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

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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