We tell Sean that it is school work before play. So we shall give you a lesson about Gabon before telling you of the great things that are happening:
Gabon is half the size of France and 1/35 the size of the US. It has a population of approximately 1.5 million and therefore a pretty low density of people. Sixty percent are Christian (Catholic making the highest percentage) – the rest are Muslim and animists. It is true here as well as elsewhere that some Christians are Christian on Sunday and animists when the rubber hits the road.
Low population density, abundant petroleum, and foreign private investment have helped make Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the highest HDI (Human Development index) and the third highest GDP per capita in the region (after Equatorial Guinea and Botswana). One third of the GDP is due to the oil – and therefore it is subject to the vagaries of the price of oil. It is third in Africa in per person revenue – at over $4k per year. However, like many other places, it doesn’t trickle down very well. The richest 20% of the population receive over 90% of the income while about a third of the Gabonese population lives in abject poverty. We are working in one of those areas.
Last Sunday was a very eventful day. Early in the morning, Cynthia Niyukuri required a C-section to deliver her twins. It was the Niyukuri’s first wedding anniversary (July 6 is also the Thelanders’ anniversary) and this was a wonderful present. The twins were 1975 grams (a little over four pounds each). Little Tracy is doing very well. Little Mercy was born with a large encephalocele (the skull and brain is malformed with a cyst the size of her skull protruding from the back of the skull). These children, if they live, are severely developmentally delayed. Please pray for Alliance and Cynthia as they face the joy of a beautiful little girl and the tragedy inherent in their other little girl. Their attitude has been extraordinary and they are a living lesson of God’s grace in life’s disappointments.
That morning, Keir Thelander gave the sermon in French (translated into Njebi). In front, there were several reserved seats and special chairs for the various dignitaries and the residents. After the sermon, we slipped out while the congregation continued to sing. They were led by a superb praise and worship team. We slipped into our academic gowns and then lined up at the back of the church. To the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance”, we marched through the palm frond arch and down to the front. After the residents and graduates were seated, we took our place on stage.
Many local officials and dignitaries were there, both secular and members of the Gabon Christian & Missionary Alliance. After all the greetings, I was asked to give a short history of PAACS (the PowerPoint for which I had translated into French) and give a short challenge on servant-leadership to the graduates. Deborah Walker, a pediatrician who had grown up here, translated it into French. The statistics about the lack of surgery in sub-Saharan Africa got their attention and later I was asked for them by both the regional Director for Health and a journalist. We had another hour or more of brief words from various important people and then we presented the certificates of training for the past year to all and eventually the diplomas to the two finalists. Simplice Tchoba is the first Gabonese to graduate from this program and a big deal was appropriately made of that. He is normally pretty somber, but that afternoon, his grin split his face from ear to ear. Both Jacques Ebhele and Simplice Tchoba gave a nice address thanking everyone.
Jacques said in his speech, “I would like to thank in a special way our God who made possible our training in record time - that is to say, 5 years. If I speak of “record time”, this is because in my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, this training could take me around 10 years to complete and most often it is attached to many difficulties. We were the beneficiary of a good time-limited training - well structured, with a clear curriculum. We now feel free to say that an institution like PAACS (Pan-African academy of Christian Surgeons) is also an answer and a solution of the difficulties faced by young doctors looking for specialization. It is a blessing for us, a blessing for young African doctors in terms of quality of training, and a real salvation for the local population in terms of quality of service. It is an institution that allows African doctors to be trained in 5 years according to international standards and most importantly, provided training in Christian environment… PAACS is unique because we become a specialist in general surgery, able to heal the body but also able to win souls for Christ. That is our specialty. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that PAACS has allowed the emergence of a new generation of Christian surgeons in Africa.”
Jen and Zachary O’Connor, both surgeons, went back to the US for a few month furlough. They will be coming back as career missionaries and have become a vital part of the teaching faculty here at Bongolo. With their absence, I have stepped into being a full partner in carrying the load. Bongolo is very short on what I would consider traditional general surgery cases and so Keir has still had to handle the lion’s share of orthopedic and urology cases. I have been of little help in those. We have had one or two operative orthopedic cases each day. I have tried to take up any other slack. I have been on call each night for the past week and have been the hernia and pus doctor. It has been a great deal of fun teaching the residents; I have given two lectures on hernias and also gave the Bible study on Luke 15 on Thursday. Micky has enjoyed being with the PAACS wives each Wednesday afternoon. They are a close-knit group, perhaps more so than elsewhere that we have been. They have really become family to Cynthia and Alliance in their time of need.
Praise and Prayers:
- My mother finally returned home. Her ablation procedure to stop her fast heart rate has worked and they have fixed her pacemaker. However, early this morning, she had to return to the hospital with visual loss (possibly a mini-stroke) which cleared spontaneously. She is undergoing evaluation. Please pray.
- Praise God that the inspection by the College of East, Central and Southern Africa of the Malamulo program in Malawi went very well and we expect full accreditation.
- Pray that the PAACS search committee can identify the right people for the job.
- Pray for God’s mercy upon young Mercy and for the Spirit’s reality for the Niyukuris and all who love them.
Bruce, Micky and Sean