As the jet engines roared and we hurled down the runway and into the night sky, I sat in my seat, shook my head, and smiled. Smiled at God’s timing, provision, and greatness. There are moments in life when it is undeniable that the Lord walked ahead of you, and for me, this was one of them.
For the previous two weeks we had been working in the small town of Impfondo, in the French-speaking country of the Republic of Congo. In this small town is a 60-bed missionary hospital, Pioneer Christian Hospital. This hospital is a ministry partner of ours; and we, a team of four, were there to assist in various projects. Two colleagues were there to erect a 300-foot radio tower to expand the reach of the Christian radio station, also operated by the missionary hospital. A third colleague was there to collect footage, photos, and stories of how the mission has impacted the lives of locals. And I, the fourth member of the team, was there to assist in establishing a feeding program for patients.
Currently, Pioneer Christian Hospital, like many hospitals in the developing world, does not provide food for patients. Patients are required to have a family member or friend remain with them on the hospital grounds to provide food. This caregiver is also responsible for all other non-medical care of the patient such as cleaning, and toileting. This job is not easy, considering many patients are from hours’ walk away, and now must reside on the hospital grounds. They also must purchase ingredients and firewood for cooking, have a pot to cook in, collect firewood, etc.
And, for many refugees and outcast members of the community, such as patients suffering from leprosy, there is no one to care for these needs, which can result in the patient starving to death (and this actually happened during my stay in Congo). The dream of medical director Dr. Joseph Harvey was to establish a feeding program, in which the hospital would provide nourishment to all inpatients, thus improving prognosis, recovery time, and the overall health of patients.
The challenges to this goal were many: Lack of resources, logistics, and know how. So this is where I came in. For the time I was granted on the ground in Congo, my main focus was to overcome these challenges. During these two weeks I met frequently with the medical staff, worked with the hospital cook, lobbied aid organizations (World Food Program, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Terre Sans Frontier), provided training in nutrition to the head of nursing administration, and even recorded radio programming (translated into French and Lingala, the local languages) addressing nutrition-related heath concerns in the area. And we prayed for the Lord to provide.
By the end of the two weeks in Congo we had:
1) Established and implemented a feeding program for refugees. In Congo, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides food rations for all refugees (to provide them nourishment while getting back on their feet after fleeing from war). However, if a refugee is in the hospital, they are unable to access this resource. We were able to lobby the UNHCR to release these rations to the hospital and allow the hospital to prepare and deliver the meals to patients. The accomplishment of this is a resounding achievement! We received the authorization for pick-up on official letterhead the day I departed for the States (seen right). The very next day the hospital began preparing and distributing this food to its refugee patients. Praise God for such a victory!
2) Partnered with World Food Program to establish a supplementation program for the most vulnerable age groups (children under 5, as well as pregnant and lactating women) who are moderately malnourished. Participants, regardless of inpatient or outpatient status, will receive a daily food supplement called “Plumpy-Sup” to help boost their nutritional status. This program can make a huge difference to these vulnerable age groups and is underway to be implemented in the coming weeks. Join with me in praising the Lord for this!
3) Submitted a proposal for funding of a General Feeding Program for all patients. This is still our grand goal and it is still in need of much prayer. We’ve submitted a proposal to the United States Ambassador to Congo to fund the daily dietary needs for all 60 inpatients (and their caregivers) at the hospital. We were able to obtain the endorsement of the World Food Program’s country director for this proposal.
I'm still working on creating meal plans based on locally available and culturally acceptable foods to supply the patients with their daily nutritional needs. When, Lord willing, the funding is provided, we will be operating on a strict $0.56/person/day budget for food.
In addition to all the nutrition-related activities, I also assisted a college in collecting photos and videos to capture how Christian radio changes lives. I look forward to recounting some of these first-hand testimonies over the coming newsletters.
Tom faired well too. He held down the home front with the boys during my absence. I'm so thankful for friends and church family that stepped up and helped him take care of the kids… And we are thankful they are willing to do it again as I gear up to head out to India later this month. Yes, I am departing again so soon! Is the timing ideal? No, not in our eyes, but that's where obedience and sacrifice kick in. A church in southern Manitoba has a long-standing relationship with various mission organizations in Hyderabad, India, and asked if I would join a team heading out late February to provide support to those on the ground. Tom and I recognized the need and felt that we could fulfill it. Our own personal funds, plus an anonymous donation, cover the expense of this trip. So in addition to the prayer requests mentioned above, I ask for prayer for my upcoming time in India and for Tom, who again will be home with the children while I am away.
In ministry and servanthood for Christ,