Sarah Thebarge's new book Well made me mad. And happy. It made me think and it made me want to take Ms. Thebarge aside and explain a few things. It made me shocked at my own excess. This book frustrated the heck out of me and I loved parts of it enough to reread it again.
The book is tag lined "Healing our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa". It is a retelling of Sarah Thebarge's three month medical mission trip to Hospital of Hope in Togo, West Africa. Sarah is a gifted writer. She is able to describe people and medical prognoses to make the reader understand. Sarah is also a deeply passionate and expressive person. I am quite positive she's a joy to have as a friend.
I loved the book though because Sarah captured perfectly the culture shock and anger at American excess when children in Africa die of preventable diseases. She stated at one point she has quit asking why God allows suffering and now she's asking why WE allow suffering. When I got home from my ten days in Africa (pitiful compared to her 3 months and nothing compared with the people who work and serve and love continuously) I was quite simply ticked. My husband had to haul me out of a Peet's Coffee before I caused a scene in confronting a spoiled mom who was returning her iced mocha because she said it was "icky". Icky is not the luxury of $5 coffee. Icky is water which is full of live parasites and having no other option to bathe your children. This book is a challenge to choose to invest in giving live, hope, love and a future to the most improvised communities. It is easy to look the other way. This book is a gorgeous invitation to look closely and then to get involved.
I was also frustrated with this book. Ms. Thebarge made it clear she did not agree with the management of the mission or with the approach of many of the life time missionaries in the area. My concern comes from a commitment to striving for unity across the Christian faith. I cringed at how Ms. Thebarge described people who had given their entire lives to this hospital, people she had judged almost immediately. While Ms. Thebarge may very well have some valid points of contention I wondered if she had shared these with her hosts prior to including the sections in her book. I think perhaps Sarah has not yet come to peace with some of her trip and I wish those chapters had been healed a bit before throwing the story to the world. I think we in the faith do better when we work out our differences and are able to show grace and love to each other despite disagreement. I completely understand disagreement. My hope though is there is more to this story - a chapter where Sarah and others wrestled through hard conversations and had relationship at the end.
Well is a book which grapples with deep pain. It faces questions of disparity, of disease, of loss and sacrifice. It also contained clear calls to love deeply and to watch for opportunities to make a difference. I loved scenes where simple songs or staying present made a difference. Most importantly, it paints a picture of a Creator who loves His people. This book made me want to know God better. The book offers no easy answers and acknowledges brokenness but it also taught the lesson of love well. Love isn't trite. But it is powerful. And perhaps powerful is the best word to describe Sarah's book. Messy and painful but powerful. It was not an easy read. But I recognized myself in the pages and it made me want to go back to Africa.
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