Thursday, October 1, 2009

September Buzz article: "The Heart of the Matter" by Carissa Mason

It was a warm Saturday evening of July in a dimly lit turnabout in Nicaragua of 2007 when Jeff Hamblin and Raquel Aburto, the translator who was traveling with him, were mugged. On their way back to their hotel after a long week of missionary work and a final dinner of authentic local Nicaraguan cuisine, they found themselves in a shady side of town. Jeff had phoned his wife back in the States to tell her of his morning flight arrangements when two young boys approached them, one from the side and one from behind. The translator looked at Jeff and said in a slightly frantic tone of voice, ‘Jeff, hang up the phone!’ He looked down to see a gun at his waist and immediately flipped it closed.

When Jeff obediently hung up and handed the cellphone he was talking on over to the two teenagers, he didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to his lovely wife. The barely 15 year old thieves then ripped off the phone he was carrying conveniently on his belt. A taxi driver just down the block happened to catch a glimpse of the commotion and drove over to the scene to help. The two boys fled leaving Jeff and the translator in shock and disbelief. Did that really just happen?

From there, they filed a police report on the stolen items. His flight back home was in less than 12 hours. The local police were as cooperative as donkeys on a rocky uphill slope and 3 hours later he was finally making his way back to the hotel.

Meanwhile, back in the States, his wife, Laura, who heard Raquel tell Jeff to hang up the phone, paced frantically in her home praying for a return call and fighting off thoughts of the worst kind. 10 minutes passed and panic turned to all out fear. The slight clap of the phone being hung up on her was still screaming in her ear. She kept remembering the unmistakable sound of Raquel’s ghostly words “Jeff, hang up the phone” and intuition whispered to her all was not well. She managed to find a way to call the hotel where Jeff was staying only to hear from his traveling companions that he had not returned. It was all becoming very overwhelming and Laura couldn’t handle it all on her own anymore. She called her family over for moral support and mighty prayer.

2009 marks Jeff Hamblin’s 12th mission trip to Nicaragua with anywhere from 10-20 others from the Durant Church of Christ and 15-20 more from the Chisolm Trail Church of Christ in Duncan. Since he started going in February of 1997, he and other missionaries have focused on acute family health care, meaning they do all they can with the limited equipment and medical supplies they are allowed to carry over. Vitamins are administered to the deficient; amoxicillin to those with ear infections; minor surgery is performed when necessary; even glasses are given to those who are suffering with vision induced headaches.

They’ve even helped establish an orphanage called Los Ninos Del Ray or Children of the King, where at one time they housed more than 50 needy children.

“Imagine how difficult it would be if you had to come to me and ask me to take your baby into my orphanage because you’re 30 years old, you have 4 children, your husband is dead or ran off on you, and you know in your heart that you cannot take proper care of your baby or she’ll die.” Jeff’s eyes turn red around the edges as he describes the scenario that unfolds in my mind like a pop-up book and I can’t help but envision myself in that situation. My heart creeps up in my throat. I am 30 and have 4 children of my own.

However, the orphanage struggles under the jurisdiction of the government for the simple fact that if an abusive and/or drug addicted parent wants their child back all they have to do is tell a judge and their wish is granted. Because of this fault in the Nicaraguan political society, the orphanage is down to less than 10 children now. The others have been returned to their dysfunctional and sometimes dangerous previous home lives.

Despite the fact that for 12 years Jeff and The Church of Christ Medical Brigade have donated their time, money and professional services to the people of Nicaragua, he doesn’t consider what they’re doing as “health care”, but rather “soul care”. The purpose of the missions they serve is two-fold: To provide quality healthcare service to those that would otherwise not receive it and to provide the spiritual nourishment to those that may be spiritually starving. The gospel message Jeff and the other missionaries administer is just as important to those people as the healthcare they are receiving, and neither is taken lightly.

One of his fondest memories originates from his 2004 mission trip. A brand new mother comes in to the clinic with her husband and their 3 month old baby. The baby boy is ill and has been born with a deformity. His face is only half developed. With only one eye, half a jaw, and an ear lobe that connects nearly to his chin, the parents plead for Jeff to fix him. He is gray in color, not the vibrant pink color associated with healthy newborn babies. Jeff takes his stethoscope and listens to the boy’s heart. He hears what sounds like “a washing machine running in the boy’s chest.” The heart is a mess of holes and murmurs. Jeff sighs deeply and shakes his head, looks up into the mother’s hopeful eyes and says drearily, but as compassionately as possible as Raquel translates for him, “I can fix him for his funeral.” The parents nod, lower their eyes to look at their baby boy and the mother says something in Spanish as Raquel repeats in English, “That’s all they want.”

He performed a primitive plastic surgery on the boy and removed part of his earlobe and remedied various other abnormalities before handing the bundle of very sick little boy back to his disheartened parents.

Last year, as Jeff was walking in downtown Nicaragua, a man called at him from across the street. “Is your name Jeff?” the man asked. Befuddled, Jeff nodded. The man continued in broken English, “You perform surgery on my nephew. You remember?” Jeff coaxed more detail from the man before the memory of a small deformed little boy, gray in color, came back to his mind. “Yes, I remember. How is the family?” Jeff asked respectfully. “My nephew is alive”, said the man. Jeff felt his jaw disconnect and fall to the floor.

He got to see the man’s nephew, his former patient, shortly thereafter. What he saw amazed him. This was not the same boy. 4 years old and smiling from ear to ear. His skin was no longer gray. Jeff couldn’t resist. He took his stethoscope and listened to the boy’s heart. He then gave the stethoscope to his colleagues and demanded they listen. The “washing machine heart” had miraculously transformed into a smooth and clear rhythm.

As I listened to Jeff tell this heartwarming story I realized my eyes were bulging in disbelief and my mouth was hanging open. I couldn’t help but ask, “How did his heart fix itself?” Jeff’s response without delay: “God is good.” I mentally reprimanded myself for such a silly question and commended his simple, yet profound answer.

God IS good. He takes care of those who take care of His children. The situation in 2007 could have been as detrimental to Jeff and Raquel as the “washing machine heart” could have been to the 3 month old little boy. Instead, both walked away with their lives. The old saying, ‘What goes around comes around’ resonates in my head right now.

Jeff was able to call his wife that horrific night about 3 hours after his ordeal and put her mind at ease about her husband’s welfare. The scary situation in the turnabout has obviously not deterred him or others from going on their mission trips and he plans on many more in the future. Jeff’s whole attitude concerning his experience stands up and says without any form of shame, ‘Anything is possible with a little faith, hope and heart’


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