Friday, October 9, 2015

That time I almost died in Peru...

Hunched over a big rock, I couldn't stop throwing up.  I didn't understand.  A day earlier, I'd felt maybe the strongest I'd felt in a long time.  We were on a mission trip in Peru to reach people living in the high elevations of the Andes with the Gospel.  Our team had just climbed more than 3,000 feet up in vertical to around 14,000 feet in elevation.  I felt amazing.  The training I put in was paying off so I thought.

Sure, I didn't train as much as I'd have liked.  There was the support trip down to the South for a month.  Being at sea level is no place to train your body to be above 14,000 feet in elevation.  And train during that time, I didn't.  I just tried to not gain any weight with all the fried food the South is known for.  I actually lost weight during that time.  What can I say, we ate a lot of cheese and crackers for lunch and dinner trying to keep expenses down.

After getting back to Colorado from that trip, I wanted to train...but couldn't.  Unfortunately, there was a nasal surgery that needed to happen.  I was down for another week with that.  But after the week of healing was up and I was cleared by the doctor, I started training hard.

I ran a lot with my wife, Rachel, near where we live at 8,100 feet in elevation.  I hate running but knowing I was doing it for a mission trip and God's glory made it not as terrible.  My wife and I also did a lot of training hikes around our area to get as high in elevation as we could.  I felt like despite our month in the South and my nasal surgery, we made up for the time away from working out with training extremely hard in the month leading up to the mission trip.

So why was I now in this terrible position?  Did I have altitude sickness?  It couldn't be.  We were only 6,000 feet or so higher than where I live.  Was the training we did not adequate?  Did I never really recover from the support raising trip to the South?  Questions swirled in my foggy mind.

My bad health could probably all be traced back to the day before.  It was a combination of things that all led to something much worse.  And then that would turn into something even worse.  The snowball was rolling down the hill, getting bigger, and gaining speed faster and faster.  That is, until it hit a wall and exploded.  This Wall to be exact.

The day before, our guides had persuaded us to drink coca tea.  Yes, the same coca that is used to make cocaine, but in tea form, it doesn't get you high, nor is it addictive.  It just helps people adjust better to high elevations.  We didn't just drink a cup though.  We were filling our Nalgenes with it and drinking it like Gatorade.  I went through two Nalgenes of it that day.

The problem is that I'm allergic to most green veggies.  Yes, it's real.  And no, it's not just that I don't like green veggies.  My wife has actually made me sick by trying to blend them into dinner without me knowing.  She was just trying to help me be healthy and prove that it was all in my head.  I would have loved for it to be all in my head but unfortunately, it wasn't.

Now, I've never had issues with teas but I've also never drank them in such quantities at one time.  But basically, a lot of teas and green veggies are similar.  I'm also slightly allergic to coconut, and the cake I ate that day had coconut baked into it.  Not much but a little.  Then the soup we had that night had some green veggies in it.  I only took a small taste of it before realizing there were green veggies in it.  All of that together was enough to cause an issue.

That night, I couldn't sleep.  Our tent was set up on a slope and there was a pretty big rock under where I was sleeping.  I spent the whole night sliding off my sleeping pad down to one side of the tent and trying to get back to my pad.  It's a pretty frustrating situation.  I also spent the night shivering...maybe because it was pretty cold or maybe because of an allergic reaction that was starting to take place in my body.  Probably a lot of both actually.

When the sun finally came up the next morning, I had no energy.  I figured it was because I hadn't slept.  I tried rolling my sleeping pad up and had to pause every few seconds.  I tried putting my sleeping bag away and collapsed to my elbows and knees.  It was so difficult.  I took my heart rate and oxygen saturation reading and there weren't terrible but they weren't great.  My heart rate was around 110 and my O2 saturation was at 88%.  Again, not terrible for being up above 14,000 feet but still lower than I had ever been during my many times above that elevation.  The lowest I had been previously was 91% saturation and that was after a hard climb.

I wasn't too worried.  I just needed some food, some morning coffee and my energy levels would be fine.  The only problem was that the more I moved around, the worse I felt.  I was thirsty, though, so I drank as much water as I possibly could.  I literally couldn't quench my thirst.  I thirsted for more water than my stomach could hold.  The high elevation we were at was the last place I wanted to be dehydrated so I took in what I could.  By the time I made it to our dining tent, I didn't want to put anything more in me.  I was struggling to keep whatever was inside me down.  I needed food for energy but I declined.  I just couldn't at that point.  Instead, I watched everyone else have a great breakfast.

With me not having breakfast, it was becoming apparent to the rest of the team that I wasn't feeling well.  When we stepped outside the tent and started getting ready to continue our journey, team member Jordan asked if he could pray for me.  Never one to turn down prayer, I thought excitedly, "Sure, why not?"  Though physically, I probably seemed a little less enthusiastic.

He prayed for my health, and that if anything I had eaten previously was in me causing problems, that the Lord would get it out even if that meant throwing up or making a bathroom run.  If I had had more energy, I might have slapped him for that last part.  I thought, "What are you doing?  Don't pray that!  That's a terrible thing to pray!"  Jordan could have just prayed, "Lord, snap your fingers and just make Mike better."  Asking for a simple miracle would have been fine.  No need to bring up throwing up.

After he was done praying, he asked if I wanted some Pepto.  I initially declined.  I would just power through and be fine.  But after a minute or two, I changed my mind and took him up on his offer.  Why decline something if it would make me feel better?  It seemed stupid not to take it.

Stupid or not, I took it and reaped the consequences.  I tried to chew the tablet but the taste was enough to send me over the edge.  I found a large rock and threw up probably ten to fifteen times behind it.  It was all of dinner from the night before undigested.  After I was done throwing up, I had to make a run to the bathroom (also known as a hole in the ground) as well.  Fun times.  At that point, Jordan told my wife, "So I may have just prayed for all of this to happen..."  Thanks, Jordan.

By the time I was finished cleansing my system, there were multiple options for the team depending on how I was feeling.  Originally, we had an eight-hour day of hiking ahead of us.  It easily could have been ten or eleven hours, though.  Another option was to drop down to Chalhua, the town we would be finishing our trek in many days later.  We'd use that as our base camp and do outreach to the communities surrounding that town.  It was lower in elevation, maybe 11,000 feet, and would have allowed me to recover.  Our guides wanted to bring me all the way back to the mountain city of Huaraz at just above 10,000 feet to recover and be close to a hospital if needed.  That would have essentially ended the mission before it even really started.  In my mind, that was not even an option.

Our last option was to make our way to a possible camping location four hours away.  It would be higher in elevation, we were told by a little over 300 feet, and add an extra day to the trek but would basically break up what would have been a really long and hard day of trekking.  In actuality, it was 300 meters.  (We wouldn't find that out until we got back to the States, though.)  That's a big difference but it unfortunately got lost in translation as can happen a lot when you're in a foreign country and don't speak the native language fluently.  It would put camp at around 15,200 feet.  With my health, to choose that would have been a major mistake and a very poor choice medically.

Now, the guides were sure I had altitude sickness and wanted to take me down lower.  Rachel assured them that the symptoms I was showing were consistent with when I have allergic reactions to certain foods.  My wife and I both figured I'd be better by the next day like what normally happens...though normally, I'm not trekking around 14,000 to nearly 16,000 feet in elevation.  I'm normally in bed trying to rest in the pain and discomfort.  Occasionally, that includes a trip to the hospital and an IV to get rehydrated.

It was a really tough call to make especially considering last year.  On the last trip, team member Haley ended up getting violently ill.  God used it to split the team up.  Part of the team would head back to the villages with Haley.  The other part would go deeper into the mountains.  Both would minister and cover more ground for the Kingdom than we would have if the team had stayed together.  It also allowed each team member to use their gifting and be used of the Lord which wouldn't have happened if the team had stayed together.  Within a day of the split, Haley immediately got better and each team saw the Lord do something big giving confirmation that each team member was where God wanted them.

Was this one of those moments?  Was God trying to steer us back to Chalhua to do ministry?  Our team was smaller this year so there would be no splitting up.  If it was God wanting us to go to Chalhua, I was probably the worst person to allow to get sick.  I'm extremely stubborn and will push on no matter what, even unto death.  It's my competitive nature.  I hate to lose.  I refuse to be beat or be held back by whatever opponent is in front of me, including illness.  Now, if Rachel had gotten as sick as I was, I would have turned the team around and headed to Chalhua immediately.  But it wasn't my wife that was sick, it was me.

Maybe this was just a spiritual attack.  We had just seen Peter, one of our cooks, get saved the afternoon before.  I was there when it happened and was able to pray over him and give him advice in his new walk.  Was this retribution from the enemy for that?  Was it to keep us from pushing forward and gaining new ground for the Kingdom?

Though Chalhua was an option, it made less sense to go to that village.  There was a new missionary from the States in a nearby village who was starting to reach out to all the villages around him.  Those would include villages we would probably go to.  That wasn't the point of the trip though.  That wasn't our mission.  Our mission was to go to the places other missionaries can't get to, to go places others haven't yet been and probably won't go to due to the remoteness.  We were open to what God wanted but going back to Chalhua just didn't fit with what we felt called to do.  That wasn't why God brought us to the area.  But with my health, was it really a reality to do anything but drop in elevation?

These were all things my foggy mind had to weigh at that time.  I was feeling a little better.  I still had no energy but at least I didn't feel like I was going to throw up.  Despite Jordan telling me I didn't need to be a hero, I decided the team should push on to the place fours hours away.  I was not trying to be a hero.  I was just being stubborn.  I wasn't going to let the enemy knock our mission of course. If he was attacking me this hard, there must be something big he was wanting to keep us from.  There were people who needed to hear about Jesus ahead of us.  There were people who needed God's Word.  I wasn't going to let my sickness keep us from those people.  The Lord would give me the strength to get to our next camp, and I'd be fine by the next morning.  I just needed to get there and get some good sleep.

I may have been a little naive as to how tough the day would be on me.  Well, naive and misinformed with the mistranslation of the actual elevation gain.  The day would be brutal.  Thankfully, the team would divide up my things and carry them so that I wouldn't have to.  Carrying a heavy pack would have made it even more brutal.

I started out somewhat okay hiking.  I made it about two or three hours.  Every step became tougher and tougher.  To become so weak so quick was quite humbling.  I was a man who could ascend quickly and lead the pack if I wanted...but now, I was literally picking rocks twenty feet up the trail just trying to make it to the chosen rock.  After catching a short rest, I'd pick another rock twenty feet farther just trying to make it a little further one rock at a time.  It was almost like trying to move through wet cement.  I got a taste of what it must feel like to climb Everest.  It felt like my body was reacting in the same way bodies do in the death zone, yet I was only just under 15,000 feet in elevation.

Most of the time, I had one phrase going through my head.  "The Lord is a lamp unto my feet."  It was repeating over and over.  Now, lamps don't illuminate a whole lot but they illuminate enough to keep a person moving forward.  That verse was never more real to me than in that moment.  I couldn't move fast or far but at least I could push further little by little, bit by bit.  The Lord was giving me strength twenty steps at a time.  That doesn't seem like much but it was just enough.  It was what I needed at the time.  Looking back, anything beyond twenty steps was really just lost in what seemed like a fog, lacking any kind of real focus, visually.

Despite me still moving, I was slowing the team down more and more.  Something was going to have to change.  My pace was turning what was supposed to be a shorter hike into something much longer.

Before we even started, I was offered the option of riding a horse to our next camping spot.  Naturally, I declined opting to tough it out.  My hope was that after clearing my system out of whatever allergen was causing my sickness, I'd bounce back to normal once I got some blood flowing and my heart exercising.  Adrenaline would start pumping and kickstart my body back to normalcy.  It had worked in the past under other circumstances.  Maybe it would work this time.

But unfortunately, it didn't.  So with us still an hour away and me moving in slow-motion, we finally made the decision to put me on horseback.  As Jordan and I talked, we came to the conclusion that all this new stress on my body was not going to help me heal any quicker.  At this point, the less stress was going to be better.  The quicker I arrived at the camping spot and could rest, the quicker my body could recovery and get healthy.  There was no need to push it anymore.

As our donkey team passed on by, we asked if I could take them up on the horse offer.  They obliged but there was a catch.  The horses were already loaded down.  We'd have to wait for them to unload at our new camp and then come back and pick me up.  Being that the whole process was going to take awhile, I kept moving forward until they could bring the horse back.  This would keep the team progressing and keep me warm as it was a pretty cold day.

I may not have shown it but I was pretty excited when the horse finally showed up.  That excitement died pretty quickly, though, when reality hit me.  I crawled on top of the horse only to realize there wasn't really a saddle, just some cloth.  There were no real stirrups, just a rope.  And there was nothing solid to hold onto, just the horse's hair.

I was basically going to ride this horse bareback.  On flat ground and in good health, that would be no big deal but we weren't on flat ground, and I wasn't healthy.  We were on a mountainside.  If I thought the trail was bad at the moment, it was only going to get worse.  This was going to be interesting to say the least.

In my head, I had my idea of how the trail was going to be.  We were going to ascend a little further and then the trail would flatten out until we made it to our camping spot.  At this point, I could even see, when I looked up, where I thought the trail would flatten.  It was close.  If they were going to put me on a horse with no saddle, it had to be pretty safe and mellow.  It would be short and easy.  We'd be there in no time.  Then I could rest.

The only problem was that I was completely wrong on just about every aspect.  It would not be short.   It was much longer than I anticipated.  It was probably another hour and a half or two hours.  It was only supposed to be an hour for those on foot but it took them much longer as well.  It would not flatten out.

Once we reached a certain elevation, there were a lot of rocky up-and-downs between us and camp.  It was not easy.  It was not mellow, nor safe.  Horses don't do well on slick rocks.  They tend to slip a lot.  And, well, humans don't do well on horses without any saddle.  Just trying to stay on was exhausting.  I nearly fell off multiple times.  Thankfully, our cooks and now, my horse guides, put their hands up every time and held me up on the horse.  It was great that they were trying to keep me from falling off but I thought, "Who was keeping them from falling off the mountain?"  There was little to no space for them.  The last thing I wanted to do was take them with me as I fell off the horse.

The fun part was still to come as the trail became even more narrow.  Yes, even worse than before.  It didn't seem real it was so extremely narrow.  This was no place for a horse...or me to be on a horse.  One misstep and we both fall to our deaths off the side of this cliff hundreds, if not, thousands of feet down.  I'm not sure exactly how far down because looking down at that point was just a blur in my mind.  I really just had to let go of the whole situation and give it to God.  Whatever was going to happen would happen.  If it was God's will for me to die that day, so be it.  It was completely out of my control.  All I could do is hold on for dear life while hoping and praying we'd all get there safely.

As I rode the horse, different things went through my mind.  The first one was that having a sharp horse spine stabbing you in your butt crack is no fun at all...especially when you're really sick.  The second one was that I must have been crazy to get on this horse while on this trail.  Trying to hold on with my legs was just as exhausting as hiking.  I could see why Haley on the trip the year before only rode the horse for a short time while she was sick before choosing to hike again.

The final thing that came to mind were a bunch of sermons I listened to before the mission trip from Flatirons Community Church near Boulder, CO.  I listened to them on my iPod before the trip while I trained.  I always say listening to sermons while running makes running almost bearable.  The sermon series was on what to do when storms hit your life.  I laughed when listening because life was good.  There were no real storms other than our funding that was supposed to come in for the trip wasn't coming in.  Even though that funding never did come in and put us in a pretty bad spot after the trip, I figured it would eventually come in before we left.  But I wasn't worried.  I figured at the time that maybe the sermons were for me to share with someone else.  They certainly didn't apply to me.

Well, as I clung to the horse with all I had in my sickly state, now those sermons did apply.  They were seemingly prophetic to an extent.  God had been preparing me.  I was in the storm literally and figuratively, and I needed God more than ever.  Some people let storms push them away from God but had I pushed God away, I'm almost certain I would have ended up in a hospital or died.  I wouldn't have had the strength to make it through.

"God is my strength...  He is strong when I am so weak...  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me...  Be strong and courageous for the Lord God is with you..."  It seemed like I was constantly reminded of those statements throughout the day as they echoed through my head.  I had nothing left to give so God was carrying me further.  Looking at me that day, there was certainly no strength of my own that was going to get me to camp.  My reliance on God was sustained thru such a deep desperation.  I had no where else to go.  I had nowhere else to turn.  It was God or nothing at that point.  Given my options, it was an easy decision.  He has and will always be the best option.  Via con Dios!

As we pushed closer, the clouds starting lowering and it started snowing.  The closer we got, the heavier the snow became.  It was crazy.  With the landscape, the fog, the snow, and the fog in my own brain, if felt like I was not in reality anymore.  I was in a dream, a fantasy world.  I was in Middle Earth or Narnia.  It was surreal.  I was riding a horse on a cliff in the fog and snow with huge mountains all around.  Despite my physical state, it was amazing.

When we arrived at where camp should be on these huge steps of granite slick rock, we couldn't find the rest of our donkeys and horses with all of our gear.  That means we couldn't find our tents to get out of the snow storm.  At this point, we'd just have to wait for the rest of the hikers to catch up.  Once they caught up, our guide could go off and find where all of our gear was.  Until then, we'd just try and stay warm on the slick rock just under an amazing glacial lake at the foot of a huge glacier.  Needless to say, it wasn't a very warm wait.  At least I could sit though.

Soon our group arrived.  I was feeling better just sitting.  I was exhausted and could barely stay awake but it felt so good to not really have to move much.  Our guide, Edwin went off to find our gear donkeys.  People don't normally camp at this place because there aren't any good camping spots due to the granite slick rock.  We would just have to make due.  They'd choose a place near a couple of structures run by the water authority there which sends the glacial water to villages, much farther below, in aqueducts.

Unfortunately, the buildings we were going to camp by were locked up.  There were no water authority workers there at the time.  Though I didn't know it at the time, I was starting to get really pale...or maybe people were finally noticing how pale I had been.  It's hard to know.  I didn't feel it but my health was starting to decline rapidly.  It had been slowly declining all day but now, it was getting worse with speed.  The physical stress, the cold, and the high elevation was taking its toll.

Seeing my condition, our guide and cooks decided to take drastic measures.  They knew I needed to get out of the bad weather fast.  So being that it was an emergency, they grabbed a multitool and broke the locks to get into one of the buildings.  Once in, they found some old cardboard and made a bed for me to lay down on.  They even donated one of their sleeping pads for it.  It wasn't exactly a Tempurpedic mattress but at that point, I couldn't tell a difference.  It was amazing.  With Rachel's help, I was put into two sleeping bags.  Once in them, I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the warmth.

I was eventually moved to a tent after they were put up so I could get some sleep away from the noise of the group.  Before completely passing out, Rachel had me take my vitals.  My resting heart rate was over 130 and my blood oxygen had dropped to 72%.  Again, those were resting rates.  My oxygen levels were possibly even lower when we first arrived after the stress of the journey.  It's not out of the realm of reasonable possibility to think they might have been in the 60-70% zone.  Still, at those current levels, I was in trouble...though, I had no idea how much trouble I was in until returning to the States and doing some research.  I was in so much more danger than we ever realized.

After trips, I always like to look back and evaluate what happened on the trip, good and bad.  That includes looking at different health issues, figuring out why they happened, and how I can prevent them in the future.  When I got back to the States, I started looking up blood-oxygen-saturation.  What I read was pretty scary.  According to the Mayo Clinic, values of 95-100% are considered normal.  Anything under 90% is considered low which results in hypoxemia.

Looking around at other websites, I found that anything under 80% can start causing organ damage or failure.  Things like respiratory arrest and cardiac arrest can occur.  Also add stroke and brain damage into the mix.  At high elevations, terms like high altitude pulmonary (HAPE) and cerebral edema (HACE) start getting thrown around too.  Just about everywhere mentioned that you need to go see a doctor immediately if your oxygen saturation drops below 80%.  Some recommend it if it drops below 90%.  Well, at that point even at 72%, it was not an option.  We had prayer and hopefully a good night's sleep.

Thankfully, I made sure I brought Diamox on the trip as well.  Typically, you're supposed to take it before you start having issues.  It's a preventative to help fight against altitude problems before they happen.  I also had Dex on me just incase things got worse or didn't improve.  Dex is what climbers use on Everest in emergencies when people have elevation issues.  It's literally a lifesaver but for me, it was a last resort.  I wanted to see if the less harsh, in my mind, Diamox would work before taking the Dex.  I'd take Dex in the morning if I wasn't improving by then.

So why was this all happening?  To my best guess, it was all due to the allergic reaction.  When I had the allergic reaction and couldn't keep anything down, I had nothing to burn for energy.  I also quickly became very dehydrated.  Due to the dehydration, my blood thickened.  When it thickened, everything had to work a lot harder to keep me alive.  With my thickening blood and the high elevation, my oxygen levels dropped to dangerous levels.

In my condition, I wasn't going to be doing anything that night but sleeping.  I wasn't in any pain or anything.  It was just extreme exhaustion, a lack of energy I'd never felt the depths of before.  Though I may have, for a time, been heading in the direction of death, at no point did I ever think I was going to die.  I never saw my life flash before my eyes or anything like that.  At this point, I was free of stress, free of doubt, and free of worry.  I was floating in a sea of deep, euphoric peace.  This was just a small setback.  God would get me through it and have me better by morning.  There were no other possibilities in my mind.

As the team ate, I fell in and out of sleep while lying in the tent.  Rachel eventually came back with a bunch of coats the team had given her to keep me warm.  I was doubled up in sleeping bags because my body couldn't regulate my temperature enough to keep me warm.  Being that one of the sleeping bags I was using was Rachel's, she could now cover me in warm coats so that she could use her bag.  I was so blessed to be on a team with such caring people.  When all was said and done, I probably slept for around 14-15 hours.

The next morning, I awoke feeling much better.  I was still pretty weak but I actually had at least a little energy.  I took my vitals and my heart rate was much lower around 100 beats-per-minute and my oxygen levels were up to 86%.  Things were looking up.  I was recovering.  There would be no need to head back down in elevation.  We could continue our mission, thank the Lord.  I remember later writing in my journal what had been echoing thru my thoughts thru this ordeal, "God is strong when we are weak!"  How could I not be reminded of it over and over again?  It was so true.  It was so real to me.  God was whispering into my life a great encouragement.

It was a really cold morning so I rushed to breakfast for some warm liquids.  Though I still didn't have an appetite, I ate a little bread with jelly on it anyway.  I was just needing easy calories at that point.  Thankfully, I was able to keep everything down.  It was a huge next step in recovery.  I still had a long way to go, and the road ahead wasn't going to be easy but at least, I was heading in the right direction.  I would just take it slow from there on out and try not to push myself too much.

After packing up, we moved out.  We had another high pass ahead of us.  Thankfully, we were already so high up that we didn't have much higher we could go.

As we hiked, snow covered the sides of the trail while we passed by beautiful clear blue lakes.  The mountains and glaciers had finally appeared out of the clouds to reflect God's great glory; His creation so beautiful!  It was as if God was showing off.  As our lungs grasped for what little oxygen was in the air, the sights before us left many of us speechless in silent awe and praise.

Not long after we had crossed the pass and started descending, we decided that since it was Sunday, we should have a church service.  Nothing like having church on a mountainside at 15,000 feet.  There, we broke out the backpacker guitar and sang worship songs in English and also Spanish so that our Peruvian team members could join in.  Such a blessing when two cultures can come and worship together under one God.  It was a great experience.

After worship, we went over our trip devotional for the day and discussed it.  One of the questions it posed to us was "Where had we seen God working lately?"  We all went around and shared, and then it came to Peter, the cook.  He looked at me and said: "What I see before me is a miracle.  It's a miracle that you are better.  God healed you.  We went up in elevation.  You shouldn't be healthy now.  You shouldn't be able to hike.  I've never seen someone up here get healthy that quickly."

Now, I hadn't completely recovered.  It would takes weeks of being home before I really felt close to normal.  It seemed like forever for my energy levels to return to where they should be.  Not only did it beat me down physically, but also mentally.  My brain felt foggy for weeks after being back.  It really took away my mental toughness as well.  That toughness that allows you to keep pushing thru even though you hit the wall hours ago.  I never thought I could lose that so quickly.  It would take a long time to get back.

As I thought about it though, I realized that it truly was a miracle.  The team prayed over me fervently and I was healed.  God had brought me from possible organ failure and maybe even death to being able to again function for what God had called us to Peru to do.  God had brought me a long way.

By that night, my vitals were still improving with oxygen levels of 90% and my resting heart rate was 91 beats-per-minute.  By the next day, my heart rate was fully normal and my oxygen levels were back up at 96%.  Praise God!

Most importantly, I was healthy enough to share the Gospel.  When we'd get extremely tired after a long day on the trail, I would always say to myself: "We're not here to lay in our tents.  We're here to share the Gospel!  Get up and go!"  Well, I could again get up.  I could again go.  I was functional and healed up plenty.  I wasn't near death laying in my tent anymore.  I was out on the trail and able to share the Gospel with anyone God brought our way.  The team prayed and God delivered.  I have no problem calling that a miraculous recovery.

For Peter, he was seeing a miracle right before his eyes after two days of being a Christian.  God was using the whole ordeal to cement his faith.  Now, I don't ever want to go through that again but if God is going use it to build Peter's faith, or to get His Word to those who don't have it, or to line up divine appointments for people to come to salvation, then it was totally worth it.  I'm just hoping that next time, God will work it out in a much easier and more comfortable way.  You know, snap His fingers or something and just make it happen.  That would be just fine by me.

But God had His own plan for our trip.  I got sick, our team prayed, and He answered those prayers.  Because of those answered prayers, our team was able to continue on our journey to reach people who had never been reached before with the Gospel.  And because I got sick, our schedule changed.  We met so many people that we wouldn't have met had our schedule not changed.  Many wouldn't have gotten saved at that time.  Many wouldn't have received the Word of God with the New Testaments we gave them.

Rual was a great example.  Rual was a young man who had just became a Christian four months before.  We met him as we were trying to do outreach.  We were trying to find a place to cross a river which was in our way from reaching a lot of people that were on the other side.  We walked up and down the banks for what seemed like forever with no luck.  There were no bridges or any other safe places to cross for us, and it was getting late.  We were just about ready to call it a night and head back to dinner with most of our team thinking there was a closed door in front of us.  We should probably just be back resting as our guides suggested originally after a monster of a day of hiking.

Literally seconds before we turned to head back to camp, I spotted a guy about to cross the river.  I pointed him out to the team and mentioned that maybe this was our open door.  Maybe this was our safe crossing.  After watching him cross, it was clear this wasn't going to be our safe way across at that moment.  But it would be in the future.  It would be God's open door to the people on the other side.  It would be His safe crossing to reach those people.

Let me explain.  When we saw Rual cross, our team went over to him and began a conversation with him.  We found out, as I said before, that he had just become a Christian.  We found out that he was going to a church down in a town twenty minutes away by foot.  He told us that no one other than the pastor in his church had a Bible despite the congregation's deepest desires to have God's Word.  Lastly, we discovered that Rual felt called to be a missionary or pastor to the people in the valley we were in.

Talk about a divine appointment.  Through our meeting with him, not only were we able to encourage and pray with him, we were able to equip Rual with the materials needed to reach those people on the other side that we couldn't get to.  Our team wouldn't be able to reach those people on the other side of the river but God was going to use Rual to do it.  In sports terms, we weren't the ones putting the ball in the net but we were certainly getting the assist.  God was paving the way for those on the other side of the river to hear the Gospel.

On top of that, our team was also able to equip his church with New Testaments for almost every member so that they could not only equip themselves with God's teachings but also those throughout the town they lived in.

We were super stoked.  People like to say that God works in mysterious ways and to an extent, He does.  But to me, He more so works in awesome ways, at least that's what stands out in my mind.  Seeing the way God works really is just awesome.  It leaves me in awe the way He reaches out to people and draws them near to Him.  Throughout the trip, people tended to either come to us or be right in our path at the perfect time.  We really had no need to go out looking for them.  God always seemed to bring them right to our team.  Even with Rual, yes we went out trying to reach people but when we were about to give up in failure, God brought the guy right to where we were standing.  Truly, God was orchestrating our path thru sickness and health bringing divine appointment after divine appointment our way.  God was moving right before our very eyes.

We had been so blessed in our ministry but it came at a cost.  For me, I had never seen so many divine appointments on a trip.  I had also never felt so many spiritual attacks...and they had never come so hard at me.  You start thinking there is something wrong with you.  Throughout the trip, thoughts would creep in of: "Why isn't God protecting me this time?  Why am I here?  Was I not supposed to come on this trip?  Is that why God is allowing me to be attacked like this?"  So many negative thoughts and questions went through my mind.  And I didn't have answers for them.

As I reflected on the trip during the ride back to Lima and the plane flights home, I listened to an audiobook on the life of Hudson Taylor.  It was there that God began to answer some of those questions for me.

When I looked at Hudson Taylor's life, his ministry was full of spiritual attacks and terrible things happening to him.  By our standards in today's world, we'd probably say he was almost always underfunded.  He lost to death multiple family members at young ages.  There was sickness, physical attacks, and spiritual attacks.  He saw it all and pretty much sacrificed just about everything. But still, he pressed on for the Gospel.  He didn't let it hold him back or chase him out of the mission field for the rest of life.  He would recover, he'd overcome, and he'd jump right back in as soon as possible.  He fought the good fight and didn't let Satan scare or intimidate him into a life of retreat.

For me, getting sick on the trip was not the first or the last spiritual attack waged on me during the trip.  There was a lot.  I've never felt so many directed at me while on a trip.  But I wasn't alone.  Everyone on the team saw spiritual attacks on the trip.  I actually felt better when I heard that.  It wasn't focused directly at me.  That was just the cost of doing business on this trip for our team.  God was doing amazingly huge things thru our team and Satan was going to try and stop or disrupt that the best he could.

Whether you see spiritual attacks or not, that has no bearing on whether you were called to a place.  You can't let it discourage you from doing ministry.  It's not a litmus test for if you're called to a ministry or not.  If you're doing successful ministry, you're going to see attacks.  In reality, if I'm not seeing any attacks, I might be worried that I'm not really making an impact for the Kingdom of God.  We have to know that attacks will come and be ready when they do.  Why do you think that most of the armor of God we are called to put on in Ephesians is defensive gear?  Because we're going to be attacked.

Despite the attacks our team encountered in Peru, God was doing great things.  I'm guessing that's why we got hit so hard...and really when I look at what other missionaries have endured throughout the ages, we got off pretty easy.  But still, when you're in the moment, it's feels pretty terrible.

It's not fun when it happens but God can give us the strength to get through.  When you get knocked down, get back up.  Pray a lot.  Don't give up and turn away from what God is calling you to do.  Be strong and courageous in weathering the attack.  Don't be discouraged but encouraged.  God might just be in the process of doing something awesome and amazing!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, thank you for sharing your journey, your life and all that you went through. These verses came to me as I was reading through all of this in 2 Corinthians 4:8-12 , 8we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12So death works in us, but life in you. Thanks Mike for sharing and God seemed to know all along what His plan and purposes were in this trip.