Three Holes

Our mission at AHS-SL (Adventist Health System-Sierra Leone) is to demonstrate the healthcare ministry of Jesus Christ. It has occurred to me that Jesus was actually more interested in healing people’s souls, than their bodies. Consider the story of the paralytic in Mark 2, Jesus forgave his sins first, then healed his longterm paralysis. And it really makes sense, I mean saving someone’s life is great, but what does it really do? It just pushes back the date of death a bit, but we all die eventually. I am all for relieving suffering, but after the treatment most people just get sick again, the relief is rarely permanent. But, if we can save a soul for eternity, wow, now that is something altogether different.

And so, at AHS we are trying to make ministry a big part of what we do as a mission hospital. Enter one Samuel Danquah. A diminutive Ghanian who worked in our accounts department. However, it was clear to all around him that his heart and natural gifts were in ministry, not in numbers. He was already one of our district evangelists (read lay pastor), overseeing 8 churches in the area. When it came to spiritual things at the hospital, the staff, even our chaplain, looked to Mr. Danquah for leadership (everyone here is Mr., or mommy, or aunty, or pa, you don’t call anyone except the young people by their first name).

Three months ago I tried to approach him about taking over the spiritual ministries at the hospital and the attempt fell flat. It probably was a good thing, because in the ensuing three months we have developed a clearer vision of where we want our spiritual ministries to go. And so we tried again. This time, it was an all out effort, Dr. Koroma talked with him over a 2 week period, I enlisted Pastor Sandy our mission president to talk with him. And we brought in the big guns, we prayed that the Holy Spirit would speak to his heart and lead Mr. Danquah and us in the right direction. And probably equally important, I stayed out of the conversation. It worked. Around the first of December he accepted the position of Director of Spiritual Ministries for AHS-SL.

He was officially to start the new job January 1, but he has wasted no time in taking on the new responsibilities. He has already found himself a temporary office and outfitted it. We have been able to fill his position in accounts with people already in place, so that transition has been an easy one. And in his first two weeks he has presided over three holes.

The first hole, for a too tiny casket.

The first hole, for a too tiny casket.

Last week I wrote about the first hole. He was the presiding elder at the funeral of the little son of one of our nurses. Fortunately, the next two were much better. In line with our increasing spiritual emphasis at the hospital, and due to the fact that our morning worships are full and overflowing, with not enough seating, it has become more urgent that we have a chapel for the hospital. Oh yea, also staff who are on duty, ambulatory patients and family members cannot attend Sabbath morning services because the school room where the AHS church meets is too far away. No, we need a real chapel, a place to have morning worship, Wednesday evening prayer meeting, Friday vespers and Sabbath School and Church. We need a place anyone can go, at any time and meditate and pray.
Site of our new chapel and the second hole.

Site of our new chapel and the second hole.

A couple of weeks ago Bekki mentioned it on facebook and we received a seed donation of $1000. That was enough to get us started. The second of the three holes was dug, this time for the foundation of our new chapel. We are moving forward in faith that God will bring in the needed funds to get it built. We have set a crazy goal of having it finished by the rains that will come in May.

Mr. Samuel Danquah, preparing to baptize the cornerstone of the chapel with cement.

Mr. Samuel Danquah, preparing to baptize the cornerstone of the chapel with cement.

I have had the privilege of participating in a couple of ground breaking ceremonies in the US, but we don’t do that here, we have a “Laying of the Cornerstone” ceremony. So it was that last Wednesday we interrupted Executive Committee to have the cornerstone ceremony. And of course our own Mr. Danquah led out, along with Pastor Moiba, the executive secretary of the SL Mission. Like everything else here, it was very spiritual and very ritualized. It was really cool. There was singing, prayers, and speeches, including multiple expressions of how long they had been waiting and longing for a real chapel. Then, starting with Pastor Moiba, the various dignitaries deposited some concrete on the stone laid in the corner of the hole for the foundation. Over the last week, work has continued on the foundation, and it will keep rising as money comes in.
Dr. Koroma adding his load of cement.  He got the words right.

Dr. Koroma adding his load of cement. He got the words right.

Yesterday Mr. Danquah presided over the third hole. This one is the foundation of the new physical therapy building. When we first arrived in April, physio was meeting in a gazebo. With the rains they moved indoors to an unfinished ward in an unfinished wing. But they really needed their own place.

In June we were encouraged to apply to the Winifred Stevens Foundation for a grant to help us with one of our projects. I asked Linda Spady, the chairwoman of the foundation, which project she recommended. She suggested we apply for all three, upgrade to our OR, complete the unfinished wing (extension) and construct a physio building, then let the board choose the one that spoke to their hearts. I still get goosebumps when I recall the moment I got the e-mail telling me that the board had not chosen one of the projects, but had agreed to help us with all three. So the theatre (OR) is being upgraded, the extension is being finished which will double bed capacity, and we are beginning construction on our physical therapy building.

The chief of Waterloo adds his comments and blessing to the construction of the new physio building.

The chief of Waterloo adds his comments and blessing to the construction of the new physio building.

Fast forward now to yesterday, it was again the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone, this time for the physio building. Again the hospital leadership, the mission leadership, and dignitaries from the town of Waterloo, including the chief, the press, were all there. The ceremony was very similar, and just as meaningful. Physical therapy is such a blessing to these people. They have such physical lives, lifting and carrying impossible loads, and they have sore muscles, joints and bones. Physical therapy and massage therapy relieves much of that pain.

The third hole, Pastor John Moiba, Executive Secretary of the Sierra Leone Mission, starts us out by placing the first dollop of cement on the cornerstone of the phyiso building.

The third hole, Pastor John Moiba, Executive Secretary of the Sierra Leone Mission, starts us out by placing the first dollop of cement on the cornerstone of the phyiso building.

As each dignitary lays cement on the cornerstone it is important to dedicate the stone and symbolically the building to God. For the Muslims it is done in the name of God. For the Christians it is done in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Just like a baptism, but with cement rather than water. Last week I messed it up, not realizing that those words are an important part of the ceremony. To my credit, I am a fast learner, and I got it right this time. I only hope that my omission on the chapel will not diminish the blessing. Thankfully God knows the heart, and can overlook a novice’s mistake!

So, 10 days, three holes, and a very busy Director of Spiritual Ministries. But thanks be to God for His comfort in times of sorry, and His blessings on our efforts to emulate the healthcare ministry of Jesus through the spiritual ministry represented by our chapel and through the physical ministry represented by our physio building.

The whole group at the Cornerstone ceremony of the physio building

The whole group at the Cornerstone ceremony of the physio building

For those of you who are new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year, and the “Video” page has a video Bekki made of Koza Hospital as well as the videos she has made of Moundou, and now we are adding videos of Sierra Leone. Watch a real Ebola survivor tell his story. Watch our community health officer explain why the staff agreed to work in the Ebola Red Zone even after they lost 2 staff members to Ebola. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. On the Projects and Donations pages you can find the projects we are working on and how to donate to the project that touches your heart. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us.

We welcome volunteers.

-Scott Gardner

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SHOWERS OF BLESSING?

“There shall be showers of blessing;
This is the promise of love;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
Sent from the Savior above.

Showers of blessing.
Showers of blessing we need;
Mercy drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.”

We closed worship this morning singing that song. We had just been told that the three year old son of one of our nurses had died Saturday evening. After the song Mr. Fobbie, our administrator, told us about the funeral arrangements.

I had seen him Thursday afternoon in consult, to do an ultrasound. Seems that he had not urinated since Monday. His mom carried him into my office and he lay quietly on the table while I did the ultrasound. That was bad sign number one, normal three year olds don’t lay still on an exam table, they kick and scream. Numbers 2, 3 and 4 were the lack of urine in his bladder, his huge kidneys and the fluid in his abdomen. All together they told me this kid was in big trouble, a hemoglobin and malaria test and urinalysis were not going to make the diagnosis for me, and in any case we have no treatment for renal failure.

Dr. Koroma suggested sending him to a pediatrician in Freetown when I gave him the ultrasound results, and I heartily agreed. Friday afternoon he urinated, and Saturday morning he was transferred into Freetown and Saturday evening he passed off (died).

This afternoon we went to his funeral. I have been to several wakes in Africa, where one just visits the family, but this was my first funeral. In many respects, it was very similar to an American Adventist funeral, but with some definite African twists, for instance starting three and a half hours late, and it was held outside behind the little boy’s house. But, food was served while we waited for the arrival of the casket, there was praying and singing, and encouraging words about God’s love and care and our hope of the resurrection, and yes, lots of crying. The hardest thing was seeing his 5 year old cousin screaming and crying, “Cousin, come back; Cousin, come back.”, when he saw the casket for the first time.

In October, the wife of our cashier was brought in unconscious and all swollen after delivering her baby at home. We don’t have OB yet, so the family chose traditional over the government maternity center. My guess is she had eclampsia and crashed after delivery. She died shortly after coming in to the hospital, leaving our cashier a widower with two older children and a newborn. He faithfully comes to work everyday. Bekki thinks he has lost weight, I am not so sure. His expression has not changed in the 8 months we have been here, before or after the death of his wife. I have never seen him smile.

We have a staff of 45 employees, and two of them lost immediate, young family members in the last 2 months. And we nearly lost our head nurse in September. And this morning we sang, “Showers of Blessing.” I don’t know anybody who would equate these losses with “Showers of Blessing.”

Death is universal in this world, it is not unique to Sierra Leone, Tchad, or anyplace in West Africa. And it causes pain and anguish among the living whenever and wherever it strikes. These stories are not unique, in fact I bet pretty everyone reading this has lost a child or spouse, or is close to someone who did. But none of that makes it any easier.

This quarter in our Sabbath School classes (same as Sunday School only on Saturday for the Seventh-day Adventists in the group) we are studying the book of Job and the question of human suffering. And after nine weeks the conclusion I have come to is that there is no good answer. There is nothing you can say to a mother who lost her only child or a husband who finds himself alone with a newborn. There is no explanation, no “greater good”, no “cosmic purpose”, no “reason”. And saying that “God wanted them,” doesn’t sound that great either. It just makes God out to be some selfish Being Who wants a bigger harem of angels.

A point was brought out this week that if a reason or excuse for the evil that exists in this world could be found, then it’s existence would be justified, and it would cease to be evil. There is no reason, no excuse for evil or death. (Great Controversy pp. 492, 493)

It was brought out today at the funeral that Paul admonishes us to “In everything give thanks.” Really? I had never heard that text used at a funeral before. How do you give thanks for the death of a three year old? How do you sing about showers of blessings before announcing his funeral?

I don’t think you do. I don’t think you give thanks that an innocent just lost his life. I think you give thanks that Jesus conquered death on the cross. I think you give thanks that God accepts us as we are, and accepts the death of Jesus as payment for our sins. I think you give thanks that Jesus is coming back and that He promised to raise our loved ones back to life. I think you give thanks that Jesus promised to restore us to the perfect state of pre-fall Eden. I think you give thanks for the eternal life He promises.

Those are the showers of blessing that fall around us all the time while our hearts are breaking at the evil and death we see in this world. “Even so, come Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)

For those of you who are new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year, and the “Video” page has a video Bekki made of Koza Hospital as well as the videos she has made of Moundou, and now we are adding videos of Sierra Leone. Watch a real Ebola survivor tell his story. Watch our community health officer explain why the staff agreed to work in the Ebola Red Zone even after they lost 2 staff members to Ebola. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. On the Projects and Donations pages you can find the projects we are working on and how to donate to the project that touches your heart. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us.

We welcome volunteers.

-Scott Gardner