character muscles & CRUTCHES…in Africa

The measure of a person’s character is, what does it take to stop you?”

I shared these words with Domeka, a dynamic young pastor my Papa mentors on Mondays, as he slowly hobbled in with a swollen sprained ankle.  ouch! Hard to get around on crutches & it’s painfully hard to get motivated to get around, but he determinedly made it.

My Papa emailed this quote years ago when I fell (splat) on some unwieldy pavement, fracturing my ankle during Christmas holidays in South Africa. It became a mantra of sorts as I struggled to cope with life on crutches. The thing is, I didn’t go home for Christmas since I couldn’t bear the 30+ hour journey after neck disc surgery the previous summer in America. (I returned in August a wee bit too early figuring 1/2 days were possible, but not figuring how the long journey would set the healing process back…and, well, HURT.)

God IS good – ALL the time – and going back early assisted the birth process of a large malaria project for the whole country of Tanzania (the 1/2 days paid off!)  Back to South Africa…hobbling through the airport on crutches with a scary neck brace did serve as an effective male repellent (chivalry seems to be rather lost in males these days!)  But that was just the beginning. After 4 weeks wearing an aircast, hopping & hobbling (while still driving, mind you, & keeping a regular work schedule in Tanzania) I went to Dr. Ype who x-rayed the misbehaving-still-very-swollen ankle to find it was actually badly fractured. On went an immovable cast (no more driving) and stern instructions YOU MUST USE CRUTCHES for three – gasp – months.

egads.  My apartment was located up 3 flights of stairs. Our office was – guess what – up 3 flights of stairs. January – February – March are hotter-than-fireballs (in the August ‘winter’ of Dar es Salaam temperatures are a cool 80 degrees!) So, I dripped to work, dripped to meetings (literally puddled my way up 4 flights of stairs to UNHCR) & dripped home on crutches…

…what does it take to stop you? what does it take to stop you?… (hop, hop, breathe, rest arms, drip, drip..)

My travel schedule was heavy: a conference in Uganda, Roll Back Malaria regional meetings in Nairobi, important international meetings in Arusha. African airports generally tend to have lots of stairs and few elevators. I learned the value of zipdrive sticks – trying to drag a laptop around on crutches through an airport increases the puddle factor TREMENDOUSLY.

Then, while up in Arusha – and still on crutches – I met malaria up close & personal: 104 fever, zigzagidy joint pain like you can’t believe & yet still ‘wobbled’ (hobbling in a wobbly fashion) to meetings at our National Office as a walking advertisement for our malaria programs…

OK, so God was extremely generous in the grace department (I am a rather wimpy amazon woman with very limited muscle-development inclinations) but this whole-do-Africa-on-crutches thing DID build up character muscles. (here i previously thought climbing the ‘stairs of repentance’ up Mount Sinai in Egypt was hard..humph!)

Of course, I asked for God’s help (note ‘wimpy amazon’ is understated) & to have made it through that time on crutches – in the heat – is nothing short of miraculous. But I also thought of the many children, mothers, fathers, sisters & brothers suffering from malaria, HIV/AIDS and so many other challenges… their courageous examples of not giving up also motivated me to keep going (and then there’s always my Papa, who can’t move anything & yet he faithfully keeps on, keeping on!)

What does it take to stop you?  There are all sorts of crutches that keep us from moving forward after our spills (splat) on the pavement of life – bruised egos & empty pockets, tears and fears, maybe sprained hearts too hurt to love anew. Why not let God keep building those character muscles. Instead of asking ‘why?’ focus on taking that next step…drip, drip, puff, puff, wobble, hobble…and you might find yourself before long walking healed in His Love – casting those crutches aside.

“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be disjointed, but rather may be healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13

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8 Responses to character muscles & CRUTCHES…in Africa

  1. Cindy Kranich says:

    Va., Wow, this brings back vivid memories of my visit to Africa to assist you after neck surgery … who knew the challenges would include much more! I’m sure you were tempted to quit. How inspiring to read of your perseverance and God’s faithfulness. This is so colorful, it has all the makings of a good book! Loved your application, too, which I will take to heart. luv, cin 🙂

  2. Virginia says:

    Cindy – it’s hard to stop someone who has SUCH AN AMAZING sister!! Thank you (AGAIN & AGAIN) for coming back with me to TZ to help – your help helped all that was accomplished (by the grace of God!) & only wish you could have come back during the crutch season, but maybe God was teaching me something? F.R.O.G. (on Sundays when mama & papa heard the very loud ribbits of the Dar frogs through the zillion miles of telephone waves, they reminded me of this – Full Reliance on God – which helped me later when the frogs were so loud it was hard to sleep!)

    I know that you will never forget the 3 long days of outings with Clara to the Masai villages while I sat through LT mtgs in Arusha! : ) ..& i will never forget your help during the RPN (royal pain in the neck) episode!

  3. Beatrice Minja says:

    “Ndio” ! Virginia- “the Iron lady”.Thanks again for these wonderful and inspiring words. Iwitnessed you diriving in Dar-es-Salaam rough roads few months after the neck disc surgery in you cardinal red landcruiser attending all the assignments as if nothing has happened to your health. I also travelled with you to the East Africa Region (EARN) Malaria Meeting when you were in crutches. What I learnt and confirmed from you my CORE Chair in the two incidences was the three words which I was also advised by my late father few days before he died ” NEVER GIVE UP” . He said ,in any situation you experience in life GOD is always there to give you the power,courage and energy to walk through it.
    Yes , it was from EARN we learnt more on how we should reshape our Tanzania NGOs Alliance Against Malaria in order to reach the targeted audience/vounerable group (pregnant women and underfive years children who are dying for malaria in every minute that goes the clock. With those pains you could mentor you friend and core chair to move foward and fire the ernermy ‘MALARIA”
    The good news as I write this message is that the knowledge you impacted on me was tremendous and today we are extending our services to three zones in Tanzania. TANAM is now leading the National Malaria Movement, working with the government and the civil society and especially the CBOs. Never give up until we are free from malaria.
    God is for us all.
    Beatrice Minja
    Executive Director
    Tanzania National Malaria Movement.

  4. Virginia says:

    BEATRICE – Ninakushukuru SANE SANE SANE!!!

    You have made my day – & week & month & year – with your encouraging update. I am so grateful to God for the opportunities we shared together, first with your program mgt role at CARE TZ (remember that joint UNICEF malaria pilot project.. & TNVS?? : ) as co-chairs of TaNAAM & then as you took a leap of faith to tackle full-time coordination of the NGO malaria movement. What a BLESSING to hear how God has blessed all the hard work! So proud of YOU & grateful for all that God continues to do in & through you to help stamp out the endemic burden of Malaria in TZ & all over Africa & the rest of the world…

    Thank you for sharing your father’s words to never give up(!) I will add “power, courage & energy” to my ‘to-ask-God-for’ list (altho courage has been on there quite a bit!) I know that God has provided a great deal of these three (+ grace!) to overcome the many challenges facing you there in TZ…. Know that you are in my thoughts & prayers!

    grace, peace & character muscles
    Virginia : )

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