Sunday, December 6, 2020

I Saw Another Neurosurgeon!

For the first time in almost nine months I had a companion!  For twenty minutes at least.  Dr. Bethwel Raore was born and raised in Kenya but did his neurosurgical training in the US and now practices in the Atlanta area.  He had returned to Kenya a couple of weeks ago to visit family and unknown to me had decided to drive four hours to Tenwek just to say hi briefly and drop off a much-needed electric surgical drill (I was down to my last functioning one).  

Like for many of you, it's been a bit of a lonely year.  Because of COVID, there have been no neurosurgeons come to Tenwek since early March.  I've missed the camaraderie of those visits.  The work here has some high highs and low lows.  Often I wish there was a fellow neurosurgeon here who understood those victories and defeats  - who could celebrate the good outcomes, and listen and give advice after the bad ones.  Still, most evenings I walk home with a deep sense of fulfilment from the day's work, and Alisa and I remain with a strong conviction that this is where God has led our family.
Bethwel's surprise visit was such an encouragement
It's been as busy as ever at the hospital.  Early during the pandemic one of the main hospitals in Nairobi - where one of the larger neurosurgical practices in the country is - became a designated COVID hospital, and so many of their patients came to Tenwek instead.  More recently, because of continued frustration over lack of appropriate protective equipment and overall poor morale from being overworked, many doctors and nurses in surrounding hospitals have gone on strike, again leaving Tenwek to shoulder an extra heavy patient load.  And it's not just the people of Kenya we are serving.  Last week we removed a brain tumor in a lady who had travelled all the way from Gabon, a country on the complete opposite side of Africa.
Mouembe before leaving to return to Gabon
I wrote in my holiday email last year that 2020 marked a new chapter for neurosurgery at Tenwek.  Dr. Emmanuel Wafula has spent this year as a neurosurgery resident-in-waiting and in January 2021 will become the first official neurosurgical resident at Tenwek.  Tenwek will be not only the first neurosurgical training site in all of Africa for the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS, through which all surgical training at Tenwek happens), but also the only neurosurgical training program in Kenya currently outside of the capital of Nairobi.

What I didn't know last year was that Dr. Fraser Henderson Jr.'s visit to Tenwek in February would lead he and his wife Betsy to commit to joining Alisa and I here full-time in January 2022.  That God would lead another neurosurgeon to Tenwek has been our hope for several years now.  It's hard to overstate our excitement at this news!
Emmanuel is going to be a great neurosurgeon.  He loves the Lord deeply.  The opportunity to work one-on-one daily with him is one of my greatest joys here.  Here he is operating on another patient with a brain tumor.
Fraser (left) operating with Emmanuel and I this past February
Fraser and Betsy, along with their daughter Phoebe,
will be joining us in January 2022
Tenwek has been approved for a total of three residents and in January Emmanuel will be joined by Dr. Ivy Barasa as our second.  The surgical training programs at Tenwek rely 100% on the financial support of partners like you.  The cost of putting a resident through their 6 years of training is $25,000 per year.  In addition, there is a critical shortage of resident housing at Tenwek and fundraising continues for the building of more housing units.  Each of the three units needed for our neurosurgery residents will cost approximately $40,000.

If you're interested in joining the work at Tenwek by supporting Emmanuel and Ivy, along with future neurosurgical trainees, Alisa and I would be very grateful.  To do so you can give a tax-deductible donation to Friends of Tenwek by clicking here and designating your gift for the "Neurosurgery Residency Scholarship Fund".
The Copeland crew at our Thanksgiving celebration last weekend.  

We are grateful for the support of so many of you that allow us to continue serving here at Tenwek.  Blessings to you and yours during this Advent season.
Lest you think I'm the only one doing cool stuff around here...This is a picture of Alisa with the ladies of Side By Side-Tenwek when they received their copies of the Bible study book Seamless.

 Side By Side is an outreach ministry of the Christian Medical and Dental Association designed to encourage women in their faith and medical marriages.  Alisa started Tenwek's chapter back in 2017 with one resident's wife and it has grown to now include most of the wives.  What a blessing it is to be united with Alisa in our purpose here - to train and disciple residents and their spouses to serve those in need and tell of God's goodness shown in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

A Living Hope

You know the statistics.  You know what it's doing to the world.  Perhaps you know most keenly because you know what it's doing to you.  It's threatening so many of the foundations of your life - your job, your retirement account, your social network - and reminding each of us that the day will come when we won't ever work again, when we won't have a penny to our name, when our social calendars will forever be empty.  COVID-19 reminds us of death.  C.S. Lewis's words on war seem as pertinent in a pandemic:

     What does war [or the coronavirus] do to death?  It certainly does not make        it more frequent; 100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be                increased.  It can put several deaths earlier, but I hardly suppose that that is      what we fear...Yet war does do something to death.  It forces us to                      remember it...War makes death real to us...("Learning in Wartime")

Each of us who has known life has known the fear of death.  And yet in Jesus Christ the fear of death is turned on its head.  Consider the words of the biblical writer Paul:

     For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  If I am to live on in the flesh,          that means fruitful labor for me.  Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.  I am        hard pressed between the two.  My desire is to depart and be with Christ,          for that is far better. (Philippians 1:21-23)

Times like this test whether we can say the same.  It can be easy to say "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" when life costs us little and death seems far off.  It is another thing to say the same when disease is spreading and we, or someone we love, might die.  Is death really good news for those who love Jesus?  Is life after death really better, by far, than even the best this life on earth has to offer?

With Jesus, death becomes a servant - a door into His all-satisfying presence forever.  Death is gain, not because the experience of death is any less likely, or any less painful, but because of what death gives us - because of Who death gives us.

I've found myself lately cherishing anew the words of the apostle Peter:

     Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great                mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection        of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish,      spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you...In this you greatly rejoice, though now      for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
     (1 Peter 1:3-4,6)

In this time of uncertainty, when you're tempted to fear or despair, may you find rest in the assuredness of our living hope, Jesus Christ.  Or perhaps during this Easter week you would come to know that hope for the first time.  
A friend sent me this song this week and I love the truth in its lyrics
Many of you have reached out recently to see how we're doing and how the coronavirus is affecting Kenya.  Thank you.  It means more than you know to hear from you and know you're thinking of us.

We're doing well.  The country's first case was diagnosed on March 12th and as of this morning there are 125 additional confirmed.  Tenwek Hospital has yet to receive a patient with COVID-19 but we have been busy making preparations in anticipation that, if it spreads like it has in so many countries, it may soon threaten to overwhelm our systems.

Elective surgeries have been cancelled though most of what I do is urgent/emergent so my days feel mostly normal.  Alisa's Side By Side women's group has stopped meeting for the time.  And since homeschooling doesn't stop to social distance, the kids are enjoying being on Spring Break!

Thanks again to all of you who support us in so many ways.  We couldn't continue in the work here without you.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Standing on our tallest step stool

Fresh passports of these sweet kids in this week! One step closer.

Yesterday I was standing on a step stool on the front porch with my 3 year old, Nora, on my shoulders.

Probably not the safest pregnant-lady move.

But an obscure little bird's nest is tucked behind our porch light next to the front door.  The momma bird secretly built it in the past days and we didn't notice until she was perched inside protecting her eggs. We wanted to see how many she had laid but even standing on our tallest step stool we couldn't get high enough to see inside.

I put Nora on my shoulders, stood on the stool and Nora joyfully said, "Oh my goodness!"

I asked," How many eggs do you see?"

"Two!" she replied.

Liam, my skeptical middle-schooler, wasn't taking her word for it.  He borrowed my phone, stood on the stool and raised his arms high to get a shot of the eggs down inside.  Here's what he saw:

From Nora's perspective there were two eggs, which pretty much to her means more than one.  Her perspective of numbers will one day change to a clearer understanding that 2 is actually the number between 1 and 3 but it is not the same as 5.

Even now, at 36 years old, my perspective continues to change.  I remember when Liam, my first baby, was born.  I felt like I was stuck in a newborn twilight zone and I would never again sleep three hours straight, cook a meal or make love again.  The early months seemed endless.

Then my second, third, and fourth babies were born and I realized that those early days are a blip, over so quickly and propelling you onward to toddlerhood, preschool and 1st grade before you are ready for it.

And the sleeping, cooking, and love-making pick back up pretty quickly too.

Not surprisingly, after living in Kenya for two years and returning to the United States for a year, my perspective on the US  has changed.  When our family returned 9 months ago, the one thing we were struck with was the excess of resources in the Unites States.  Before we left, we didn't give a second thought to clean water, smooth roads, or 732 cereal options.  I couldn't see those things until I lived without them.  I didn't know that I had a skewed perspective.

I didn't know what I didn't know.

But this is unsettling to me.

What else is there that I don't know that I don't know?

My temptation all year has been to climb up on my tallest step stool and look down at all the Americans who don't know what I know. Or at least what I think I know.

To look down at their excess.  To look down at their bigger remodeled homes.  To look down at their Pottery Barn porch furniture that is never used.

And when I'm up on that tall stool, rather than feeling lifted up and better, it's more of a sinking, desperate feeling.  Drowning even.  Up to my eye balls in judgement and bitterness.

Are there other things in life that draw us up on a step stool, up to our eye balls in judgement, to look down on everyone with a different perspective?

A cancer diagnosis? A miscarriage? A child with special needs? An aging parent? Suddenly, we know things we didn't know before and we see stupid people all around us that just don't know - stupid people saying and doing stupid things.

But what is that inside me? Irritation? Frustration? Anger? Ugliness? Insecurity? Sin?

"Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.  
I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.
I have come in to the deep waters,
the floods engulf me.
You know my folly, O God.
My guilt is not hidden from you."
Psalm 69

Can I be angry at Nora for seeing 2 eggs when there are really 5? Irritated that she doesn't know?

I CAN be angry.  But that is senseless! Waste!

What else is there that I don't know that I don't know?

I cannot know.

So I'm coming down from my tall step stool and laying myself flat on the ground.  Flat on the ground. Humbled. Flawed. B-team missionary Jesus-following mom person.  Or whatever my title is.  At least I can't see the neighbor's porch furniture from there...

"For God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything." 
1 John 3:20

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Flights Purchased!

Check out this short video for an update on our return to Kenya
As we prepare to transition again, these words of Moses spoken to Joshua give us confidence.

"The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you.
He will not fail you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed."
Deuteronomy 31:8

Sunday, December 2, 2018


"Why?"  That's the most common question we've been asked during our time back stateside these last few months.  
Why take this circus show on the road?
Not “What have you been doing?” but "Why did you do it? Why did you just spend two years after residency in Kenya?  And why are you going back?"

“Who am I that I should go?” That’s actually the first question Alisa asked herself when God began directing our family to move to Kenya. She was willing, she just questioned whether she was the right person to go.  I, on the other hand, tried to ignore God at first. I was busy with what had become most important to me - my career and trying to position myself to be one of the best. Sure I said my relationship with God, and my marriage, and my kids were my top priorities, but deep down I knew - and Alisa knew - that wasn't the case.

During my fifth year of residency I was applying for sub-specialty training and beginning to inquire about jobs, not once thinking about living overseas.  I had some elective time and decided to take a trip through the Mayo International Health Program to this placed called Tenwek Hospital to see what doing neurosurgery looked like in a developing country.  The trip literally changed my life.  I found myself face-to-face with people in poverty and sickness like I'd never known before.  Face-to-face with people whom I'd read about Jesus caring so much for, but people who were so far from my mind.
The look of despair on faces like this mother's was hard to ignore.
When I returned home, I was unsettled.  I was trying to reconcile the world I had just visited with the world I was living in.  Shortly thereafter Alisa and I learned of an opportunity to serve for two years at Tenwek through the Post-Residency Program with Samaritan's Purse.  About that same time I began to receive job offers.  All my hard work was paying off and the very thing I had wanted was now in hand.  But somehow it didn't seem to shine so bright anymore.  I couldn't shake the immense need for neurosurgical care that I'd encountered at Tenwek.  I remember thinking "If I turn down such and such a job they will easily fill my place with the next person in line.  But if I don't go to Kenya, who will?"  This dilemma actually irritated me.  I was perplexed with God.  "You brought me to an institution where I've received some of the best training in the world, and now you want me to go serve in obscurity?!  Don't you know how hard I've worked to get to this point?  Don't you know how much money I could make?  Why are you asking this of me?!"

I believe God was asking Alisa and I to put what we were clinging so tightly to all on the line.  Not because He was testing our allegiance, or because He's insecure and needed the reassurance.  But because He is good and wanted to free us of the things that He knows can never satisfy.  And because He knows that in our choosing Him over ourselves, His worth is put on display for others to contemplate.

Please don't hear me say that to be satisfied or to honor God you have to drop all your 'stuff' and move to Africa.  I don't believe that.  But I do believe that our 'stuff' has the potential to harden us to the needs of others and to deceive us into thinking that it will bring us happiness.

Alisa and I are finding instead our greatest joy in treasuring God and serving others.  The reason why we're doing what we're doing is because we are learning what the writer Paul says in Philippians 3:8 to be true - “I count all things as loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus."
I love this circus show
We have now officially transitioned to World Gospel Mission, the founding organization of Tenwek, to serve there indefinitely. I don't get paid to work at Tenwek.  We are able to do what we're doing only because of the generous financial support of people like you who want to be a part of serving the people of Kenya with us.

Before we are allowed to return to Tenwek we must have 100% of our family's monthly expenses, as well as a portion of the anticipated neurosurgical needs, committed to by a team of monthly financial supporters.  If you would like to join that team go to, type in the amount of support, and then on the next page it gives you the option to make your contribution recurring.

Thank you to all of you who have supported our family and the work at Tenwek financially and in many other ways.  It is so very encouraging to us.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Time to go

I started writing this a couple days ago from a hotel room in Nairobi, trying to process what's happening.  This past Saturday we drove away from Tenwek Hospital, the place we've come to call home these past two years while a part of the Samaritan's Purse Post-Residency Program.  Several things are weighing heavy on my mind...
Faces and stories of so many patients...
Uncertainty of what will happen to neurosurgery while I'm away...
We made a lot of progress in the OR during these past two years
And joined efforts to improve neurosurgical care country-wide.

This is a photo from a recent course held at Tenwek in which 86 general surgeons and medical officers from 31 of Kenya's 47 counties
(like states) attended.
The hardest part of leaving? Relationships being put on hold...
The surgical department
The clinic
The neuro team
Tomorrow we get on a plane to go back to Arkansas.  As I struggle to walk away from the patients, my hopes for neurosurgery at Tenwek, relationships, and so much more, I'm reminded of two things.  One, I'm not that important.  Tenwek Hospital went on just fine without me and it will continue to this next year while I'm away.  Secondly, God will accomplish His purposes, in His time, regardless of me or what I think needs to be done and when.  In the midst of my uncertainties of walking away, this assurance of His sovereignty is comforting.
"I am God, and there is no other.
I am God, and there is none like me.
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things not yet done.
Saying, 'My counsel will stand,
And I will accomplish all my purpose.'"
Isaiah 46:9,10
We're excited to see many of you in person and have the chance to tell more fully of what we've witnessed God doing at Tenwek. Our time with the Post-Residency Program has come to an end and we are returning to Little Rock, where Alisa and I grew up and both our families still live.  We anticipate being stateside for about a year as we go through the process of applying with World Gospel Mission, Tenwek's long-term mission partner. During these past two years, God has affirmed for our family that this is where He is asking us to serve Him, and so we are eager to take this next step.
We will no longer have financial support from Samaritan’s Purse so we are actively looking to grow our monthly support team.  If you would be interested in being a part of the work at Tenwek, we'd love to hear from you.  Feel free to email us at or  For details on how to support financially each month or to give a one-time gift, visit
If you are already part of our financial support team, please continue to give as you have been through Samaritan’s Purse.  We will continue to have ministry-related expenses while in the U.S. and we are required to be fully-funded before being allowed to return to Tenwek. We will then notify you when things officially changeover.
Thanks again to each of you who have supported us in various ways these past two years.  It has meant more than you know.


Friday, July 6, 2018

Going home or leaving home?

When we moved our family of almost 8 to Kenya, we left behind what we called home and everything that was familiar.  Minnesota was home.  

We arrived in East Africa and felt far from home.  Separated not only by distance, but also by culture, by language, by complete change of routine, by physical challenges, by new ways of doing daily tasks and schooling.  

And we talked about home.  “I wish we could go to Costco and get all the samples.” Or “I miss my friend at church.” or “We need snow.” And the most repeated “I just want a Chick-fil-A sandwich.” These things were part of the home that we had left behind.  

Nearly two years have passed now and Chick-fil-A and Costco are hardly mentioned.  In May, Will flew back to the US for a short medical conference.  Before flying back to Kenya, he went to Wal-Mart and called the kids and I to see what we might want him to bring back to us.  Joyfully, I announced, “Y’all, Dad is at WAL-MART!!!”  

Only 3 of the 6 kids knew what Wal-Mart was.  Charley said, “Is that a red place?”  Clearly, she’s having Costco flashbacks but just can’t put a name to it.  

It’s time now to pack up and go back to the states.  Our two-year term serving with Samaritan’s Purse is coming to a close. We board the plane in almost a week.

But are we going home or leaving home?

Pieces of our life here:
The road behind our house
(Emery, 1, Liam, 11)
the ladies that help us in our home and my friends
(Me, Joyce, Sheila)
first broken bone
(Will, Dr. Kiprono, Liam and Caleb)
growing up
(Charley, 5)

(Harper, 7)

Chai with Ms. Joyce
(Doreen, Nora and Joyce)
the everyday
church family
black eye and missing teeth
great friends
loved by Ms. Sheila

girls, girls, girls
(Nora, Harper, Charley)
co-workers and friends
(Will, Nellie, Umi, and Weldon)
Pizza night with friends
(Caroline, Joy, me)
Nora (2.5)
east coast of Kenya
(Hayden, Liam)
time with cousins
(Copelands and Nicholsons)
lunch at our gardener Felix's house
the beauty of this country
(Janeth, Nora, Purity, Emery)
Masai Mara retreat with co-workers

(Will and Hayden)
playing outside
(Nora, Emery, Harper)

our Kenya baby, Chepkemoi
(Emery, 1)
Saturday night with friends
(Will, me, Lydiah and Kimutai)

new hair
Kenya has become home.

So when we are asked “Are you excited to go home to the United States?  Won’t it be nice to be back home?”, it is not an easy answer.

I think we are forever split. Torn.  It is hard to leave our home in Kenya. But we also look forward to going back to our home in the U.S.  

We will be returning to Arkansas this month and staying in a rental house on the same street where Will grew up in Little Rock!  He may revert back to his childhood – sleeping in late, playing X-box, egging cars, and of course pining after his high school girlfriend (me). Probably not...

Will will be working, doing neurosurgery at the Arkansas Neuroscience Institute.  No time for egging cars.  

Our hope is to be in Little Rock for about a year as we prepare to return long-term to Kenya.   We are in the beginning stages of applying to get back to Tenwek Hospital in the summer of 2019 with an organization called World Gospel Mission.  

We will no longer have financial support from Samaritan’s Purse so we are actively looking to grow our monthly support team.  If you or your church would be interested in being a part of the work at Tenwek, please contact us at

For now, if you are already part of our financial support team, please continue to give as you have been giving with Samaritan’s Purse.  We will continue to have ministry-related expenses while in the U.S. and we are required to be fully–funded before returning to Tenwek. We will notify you when things change.   

Thank you to our supporters for sticking with us and being a part of this work here over the past two years.  We remain grateful and happy that this is just the beginning!

For all of this, to God be the glory!

“For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God.”
Hebrews 3:4