Dear Friends and Family:
Over the past 50 years, it is estimated that over 3 million patients have visited the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu and around 70 Baptist churches have been planted in Northern Ghana. Sadly, due to the decision by the mission agency a few years ago to move away from medical missions, this and many other sister hospitals are now struggling mightily to give the kind of physical and spiritual healing that reflects properly Christ’s ministry here on earth. Nalerigu is still owned by the International Mission Board but it is terribly under-resourced. The government pays many of the salaries of the employees, but almost half of the employees here are not followers of Christ. There is only one career missionary family doctor left, aided by an intermittent stream of volunteers. Not all of them are sign interested in the evangelistic focus of the hospital. That career missionary is uncertain how much time he has remaining here. How sad it is that we in North America, where 90% of the world church’s wealth resides, are not sufficiently concerned to understand and invest in the value of medical missions in carrying out the Great Commission.
God’s timing is always amazing. Two weeks ago, there was a man at Togo who needed Dr. Wayne Koch’s special expertise for treatment of his face cancer. God arranged it. Here, we had three times when God’s timing was evident. The first was a one year old child who arrived the day I was scheduled to come. She had a malpositioned anus (technically an imperforate anus with a perineal fistula). This is an operation in which I have a modest experience and which I enjoy. I was very glad to be able to help this child regain what should be near-normal colon function and decrease the risk of rectal injury if she ever delivers a baby normally. Second, we had a motorcycle passenger last Friday who had life-threatening tears in the liver. It was good that we had two surgeons here. We were able to pack it off to stop the massive bleeding and then transferred the man by ambulance to the teaching hospital in Tamale where his bleeding kidney will need to be evaluated and he will need a second laparotomy to remove the packs, stop any bleeding and drain the bile leaks that are common sequelae. Being able to transfer the patient was a unique experience for me – never before in Africa did I have a better hospital to which I could transfer the patient and the means by which we could do it. Unfortunately, I later heard word that he died anyway.
The third time was just before we left. Friday night, one of the missionaries had a bicycle-motorcycle collision and suffered a badly fractured right wrist as well as more minor injuries. I was able to reduce it and cast it but was concerned about the result. Due to the wonders of digital photography and a limping e-mail connection, I was also able to consult immediately with a good friend, Dr. Doug Lundy, who is a trauma orthopedic surgeon in Marietta, GA. He felt that my reduction was more than adequate in this developing world setting but he strongly advised that, since she had the resources, she should probably fly somewhere to have it operated upon in order to minimize the risk of future arthritis (the fracture line went into the joint). By the time we left there this morning, the Southern Baptist organization was working on those details, but she was in little pain and feeling good.
Other than those three cases, most of the cases were routine and I am not sure I have had much to offer the new surgeon here (and probably slowed her down with my questions). I was able to teach her the Shouldice technique for hernia repair which does not use mesh. She told me that before coming here, she had never done a hernia repair without the use of mesh. I was able to share a lot of resources with her that I had on my computer including the new PAACS textbook “Principles of Reconstructive Surgery in Africa” which was completed this week.
Good Friday was a holiday for the hospital. After rounds were done, Dr. Earl Hewitt took our family and another volunteer pediatrician to the edge of the escarpment which was about an hour’s drive away to the northeast. We went through the area of tribal warfare that had engendered the difficulty we had in getting across the border two weeks ago. House after house had been burned, leaving only the mud walls remaining. There was no sense of risk to us at all. Once at the escarpment, we endured the heat, clambered around on the rocks and enjoyed the incredible vista. You can see the picture to the left.
Yesterday morning, we got up at 3:45 to drive 2.5 hours to the airport in the dark. We then flew to Accra from Tamale on a prop plane. I had a load of work to do there that required the internet (we had not had it for 72 hours at Nalerigu) but I was very disappointed to find it wasn’t working there either. We rested at the Southern Baptist guesthouse all day and flew out to London and on to Raleigh-Durham where a friend picked us up to take us home to Fayetteville. We are ready to go home but will hit the ground running. We have a few days to get over jet-lag. During that mental fog, Bruce will try to get all the work done for the next two weekends. He will fly to Chicago twice, once to meet with the PAACS Commission next weekend and once to meet with the CMDA-CMDE Commission the following weekend. He also must edit the surgical chapters of the 4th ed. “Handbook of Clinical Medicine in Developing Country” and send in those chapters by April 15. On one level, we are very grateful that a possible two-week trip to Rwanda in the last half of April was cancelled. We need the rest and the time to get everything done in a world of more reliable internet access.
While we were in Togo at Kpele-Tsiko, we were nostalgic about our previous times there. Our very first personal experience together with true medical missions had been at that hospital and because of housing shortage at the time, we lived in the home of Bob and Shirley Cropsey. In thinking back over those experiences, we realized that their tremendous friendship, enthusiasm for missions and able mentoring of two very green missionaries is largely responsible for the dramatic change in our lives since that time. We contemplated all of that – and decided to forgive them anyway! Seriously, the last 15 years have been an incredible adventure, both good and bad, but we couldn’t have done it without people like the Cropseys and you, our partners in service of the Lord God. Thank you.
Today is Easter. As the old African-American preacher said in the famous sermon, “It is Friday – but Sunday’s a’comin’” Although too often it feels like we are living solidly in the midst of Friday with all the troubles and fears, praise God that we can live in the reality of that Sunday and rejoice in His fulfilled love for all mankind. This past week, a missionary here in Ghana told a Muslim friend the story of the Prodigal Son. He was stunned and asked why he had been told that story. What did it mean? He asked for time to think on the story. The idea of a loving God was alien to him in his belief system. The reality of a loving God should be equally stunning to each of us – and therefore precious to each of us who need His forgiveness and crave His love. And that pretty much includes everyone.
. May we always be willing to share the truth of His love,
Bruce with Micky and Sean