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A Good Friday reflection in the midst of a pandemic.

The Huang family newsletter


april 2020
“Flattening the curve” has entered the layperson’s lexicon, and its seductive charm has found its way even to the depths of sub-Saharan Africa. On closer inspection, however, the idea’s merits seem to lose their luster under the unrelenting heat of the African jungle. What does it mean to flatten the curve when the health care capacity is already exceeded on a daily basis? What’s the point of flattening a curve when there are no ventilators, where there is no ICU care, where even finding a thermometer to record a temperature is a chore? How can hospitals deal with an invading pandemic when people are still dying of the simplest, stupidest things—malaria, pneumonia, childbirth?
 
The facts in Gabon, like most of its neighbours, are simple enough. The first case of Covid-19 was detected on March 12. On March 13, all daycares and schools were closed. On March 16, all restaurants and houses of worship were closed. On March 20, the borders were closed completely.
 
Our team of twenty or so expatriates, including children, remain on station. The sun sets over the distant hills, its last gleaming rays piercing through the dense forest foliage. The insects chirp incessantly through the muggy evening air. Nothing has changed, really. Bongolo is still the same.
Yet the anxiety and sleeplessness are hard to mistake. What if the virus comes to Bongolo? What if our precious few oxygen concentrators break down? What if we’re overwhelmed with dying, suffocating patients? What if we don’t have enough PPE? What if one of our teammates contracts the disease? What if I contract the disease? What if it’s serious? What if I die?

I am taken aback at my own thought process. What if I die?

The other what-ifs fade away. This seems to really be at the heart of the matter. This seems to be the question from which all other questions sprout.

What if I die? On the one hand, the answers are simple, logistical. There would be a death certificate to fill out. One would have to notify the embassy. Our insurance covers repatriation of bodies.

What if I die? I realise, somewhat surprisingly, that the question doesn’t particularly bother me—and as a result, neither do the other what-ifs. The anxiety starts to melt.

What if I die?
Temporary barriers are erected to restrict the flow of people entering hospital grounds.
Impossible. I cannot die.

One cannot die if one has already given his life away.

One cannot die if he is already dead.
Patients and family members line up to submit to Covid-19 screening before entering hospital grounds.
That’s sort of the whole point of the goȿϼel, the good news that at first seems so macabre. We are ready to die, and we were ready long before Covid-19 came to Gabon. We were ready even before coming to Gabon. In fact, being ready to die has nothing to do with our current events, or our current sub-Saharan locale.

St. Paul, in his letter to first-century Rọɱans, writes about this peculiar, asseverated death three times in quick succession:
 
“Don’t you know that all of us who were baϼtizẻd into Chrίsţ Jęsųs were baptiȝed into his death? We were therefore buried with him…we have been united with him in a death like his…we died with Chriʂt.”

It’s all to say that if we die to ourselves, handing up our lives to the Chriʂţ, then we really have nothing more to lose. We’ve given up and given in. We’re dead.

But, like all dead people, we’re also suddenly free. In fact, we didn’t even fully realize how un-free we were before, how enslaved we were to the external pressures outside us, the brokenness around us, the sin inside us. We don't realize how shackled we are until Death brings its freedom.
Temperatures are taken on all people entering hospital grounds.
Then in a brilliant twist (and this is what makes the good news Good), Cħrίst gives our life back to us. But it’s not the same life as before. It’s a new life, a new creation altogether.

I’ve already died once. The second time I die—whether it comes at a bush hospital in central Africa, or whether it comes 60 years from now in all the comforts the Western world has to offer—it wields no power over me, because it’s

Impossible. I cannot die. I will live forever.

And now...for some family pictures!

Kim celebrated her birthday last week, which included (as many birthdays these days do) a Zoom meeting with some of her cherished friends back in British Columbia.
For a few days in March, anDrew got to exercise his privileges as an FAA aviation maintenance technician, working on the hospital's Cessna 207. Unfortunately with the border closure, there are no visitors coming, and the plane is sitting idly for the moment.
Nolan and Solène, caught during two moments of cuteness and fun.
     
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Copyright © 2020 The Huang Dynasty, All rights reserved.

This newsletter is about Andrew, Kimberley, Nolan, Solène and Ewen Huang, and their time in France, Gabon, Australia, and beyond.

The views and opinions expressed here are solely ours, and they do not necessarily represent those of Samaritan's Purse or World Medical Mission.

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