My bag was not so lucky.

I had previously advised Courtney Macbraierty (the R.N. the West Islip Church of Christ helped send to Guatemala, and also my super-cool-sister-in-law) to make sure she packed a change of clothes in her carry on in case her luggage got lost.  Because I left in haste from the retreat center, I failed to take my own advice.  I also packed my toiletries in my checked luggage, which I never do.  This irony did not escape Courtney, and as you might suspect, she took gleeful pleasure in pointing it out.  Sigh.

The flight to Houston was uneventful, as was the layover and the subsequent flight to Guatemala City.  Upon arriving in Guatemala city I discovered that my bag was missing and spent an hour in line at baggage service.  The computer found my neglected luggage in some back room at Liberty.  It had never left New Jersey.  They say I might have it by Tuesday.  I have a bodega full of scrubs, so I’ll manage to stay clothed.

Carlos drove the shuttle which picked me up at the Guatemala City airport and took me to Clinic Ezell.  I crammed into the front of his Toyota micro bus.  The seats were pulled all the way forward.  My knees touched the dash.  He asked in broken English if I spoke Spanish.  I said no.  Then I asked him in broken Spanish if he spoke English.  He said no.  It was a quiet ride.

At one point in heavy traffic in Guatemala City the silence was broken when Carlos’s cell phone went off.  He answered it and had a lengthy and animated conversation.  I wanted to object to his talking on a cell phone and driving at the same time, but I didn’t know how.  I marveled at the way he maneuvered his vehicle and maintained his conversation without a single hiccup in the rapid dialog.

I had not eaten since early in the morning, and we kept driving by eateries, including, I might add, a number of delicious Pollo Campero restaurants.  It was torture.  I decided I needed to learn the Spanish for “Hey Carlos, how about some fried chicken?  My treat!”

We made it to the Clinic in record time.  Carlos kept the needle buried and passed on more than one blind curve.  At times we were three wide on a two lane highway with no shoulder and a drop of on either side.  Riding the roads in Guatemala leaves me breathless.  Carlos, like all Guatemalans, is a world class driver.  My hat is off to him.

When I arrived I met Courtney in the courtyard who was on her way to begin her nursing shift.  She took pity on me and found me a new toothbrush and toothpaste, and let me borrow some of her shampoo.  I took a much needed shower and then joined Steve and Lori (an accountant from Nashville) in the sterilization room.  Steve, as you can imagine, was elated to see me (I think I occupy a warm spot in his heart, or at least in his sympathies).

You are wondering why I did not join Adam as well in the sterilization room.  Let me explain.  Adam, as you might know, has been prepping for medical school, and this year his aspirations earned him an HTI promotion.  He is now a “circulator” in operating room (O.R.) # 2.  Steve and I are somewhat distraught at this turn of events, and more than a little jealous.  At one point Adam strode into the sterilization room (drunk on power) and actually handed Steve, Lori, and I a tray of instruments to wash.  We swallowed hard and tried not to trip him on his way out.

Of course I jest.  We are proud of Adam, and rumor has it (I wasn’t there for the opening get together) that during the group’s introductions, when Adam announced his intentions to go to medical school, the assembled surgical team broke into loud applause.  And well they should.  Adam is leaving behind the support staff role and taking the bridge to “medical professional.”  Got get it Cotter.

Speaking of professionals: Courtney has an R.N. on her name-tag!  Today was the first time I saw her in action in her new vocation.  She’s a natural.  In one candid moment I strolled through the recovery room and saw her kneeling at a bedside and massaging the hand of a tiny boy (cute as a button) who was crying post surgery.  It was the kind of “above and beyond care” that makes Courtney a perfect fit for the HTI family.

At the evening devotional we prayed for the surgery patients, sang hymns, and were challenged to offer life giving kindness and service to others whenever the opportunity presented itself.  We were reminded that opportunities come and go, and we are not guaranteed more, and we should be good stewards of the ones we were given this week.  It was a fitting admonition to end the day.

Oh, and since I always tell you what we ate [I was only there for the supper meal today]: battered and pan fried chicken fingers, alfredo noodles, broccoli, garlic bread, handmade tortillas, hibiscus juice, and marble cake.

I should also report that the New York Giants are now 0-5.  Apparently bad news about the demise of my precious and beloved football team has a way of finding me even in the remote regions of the Guatemalan jungle.

Finally (back this year by popular demand) I give you selected transcripts of actual conversations that took place at Clinic Ezell.  Here is today’s offering:


Adam: You really going running tomorrow?

Jesse: I don’t know, do you mind me sweating in your underwear?

Adam: You can keep them after.

Jesse: Fine by me, free underwear.


Rick Harper: There is a local custom among the Mayan population that if an avocado tree does not bear fruit they put a skirt around its trunk to embarrass it into bearing fruit.

Jesse: Steve, now you know what to do if Adam strikes out with medical school.

Steve: (laughter)

Jesse: Of course if Adam wearing a skirt hasn’t worked by now, I don’t know if doing it more will help.


Well meaning fellow nurse: Oh, are you Mrs. Pettengill?

Courtney: Oh God, no.


Adam (in a tender moment):  I miss you, man.

[long pause…]

Jesse: What?  You expect me to reciprocate?


Well meaning nurse: You must be Jesse, I’ve heard a lot about you.

[wise comments from Adam and Courtney that can’t be remembered at this time]

Well meaning nurse: No, I actually want to interview you.

Jesse: Yea, well you better bring a notebook.



Jesse: You know how Rick told that story about how health talents had only 18 employees when he started on the board of directors and now it has 50 something?  I didn’t want to say anything, cause I didn’t want to make him feel bad, but we [pointing to the West Islip crew] are basically the glue that’s held this place together.

JoLee: Oh boy it’s getting deep.


[After counting a deck of cards…]

Adam: Wow, a full deck.  Well actually, not quite, it appears there is only one joker [holds up the joker].

Jesse: That’s funny, I see two.


Goodnight all.


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Weekly Introduction to the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary (Proper 14C / Ordinary 19C)

Genesis 15:1-6

In our Hebrew Bible reading Abram’s (later Abraham’s) patience is waning.  Previously Abram had received great promises from God (land, descendants, a great nation) but the completion of those promises lacked one key element–Abram and Sarai (Abram’s wife) had no offspring.  So when God came to Abram in a vision and announced that God was “Abram’s shield” and that “Abram’s reward would be great” Abram couldn’t believe it without first seeking an answer to the question of missing offspring.  In response to Abram’s question God takes Abram outside Abram’s tent and has Abram look toward the sky and see the innumerable stars–“So shall your descendants be.”  Comfort from God comes in way of a repetition of God’s previous promise.  To his credit (sort of speak) Abram believes the Lord, and it is counted to him as righteousness.

Psalm 33:12-22

Our Psalm lection serves as a response to the Hebrew Bible reading by repeating certain key phrases (e.g. by referring to God as “our help and shield”, and by describing the happiness of God’s chosen “nation” [vs. 20, 12]) and by picking up on the theme of waiting on God.  The Psalmist ends with a declaration that describes Abram’s faithful response to God’s repeated promises–“Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Our epistle lection retells the Abraham story.  Hebrews eleven is often called the “Hall of faith” in that for the encouragement of its readers it describes the faithfulness of the great believers scattered throughout the pages of the Hebrew Bible.  Abraham’s faithfulness is described by the Hebrew author in this way: “By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised.”  The Hebrew author goes on to say that Abram never saw the ultimate fulfillment of God’s prophecy (descendants as numerous as the stars and the sand) but only viewed a foretaste (“from a distance“–e.g. the birth of Isaac).  The Hebrew author asserts that all God’s’ faithful had never yet fully realized the promise of God (which the Hebrew author describes as a “heavenly city.”)  They were all wandering foreigners and aliens in a strange land.  Interestingly it is because these faithful people could not find a home without God that God is “not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”

Luke 12:32-40

Luke’s audience was also waiting on the promises of God (we all are–which is of course where each of these texts meets us).  One of the purposes of Luke’s gospel is to encourage those who experienced what was an unexpected delay in the realization of the long anticipated ‘Kingdom of God.’  Our gospel lection begins then with, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  The author of Luke goes on to encourage the waiting Christians to live as if the kingdom in all its glory were present now, “Sell your possessions, and give alms.”  The advice may seem crazy–especially as we glance in the rear view mirror at 2000 years of subsequent history.

Regardless Luke calls his flock to wait with baited breath–as a servant waits for a returning master.  This is perhaps the hardest of all Christian duties–to wait (i.e. to live) as if what we are waiting for is already upon us–to be heirs to the kingdom that is here only in part (that we see “from a distance.”)  Which one of us can look to the stars and take courage?  It is difficult.  We need the help of God.  We need worship.  We need each
other.  The sad truth is that many of us will become distracted, and our focus will not be on the justice of the coming kingdom, but on the opportunties afforded us in the present world.  We will be taken atop a high mountain, and we will be shown all the cities of the world.  It will be a difficult decision, so we need to remember the plaintive words of Christ, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Celebration of Worship

Waiting means different things to different people.  The experience of injustice comes in many forms.  Our worshippers will have different experiences of ‘waiting.’  Some will be begging for justice, others will hardly know that justice is lacking.  Some will be figuratively (and perhaps quite literally) “selling their possessions to give alms.”  Others will be quite at home and see no eschatalogical event on the horizon (i.e. the kingdom will be as far away as ever.)  A goal of worship this week is to awaken the need in all of us to be
expectant people who in our time of waiting faithfully call upon the steadfast love of the Lord.  Another goal of our worship is to consider how Christians throughout the world (in myriad circumstances) might be patiently waiting for justice, and what that might mean for us as we try to live as if the kingdom were already here in its fullness.  That is agressive agenda–I invite you to think about these things as you consider your prayers, thoughts, hymns, hearts, and minds for Sunday’s meeting.

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Weekly Introduction to the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary (Proper 12C / Ordinary 17C)

Hebrew Bible Reading (Genesis 18:20-32)

Our Hebrew Bible reading contains the story of Abraham negotiating with God over the fate of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Sodom and Gomorrah were populated by sinful people who lived in great wickedness.  When God decides to destroy the cities because of their wickedness Abraham intercedes on the cities’ behalf asking God to spare the cities if a certain amount of righteous people can be found.  Abraham reasons with God offering the rhetorical, “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”  God agrees to spare the city if fifty righteous souls are found.  When fifty can not be found Abraham begins to negotiate God down from fifty to ten.

Abraham’s reason for why God should not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah provides us food for thought.  Is it true that a small number of righteous people can work to spare countless numbers of wicked due to close proximity?!  The Sodom and Gomorrah story is often seen as a prime example of God’s wrath and harsh judgment (I will admit that it is a troubling text to ponder).  Let’s emphasize two positive thoughts about this narrative however.  First, Abraham is a wonderful example as intercessor.  He is relentless in his efforts to spare even the wicked of the world.  He takes no pleasure in anyone’s destruction.  He pleads with God for the plight of humanity that has gone astray.  Second, God is convinced by Abraham’s arguments.  God withholds judgment on the whole city if only ten righteous can be found.  Sometimes when it seems the wicked vastly outnumber the faithful it is good to remember the ministry of Abraham and the patience of God.

Psalm 138

Our Psalm lection is an interesting hymn.  It begins as though it were a Psalm of thanksgiving/deliverance (a Psalm written after a deliverance in thanksgiving to God for God’s role in the deliverance).  However, at the conclusion of the song we find out that the Psalmist has yet to be delivered: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.  The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”  It is as if the Psalmist is thanking God for something that has yet to happen, but is sure to happen!  The Psalm also provides us with a wonderful theological statement (a truth about God) that helps us understand the way God views the world and the glory that is found in the world: “For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.”

Colossians 2:6-19

In our epistle lection Paul admonishes the Colossian Christians to continue to live their lives in Jesus Christ.  In a beautifully poetic passage Paul reminds the Colossians of the work of Christ in their lives: “when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God  made you  alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses.”  Paul encourages fidelity to Christ in the face of those who were promoting “philosophies and empty deceit” based on “human traditions” and the “elemental spirits of the universe.”  We have trouble exactly identifying the false teaching that was causing Paul such worry.  Whatever it is it appears to have argued for a certain asceticism that once again enslaved people under a rigid life of self regulation and nullified the freedom gained in Christ.

Gospel Lection (Luke 11:1-13)

Our gospel lection contains various teachings of Jesus the most famous of which is Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.  In Luke’s account Jesus is asked by the disciples how they should pray and he responds with a condensed version of Matthew’s famous prayer used by churches across the world and throughout the centuries.  After the prayer Jesus gives a lesson on God’s desire to answer prayer and about the need for persistence in prayer. Jesus reminds his disciples that God is our heavenly parent, and as such God desires to give us good things.  Jesus also reminds us that our persistence in prayer is desired by

Celebration of Worship

As you prepare your heart, minds, prayers, and hymns for Sunday consider what it means to persist in conversation with God through a time of trial.  The psalmist was confident in his/her persistence–knowing that God would not abandon God’s plan for the psalmist’s life.  Abraham was persistent in conversation with God in calling again and again on God’s justice and mercy (How can someone like you destroy the righteous with the wicked?)  Paul encourages the Colossians to stick with Jesus, even though at times they may be
tempted to revert to some other philosophy or empty deceit in order to alleviate their problems.  Conversation with God during times of great trial is vital in our spiritual growth.  God is our God in good times and bad–and God uses both seasons of life to work out his purpose for us.

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