Dear Friends and Family:
We have often joked that we are called to Africa but only the Africa which is above 3000 ft. Don’t know if that is exactly true, but the past week has certainly reinforced that feeling. It has been HOT! We have been at two hospitals, one in northern Togo and one in the far north of Ghana. Both are very arid areas. One missionary we met in Accra two weeks ago laughingly said that Nalerigu Baptist Medical Centre was so remote that it was located 10 miles past the Great Commission. If that is true (and after being here, we have not found solid evidence to refute that assertion), then the ABWE Baptist Hospital at Mango, Togo is at least 30 – 50 miles past the boundaries of the Great Commission.
Last Saturday, Bob Cropsey, John Yee and son Matthew and our family took the long trip northward. One of the missionaries was kind enough to loan us his Land Cruiser. It made the long trip much easier to bear even if the air-conditioning was strained mightily. We got a flat tire (almost a requirement for a trip in Africa that long) but it happened at slow speed and we rolled to a stop right in front of a shade-tree tire repair place. For $2, they changed the tire for us and we took it on for a more professional repair facility in Mango. Ten and a half hours after leaving Kpele-Tsiko, we got to the grounds of the hospital. It was 124.9 degrees Fahrenheit!
The hospital has just begun construction. They have enclosed the huge multiple-acre plot with a high concrete fence and have built a nice guesthouse and meeting room. One duplex and two houses are essentially completed. The cuisine (cooking area for the patients) is finished. They have roofed in the outpatient department, are building the X-ray, lab and OR areas, and have dug trenches for the rest of the hospital. It may take two years to finish. They have built a beautiful big workshop that is critical for the fabrication and other work they must do. One of the early workers was a professional pool builder and after working in that heat for just a short time, he arranged to build a nice pool for them. That is obviously a life-saver in this heat.
The town of Mango is home to about 45,000 people and situated on the Oti River near the Kéran National Park. It is about 45 kilometers from the Ghanaian border. The area is strongly Islamic but many are really folk Islam with a strong animistic component. We have been in many a poor town in Africa, but this one may be the poorest big town we have ever seen. We deeply admire those who plan to live and work here. You can see a videotape about the Mango hospital at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrl9pc_CtlU
The next morning, Bob Cropsey, the Yees and we drove to the Ghanaian border. Crossing it was something that no one we knew had any experience with and so we gathered a great deal of experience for everyone. I will try to avoid the inclination to bore you with detail, but it was quite a morning. You have to first understand that virtually no expatriate ever crosses from Togo into Ghana in this area – and they were having intertribal warfare, about which we were blissfully unaware. In short, the trip to the border took twice as long as expected, the Togolese police failed to stamp our passports after taking an inordinate amount of time to fill in their ledger, the Ghanaian customs officers went through every bag we had by hand, and the Ghanaian police were highly suspicious that the previous customs folks had given us the requisite forms certificates to fill in and after some phone calls, we were accompanied by the police to their commander 26 miles away. There, in full view of a Hummer with a machine gun mounted on top, a couple dozen of soldiers in uniform and sitting next to a burned-out house, we were grilled about why we didn’t have letters of invitation, medical licenses, and so on. We relied on a very clever defense – we told the truth and did so candidly. We got lectures about why we should have passport stamps from Togo, why we should respect the sovereignty of Ghana, why Ghana was as important as the US, why local security was important and so on. We agreed with all of it – and said we had complied as we had been instructed. An immigration officer got involved and we heard round two of the lectures. They finally called the head physician at Nalerigu and he wheedled them into letting us go. Finally, they did an about-face emotionally, stamped our passports and wished us a great day. They did promise to visit the hospital and see if we were telling the truth and to look at our papers. We took our passports and got out of there – two hours later than we planned and very sweaty. Later, Dr. Hewitt said they had tried that before – and he sent them to the supreme chief of this area who spanked them and sent them on their way. Dr. Hewitt clearly wasn’t too worried.
After a tour, Bob Cropsey and the Yees drove on, heading for Accra via the Tamale airport.
The Nalerigu Baptist Medical Centre where we are now is like many mission hospitals we know of, a leprosarium turned hospital. It was founded through the joint efforts and vision of the Ghanaian Baptist Convention (Gold Coast Baptist Conference) and the International Mission Board (Foreign Mission Board at that time) in 1958. Currently, the BMC is a 123 bed hospital whose reputation brings people from as far south as Accra, as far east as Togo and Nigeria, and as far north as Burkina Faso and Mali. Most recent yearly statistics are as follows: 60,000 outpatient visits, 10,000 inpatients, 1,200 major operations, and 2,500-3,000 minor procedures.
Earl Hewitt, a family practitioner who clearly loves his job and the people, lives here with his family and is the only career missionary physician here now since the Southern Baptists transferred ownership a few years ago. The George Faile Foundation (named after one of the missionaries who served here) is trying to help financially and with supplies. There are two Southern Baptist church planters stationed here as well. The rest of the expatriate faculty members are short-term, covering time frames of 1 – 12 months. They have a young female surgeon from the Midwest here at the present time but she will be here for just one year total. I have the greatest admiration for Earl and his family who are sticking it out in this tremendous heat and humidity and in the face of diminished support for the medical work.
We were under the impression that we could function well with English here, but that is not so. The more highly educated employees and patients can communicate with us in English but most patients speak tribal languages, the most common of which is Mampruli. The clinics are huge and trying to help requires an interpreter at all times.
We have one more week left here before heading home next weekend. It is perhaps the most difficult time I (Bruce) have had in a mission hospital since the very first experience in the Amazon. The reasons are multiple but I want to be both effective and a blessing here. Please keep us in your prayers
Yours and His, for the peoples of Africa
Bruce with Micky and Sean