Our Top 50 Blessings & Challenges
Seeing God’s Hand Through The Troubles
By Steven Shephard, DO
“Count your blessings name them one by one / Then it will surprise you what the Lord has done,” says the old hymn.
During a temporary period of doubt and discouragement (this happens somewhat cyclically on the mission field, we’ve learned), Kari Jo and I decided we would each make lists of all the bad things we wouldn’t have had to endure if we had not come to Nigeria. Afterward, we would make lists of as many things as we could think of that were good things we have experienced or gained because we chose to follow God’s call for us to move to Nigeria.
It was encouraging to us to see we both had much longer lists of positive things that have come from being here than negative. And it was a fruitful exercise for us both to count out the good and the bad and to realize that God has been leading us the whole time and has greatly blessed us – something that can be hard to see unless you count your blessings “one by one.” We would encourage you also to find one way or another to consider all the blessings God has put in your lives.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits
If you are interested in what our lists looked like, you can see greatly pared-down versions below. We decided to share our “Top 25 Blessings and Challenges” as way of sharing the joys of seeing God caring for us and molding us more and more into His image. It may surprise you what the Lord has done!
25 Things We Wouldn’t Have Had to Endure if We Hadn’t Come to Nigeria
- Learning what malaria feels like – 12 times for our family!
- Being shot at repeatedly at close range after encountering an armed robbery in progress on the road – Yet miraculously, neither my driver nor I, nor the car, were hit!
- Street wars in our city- Who tells their kids they can go play outside, “just come in when the gunshots get closer?” Are we the only ones?
- More bombs in the city than we can count- Can your kids tell the difference between the sound of dynamite used at a construction site and a bomb? Ours can!
- Grieving with employees, who become like family, over the deaths of so many of their family members
- The deaths of two of our employees- in two months’ time, no less!
- Watching patients die who you know could have been saved elsewhere- with different drugs or equipment or monitoring.
- Patients who die because of a curse– after struggling with a sickness that didn’t make sense medically and a death that just didn’t add up and the family finally says, “By the way, one of our neighbors said they put a curse on her.”
- Spiritual attacks- our house, our children, our lives … all have been under attack at times in crazy ways to try to chase us out of the country.
- The arrest of a new believer due to his conversion –after which he was threatened with execution, had all of his possessions stolen and was disowned by his family
- Language barriers- That’s not what I said … OR … that’s exactly and literally what I said, but not what I meant!
- Language blunders – Thought I said: “I am not sure.” Really said: “I never touched her.”
- Not being around for the birth of a nephew and a niece- then not meeting them until several years later.
- Needle sticks with HIV-positive patients –
- The horrible side effects of four weeks of antiretrovirals to try to prevent becoming HIV-positive after said needle sticks – though it is a great weight loss program.
- Loss of identity- Not identity theft, but loss of an internal definition of who you are. Many times over.
- Broken hearts from having to say goodbye- so many times to so many people in so many places.
- Realizing we are definitely outsiders in our host country, but also we are now outsiders in our passport country – Where is home?!
- Missing friends and family- yet knowing there is no way we can go see them.
- Listening to rats running back and forth in the ceiling all night- Are they playing a soccer match up there?
- The “excitement” of driving Nigerian roads- Four lanes of traffic speeding down a two-lane street? No problem!
- Fears when going to the market- Will there be another bombing today? If there is, which way is my fastest way out?
- Loooooooooooooooong programs- Where else do you show up at a Christmas party and get handed a full-page agenda?
- Packing and moving. And packing and moving. And packing and moving-Each time across an ocean.
- The fear of furry caterpillars- Those little stinkers sting! Poor Cyrus’ hand swelled up to twice normal size!
25 Great Things We Would Not Have Been Able to Experience if We HAD NOT Come to Nigeria
- Seeing the dead come to life – For real.
- Lives changed by Jesus Christ and a real hope for eternal life- One man had been a mass murderer of Christians before becoming one himself, then risked everything to take that message back to his own people.
- Getting to baptize our boys – in a cement tub in someone’s yard.
- Seeing people healed without treatment or surgery – just prayer – in ways completely unexplainable by medicine – If I ever write a book on African medicine, at least one chapter will be called “Sai Ad’dua” (meaning “Just Prayer”).
- Getting to represent other people, families, and churches as an ambassador of Christ and His love to a people across the world- Bringing Bibles, food, encouragement, medical care and friendship to churches, individuals, widows, etc. – ALL from our supporters!
- Seeing true generosity and hospitality – despite profound poverty in many cases.
- The absolute beauty of Nigeria! – New landscape, new birds, new flowers, new trees, new fruits… to enjoy in a new country.
- Eating locusts, termites, goat – and other animal body parts we never would have eaten otherwise.
- Opportunities to teach the next generation of doctors who will lead Nigeria.
- Learning our true identity in Christ – and the clearer sense of purpose that comes with it.
- Tangible examples of God’s protection in our lives- and a better understanding of our home culture’s distorted sense of what security is/isn’t.
- That smile that comes to a local person’s face when you speak to him or her in his or her own language (Hausa).
- Gratitude for ANY water, or for having the electricity on at ALL.
- A real understanding of the longing for Heaven – and a real sense of being aliens in our own land.
- Knowing how to tie a wicked head tie- That girl’s got skills! Nobody ever believes KJ does it herself.
- Deep encouragement coming from our supporters in the US.
- Finding out how driving can improve your prayer life- We never knew you could pray so fervently while driving until we tried driving in Nigeria!
- The importance and value of family time found in a simple lifestyle – And that a simple life can mean a more fulfilled life!
- The feeling of touching an elephant’s trunk.
- Learning how to pee in the bush- Kari Jo. The rest of us already knew how 😉
- Things we’ve been able to learn from Nigerians- Like how to really pray.
- Opportunities to travel around the world!- And having friends almost everywhere.
- Learning that investment in relationships ministers more (and matters more) than “what we came here to do” – Shocking. And humbling.
- The joy of listening to our kids talk with neighbor kids while playing and realizing their accent perfectly matches the local children.
- Opportunities to share hope with people who have never heard about Jesus!
Thanks be to God for the opportunities to live and grow in His service in Nigeria!
– Dr. Shephard, a MedSend grant recipient and OB-GYN surgeon, serves in Nigeria with his wife Kari Jo and 3 children.
Healthcare remains the only form of access as a Christian witness in many countries.
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