Brenda’s Bulletin

September 25, 2017 To Hike or Not to Hike

Posted on September 25, 2017 at 9:04 pm by Brenda Matthews

I was up late last night investigating a new critter.  Here’s the setting and some of what I learned.

1-Waterfall Canyón el Zorro Sept 23

On Saturday, a group of us missionaries hiked to a waterfall in the mountains.  (Due to recent rainfall, the scenery is more lush than normal.)  After getting my feet wet, I climbed back up the trail to look for birds.  I spotted a new one in the undergrowth and had to stand patiently waiting for it to get in a position for a good photo.  I don’t know why, but after a few shots, I looked down at my feet.  That’s when panic set in!

On my ankles (technically, on the rim of my ankle socks) were (one small, two medium and one big) beetle-like blood-sucking creatures.  I managed to stifle a scream and tried to stomp them off as I frantically searched for a stick to finally flick them off.  Meet dipetalogaster maxima, also known as the assassin bug (not a beetle) or blood-sucking conenose (or kissing bugs, but that doesn’t sound as scary and the name is because these bugs usually come out at night and like to bite near the lips):

1-IMG_8102

This is the big one making its get-away.  I had to crop the photo and unfortunately the head is blocked, but you can see good internet images at these sites:

http://tolweb.org/media/29850

https://www.biolib.cz/cz/taxon/id904650/

After flicking them off, I did the same to the ones I noticed on the other ankle.

The medium ones looked like this one (also cropped) that was running (literally!) directly toward my foot no matter where I relocated it.   And it wasn’t alone.  It was like a terrifying scene out of the movie Birds!1-IMG_8104

At this point, some of you may be squeamish while others are laughing, but I didn’t know what they were or if they were harmless.  Hence the investigation last night and the observations this morning because overnight my mind was making comparisons between my new-found knowledge and some theological knowledge.  You see, these bugs could be harmless, but I discovered that they could also be carrying the T. cruzi parasite that causes Chagas, a life-threatening disease.

∗ I didn’t even feel the bugs presence or bite, but I was horrified when I became conscious of it.  Sometimes temptation sneaks up on us like that and we do/think/say something that is offensive to God or others without making a conscious choice to sin, but we’re horrified when we realize what we’ve done.

∗ Just as the carrier of the parasite is aggressive in its persistent hunt for blood, so our enemy is aggressively persistent placing temptations before us because his purposes are always destructive.

∗ In an ironic twist, it’s not the blood-sucking of the bug or temptation that infects us.  After its meal, the bug deposits its parasite-laden feces near the point of entry.  It’s most likely going to be the person who causes his/her own infection by moving the parasite into the wound when they scratch the area.  This gives me hope.  I think only two bugs were successful at drawing blood, reducing the percentages, and there’s the hope that they weren’t vectors (carriers).  Plus, the rib of the sock was pretty thick, so I hope the feces stayed up there and away from my skin.  Also, knowing that itching mosquito bites just makes them worse, I refrained from touching the area, not even peeking below the sock.  After getting home and removing the socks, I did press down on the obvious bite, but I just released the pressure and didn’t scratch.  For all those reasons, I think it is highly unlikely that I’ve been infected.  But going back to temptation… it’s like the feces sitting close-by.  Temptation only leads to sin if we take action and give in to the temptation.  That’s why the Bible tells us to flee temptation.  We will be tempted, but we don’t have to ponder it and slowly rub the parasites in the wound or jump right into the temptation immersing ourselves in the parasites.  It’s definitely best to flee!

∗ It’s estimated that 6-8 million people (mostly poor from Mexico through South America) have been infected with the potentially-fatal Chagas disease who aren’t even aware that they were infected with the parasites.  The Bible says that we’ve all been infected by sin.  Sadly, most people aren’t aware and don’t know that the results are fatal.

∗ There is no vaccine for Chagas.  Fortunately, the blood of Jesus cleanses away all the effects of sin for those who acknowledge their sin, turn from it and ask Jesus to wash them clean.  This changes the result from death to eternal life.

∗ Part of the reason people aren’t aware of their infection is because the early symptoms are fairly common in the acute stage.  I have almost all the symptoms but I think they can be explained by the steep climb down to and then up from the waterfall and the fact that I’m coming down with a cold – in other words, I would feel the exact same way even if I’d never had an encounter with the bugs.  To be safe, I’m going to look into having my blood tested, even though the parasites can evade the tests, because there is effective medication if taken in the acute stage.  A lot of people explain away their sin by ignoring it, rationalizing it, or giving it another name to make it acceptable and just live with it, consciously or not, and quite often they are also oblivious to the damage it is doing to their lives.

∗ Some people never feel the effects of Chagas, but others, in the chronic stage, suffer heart or GI tract damage.  At this point there is no medicine, but some interventions like pacemakers or surgery can help.  In a similar way, the effects of sin can be devastating to the heart (possibly physically, but here referring to one’s being/soul) and the way life is processed.  Thanks be to God that nothing is beyond the reach of His grace (undeserved favour/salvation)!  Unlike those who never feel the effects of Chagas, there is no escape from the effects of sin if one doesn’t put their faith in Jesus.

∗ There’s another interesting observation between the vector and temptation.  Maybe the most effective way to detect the presence of the parasite/Chagas is using a laboratory dipetalogaster maxima.  Remember, it’s not the blood-sucking that causes the disease, so using a parasite-free bug for the extraction of blood might be better than using a syringe (smaller entry with the effective anaesthetic saliva) and, since the blood isn’t digested for a while, the incubation period takes place so it is more likely that the parasite will be seen when the human blood is extracted from the bug.  I watch when blood is extracted using a syringe, but I don’t think I’d want to see any of the process using the bug!!!!  Anyway, thinking that the same bug could serve to harm us or to hurt us, I remembered that in the original language, the same word can be translated either as temptation or testing.  In the sense of temptation, the parasite is present and if we “bite”, we suffer the consequences.  In the sense of testing, we don’t “bite” and our faith is strengthened and maybe we’re more likely to recognize the temptation the next time it sneaks up on us.

I don’t mean to be morbid, but it’s possible that I was infected and that, at some point, I could die of Chagas… but because my faith is firmly placed in Jesus and He has washed away my sin, the sting of death has been removed.  The point is not to stop hiking, but if I ever do stop again while hiking, I’ll be much more aware of what’s near me and coming at me.  Even in the worst-case scenario, it’s just a step leaving this parasite-infected world for the glory of heaven – being in the presence of my Saviour and Lord and enjoying all the benefits of a perfect world of vibrant colours, incredible textures, indescribable flavours and adventures beyond imagination.

So, I’ll continue to enjoy life (including hiking, diving, bird-watching) and I’m grateful for your partnership so we can do our part to alert people here to the dangers of sin and present them with the certain hope of eternal life in Jesus.

Happy hiking!

Brenda