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

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT MY LIFE IN SIERRA LEONE

Life is hard here. Harder than I could have imagined from our short 1 month trips to Bere before becoming full time missionaries. Hot all the time, constantly sticky with sweat except when it is just pouring out of my skin, constantly harassed by little kids and adults begging for money, trying to navigate cultural land mines every day, always having to concentrate 110% to make sure I understand what is being said, living in a beautiful land spoiled by trash, these are just a few of the things that make life here difficult for a soft American “glamper”.

But, there are so many things that fill my heart with joy, I thought I would list some of them, no particular order, and not an exhaustive list:

Listening to the staff sing, “When we all get to heaven”, it means so much more here where life on earth ain’t that great.

Having almost all the staff together each morning for morning worship, which starts with British precision at 08:30.

Listening to the morning worship talk as a junior staff member shares what our mission statement means to him, “demonstrating the healthcare ministry of Jesus.” They have caught the importance of our mission and vision and core values.

The blessing of each new item added to the hospital, from blood pressure cuffs, to cars to generators. All are blessed with a special prayer and dedicated to God’s service.

Seeing patients and families attending morning worship.

Being in my office at 4:30 in the afternoon on Wednesday and Friday and hearing the singing start as our call to worship for prayer meeting and Vespers respectively.

Singing “Welcome, welcome, how do you do” to visitors each Sabbath in church and to welcome our new volunteers.
The cheery good morning I get each morning from the canteen staff as I walk to the hospital.

Having a Board of Directors that takes their job seriously and thoughtfully, and supports us.

Having AHI to turn to for help and support, each one of whom is a jewel in their own right.

Having a mission President who is honest, trustworthy and understands the relationship between the church and it’s hospitals.

Having an air conditioner in my office and in my bedroom.

All of our volunteers, short term, long term, they keep us young and going.

Hearing the Muslim call to prayer (yes you read that right), from a distance, as it softly and musically flows through the evening air.

The cool ocean breeze.

The beach

The sunshine

The chance to work with people who have been through so much, suffered so much loss and still can laugh and smile.

Being a part of saving a life.

Having a chance to do something for others that I know they could never do on their own, not for lack of intelligence or skill, but lack of opportunity.

Seeing jaw dropping pathology. I have a saying, “If the locals are taking pictures, you know it is bad.”
Practicing with little fear of malpractice.

Being able to sleep every night.

Being able to do pretty much all your shopping from the car as you sit in traffic in Freetown because all the vendors pass by selling everything from fruit, nuts and popcorn to mops to cell phone cords to cell phones.

A solid administrative team.

Eating roasted cashews and peanuts everyday.

Eating the best pineapple in the world every day, and papaya and mangoes and guava.

Having a cleaner who makes 300,000 leones a month pick up a 5000 leone bill I accidently dropped and putting it on my desk instead of just keeping it.

When a patient who came with necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria) in their neck because of a cavity in a tooth, looks you in the eye and says “Thank you for saving my life”.

Praying before every surgery.

Praying before every car ride.

Having friends, good friends, all over the world.

Speaking French

Seeing God perform miracles

“Snapping” the kids and moms in the villages and then hearing their shrieks in of delight when they see their picture on my phone.

Hiking up Mount Erin behind the hospital on Sabbath afternoons with Doug and Julian and volunteers and Africans who choose to join us.

Being able to share this adventure with my best friend and soul mate.

Happy Sabbath.

For more frequent, up to the minute short updates please follow us on Instagram, 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

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

Koidu Town-Home of the Blood Diamonds

Koidu is the chief city in the district of Kono, in the far eastern area of Sierra Leone. It is home to the mining industry, mostly diamonds and gold. Kono is famous as the site for the documentary movie “Blood Diamonds”. Money from the sale of the diamonds have funded many a war, including Sierra Leone’s own Rebel War of the 1990’s. But others have profited as well, hence much blood has been shed because of wealth generated by these gems.

Diamond Mining in Koidu

Diamond Mining in Koidu

But Koidu and the Kono district is also home to another group of “Gems”, loyal dedicated Seventh-day Adventists who have a burden for their fellow man. This last June the men’s group of the Koidu SDA Church got together and brainstormed. “What can we do for the church and the community? More specifically, how can we impact their health and well-being?”

Our guest house in Koidu.  It was really nice.  Great birding spot too.

Our guest house in Koidu. It was really nice. Great birding spot too.

It so happens that the health and temperance leader of the church, one Boko-Lincoln, is a pharmacist and has his own store. He has been in the community since 1967, so is very well known. As is common here in this country of limited medical resources, he operates a simple clinic out of his pharmacy. So he evaluates and treats patients according to his knowledge level.

Before we get too self-righteous about a pharmacist practicing medicine I must point out that it is a lot better for him to be using the medical knowledge he has to help the overburdened local doctors and nurses, rather than for people to access the health care from the traditional healers. Reference my last post where I described pulling leaves out of my patient’s abdomen, the herbs the traditional healers used to treat Sahr’s perforated ulcer.

Greetings from the Koidu Church

Greetings from the Koidu Church

Bekki reading off the results of the offering competition between the men and women (guys won by about 2,000 leones, 38 cents)

Bekki reading off the results of the offering competition between the men and women (guys won by about 2,000 leones, 38 cents)

So it was that Boko-Lincoln suggested that they open a small pharmacy in the church, and sell the medications on a cost-recovery basis. The goal was not to make a profit, but to make good quality medications available and affordable to the local church first then the local population. Now it is possible to buy pretty much all these drugs at the local market, but the problem is you have no idea what you are buying. Is it really penicillin? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows, and who cares, except for the family of the patient who just died because they bought and took bogus medications. You get the point.

Koidu Church and their dispensary table with BP cuff, thermometer, and meds

Koidu Church and their dispensary table with BP cuff, thermometer, and meds

The rest of the church was excited about this new health care initiative. I should also point out that as Health and Temperance leader, Boko-Lincoln is not idle, he gives a weekly health talk at church as well as leading out in this small dispensary. Soon the day came to unveil the dispensary. The church invited our mission president, Pastor Daniel Sandy, to attend.

At the grand unveiling ceremony with Pastor Sandy being the keynote speaker, it came up that they would really like to have an Adventist Health System Clinic in their area. Pastor Sandy told me about it as we traveled to the US together for the TAASLA campmeeting. The whole concept fits in very well with our vision to transform the health of all people in Sierra Leone. So as soon as I returned we began contacting the leadership in Kono District. A meeting was set up for Friday and Sabbath, September 9 and 10.

It was a long 5 hour drive over some horrendous roads (well they don’t actually qualify as roads, wide advanced motocross trails is more like it). But we spent a delightful Friday evening hearing what they are doing to evangelize and help the people who live in their community. We worshipped together on Sabbath morning and in the afternoon visited the churches 5 acre property, as well as an unfinished building that would work well for a clinic. We finished the visit with a meeting with the Parma Chief, the top chief in the area.

Meeting with the Parma Chief (on my right) and the other village leaders.

Meeting with the Parma Chief (on my right) and the other village leaders.

The first two criteria any community has to meet in order for us to consider them as an AHS clinic site are:

There has to be a need. We are not going to open a clinic next door to another health facility, be it government or private. There are so many areas without health care, we need to focus on them first.

And, two, there has to be strong community support, not just the church, but the community as a whole. Koidu meets both these qualifications. The nearest health facility is several miles away over very difficult roads. And based on the meetings we had with the church people and the community leaders there is very strong support.

But there is a third criteria. We want to know how the Adventist church community and health care community plan to use the clinic to follow the vision of AHS, to improve the physical, spiritual, mental and social well-being of their communities. These clinics are first and foremost a way to improve the spiritual and physical health of their people. Secondary is an income stream, uh OK, reality is it is probably further down the list.

The unfinished clinic building

The unfinished clinic building

Inside the building

Inside the building

They are well on their way to demonstrating a strong affirmative on all three points.
We really don’t know where this will go. The building needs finished and then Adventist healthcare workers need to be recruited. But the great news is that it is God’s work, when He is ready for AHS-Koidu Clinic to open, it will open. We just have to be prepared to march through the door when He opens it.

Mining is still active in Kono District. I don’t know how the profits are used, but it would not surprise me if there are still a few blood diamonds. But for us it really is irrelevant. What matters is there are people who need health care and they need Jesus.

Bekki practicing carrying wood on her head.  Put that woman to work!!

Bekki practicing carrying wood on her head. Put that woman to work!!

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