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

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Christmas 2015, A Christmas to Remember

It is funny the things that stick in our memories. Really the only Christmases that I remember from my childhood were the ones in Thailand as an earliteen. Our Ekamai Adventist Church Choir would go caroling to the big 5 star hotels in Bangkok. We had uniforms, cool green vests specially made for the Christmas eve event. Dad and I were in the choir together.

I remember the special Christmases in Tillamook when the kids were little and all three grandparents were with us. Dad and I had a special tradition of giving each other a jar of almond roca candies. The last 10 years have been wild. Bekki and I looked back and I don’t think we have spent Christmas in the same place 2 years in a row since about 2003-2004. We have celebrated Christmas together in some pretty wild and exotic places in that time, and we are grateful for the memories.

This year, though was shaping up to be a bit of a bust. It would be the first year without Lindsay, and only the second Christmas without Jon. Our only consolation was we would at least have Diana. Someday maybe I will learn that when things seem the worst they often turn out to be the best, or at least one of the best.
Our Christmas started 2 days after getting back to Moundou. We had brought with us a Jewish physical therapist from Switzerland, Namoi, who would spend two weeks with us, doing PT and staff education. Turns out Hanukkah started two days after we arrived. What a beautiful privilege and blessing it was to celebrate Hanukkah with her, as each night we lit candles and listened to the blessing.

Naomi and Diana at our little Hanukkah celebration.

Naomi and Diana at our little Hanukkah celebration.

But God was not done with our Christmas yet.

The afternoon of December 23 Bekki got a phone call from some evangelical missionary friends of ours who run a print shop on the mission station just north of Moundou. Their grand-daughter, 15 year old Alyssa, was sick, with a high fever. They started her immediately on malaria meds, but were worried nonetheless. Christmas eve morning, Bekki called back to see how Alyssa was doing. They were just leaving the house to come to the hospital. Her temperature was 104, she had been vomiting all night and she was lethargic. Thirty minutes later they arrived and Victor had to carry her into the house she was so weak. Alyssa was scared, her grandparents were scared. Malaria can be wicked, and she was worse even after starting treatment.

We quickly got her blood tested confirming both malaria and typhoid, and just clinically she was dehydrated. Diana got an IV going and we started treatment with fluids, antibiotics and quinine. We got them all set up in the two guest rooms and Diana and Bekki kept her IV’s and IV meds going over the next 60 hours. She was one sick little girl. Lots of prayers around the world went up in her behalf.

Our Christmas gathering, Bekki, Nancy,  Jack, Alyssa , and Diana.

Our Christmas gathering, Bekki, Nancy, Jack, Alyssa , and Diana.

Bekki still had plans for Christmas eve. She and Diana spent all day baking cookies, something like 300. She made snickerdoodles and Christmas sugar cookies. She has some cookie cutters and started out making Christmas trees with green sparkles. Unfortunately Tchadiens have no context of understanding of Christmas trees, to them it looked like arrows, so she switched to stars and bells. They made gallons of punch spiked with 7-up. And promptly at 6 pm we headed to the hospital to throw a surprise Christmas eve party for the patients and families and any staff who wanted to come. A party complete with punch, homemade cookies and a movie. It had been a long time, too long, since we had shown the Jesus video, but what better time than Christmas eve, when the whole Christian world celebrates His birth. It was a lot of work but a huge success as over 100 people watched the film in their heart language, Ngambay.

The birthday cake for Jesus that Nancy made.

The birthday cake for Jesus that Nancy made.

By Christmas morning Alyssa was feeling better, but still not eating or drinking and throwing up when she tried to walk, but definitely improving. Nancy and Jack, her grandparents had brought homemade Christmas cookies with them and a killer stuffing for Christmas dinner. The ladies went all out and Friday afternoon we were treated to as traditional a Christmas dinner as you could ask for. We spent the evening reading Christmas in my heart stories and fellowshipping together. We were able to get Alyssa connected by skype to her parents, Nancy and Jack’s daughter and son-in-law.

Late Christmas morning a family came into the hospital with their little 5 year old girl, Ramadji. She was crying and screaming and clutching at herself in the universal, “I gotta go” sign. She had been like this for 2 months as her parents tried to find help for her. Abba the consultation nurse immediately knew what she needed, and for the first time in 8 months we had the equipment to do it. He suspected a bladder stone, and she needed an ultrasound. I had just received one from our French speaking group AMALF and had gotten it working the day before. A five second look was all it took to see the bright white crescent with the black shadow in her little bladder. It was huge, no wonder she was screaming. She had to be having constant bladder spasms.

Little Ramadji sleeping just after surgery.

Little Ramadji sleeping just after surgery.

Her bladder stone

Her bladder stone

We treated her with antibiotics, pain meds and sedatives to get her (and everyone else) through the night. Normally we don’t operate on Sabbaths, but there was no way I was going to make this little child of God suffer any longer. The stone was at least an inch and a half in diameter, and rough. I can’t imagine how she suffered. Thankfully we aren’t in the US as we had to tie her hands and feet to the bed as she woke up so she wouldn’t pull out her catheter and hurt herself. By sundown she was calm and quiet and the nurses were able to untie her safely.

Today, Sunday, has seen our eventful Christmas come to an end. Alyssa was eating and drinking well this morning and so she, grandma and grandpa all finally got to go home. Little Ramadji ate a normal Tchadien breakfast of bouille this morning, and was lying peacefully and quietly in her bed on rounds. Things were quiet at supper tonight, with just the three of us once again as we ate leftovers and cookies, but it was a happy quiet.

It had not been the Christmas we planned (other than the party for the patients and families), but it turned out to be a Christmas we will always remember with great fondness. It is not often we are given so many opportunities to be a blessing to others in such a short time period. And for me even less often that I seize the opportunity when it is presented to me. It really is true, our greatest joy is found in service to others.

For those of you 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. 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. You will also find links to other missionary blogs such as Olen and Danae Netteburg and others. 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

Merry Christmas

We would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Joyeux Noel. We pray this letter finds you and your family well, happy and together.

Although we have had more personal and professional growth this year tibhan ever before, and faced more challenges and more obstacles than ever before, one of the downsides of writing a blog is that it makes it tough to write a Christmas letter. I have already written about our experiences this last year so I can’t write a summation letter, telling all about the year. So I thought I would keep it simple.

I would simply like to thank all of you who have made this year possible. All of you who have prayed for us, donated supplies and money for our projects and encouraged us. It is not possible for me to find adequate words to express how much that has meant to us.

There are however, a few institutions and individuals who deserve a special note of thanks and acknowledgement.
Adventist Health International and St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center for their donation of supplies.
Clarkston SDA Church for it’s financial and moral support.

Archie and RBD Willis, David and Cathy Olson, and Kermit and Ronnalee Netteburg, our stateside family who have handled our business affairs, paid bills, sold our house, found renters and plumbers, shopped for us and done countless other things that we could not do from Africa.

Our August group, Patty, Will, Jolene, Clia, Lindsay, Nick and Kelsey

Our August group, Patti, Will, Jolene, Clia, Lindsay, Nick and Kelsey

And our volunteers. To all of you, we could not have made it through the year without you. We know, we went 3 weeks in October without any volunteers, it wasn’t pretty or pleasant. You gave up money and time and your families to come be with us and work with us. You saw us at our worst. You raised money for the Centre. You put up with lousy living conditions, malaria, diarrhea, sand in your food, slow unreliable internet, all so you could make a difference. And you did and continue to make a difference in our lives and in the lives of the people of Tchad. You are our African family.
Johnny, Rebecca, Laura

Johnny, Rebecca, Laura

Rebecca Wind – Denmark
LyDiana Jesmin – Malaysia
Tini Binaas – Malaysia
Johnny Ahn – Georgia, USA
Brandon Tresenriter – California, USA

Rebecca, Johnny, Brandon

Rebecca, Johnny, Brandon


Laura Engelsen – Denmark
Henrik and Miriam Hoberg – Norway
Thomas Andersen – Denmark
Matt Tresenriter – California, USA
Matt Tresenriter

Matt Tresenriter


Ellen Shin – California, USA
Lindsay Gardner, Tennessee, USA
,Lindsay, Ellen, Johnny

,Lindsay, Ellen, Johnny


Nick and Kelsey Ewing, North Carolina, USA
Lindsay, Nick, Kelsey, Clia

Lindsay, Nick, Kelsey, Clia


Patty Padhilha – Uruguay
Patty, Will, Jolene

Patty, Will, Jolene


Will and Jolene Wainwright – Washington, USA
A rousing Saturday night game of Hand and Foot

A rousing Saturday night game of Hand and Foot


Adrian Sarli – Tennessee, USA
Diana Hernandez – Mexico
Dr. Orie

Dr. Orie

Orie Kaltenbaugh – Washington, USA

On this Christmas 2014, it is our wish to be with you all again. May Jesus come again soon and make that wish come true.

For those of you 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. 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. You will also find links to other missionary blogs such as Olen and Danae Netteburg and others. 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

Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas)

Merry Christmas to all our dear friends and family. We are in Silver Spring, Maryland with Kermit and Ronnalee Netteburg. Ronnalee is Bekki’s sister. It is good to have all our family together.

Lindsay, Bekki, Scott and Jon at the National Christmas Tree, Washington, DC

Lindsay, Bekki, Scott and Jon at the National Christmas Tree, Washington, DC

Christmas eve we went to St John’s church in downtown Washington, DC for a Christmas eve service. This church is the “President’s Church” as it is across the street from the White House and every President since Madison has gone to church there. It was a beautiful service, and a touching way to usher in Christmas. We then made a quick visit to the National and State Christmas trees on the ellipse. From the picture you can tell it was very very cold. Jon was not taking the band off his face for anything.

We head back to Tennessee on Friday for the last minute packing and shopping. And yes, we got our passports with our visas for Tchad, thanks to Diana Jo and Maggy at the GC. All is set for Monday afternoon, December 30 when we finally take off for Africa and all that we have been preparing for.

So on this Christmas day of 2013, from our family to yours, we wish you all a happy, blessed day, full of family, food, laughter and the love of Jesus.

With you we look forward to 2014 and the promise it holds, but even more we look toward the coming of Jesus when we can be with Him forever and everyday will be Christmas.

For those of you new to our blog, read about us and our upcoming mission to Africa in the “About Us” page, then there is a “Timeline” page that tells you where we will be this year, and finally a “Definitions” page that explains some terms that may be unfamiliar to some of you. Also check out the links to other Mission Hospitals to find other missionary blogs.

– Scott Gardner