Dear Friends and Family:
Greetings from the country of Malawi. This is my first time in this country and it is lovely here during the rainy season. I am visiting the Malamulo Adventist Hospital for PAACS and our work is nearly done here.
The biggest question before I left 8 days ago was whether I would actually leave at all – my passport did not arrive until the day before I left. There were delays for both the Togo and Ghana visas and Niger required payment of an extra fee to get it out in time. Fortunately, it arrived by Fed-Ex even though Micky and Sean’s did not. They were delayed further and not delivered until Thursday of this week. God is good – and the visa expedition service was very good at keeping us informed and making sure it happened.
It always takes me a long time to get all the details wrapped up before I leave for these extended periods of time. I worked on it for four days solid as I battled with my usual anxiety and reluctance to go. On Thursday evening, the day before my scheduled departure, the newscasters were trumpeting another bad winter storm would sweep through. I was scheduled to leave RDU at 6:15 AM and had good connections for the flight after that but somehow I never thought about having to leave the house by 3:00 AM to make it there with the required 2 hour time window before departure. They were forecasting up to four inches of snow and the maximum snowfall would be between 2 and 3 AM. I slept very fitfully that night, looking at my watch or the clock at least twice an hour. At 2:15, in the midst of my best sleep, the two alarms I had set both went off riotously. Sean slept in the back of the car as we drove up to the airport. Thankfully, the roads to RDU were wet but clear the whole way and we didn’t see any snow or ice at all until we spied some snow on the lawns right after we turned off for the airport. I was thankful that the hype had not been fulfilled. I kissed Micky and a sleepy Sean both goodbye and headed into the terminal.
The flight I took is one of the longest flights in the world – almost 16 hours from JFK airport in New York City to Johannesburg, S. Africa. By the end, my knees tormented me and I was seriously concerned about decubitus ulcers on my derriere. I am not getting any younger and that was made painfully clear. But we landed safely at the right place and so I shouldn’t complain. My traveling partner, Dr. Walter Johnson from LLU was to meet me in Jo’burg but he never showed. I had to go on without him. I later found out that he was trapped in a winter snowstorm at Heathrow and wouldn’t show up until three days later.
My ride was not there at the Blantyre airport when I came out with my now broken and torn suitcase. I finally borrowed a cell phone and confirmed that hospital administrator was coming to get me. He was – he had taken the wrong road. It was hot, and I was sweaty, irritable and sleepy. Jet-lag would take me captive and thrash me badly over the next few days. Thank God for Ambien! My host was very gracious. I met the young surgeon and his family who is to direct this potential PAACS training program, but after we finished the late lunch, I crashed. I awoke about 8:00 PM for a short time, ate a bit and went back to bed. I did try a new fruit – dragon fruit. It is the bright red, heavily-scaled fruit of a cactus and was remarkably good – like a blood-red/purple kiwi. It didn’t have a strong flavor but was pleasantly sweet.
The next morning we drove the 65 kilometers on bad roads into the tea-growing area of Malawi where the Malamulo hospital is to be found. I would spend the next week here and they would be long days.
The need in Malawi for surgeons is one of the greatest in sub-Saharan Africa. Counting the expatriate surgeons, there are only 8 in a country of 15 million. The need for surgical help is great and there are no Malawian surgeons in the mission hospitals despite the fact that they give 40% of the country’s healthcare. The Seventh-day Adventists have had a presence in Southern Malawi since 1902. The mission morphed first into a nurse-run clinic then was reinvented as a hospital with the earliest part of the present structure first built in the 1950s. It was originally a leprosarium and then converted to an acute care hospital. It was expanded significantly in the 1970 – 1990s. Arguably, it was the best hospital in the country at the time, but went into a decline until Adventist Health International became involved a few years ago. It now has 275 patient beds and occupancy has increased significantly from the nadir, but it still is at only 30 – 70%. Loma Linda University is the accrediting agent for PAACS and yet they have no Adventist hospitals participating in the program. Hopefully, this will be the first program for them.
In Walt’s absence, I plunged into the several day evaluation processes and he joined me late Tuesday evening. Together, we were involved in an extensive set of meetings with the other Adventist Hospital in Blantyre, the college of medicine department of surgery (who are also the COSECSA representatives), the Beit Trust CURE hospital in Blantyre, the Christian Health Association of Malawi, the Director of Clinical Services at the ministry of health in Lilongwe, the Medical Council of Malawi and the surgical director of the program at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe. Thursday started at 2:20 AM, was 18 hours long and included two six hour trips in a cramped Land Cruiser over rough roads. God protected us on the roads.
We briefed the hospital team on our findings and we made our suggestions this afternoon (before the Sabbath began at sunset). That completes our duties to them here. We will worship with them in the morning and then be driven back to Blantyre tomorrow afternoon to catch an early morning Sunday bus to Lilongwe. There, we will visit some missionary friends and a new Korean Christian medical school (Daeyang Luke) before I fly to Ethiopia on Tuesday and Niger on Friday. Walt Johnson will be flying home.
E-mail has been very spotty but things are reportedly good at home. It has been hard to get reliable e-mail access and I am behind on the PAACS work that continues no matter where I am. Please pray for wisdom for me as I travel next week to Ethiopia and assess how the new program at Myungsung Christian Hospital is doing. Pray also for Dr. Bill Wood, the Academic Dean of PAACS, as he travels to Mbingo Baptist Hospital next week to assess things there.
Praise and Prayer:
- Praise God for Mom’s continuing slow recovery. She has been released to go to Tennessee to spend time with my sister and continue her therapy there.
- Please pray for Micky and Sean (and me) while we are apart.
- Pray that God will help the Malamulo hospital make the right decisions to go forward in the establishment of a program here. Praise God that the resistance at virtually every academic and government level was almost non-existent. He clearly had gone before us.
- Please pray for my health as I travel. I had some gastroenteritis early this week but have recovered. Pray that I will find the time, focus and reliable internet access to accomplish my work.
- Praise God that a new Hospital Radio installation has been completed in Gabon.
Pleased to be back in Africa,
Bruce for Micky and Sean