A CULTURAL AWAKENING

One day last month I realized I was homesick. Now I have been in West Africa for four years, you would think I would be over homesickness by now. But nonetheless I realized I really missed America. What made it even more bizarre is why. I missed Christmas. I missed the lights, the store displays, the music, the movies, the programs, the concerts and even the parties. This is the original Grinch talking here, just ask Bekki. It bugged her to no end as I would bah-humbug my way through the holidays, until the last week when suddenly I went all in.

Julian putting our up our 32 year old Christmas tree.

But Christmas, even though it is a national holiday, does not exist here, not really. I did see some lights on a partly constructed building coming back from the airport the week before Christmas, but that is it. We have done our best to overcome this deficit, we had the volunteers up and had a Christmas tree decorating party, I have tried to play Christmas music when I could get the electronics to work, we hung the stockings with care, even on the elephant’s trunk. But, alas, it is just not the same when you are all alone in your festive spirit.

Even the Elephant head has it’s own stocking.

The gang at the Christmas Tree Party, Bekki, Ian and Heather, Julian, Eric, JP, and Dr. Donn Gaede.

The Adventists here don’t do Christmas, I was told. The other Christians do, just not the Adventists. The Muslims are obviously not really into it either. But for us Adventists it means no Christmas carols at church, minimal if any decorations, and certainly no mention of it. (On the Sabbath before Christmas I did preach on the Magi, however.) It all added up to a homesick missionary longing for Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, dreaming of a White Christmas.

Finding myself in a bit of a snit, I decided to find out why Adventists don’t celebrate Christmas. The answer was not what I expected. It is simply that we don’t know that Jesus was born on December 25 so why should we celebrate Christmas? I also heard that Christmas is too materialistic and commercialized as the other reason. But the main one is that Jesus was almost certainly not born on December 25.

As I pondered this I became more and more annoyed. First, I don’t like the logic. I will grant you Jesus was almost certainly not born on December 25, truth is we don’t know when. So, the logic here is, if we don’t know the date, let’s throw the whole thing out and ignore it. My logic says that since we don’t know the date, pick one, and December 25 happens to be very convenient because literally the whole world is celebrating and talking about the birth of our Savior. So what if you don’t like the commercialism, then don’t do the gift exchange thing, but what an evangelism opportunity. Everyone is at least thinking a little about Jesus, between eggnog and wrapping presents, so capitalize on it. Don’t just ignore it. Everyone already thinks we are practically Jews because we go to church on Saturday, this is not helping convince them we are Christians too.

That was my logic and my rather convincing argument, or so I thought. I tried it out on a few of my Sierra Leonean SDA friends. I didn’t get very far. They thought my logic was senseless. I thought their logic was senseless. We are still friends because we could agree to disagree.

To my credit, even though I was annoyed, I dropped it. When in Sierra Leone do as the Sierra Leoneans do, the Adventists at least, that’s my motto.

Two nights ago I was leaving the hospital to head home and a short, well dressed older man stopped me asking for Dr. Koroma. I told him Dr. Koroma was on leave until February, could I help him? We were in the back so he asked about the lab/pharmacy building. I explained what it was and then pointed out the chapel currently under construction, surreptitiously patting myself on the back as I am rather proud of our construction projects.

“The chapel is just for Seventh-day Adventists?” he asked.

“No, it is for all faiths, even Muslims”, was my reply.

He then proceeded to quote scripture to me, “Remember the seventh-day Sabbath of the Lord your God.” I was pretty impressed. This man was obviously well educated, or at least well read. I didn’t recognize him, so I asked if he was Christian. No, he is Muslim he told my quite proudly.

It was at this point that he dropped the bombshell.

“Why do Christians celebrate Christmas when they know that is not Jesus birthday?” he asked. Going on he pointed out that at least Muslims know Mohamed’s birthday.

I was ready, had my argument all primed and loaded.

“Well, since we don’t know the exact day He was born on, what difference does it make then which day we choose to celebrate His birth? The alternative is not celebrating His birth at all?”

Had him. There is just no beating that kind of logic.

Unless you are West African.

“If you don’t know the day, you should not celebrate any day.”

We spent the next five minutes going back and forth, basically repeating our arguments, but getting nowhere. He had me, I had him, but we were playing in two different worlds.

But, I had an ace in the hole, if you don’t mind my mixed metaphors.

“Seventh-day Adventists don’t celebrate Christmas,” I told him triumphantly.

“What? That’s not true.”

I looked over at Pa Cole who was sitting there quietly, probably loving every bit of this interchange.

“Tell him”, I said.

“It’s true, we don’t celebrate Christmas for that very reason.” Pa Cole backed me up.

The man’s entire demeanor changed. These were Christians he could understand, Christians he could relate to. None of this crazy American idea of just pulling any date out of thin air to celebrate the birth of your sect’s prophet.

And the crazy American understood. It’s their culture, it’s their logic, and it gives us one more part of the bridge between Christianity and Islam.

I am still homesick for Christmas, and the first Christmas I am back home I am going to go nuts, we are going to drive around and look at the lights, we are going to watch Christmas movies, go to hear the Messiah, go to school programs, attend every Christmas party we get invited to. I told Bekki I am getting a 25 foot tree.

But now I see that for this culture where the logic is different (not wrong, just different) and there is such a strong Muslim influence, the Adventists here have a valid point.

For more frequent, up to the minute short updates, please follow us on Instagram or on Facebook, we are Scott N Bekki Gardner.

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

Advertisements

A RAY OF LIGHT

For four years now I have been living in the stronghold of the devil. For those of you living in Christian countries it is almost impossible to describe. Everything up is down, inside is outside, evil rules. The locals tell us the country is 65% Muslim, 35% Christian. However, when the chips are down and things are not going well, all but the most devoted Christians and Muslims abandon their faith and their God. They return to their native roots, consulting the witch doctors and performing the traditional rituals.

It is election season here in Salone. No less than weekly we are told stories of the horrors that accompany this every 5 year event. The ten year old neighbor of one of our nurses did not come home from school one csday. Three days later his dismembered body appeared on the doorstep of his home. He was almost certainly murdered in a Satanic ritual carried out by a sorcerer at the behest of some politician (or political party). I was told about eight men murdered and cannibalized in another ritual killing, presumably for the same goal, to be elected. No one is safe here, everyone is afraid. Orphanages keep their kids from school because orphans are a prime target. After all who cares about finding out why an orphan went missing.

However, this country is not Godless, people true to Him exist, shining out like that ray of sunshine coming through a break in the clouds on a rainy day, or for the millennials like the bright beam of the LED on their phone lighting their path on a dark night. One such ray of light is Albert Cole Jr., the son of our most faithful security guard.

Albert Jr. is all of 17 or 18 years old. The sweetest young man you will ever meet. Always with a smile on his face, always singing one of the hymns out of the SDA hymnal. In fact we could give him almost any number in the hymnal and he could sing that song without looking it up. I can reliably do that with two hymns, #1 “Praise to the Lord”, and #530 “When Peace Like a River”. Albert could do that with probably 75% of the hymns.

I remember one of our hikes up Mount Erin with the youth of the church, Albert was with us. He was always the odd one, you know the type, sweet, the adults love him, but the other kids, well he never quite fit in. So, on this hike he brought his drum and was beating on it as we hiked up the very steep hill (Tillamook friends, think King Mountain), he was leading us in singing “I’m pressing on the upward way, new heights I’m gaining every day; Still praying as I onward bound, “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.” It was Albert who suggested we pray together as we stood at the top and looked out over the plain below us.

We first met Albert because of one of his many little side business, quite the little entrepreneur, that young man. He sharpened our knives for us. Then he has become well known to our volunteers, and to us because of his role as a retail seller of African clothes. He has sold me most of my African shirts. Every time we get new volunteers, I set up an appointment with Albert to come to our house in the evening and sells shirts and dresses. Good stuff for a reasonable price, no haggling. But what with living in one of the five poorest countries in the world you would think Albert would save his money for himself, or at least spend it on a new smart phone or fancy shoes. Not Albert. He used his money to buy things for his AHS church. He called Mr. Danquah, our district evangelist last night, all excited. He had made the last payment on some musical instruments for the youth. They are coming tomorrow.

Albert likes to come to the house in the evening to visit, often just to say “hi”, or show us his grades. He will come into the house and Bekki gives him a glass of water and cookies if she has them. It is funny to watch him try American food, it is clear by his facial expression that he is really not sure about it, but he is always gracious. He stays for a bit and then heads on his way, just leaving his ray of light wherever he goes, shining through the darkness that is this world.

That beautiful ray of light given to us by God went out sometime early this morning. His family found him face down. He had a seizure disorder and all we can figure is that he had a major seizure and maybe he choked on his tongue, maybe he vomited and aspirated, maybe he fell and hit his head. We will never know. All we know is he was here, and now he is not, and his bright beam will be sorely missed.

The question always comes up, “Why, God, why?” Why young, dear, sweet Albert whose true religion puts the rest of us to shame, who never hurt anyone or anything, why has God let his light go out and the evil or sorcery continues. Everyone around the world wrestles with that question, everyone reading this blog has wrestled with that question. Its just that during my time in West Africa I have had to face that question on a far more regular basis than I ever did before. The only answer I can come up with is, there is no answer. Sometimes it is clear why, but most of the time it is not evident why this happened. And as unsatisfying as that is, it is reality. God never promised us answers on this earth, He only promised to be there with us through the valleys and on the mountains, and that someday all would be made plain, but until then He just asks us to trust Him.

Albert Cole, Jr. on one of our hikes up Mount Erin, this time without his drum. Unfortunately, the drive with my other pictures of Albert on it was stolen from our house last month.

They say a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon basin can cause a hurricane in the Atlantic. If that is true then the brightness of Albert’s ray of light should have equally far reaching consequences. Albert’s light is out, his seat on the aisle right front row will be empty, the world will be a noticeably darker place. But that just means the rest of us need to let the light of Jesus shine through us, wherever we are, to make up for it.
When Albert wakes up from his post-ictal sleep, he will have no more seizures, he will have a collection of musical instruments waiting for him that will exceed his wildest imaginations, and he will sing with the angels, and we will join him- “when we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be. When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.” Amen.

For more frequent, up to the minute short updates please follow us on Instagram or on Facebook, we are Scott N Bekki Gardner.

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

Stress in Sierra Leone

“Hmm, I wonder why Bekki took the screen off the window”, I mused to myself.

It was Monday afternoon and I had come home a bit early. I was in our bedroom putting my clothes away in the closet when I noticed the mosquito screen on our window propped up in the corner. I thought it was strange but figured Bekki had come up to the house earlier and was doing some sort of project. Nothing else seemed amiss.
However, a quick look around and I realized a laptop was missing, then I noticed the hard drive was missing. My nightstand drawers were open, my money belt was on the bed, open, with my passport and credit cards strewn across the bed, and all the money gone. Finally, after nearly 4 years in Africa, we had been robbed. I guess that makes us official now. It took me a while to figure out how they got in as nothing was open. They had pulled out an iron bar in the window and squeezed through an incredibly small space.

They got maybe $150 and the lap top I was going to donate to the hospital anyway and the hard drive with our entertainment on it, but not much else. Nothing we can’t live without anyway. So we count that as a victory. Oh yeah, that morning I had left $540 of donor money on the bed, but came home at noon to put it away, so they didn’t get that money. They came over the back wall sometime in the afternoon. Quick in and out job.

But it still was unnerving. That night we slept (and still do) with a baseball bat at the edge of the bed. I figure I will whack them while they try to wriggle through the tiny gap in the iron bars. We hired a day guard, so the house is never left alone, and now we lock all the door in the house. So, if they break into one room they are going to have a heck of a time getting anywhere else. Even the bathrooms are locked. We kind of hope they break through a bathroom window, only to find themselves locked in a tiny room with just soap to steal.

That started a week that was supposed to be better than the week before which had been majorly eventful and stressful.

The capstone days were Thursday and Friday. As you know we (AHS) have the biggest, baddest autoclave in all of Sierra Leone. But it was not hooked up and there was no way I was going to tackle that job. So with the help of AHI and our grant from Winifred Stevens Foundation (WSF), we brought Rick King out here to hook up the beast and teach us how to use it. He had Wednesday, Thursday, and half of Friday to accomplish these tasks. My African colleagues are often quick to tell me, in an effort to calm me down, “Dr. Scott, this is Africa, relax, it will be OK.” That is all fine and good when there is no deadline, or plane to catch.

At the same time we had an anesthesia team from Western Carolina University, which was a huge blessing because on Tuesday I had to fire our anesthetist, and so had no other anesthesia but Professor Shawn Collins and student Joe Popa.

Back to the autoclave and Rick. We really tried to have everything ready, but literally spent 2 1/4 days of the 2 ½ allotted days waiting for our maintenance guys to get all the piping we needed and fix the mistakes they made on the electrical. Even then it was jerry rigged, or is it jury rigged, I don’t know, and fuses were constantly blowing. Even the autoclave itself was spewing steam from places Rick had never seen, and the fuse in the boiler was bad.

Then too, the hospital had not had water for 2 weeks because the main water line was broken again. Seems that plastic water lines that are buried less than an inch under a dirt road don’t stand up well to cars and three ton trucks driving over them. Even though the break is not on our property, the local government types said we had to pay to fix it if we wanted water, which would also then give them water, but they did not have the money, but we are rich, so AHS can fix it, for the third time this year.

Steam autoclaves need water, and need a consistent source, so we rigged up a 55 gallon barrel in the sterilizer room and hooked that up, and fixed the water line, this time with metal fittings and concrete over it. But the main pipe is still plastic and is still under less than an inch of dirt and still being driven over. Wonder how long that will last?

However, by the end of the day on Thursday the autoclave was hooked up and ready to go. Friday we would run it through a cycle and teach the staff. But Friday was also the anesthesia team’s last day and a lady came in with a nasty breast cancer, but still operable. I really wanted to do the surgery with good anesthesia, oh how I wanted to do it without having to fight off the patient during the case, or telling the anesthetist every move to make. So, I scheduled it for Friday morning.

Friday dawns bright and clear with the promise of a great day. We went in early to get the boiler on the autoclave started. Lights came on and we anxiously watched the temperature and pressure gauges, not move. Finally, a blown fuse (Rick had never seen this before) on the boiler unit was found. We actually had something to replace it with, Praise God. Now the temperature started to rise, the pressure went up. I was in my office and wandered back to see how it was going. I can assure you it is a steam autoclave, our sterilizer room was now a sauna, the glass water level tube was cracked and steam was coming out like a nineteenth century locomotive. (We now refer to it as “Puff the Magic Dragon”.) Rick had never seen that happen either (in 17 years of doing this). He bypassed that so the steam would go to it’s intended destination, and we were in business. Then it stopped, ”Oh, you wanted a 60 amp switch for the autoclave, I got a 20 amp switch.” Yea that is what I wrote down when I told the maintenance crew what to get, 60 amp 380 V 3 phase. 20 amps just doesn’t do it.

Rick has the patience of a saint. I, on the other hand, was assiduously avoiding the area because I had by this time flipped most of my internal breakers.

All the troubles were solved, they bypassed the fuses on the switch (really safe) and we were off and autoclaving. About this time, I was called into the OR to start the mastectomy.

I was happily prepping the patient when the power went off. Word quickly came to us that the generator was on fire. This was worthy of investigation. So, I scrubbed out and dashed up to the generator room. No flames, because JP knew how to use a fire extinguisher. Turns out that the radiator got blocked and so the engine overheated and caught the roof of the generator shed on fire. This is a Perkins (top British brand) 125 KW diesel generator, it is supposed to have safety shut offs for overheating, low oil etc. That is when I was shown the wire bypass someone had done to bypass those safety mechanisms. Wonder who thought that was a good idea?.

Fortunately, about that time state power came on, so back to the OR, and back to restarting the autoclave. Sadly, state power is weak, so the air conditioning did not work and it was like operating at Bere Hospital. (Those guys are really tough.) During the most critical part of the operation the power went off again and I was so grateful to have my surgical headlight, axillary dissections are really difficult to do by braille.

I think maybe that is why on Monday I really wasn’t that upset about the break in. Just didn’t seem that bad. It is all relative.

Good news is the lady with the mastectomy is doing great, the autoclave now has 60 amp switches, and works, we actually sterilized some packs, we have had water all week, and the generator is back in service. God is good.

For more frequent, up to the minute, short updates, please follow us on Instagram or on Facebook, we are Scott N Bekki Gardner.

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

INTRODUCING JONATHAN PORTNEY

Dear Readers, I am sharing a blog post written by our newest long term volunteer, Jonathan Portney. “JP” comes to us from Loma Linda University, having just graduated with his Public Health degree, with an emphasis in international public health. He, like all our long term volunteers, has taken on his responsibilities with gusto and enthusiasm, or as they would say here, lustfully. I appreciate his post as it shares his thoughts, feelings and reactions to life here in a poor hospital in Sierra Leone. If you want to see his other posts, check out jpinternationaltraveler.wordpress.com. Or you can see his posts on our Waterloo Adventist Hospital facebook page.

JP leading out in stretches at morning worship

It’s 8:00 AM on a Monday morning. Sounds of praise radiate from the chapel located near the front of the hospital where the staff of the Waterloo Hospital gathers every morning to partake in worship. Inside this common area is a nursing station and at any given time a patient can be ushered through the staff worship to the nursing station to receive patient care. This particular morning was emotional for me because a few nights before a child aged 2 years came into the hospital with what was perceived as an untreated case of Malaria. The child was gasping for air, you could hear the fluid gurgling in his lungs. Beneath him, on the bed, there was a pool of blood that he had peed — the child was unconscious. As orders are being shouted by the nurses around me, I do what I can to help “Give me the oxygen mask” one nurse shouts looking at me. I held my headlamp over the child so the nurses could see what they were doing, I had to do this because there was no electricity, this is a common problem at our hospital because the electrical power is hit or miss and we can only run our generators at certain times due to hospital finances. The light I had focused on the patient was shaking, and I began to feel nauseous, I could feel myself becoming very hot, and had to continuously tell myself to breathe so that I would not pass out. For some, experiencing death is a common occurrence. For me, this was my first time seeing anyone on the brink of death, laying right in front of me, and I wish I could say it would be the last. The nurses did everything they could, but it was to no avail, the child aged 2 years died. It was quiet in the room once the child was pronounced dead, some staff cried, and other staff members walked away to be alone because I’m sure we all felt that this should not happen to a child this young. However, here at Waterloo Hospital this is a reality and does happen on a regular basis. We are here trying to do everything we can with the limited education and supplies that we have. Could WE do more? Yes, should WE do more? Absolutely. Unfortunately, we have limited equipment and funds to reach this goal, and this is just a reality.

On Monday morning I decided to take a shortcut to the chapel room which passes by the connecting nursing station. Songs of praise are heard radiating from the building. I peer in the nursing station window and see a child around the same age, if not younger, peering out the window with Dr. Scott, our physician, leaning over the child checking her pulse. The child had a little pink beanie on its head with matching footies and blanket. The child was so young that it still had that baby smell which we all love. The child had her eyes open wide, and her mouth opened as if she were yawning. For a brief second, I smiled because the child almost looked scared, often children this age are afraid of Opotu people “white people” because the encounter is probably their first introduction to someone with white skin. As I entered the chapel, I decide to see the baby because it was so cute. I walk in the nursing station, the child has the same facial expression that I noticed before with eyes big and mouth open. The mother is standing at the door of the nursing station holding back tears, saying a soft prayer, the dad is standing at the nursing station bed next to Dr. Scott with a hopeless almost blank stare expressed across his face. I look at the child and notice she is not blinking. I think to myself, this surely isn’t going to be a repeat of the night before. After this thought passed, Dr. Scott pulls his stethoscope away from the child and looks at the father and says gently “I’m sorry, she is gone.” I crumbled emotionally along with the parents as they wrapped the baby in the blanket and carried her off.

Us missionaries often sit around the dinner table on Sabbath evenings envisioning what it would be like if we had more funding and resources. In Gods power, we hope they will come eventually, and we have faith that He is molding the hospital just as He sees fit. We have fully come to accept that we are powerless over our current situation. Every morning without fail we wake up with a smile on our face to greet the day, staff, and patients. If we come off as defeated, then the whole morale of the hospital would change. While I have a smile on my face, inside, I am pained. While praying, I question if it would be foolish of me to ask God for just one week where a patient doesn’t die from preventable causes. I continue to pray for this, but my prayers are a little different now. I’m asking for strength, not only for myself, but for the other missionaries, the patients who have lost loved ones, and of course my family. I feel like if I pray for no one to die, I’m trying to play God and I know that is not my role. My role is to let God use my hands, body, and mind, stay out of His way and put a smile on my face to make the lives of those around me better. For me, this prayer is manageable and keeps me waking up to greet the day with a positive attitude despite waking up almost every morning to screams from the courtyard from family members who have lost yet another loved one.

Jonathan C. Portney, MPH — Mobile Clinic Director

Morning Worship

Three years ago, or so, wow it does not seem possible, I wrote a blog about worship in Tchad. Well it is time to write one now about worship in Sierra Leone. It is similar but also very, very different.

First the similarities, morning worship starts the day. Day shift and night shift are all expected to attend. The only staff exempted are those working the afternoon/evening shift. We sing, pray, a staff member gives a talk, and often we have “contributions”, comments about whatever the topic was.

We don’t do the handshake thing that was so big in Tchad, probably due to Ebola. That scared the Sierra Leoneans from any physical contact. And the singing here is much better. These guys can carry a tune, and harmonize. Then too, we have worship in the OPD (Out Patient Department) which has awesome acoustics. When the staff ramp it up on their favorite hymns it is positively heavenly.

The Staff doing morning stretches.

Led by JP

And worship time is very structured, Monday is administration day, so a staff member talks about their job, like say a cleaner (janitor), explaining what they do with their time, and often share some of their frustrations. There is usually then a long discussion where the most vocal staff voice their opinion on the topic, usually positive, but sometimes if it is perceived that the staff member is whining unnecessarily, they will be called on it.

Tuesday and Thursday are health talk days, so a clinical staff member will give a treatise on hypertension or diabetes or nutrition, or any health related topic. Lately the focus has been on waste management, and this morning our waste management officer (he is also our anesthetist, seems to me like a natural combination) talked again about proper waste disposal. You know like, putting sharps IN the sharps container, not on the lawn. And putting soiled bloody dressings in the proper dust bin (waste receptacle). Little thing like that. In fact, just last week the Waste Management Team did a skit for worship on that very topic, what waste goes where. This is a good thing to talk about in a country that seems to believe that any public place is a garbage repository, and that the entire country is one giant urinal.

Our Waste Management Team doing their best to get the staff to put the medical waste not only in the trash, but in the right trash.

Wednesday and Friday are reserved for more traditional worship talks, which are often very thought provoking, others, well, not so much. But by and large, morning worship is a great time of fellowship and comradeship.
After worship we have the all important announcements, what committee is meeting that morning in my office, or what our upcoming schedule is. And after worship time is when we celebrate staff birthdays, births, and provide support to those who have lost loved ones. It is the time when we welcome new volunteers, or new staff with our “Welcome, Welcome” song, and it is the time when we say good-by to those who are leaving us. It is the time that the staff receive their certificates for attending and completing educational classes taught by our volunteers.

Nurse Karin giving Mr. Conteh his Certificate of Achievement.

The Loma Linda University Pharmacy Team with their Sierra Leone plaques, signed by the staff.

It is the time when we bless new additions to the hospital, from little things like dressing supplies and point of care hemoglobin monitors to larger items like physio beds, cars and even autoclaves. I have come to love this AHS tradition. It emphasizes the fact that everything we have here, everything we do here is for the glory of God, it is by His hand that we survive and function, and we owe it all to Him. So everything large or small is dedicated to be used to His honor and glory and in His service.

Blessing our new Physio table from the UK.

A particularly difficult farewell as the Peter Turay gives a heartfelt testimony about his brother Douglassss Turay at Douglasssss’s farewell.

Morning worship is held, as I mentioned, in the OPD, so it is not uncommon to have patients and families attend worship with us. What is unusual is what happened last week. Two patients wanted to share their testimonies with the staff after the announcements.

The first was Omo. She is a very brave woman who first came to us with a diabetic foot. It was really bad looking, but seemed to be viable and she was walking on it, so I did my best to save her foot. Sadly, the infection got out of control and started to spread up her leg. By the time we got her to surgery we had to do a high calf amputation and leave it open to let the infection drain out. It made me regret my earlier decision to not push for the amputation sooner. Anyway, when it came time to close the wound I had to explain to her that I could not save the knee. A below knee amputation would not leave enough length of bone below the knee to support a prosthesis, or be anything but in the way. Understandably, she was pretty upset. But she pulled it together and we got the job done, and her wound closed.

Omo

That morning she stood there on one leg, supporting herself with the walker and led the staff in singing “To God Be the Glory.” She then proceeded to praise God for His mercy, love and grace. I was so moved. Here was this woman who had just lost her leg, praising God in spite of it all. We are pretty good at praising God when He heals us, saves us or delivers us, but after losing a leg in a place that does not make it easy for the handicapped. Never saw that in America.

Then a couple of days later, an old Muslim man wanted to share his testimony. He is recovering from a stroke and is still very weak, but he managed to walk a few steps and he too started to sing,, “Tell Papa God Tenki (thank you)”. It is a Sierra Leonean favorite, but I didn’t realize the Muslims sang it too. The staff joined in lustfully as they say here. It is a praise chorus, “Tell God thank you for what He does for us, He saved us, He does everything for us.”

Our Muslim brother leads us in singing, bring those hands together.

Paul tells us in everything to be content and to give thanks for all things and in all circumstances. I would do well to learn from a woman with one leg and an old Muslim man.

For more frequent, up to the minute short updates please follow us on Instagram or on Facebook, we are Scott N Bekki Gardner.

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

KABIA – PART II

Last Sabbath I posted a blog about our lab technician, Amadu Dalton Kabia. Because of the power of the internet and social media, and the faithfulness of Christians everywhere, people were praying for Kabia in homes and churches literally around the world. We received responses from Taiwan, the Philippines, Europe and the Americas. Since then I have received a number of requests for an update.

Earlier this week I had a chance to sit down with Kabia and hear from him what happened.

As you recall he had been ill for a couple of weeks and just didn’t seem to be improving. Or, he would get better then relapse. Last Friday morning at 5 am, after a difficult night sleeping, his family came to take him home. He just wasn’t improving here at the hospital and it was time to do something else.

Kabia tried to resist, but as he told me, they were his elders and so he really had no choice but to obey. He was told they were going to take him to another hospital, but instead, he was taken directly home. As he suspected, once he arrived home plans were made to take him to the native healer. I addressed the problems with that in the last blog. He flatly refused to go, elders or not. So, they brought the native healer to him.

This lady has a lipoma on her left shoulder that I took off this week. However, notice all the scars. These are cuttings from the native healers, presumably to get rid of the evil lipoma on her shoulder.

At that point, he was not feeling well at all, but was with it enough to resist the power of the witch doctor in his heart. He said they did some kind of ceremony which he was unable to describe. They told him his illness was all due to the man we had fired earlier this year. He told them he didn’t even work with that guy, and had nothing to do with the firing. He told them if they could give him some natural remedies, herbs and such, to make him feel better, that would be fine. Otherwise, he said, forget it. With that, they left, presumably to leave him to his fate.

From that point on, he began to improve. By Monday he was strong enough to come back to the hospital and do a little work but mostly he rested and hung out with his friends. Tuesday, he did a bit more, and so on. I told him to come late, leave early, whatever he needed to do, but make sure he rested. Much of the burden has fallen on Sallie, his assistant in the lab. She has been able to do many of the tests, as they are automated ones, or use test strips. But those tests that require a microscope are harder and she is not really trained to do it. But, here in West Africa, you try anyway, you do your best, you never give up. So, we would find Sallie huddled at the microscope, just shaking as she tried her best to read the slides. She was so relieved when I told her she didn’t have to do that. I told her to Just do the tests she knows how to do.

At this time, Kabia is much better, still a little weak and tired, no doubt partly due to his Ebola history. But he looks bright (healthy), and he has his smile back. I am so proud of our lab, they really went through the testing fires this month and came out shining.

This is our lab crew, Michael on the left, Sallie on the right and Kabia in the middle. A truly indomitable group!

The devil is strong here, but the power of our God, unleashed by the prayers of the saints around the world, is stronger than all the forces of hell for those who submit to Him.

“Submit yourselves then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 NIV

For more frequent, up to the minute short updates, please follow us on Instagram or on Facebook, we are Scott N Bekki Gardner.

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

OUR STRUGGLE IS NOT AGAINST FLESH AND BLOOD

Yesterday at the end of worship the entire staff stood up and held hands, making sure there was an unbroken circle, and we prayed for one of our own. Our lab technician, our Ebola survivor, was ill. He had been ill for a couple of weeks, and wasn’t responding normally to treatment. It could be because he kept going back to work too quickly, and wasn’t getting enough rest, or because he really never let us finish an adequate course of treatment, or maybe he has something else wrong that we can’t diagnose, or maybe it is a result of his Ebola history. There is some thought that Ebola survivors are relatively immune comprised. Whatever the reason, he just wasn’t getting better.

However, that is not why we were praying. We were having this special season of prayer because at 5 am that morning his family had shown up and taken him from the hospital against his will. The staff did not need to be told what this probably meant. When families come and forcibly remove someone from the hospital they typically are planning to revert to the default–take the patient to the natural healer. Every village, every community has at least one natural healer. These are not naturopaths as we understand them. No, these are witch doctors in every sense of the word. I actually had no idea how evil these men and women are until just recently.

The AHS family was upset because just three weeks ago we buried the Seventh-day Adventist wife of a prominent staff member whose family had taken over her medical care. The husband shared with me the story.

Josephine had been ill for several weeks. The labs tests were all normal, and there was nothing wrong on physical exam, except she didn’t feel “bright”, meaning she was weak and tired. Different medications were tried without much success. Now, it has to be said that this happens in the US as well. Patients have some unknown malady that doesn’t respond to treatment. Eventually they get better, most of the time, or something shows up to steer us in the correct direction. However, in Josephine’s case the family was not going to wait. So, they took her home. Her family is not Christian, although to be honest, it really would not have made much difference. I have observed that whether you are Muslim or Christian, when the going gets tough the vast majority of them will revert to their animist roots. And who do they turn to for medical help? The natural healers.

So, these guys were brought in. What I am about to tell you will sound made up,like something out of a horror novel, but it is not, I assure you it is real. First, they found some masses or lesions at various locations on her body. These were removed. Without surgery, without incisions or scars. Cutting, actual cutting with a knife, and blood letting is a very common treatment here. Many of my patients have multiple scars on their bodies as the result of natural treatments. But then they reached into her abdomen and pulled out the real source of the problem, a snake like creature, 8-9 inches long, with a discernable head and tail, that was moving. I have seen the picture of it. It was fortunately destroyed so it would not bother anyone else.

I asked if there was a scar. I was concerned these guys had made a hole in her intestine and not closed it and she had died from sepsis. I was informed that these natural healers have magic and the wound just closes over spontaneously and very quickly, leaving no trace of a wound.

Josephine seemed to recover some after her “natural” treatments. But then 4 Sabbaths ago her family called the husband saying that she was very ill. She was brought to the hospital and died a few hours later, at the age of 39.

Did she die because of the natural treatments or despite them? Did she have some unknown ailment that was to doom her no matter how she was treated? We will never know. But what I can assure you is that as soon as the natural healers became involved with all their magic and potions, God was pushed out. How can God answer the prayers of the church for healing when the devil is involved? Who is going to get the credit if He does work a miracle?

It was with those thoughts in mind that we prayed about our lab tech. I am sure most everyone in the room knew the stakes involved. It is extremely unlikely the family took him from the hospital to try to get him into one of the fancy expensive European hospitals in Freetown, or that they are going to airlift him to France for treatment.
He knew as well, what was in store for him, which is why he vehemently protested leaving the hospital. But individuals here have no say, it is the family, specifically the ranking member of the family who decides for everyone.

So we prayed, we prayed that somehow God would intervene and the family would allow him to come back to the hospital, allow us to continue treating him. We may not have much for diagnostics or treatment options, but we have something greater than that, we have the Great Physician. And in this war, that is worth more than all the soldiers, all the armaments, all the captains and all the kings.

Here, the evil, the darkness is so “in your face”, so blatant it is impossible to miss. But it is just as real in the “developed” world. We just call it by other names, or we rationalize it away with our smart scientific theories and ideas, but the evil is there.

I don’t know how this will end, but I know God will not force Himself where He is not wanted, so ultimately it is up to us, we choose which side we will be on. And that is a decision we all have to make, whether we live in Sierra Leone, Tchad, France, England, the US, or any other country in this world.

I am happy to report that we just received a message from our faithful lab tech wishing us a Happy Sabbath, and telling us that he is home and will not let anyone mislead him. Praise God, but, he will need all the power of heaven to stand against the will of his family.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12 NIV

For more frequent, up to the minute short updates please follow us on Instagram or on Facebook, we are Scott N Bekki Gardner.

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