“God does not work miracles and grant favors by means
of some statutes so these statutes may be held in higher
esteem than others, but so he may awaken the dormant devotion
and affection of the faithful through his wonderful works.”
– St. John of the Cross
Just between you, me, and the lamppost, I don’t keep up much with what is trending in North America. Weeks, months, may go by without my ever hearing about or thinking about whatever is being talked about on the morning news shows up in the USA, or anywhere else for that matter. I guess “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” down here. By the way, is Walter Cronkite still the anchorman on the CBS evening news? (just kidding)
Nevertheless, I was recently reading a US Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Research Center. Did you know that 80% of US Americans believe in Miracles? I find that somehow both surprising and encouraging. From reading the details of the survey, though, it seems that the more civilized of the highly civilized world tend to think of miracles in terms of images of TV evangelist hucksters or of a Charlton Heston Moses with the Red Sea parting, and the last miracle they tentatively hoped for was that they would somehow ace that big final they hadn’t studied for. In general, the higher your net worth, the higher your degree, the higher your social standing, credit score, grocery bill or Instagram following, the less one seems to need a miracle, and the less often you actually encounter one.
But I can tell you first hand that out here in the uncivilized world, where we know we need them just to get by, we look for some minor miracle daily. And, sure enough, they happen.
Now with a statement like that & unlike the Pew Survey, I think I should define my terms. I’ll start with the best definition I can find: “Miracles are works done by God outside the order usually observed in things” — Thomas Aquinas
I can do no better than that. And, being the deeper-than-average thinker that he was, Aquinas went on to delineate three types of miracles:
(1) Those things which only God can do and which nature cannot do (such as the creation of something from nothing, or the sun going backwards in the sky).
(2) Those things which could be natural, but which are not in the usual order (for example, sight is natural, but not, in its normal operation, after being blind).
(3) Those things which could be natural, but which are without the usual principles (for example, a crop of potatoes is natural, but not without planting potatoes).
The first kind of miracle, such as the Creation of the Universe: I’ll go out on a limb here and hazard a guess that those would be pretty rare events.
But the second and third kinds of miracles… we see quite a lot of those at Loma de Luz, far more than I have ever seen anywhere else. You get to where you rather expect them. I’ll tell you of just one from just the other day. First, though, I would like to suggest an addition to Aquinas’s list. You might consider it audacious of me to just brazenly start rearranging the intellectual furniture of one of the greatest minds in the history of the church…You might be right. Still, I contend that there should be at least a fourth kind of miracle added to Aquinas’s list: 4.) Those things which could be natural, but the probability of occurrence is so small, that an inordinate number of such events would indicate God’s direction of outcomes. At Loma de Luz we call that “far better results than we deserve.”
Let me make a pass at illustrating mathematically what I mean by the fourth kind of miracle.
If the most hoped for, best of outcomes would naturally happen 1 % of the time, say recovery without morbidity from a terrible injury or illness, it would naturally happen once in every hundred terrible accidents or illnesses. If we cared for 10 such terrible injuries or illnesses each week, we would naturally expect to see one recover without morbidity every 10 weeks. But we sometimes see 10 people in a row with such terrible injuries or illnesses recover completely. The likelihood of such a series happening would be less likely than choosing randomly one particular grain of sand out of all of the grains of sand in the world (which is 1 in 7,000,000,000,000,000,000 grains).
Now I think we are pretty good. But we’re not that good. Yet these fourth kinds of miracles, these “far better results than we deserve,” at Loma de Luz we see routinely. The point here is not the Math. The point here is that an unlikely event occurring far too many times in a row becomes something “outside the order usually observed in things.”
Tim Keller had something insightful to say about miracles: “Jesus’ miracles in particular were never magic tricks, designed only to impress and coerce….. Instead, he used miraculous power to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the dead. Why? We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order.” I can see the beauty of the truth of what he is saying. And, I believe that it is particularly with the Miracles of the Fourth Kind that we see the restoration of the original “natural order,” the way things were created to be–healed and whole, straight and true.
Now I’ll tell you of a recent mundane miracle of the second kind, and then I’ll pass on some abbreviated recountings from the eyes of a couple of missionaries more recently arrived to this place…. miracles of the fourth kind.
I see a lot of orthopedic trauma which has gone either untreated, or inadequately and unsuccessfully treated elsewhere. On a routine clinic day I may see 15 of them mixed in with other kinds of surgical patients. In just such a busy clinic a couple of weeks ago I was seeing just such a patient, # 7 for the day, Maria Ambrosia Perez, a quiet, unprepossessing little woman with a humeral non-union following a gunshot wound several years ago.
X-ray of Maria’s arm
Maria comes from the Departamento de Lempira, way over on the border with Guatemala. Some first cousins wanted her little ranchito and came at night and shot her. She was carried over the border to Guatemala City and operated on. As is very common among the poor, the treatment she had received for this was inadequate, unsuccessful, and very expensive to her. She told me she had heard of Loma de Luz from way over there on the border of Guatemala. Initially I reviewed her X-Rays, examined her arm, and we talked about her injury, previous treatment, and what we would need to do. It was all about her arm. Then she sat there very quietly while I reviewed her chart. As I did so, I began to notice several things which didn’t add up.
I said, “Maria, there are copies of reports and notes here from 2015 from Mario Catarina Rivas (the sprawling Public Health Hospital in San Pedro Sula) and the University Hospital in Tegucigalpa about a malignant tumor on your neck.” “Yes,” she says, “that was right here…this big… the size of a grapefruit.”… “OK… it looks like the CT scan from there shows a very large tumor.” “Uh huh,” she says. “It looks like in January 2015 they did a Biopsy at Catarino Rivas that showed this to be a cancer, a pretty bad one, an aggressive sarcoma.” “Yes, they told me they couldn’t operate. They told me it was incurable, so they sent me to make an appointment with an Oncologist…. But it was too expensive and I had no money.” “OK, It looks like you came here in February of 2016, saw the doctor, you still had the mass then, and you couldn’t move your neck for the pain. They made an appointment for you to see me, but you didn’t come. What happened?” “Well,” she says, “I was planning to come, but when they called to tell me you could operate on me I was so encouraged, and that night I went to sleep thanking God for this, and I had a dream. In my dream I could tell that God was operating on me. It sort of burned, but I knew it would be all right because God was operating on me. And, when I woke up the next morning, it was gone. Just this scar… just like it is.” “It didn’t drain or bleed?” “No, it was just like this the next morning. I could move my neck like this.”
Maria’s neck, where the massive malignancy had been
So, I ask you, what would you make of this?
A woman carrying a diagnosis of a very large, biopsy-proven soft-tissue sarcoma, considered incurable and inoperable at 2 large hospitals, the mass on her neck documented by CT Scan and by physical exam of multiple doctors, including the initial doctor who saw her at Loma de Luz. And, according to the patient, after suffering with it for two years, it completely disappeared in one night, with no drainage, no bleeding, no gradual process—just one single night during which she had a dream that God was operating on her.
Neither lying nor being crazy makes a biopsy-proven, CT-documented massive sarcoma resolve overnight, more than a year ago with no evidence of recurrence. So, the best working hypothesis I’m left with is either a perpetuated mistake or a miracle of the second kind. Then what do you do with that? For my part I say, “That is kind of awesome and kind of weird, and Thanks be to God, and …. Couldn’t He fix that messed up arm too?” You see, in the end, it sort of brings Glory to God, and it sort of leaves you with more questions, and it mostly just radically blessed the life of one quiet little middle-aged woman.
But what of the fourth kind, the kind I believe we see in part on a daily basis? They seem to always bring Glory to God in quiet voices which rise to the heavens in a choir of thousands upon thousands.
Here are a couple of these quiet voices heard by a couple of more recently arriving missionary volunteers here:
What follows is a condensed version of a blog post recently written by Gus Macleod, who arrived here from his native Scotland this April as a volunteer at Loma de Luz & is living in one of the little houses @ the Sanctuary Children’s Home.
“Nestled in a clearing in an African Palm plantation, mountains behind and the Caribbean Sea in front, is the house of children. Along the dirt road to the west is the hospital and to the east, the school. But here, children who have been orphaned or abandoned, left out to die (yes, literally in some cases) or handed over by parents who are simply overwhelmed by life are given a home and a large and varied family.
There’s something about being here that’s getting under my skin and I may not yet have words for it. Something deep is touched as I hear first-hand the stories of some of these lives and see the evidence of transformation each day…. One of my neighbors, one of the children, arrived here, aged 8, having been assaulted by her step-father (who knew he had AIDS when he did it)… Now in her mid-teens, an intelligent, serene, beautiful young woman in the making.
Another arrived pregnant – at 11– (by a family member). Not knowing what had befallen her, Liz had to explain to her what pregnancy meant and what she would be facing. She went to full term and gave birth before her 12th birthday.
One young boy was thrown out of the family home by his step-father following the death of his mother.… After two weeks, at age 8, living on the roadside, a step-sister found him and took him to the public health hospital in La Ceiba.…from there he was transferred to Loma de Luz, where he was operated on for an abdominal blockage; a mass of grass, earth and stones was removed from his stomach – evidence of his attempts to keep himself alive. Now also in his mid-teens, another gifted, handsome youngster doing well at school, talented in art, and – if he applies himself – the possibility of going on to college or university.
One of the real characters here – in an already crowded field – is a 10 year old girl with xeroderma pigmentosum, a genetic condition characterized by high sensitivity to sunlight and which typically leads to skin cancer. She has already had both eyes removed, as the cancer had entered them, and her eyelids are now sealed over the hollows which those operations left. Several other parts of her face have been affected by cancer and skillfully removed and repaired at the hospital.
When I first met her, she ‘saw’ me by touching my face and body with her hands as though drawing a picture with them in her mind. There is no trace of self-pity here, rather a feisty and spirited individual. Having just met me, she took me by the hand and confidently led me (she, the unsighted one) to her room as she wanted to show me her toys…
The stories of neglect, trauma, cruelty and abandonment go on and on. I’ve seen pictures of children when they arrived that would make you weep. And yet many of these same children are outside the window in front of me, healthy, well, clothed, cared for, loved, many doing well at school.
In all of this too I’m left with a sense of wonder at the resilience of the human spirit and the way in which, in a loving and caring environment, we have an astonishing, graced ability to heal and restore, to be made new in the love of God. –Gus
The following is from a recent blog post written by Alisa Geer, a Nurse Practitioner who began to work as a missionary in April of this year. She is writing about a patient she helped care for in her first days of work:
“He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.” — Psalm 147:3
…..It turned out that the baby had been at a Public Health Hospital in a major city, for over a month, but his head kept growing. His mother, desperate to help her child get better, contacted our hospital to see if we would help her. Our Pediatrician, Dr. Judy, had told them she would see them the next day during clinic hours to evaluate the situation further and get a game plan for treatment. However, the mother immediately left the hospital with her child and travelled straight to Loma de Luz with her family.
Medically speaking, this visit at night was not an emergency, but to this mother, who had spent the past month watching her child’s health worsen without effective intervention, it was an emergency, and that meant getting to our hospital as soon as possible. What was needed was to place a drain surgically in the infant’s head to reduce the pressure and to prevent possible complications including seizure, brain damage or death. I am happy to report that the child had surgery this past Friday and was discharged home yesterday doing very well. I was encouraged by the fact that the father of the child kept reassuring his wife that their child was in good hands now because “Dios obra aqui” (“God is at work here”). It has not taken us long to see the hand of God here and we pray that our witness would be for his glory. –Alisa
God is at work here
By way of follow-up, this child–whose mother was told by the doctors in the Public Hospital where she gave birth that “The baby is obviously going to be a vegetable” and “She will only live a matter of hours anyway, so why waste the shunt?”–this child who at first we thought might be blind–at two months’ follow-up since the shunt placement is now a normal, healthy baby with head circumference nearing normal and meeting all developmental milestones.
So, have you thought much about these Miracles of the Fourth Kind, the highly unlikely, best possible outcome happening over and over? Out here where we depend upon miracles just to get by, I’ve thought a lot about them, and, to tell you the truth, it is the miracles of the Fourth Kind that we depend upon the most. But don’t you too?
If you had a terminal illness (like we all do) and if you were healed and saved from that terminal illness, (the best possible outcome), and in the most unlikely of ways, wouldn’t you consider that rare and wonderful? Isn’t that just the case for a follower of Christ, just the debt you owe?
If that most highly unlikely, best possible outcome happened to millions and millions of people, over and over–the terminally ill being granted life eternal, the natural order being restored– wouldn’t that be a miracle?
Aren’t you supposed to do something with that miracle?
Like pass it on?
Jefferson C. McKenney, M.D.
Kindergarten Teachers: We thank God for His provision of a kindergarten teacher for the school in the last hour. We still need a second one, but by shifting teachers around, we will be able to allow in the students hoping to begin El Camino. But we always need teachers. And, there may be financial support available. If you or someone you know might be interested in teaching at El Camino, they should go to this page on our website.
Special Needs Children: As well as Children’s Home Directors, we have a great need for a full-time worker able to work with special needs children. Danely (featured above), Bessy, Renan, José, and potentially others… they need someone. If that might be you, please contact our Volunteers Coordinator at email@example.com.
Expanding the Hospital: The work, the volume and complexity of patients at the clinic has doubled in the last 2 years. It has tripled in the operating rooms. We need to expand. We must grow to meet the need. Growing pains are expensive and require careful planning and patience for all. Please pray for the resources and wisdom needed to expand the hospital.
Please pray for favor with the Honduran government for the Cornerstone of Honduras to receive favored Humanitarian Organization status. The work at Loma de Luz has greatly multiplied in the past few years. Please pray for new workers to come alongside, and for endurance and joy for all who are currently serving there. As is expressed in one of Matt Redman’s songs, “every blessing” God pours out, we’ll “turn back to praise.” We may not understand everything (like, why did God heal Maria’s tumor but use Loma de Luz to care for her arm?), and, some questions will likely go unanswered until we see Him face to face. But the miracles we do see… may they continue to awaken the dormant devotion and affection of the faithful.
–Sally Mahoney for Cornerstone