AN ANGEL IN FATIGUES

“Fire, Fire!!!!”

The cry went up from the back of the bus, somewhere near the border of Burkina Faso and Mali. It was about 1:30 am when some cables overheated and caught fire in the back of the passenger bus carrying a precious cargo, a part of our AHS family.

The Danquah family, Elizabeth, Rebecca, Samuel, with Nana and Samuella.

Elizabeth Danquah, my very special surgical assistant, her cousin Rebecca and the two Danquah children, Nana, 6, and Samuella, 3, were on that bus, sitting toward the front. They were traveling back from visiting their families in Ghana for the first time in years. So it was the first time the family had met Nana and Samuella.
When the cry of fire went out the children were asleep, the adults mostly asleep. As the bus pulled over to the side of the road people began running forward toward the door, pushing and shoving to be the first out. No one knew when the bus might explode, or become a fireball. In the melee that ensued, little Samuella was trapped, crushed by this river of panic stricken adults.

Somehow, by the grace of God, Elizabeth and Rebecca were able to rescue Samuella and get her and Nana to safety.
In many ways though, it was out of the frying pan into the fire. All the passengers were now stranded in the bush, in the middle of nowhere, with a broken down bus that is on fire and going nowhere. Soon a policeman showed up and warned them that it was not safe in that place. There were robbers around who would take great delight in relieving the passengers of whatever they might have of value. So he stayed with the group, although I doubt he would have been much protection had they come under attack by a band of thieves.

Nana trying to sleep on the ground in the bush.

The angels of God surrounded this stranded group of travelers that first night as they huddled together. Morning brought light (safety) and transport to the next city in Mali. And so the little family boarded another transport to continue their journey home, a journey that normally took 5 days, but already was now a day delayed.
Later that evening, again in a remote area of Mali the driver of the bus realized he had no brakes. He was able to get the bus slowed and stopped on the side of the road, but another night was spent in the bush with little to no protection from robbers, save the presence of God’s angels.

The next day Elizabeth, Rebecca and the children were able to get transport to the nearest city in the country of Guinea. Now only one border was left to cross, between Guinea and Sierra Leone, but it would be a very long day to get to Waterloo. Not to mention all the time that would be spent at the border crossing as each passenger had their documents checked and verified. Then there would be several immigration checkpoints before and after the border.

By this time Samuella was obviously ill. She was complaining of abdominal pain, she was throwing up, unable to keep even liquids down.

Here at AHS the entire hospital was praying. Our worldwide prayer team was praying. Mr. Samuel Danquah, Elizabeth’s husband and the children’s father, and our Director of Spiritual Ministries, had received a brief message about the fire and that Samuella had been caught in the made scramble to exit the bus. But then for 48 hours, nothing. No word from the family. In this case no news is not good news. No news can mean they were attacked by robbers, maybe they had been kidnapped, maybe Samuella was badly injured. Too many unknowns. But through it all his faith did not waiver, he had left them in God’s care and that was that.

In Guinea, Elizabeth knew they were in trouble. Her husband had sent enough money for the trip, but not for extras, like two nights in the bush, a bus fire and bus breakdown. They were down to about 700,000 leones, ($100). Something was seriously wrong with Samuella, she was getting more lethargic, and listless. Still vomiting, and still complaining that her tummy hurt. Although they were getting closer to home, it was still a long way off, with a lot of delays likely to slow things down, and Samuella needed to be seen at the hospital sooner rather than later.

As the family walked toward the bus station hoping to find an express bus to take them to Waterloo a man in military fatigues approached them. He had noticed that Samuella did not look good and he offered to help. Would they like him to drive them in his vehicle to their destination? They had never seen this man before. And they are two young women with two little children. Not a good combination. He wanted 1,500,000 leones ($200). They only had 700,000. Elizabeth was able to get her husband on the phone and negotiate with this army man down to the 700,000 le.

And so began the final leg of this incredible journey. At the first checkpoint he flipped on his siren and lights and the guards saw the military label on the vehicle and waved them though. At the border between Guinea and Sierra Leone he did the same thing and the guards just waved them through. It was the same at each checkpoint. No stopping, no document checks, no questions. They were able to drive straight through to Waterloo in record time.

Samuella in the hospital, on the road to recovery

When they arrived later that same afternoon, Samuella was nearly unconscious. She was severely dehydrated, suffering from malaria, typhoid and anemia, an often lethal combination. Our nurses are experts at getting IV’s in little dehydrated children, and this was no exception. She was started on IV hydration, Ceftriaxone and Quinine. When I went to see her, she barely acknowledged my presence.

Samuella and Nana are two of the cutest kids you would ever hope to meet. And they faithfully greet Dr. Scott and Mommy Scott in the mornings and afternoons as we walk by their house. It was hard to look at this beautiful little child of God, knowing that the odds were not good. I comforted myself that at least her lungs were still clear.

I went home that night not knowing what would happen, it literally could go either way. I stopped by her room the next morning before worship and was relieved to be greeted by a cry from a cranky little girl. She was better!!! She was going to be alright. That morning in worship there were plenty of praises for God’s grace and healing power.

The military man in fatigues? He took off right after dropping the family off at the hospital. Was he their guardian angel masquerading as a man? Perhaps. Was he just a mere mortal military man with a compassionate heart that was tuned into the Spirit of God? Perhaps. Does it matter? Not really. To us at AHS he will always be our angel in fatigues.

Elizabeth with a now recovered Samuella.

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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Physical Therapy

We are currently in N’djamena ready to head back to Moundou on the early morning bus. We just got back from our whirlwind trip to California, primarily to recruit a physical therapist. Since shortly after arriving here we have known that we desperately need a real physical therapist. The best surgery in the world is to no avail if you end up with a stiff, frozen knee.

Rebecca did it, and made a huge difference, until Diana came. She has put her heart and soul into it, but it is not her passion, it is not why she came to Tchad. She has made a huge difference as well, but when we first heard that there was a physical therapist, with business training, and Oh yea, he already speaks French, we were, well we were ecstatic. But as always there was a catch, he might still be going to Haiti. We waited, we prayed, and we waited. Finally Rebecca could stand it no longer (thankfully) and she e-mailed Angeli at the Global Health Office, “is Nick still available, should we continue to hope, or move on?”

Turns out Haiti fell through, (bummer, sorry Nick) and he was thinking and praying about what to do next. When we got that e-mail, it was clear to me what needed to be done. Nick needed to know we were serious, we were really flesh and blood, not just some name on a paper, and if Haiti didn’t need him, we did. The time I could go to California and make a personal appeal was just over two weeks away. It was clear to me that God was in this, everything fell into place, Samedi was available to cover, we were able to get reasonably priced tickets, Nick was available then and so on.

So on March 22 we headed up to N’djamena, caught our flight to Paris to Atlanta and finally after 52 hours got to bed in Los Angeles. It was a very busy week, as we had a lot of things to do while we were in Loma Linda. We met with the AHI and Global Health officers. This is the group that helps manage our hospital, and helps keep us supplied. They provide financial and material support. We were able to attend their committee meeting and tour the warehouse as well as run errands for the missionaries in Bere. The warehouse was impressive, equipment and supplies for all over the world are housed and shipped from there. They were able to put together three 50 pound boxes of supplies for us, catheters, syringes, instruments, sterilization paper and packets and so on.

We met with medical students in the DMA (Deferred Mission Appointment) program. We showed pictures and answered their questions and encouraged them in their quest to serve our Lord. We enjoyed a few days of clean, traffic laws, and climate control. And most importantly, we met with Nick.

Turns out he had pretty much decided to join us, before we arrived, but he was very happy to meet us and have a chance to talk with us. And we got what we came for, a verbal commitment to join us in August, for at least a year. Diana and Rebecca will have the time to pursue their passion of community health and outreach. Our patients will get full time professional physical therapy, and our students and staff will be able to learn from Nick. This in combination with the planned visits and support from our physical therapy friends in Switzerland should really get this off the ground, and hopefully even start an outpatient PT program.

At the same time we got a commitment for 6 months from a nurse who speaks some French as well. He will join us in late July through the end of the year. And we got a commitment from Dr. Salomon to join us as soon as he can get his Tchadien visa. Dr. Salomon is a young physician from the Congo who spent the last 4 years working alone in Koza, Cameroon. I was supposed to join him there, but well, you know that story. The hospital in Koza is just about shut down now, and he was looking for a job and we were looking for help. Match made in heaven, quite literally, I believe. He will be such a help in doing consults, surgeries and ultrasounds. We have a great team forming up for the next year, I really believe that we will be able to take the Center to the next level and beyond. God has been so good to us.

One story before I close. Due to unfortunate changes in how Delta Airlines calculates miles for your status with them (silver, gold, platinum, etc) we got demoted, big time. We had plenty of miles, but Delta apparently didn’t feel we had sent them enough money, so I went from Gold to nothing, a blip on the sheet, and Bekki dropped to Silver. The big problem with this was luggage, with Gold we got extra luggage, which we used to carry supplies. As I said earlier we wanted to take back three boxes of medical supplies, then we had one trunk for ourselves (Fritos and other essential food items). Problem one was that when I checked in on line it said we each only were allowed one bag to check. Problem two was that we had two round trip tickets, LAX to Paris and Paris to N’djamena. By doing it that way it saves $1000 a ticket, seriously (don’t even try to understand airline ticket pricing, it is more confusing than Obamacare). Problem three was that although we booked through Delta, the flights were operated by Air France, and although Delta has always let us take humanitarian baggage for free, Air France is not so generous. And you have to go with the rules of the operating carrier, not the booking carrier, even though they are partners. So we faced potentially a $400 bill for two boxes, $100 each for 2 flights.

Rebecca posted on Facebook asking for prayer, we prayed, and we went up to the ticket counter. First answer to prayer, Air France accepted Rebecca’s silver status, so she got two pieces of checked luggage. However, they called Paris and the home office refused the humanitarian baggage, so we would have to pay for that. Second answer to prayer, they agreed to check our luggage all the way through to N’djamena, even though the flights were booked on separate tickets, so we were now down to $100, which I would have been happy with, but not God, no way. Third answer to prayer, turned out (again don’t even try to understand this) that on our flight to N’djamena we were allowed 5 pieces of checked luggage (2 for me, 3 for Rebecca), and since they checked us all the way through, the computer (not Air France, their computer) gave us that baggage allowance for the whole trip. Total bill $0 (after tickets of course). Then to top it off, all four pieces came through, totally intact. I told Rebecca that poor Air France did not stand a chance against her Facebook prayer warriors and our God.

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

 

Batouri III

“Say what? I am doing what tomorrow?”

It was Friday evening, we had just come back from vespers at the church on the Batouri Adventist Hospital campus. Dr. Olen Netteburg had given a great message in French that he thought up on the 3 minute walk down to the church, and we had just gotten into the house when Dr. Roger, the Congolese medical director of Batouri informed me that I was preaching tomorrow at another church in Batouri. That was my reaction. I can get by at work and with simple conversations in French, but preaching the next day, well, I am no Olen.

The only reason I didn’t flat out say no was that in December our pastor here in Moundou had asked me to preach on January 24. I had already mostly written out the sermon, and amazingly (read miraculously) had printed it off just before we left and brought it with me in case I had a little time to work on it on the trip. So I had my work cut out for me for Friday evening.

On the way to the church the next morning, with Dr. Roger as my guide I got to thinking:

“They know I don’t speak French well, and there are a number of Adventist churches in Batouri, and they sent all of out to preach at different churches, Kermit is at the hospital church, probably the biggest, we dropped Drs. Salomon and Odei at two other more centrally located churches. And now we are headed out of town. In fact this road is starting to resemble an advance dirt bike trail.”

The farther we went, which was a little difficult because I couldn’t find the parking brake to release it (I told Olen later he might need a new one), anyway the farther we went, the more relaxed I became. My thoughts continued.

“Yea, this is on the edge of town, in fact maybe a little out of town, I bet they are sending me to one of those little one day churches, like they have around Bere. I bet there will be 50 little kids and 10 adults, most of whom don’t speak French. So I can say whatever I want and Roger can translate and he can preach whatever sermon he wants, in fact he doesn’t even have to understand me. This way they get to show the white guy around with him embarrassing himself and everyone else.”

The Church, doesn't look like much, but for an African church, it is big, and notice the terrain getting to it.

The Church, doesn’t look like much, but for an African church, it is big, and notice the terrain getting to it.

So as we crossed a dirt bridge over a gulley that was 6 inches narrower than the width of the pickup I was feeling pretty good. Especially since I had not planned on preaching, and had packed light, hence I had on those wrinkled Columbia cargo pants and light shirt that white people wear in Africa, with no tie. And the only closed toed shoes I had were tennis shoes, so I was wearing my black OR clogs.

Just past the bridge the road (path) widened out again and I could see the jungle (remember Batouri is in the tropics and is surrounded by jungle) ahead. In front of it was a church, with people around, probably not Baptist, and definitely not a one day church. This was a bonafide church, about three times the size of Moundou’s church. There were an amazing number of motos parked under the adjacent mango tree. I could feel my confidence deserting me and heading back across the dirt bridge toward Tchad and home, leaving me to face this on my own.

We walked in the back, it was either smile or cry, I chose a weak smile. There had to 250 people (mostly adults) in the church, the deacons were in uniforms (more on them later), most of the men were in suits and ties and nice polished closed toes shoes.   The church was decorated nicely, there were two choirs, one which had a sound system with canned music to accompany them. No Dorothy we aren’t in Tchad anymore.

The church, from the back, very imposing.

The church, from the back, very imposing.

Roger led me to the very front row. I had one consoling thought that I clung to with all my ebbing strength. These people will never see me again, in two days I will flee across the border into Tchad a country caught in 1927, my home, where I belong, not here, not in 2015. A tall very distinguished looking man stood up to speak, he was impeccably dressed in a suit and tie, without holes, (still had the tag on the sleeve though, they never remove the tags from anything, they really take that mattress tag law seriously here). It was the Pastor, of the district, of the 32 church district, with 2400 members, most of whom seemed to be here today. I had only one question, whoever thought it was a good idea to ask me to preach in this church? They obviously had just recently changed their medications.

The view from the platform, even more imposing.

The view from the platform, even more imposing.

Sabbath School ended and Roger led me back to gathering room. Fortunately the service is pretty much the same in Cameroon as it is in Tchad, so I wasn’t too confused, and then we were on the platform looking out over a sea of faces, all miraculously dressed in just their underwear (hey it helps).

I promised a word or two about the uniformed deacons. From the front I watched as they roamed the aisles, alert for a sleeping (not for long) parishioner, or a noisy group of boys. I kind of felt like I was in the 1750’s in Massachusetts.

The uniformed deacons and deaconesses.

The uniformed deacons and deaconesses.

Anyway, next thing I knew I was in the receiving line shaking 250 hands, wishing them a “Bon Sabbat”, “Salut” and “Bonjour”. A handful even politely said thank you. The good news, I didn’t pass out, they laughed at the right places, and said “Amen” at the right places. On the other hand they haven’t asked me back, and at church in Moundou this week I found out I had been replaced on the schedule. Don’t know if the Batouri Pastor called our Pastor, or if he just forgot he asked me 2 months ago. My pride says he forgot, but…

After church Roger and I were ushered into a small room with a low table covered with food dishes. Apparently we were to eat lunch with the Pastor and his wife. Let’s see, boule, fried plantain (like a fried banana), fish heads, chicken, and meat in a peanut sauce. I politely explained I was vegetarian, and ate the plantain (excellent), boule (palatable) with the peanut sauce without the meat (spicy and not bad).

The after church spread, my first meal of boule with sauce.

The after church spread, my first meal of boule with sauce.

Then it was time to head back to the hospital for lunch, where we had, fried plantain, rice, fish heads, a sushi looking thing with fish, chicken, and some really, really good greens.

Dr. Roger is on the left, the Pastor and his wife on the right, me in the middle, if you couldn't tell.

Dr. Roger is on the left, the Pastor and his wife on the right, me in the middle, if you couldn’t tell.

That evening I realized how emotionally and physically exhausting the preaching had been, how much of a toll it had taken on me. I was wasted. I finally went to bed. I woke up during the night with stomach cramps, and feeling on the verge of nausea. My first thought was the boule and peanut sauce. Man I really wanted to throw up and have diarrhea, but was denied the pleasure of either, just the cramps and nausea, and the aches.

Sunday I got up had a cup of hot chocolate, looked at breakfast and decided it looked better on the table than on my plate. I saw a few patients, most of whom I could do nothing to help, but after being on my feet for 90 minutes all I really wanted to do was crawl back in my tent, on my mat on the floor and close my eyes and wish the world away. By evening when the GI symptoms had not progressed, I faced the inevitable truth, despite the lack of fever, I had malaria. So I tried to eat a bit and started on Arthimeter. The ride home on Monday was long and miserable, but thankfully by Tuesday I was almost back to normal. Good thing too because I got really punished at work for being gone.

Be it ever so humble, there really is no place like home.

After the last blog, Batouri II, I had several questions as to what we were doing in Batouri, Cameroon. We had gone to the hospital to take badly needed supplies, and give them support and encouragement, and do some education. It was all successful, I believe, so a good trip, well worth the effort.

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

Batouri II

“Well, we can’t just leave him behind and go on.”

“Right, we are a team, all for one and one for all.”

So it was decided, really without much debate, that if the police kept Dr. Odei, we would stay with him, and not continue on our trip to Batouri, no matter the cost.

We had left Moundou the afternoon before, a team of 5 headed from Tchad to the Adventist Hospital in Batouri, the same hospital I visited in March 2014 (hence Batouri II). The team was headed by Dr. Olen Netteburg, the medical director and head of the famed Adventist hospital in Bere, his father, Pastor Kermit Netteburg, Dr. Odei, a recent Tchadien medical school graduate, now working at Bere, Daniel, the health director for the Northern Cameroon Conference, and me. We were packed (Tchadien style) in Olen’s 5 seat Nissan pickup. Olen and his dad were in the front, with their seats pulled forward, knees to chest style, to give us room in the back. Although there were three seatbelts in the back, I don’t think the Japanese engineers seriously thought three adult men, not of Japanese descent or size, would sit scrunched together in the backseat, for the 16 hour trip each way .

The border with Cameroon is 120 kilometers from Moundou, it closes at 6:00 pm, so we left Moundou about 2 pm, and made it in plenty of time to the border. Actually we had no problems at the border, our passports and visas were in order. Daniel is Cameroonian, so they were happy to take him back. Dr. Odei is Tchadien, and like most Tchadiens does not have a passport. He had his identity card and paperwork from Tchad giving him permission to travel. The border police were happy with that. We made it to Ngaoundere by 7 pm and spent the night with Daniel’s brother-in-law who is the local Adventist Pastor. Thursday morning we were up early and on the road by 7 am, headed southwest.

Around 10 we came to the checkpoint outside of Garoua-Boulai, on the Cameroon-Central African Republic border. We showed all our paperwork and then they had Dr. Odei get out of the car. Not a good sign. Hence the proactive decision, that we were sticking together through thick and thin. After standing around for 30 minutes (which really felt good), the police hired a klondo (motorcycle taxi) to take Odei to the police station, and we were told to follow in the truck. We were there for an hour and finally taken to immigration where we were ushered into the office of the major in charge of the border station. Right imposing I would say, we could see CAR from where we were standing, although had absolutely no desire to do anything except maybe reach a toe over the line to say we had been there.

Well, it turns out, that according to the major, the paperwork Odei had was for children. He was required to have a passport and visa. Furthermore, he was not on the invitation letter from Batouri, thus had no reason to be in Cameroon. However, he was stuck. We were now 450 km inside Cameroon, what was he going to do, jail us? Tell us to turn around and go home? Send us into CAR? Finally after another 45 minutes, including a phone call to his boss, and lots of silent prayers, he “reluctantly” gave us an official document with lots of stamps and signatures giving Odei permission to go to Batouri and then back to Tchad. Whew, after 3 hours we were back on the road again.

Now for the behind the scenes look. This is a common problem in these countries. On our trip I don’t know how many checkpoints we passed, total probably around 50 or 60. Most waved us through, but some pulled us over and reviewed our paperwork or inspected the truck. Each is an opportunity for the officer to “find” a problem with something. A quick 10 spot (a 10,000 franc note, $20USD), and poof, the problem magically disappears. Or you can wait them out, until they decide you are not going to give them anything and they let you go. On our way home Monday evening we talked with the border guards on both sides and there is no other paperwork we could have gotten for Odei. He had the proper credentials. Also there is a multi-country agreement (including Tchad and Cameroon) that allows citizens of these countries to pass freely (relative term) between countries without passport or visa.

This is what the final 90 km to Batouri is like, you can't see the washboard, but you can see the red dust that covers everything, kind of like snow from hell.

This is what the final 90 km to Batouri is like, you can’t see the washboard, but you can see the red dust that covers everything, kind of like snow from hell.

The trip back was relatively uneventful. Just long as we made it in one day. We left Batouri at 5 am and got to Moundou about 7 pm. As requested by our new friend the major, we stopped in Garoua-Boulai and looked him up to show that we were really going to Batouri for the weekend then heading back. We had even covered the pickup and our luggage and plantains with dirt from the road to Batouri as proof we had been there. He was surprised and pleased we had kept our work to check in with him. Those Adventists, go figure.

Constant log truck travel, and these are logs, the most I saw was 4 logs on a truck.  One truck lost it's load with a giant log left in the middle of the road as a surprise.

Constant log truck travel, and these are logs, the most I saw was 4 logs on a truck. One truck lost it’s load with a giant log left in the middle of the road as a surprise.

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

Les Vacances (The Vacation)

Papal Palace in Avignon, the popes lived there from 1305 until 1417.

Papal Palace in Avignon, the popes lived there from 1305 until 1417.

Well I received my first death threat as a missionary last week during our vacation. I believe my wife’s exact words were, “I am going to shoot you.” Fortunately for both of us she did not have access to a gun, so I am able to write this posting. Now for the story…

After five wonderful days in Paris with our dear generous friends Adolph and Sabine Andriamihasy and their daughters Lydie and Miriam we took the train down to Avignon in the South of France. I love those high speed European trains. We were met by Dr. Marc Kanor, a surgeon who has lived and worked in Koza and had invited us to visit with his family for a few days. So far so good. On the way to his home his wife, Sandrine, told us that we were going to stay at a small guest house at her parents home about 15 minutes from their house, and that since they couldn’t go with us to visit Avignon they were going to leave us their car and GPS and we could drive ourselves around. She said this in French and I was desperately hoping I had not understood correctly.

Bekki on the Bridge at Avignon with the old city in the  background.

Bekki on the Bridge at Avignon with the old city in the background.

My mind immediately developed a mental image of my driver’s license sitting on my desk at home in Collognes. When we got to the apartment I quickly looked through my back pack and sure enough, no driver’s license. I quietly asked Bekki if she had hers, and fortunately she did. Then I told her where mine was. That is the point in time the initial death threat was made, when it dawned on her who would be doing the driving. I say initial death threat because there were more the next day. Let’s see, when we trying to find a parking place in Avignon, driving in downtown Avignon during rush hour, on narrow French streets. And, oh yes, the time I told her to turn right onto a one way street, only it was the wrong one-way. And of course navigating the winding French streets that are two way, but only 1 1/2 lanes wide with buildings on both sides and no sidewalk or shoulder. And the car had a manual transmission.

But, Bekki did a great job. We gave the car back without a scratch, dent or ticket, and I got to keep my head. I will say however, that I handled the navigation with the French GPS quite well with only a few side trips. And I was very encouraging, telling her what a great job she was doing, and no the cars were not honking at her, and yes people drive the wrong way on one way streets in France all the time, it is OK.

Marc, Sandrine and her delightful parents were gracious hosts. And the little apartment at Sandrine’s parent’s farm was very peaceful, a good break from the hub bub of daily life, and the stress of driving. as well.

Avignon is a delightful city. And the old city is well preserved with about 15,000 people living in the walled section, and another 75,000 living in the rest of the city. Avignon is known for two things, it was the home to 6 French popes in the 14th century, and it is the site of the bridge of Avignon. The bridge is famous because of a French children’s song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”, (On the bridge of Avignon) which every francophone child knows. Look it up on the internet, it is a really catchy little tune.

The famed bridge of Avignon, or what is left of it.

The famed bridge of Avignon, or what is left of it.

Now we are back at Collognes and ready to start our last 5 weeks of classes.

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