This is another update for supporting churches I have adapted from reports to our overseers. The previous one was prepared for our elders, this one for the hospital board.
I just returned to Africa after a three-week whirlwind trip to the United States. The purpose was to attend the Grace Medical board meeting in San Antonio and the Global Missions Health Conference in Louisville. The latter is an extraordinary conference attended by 4,000 mission-minded medical people and over a hundred organisations supporting mission hospitals overseas. It is hosted by Southeast Christian Church whose extensive involvement promoting world missions almost dwarfs the world itself! This was our fifth year to promote our hospital from a booth in their large convention hall. This year the contacts God has given us through that conference helped us immensely.
My daughter Gracie, together with Belinda and Don Dickey, who will be presented later in this report, represented Grace Missions. Our participation started off with a day of special meetings with a consortium of Christian relief societies formed to give technical and material help exclusively to mission hospitals. Scores of organisations were represented. As a direct result of those meetings we received a free ultrasound machine and signed up with a group of radiologists who will come visit our hospital to train the doctors using it. A group of biomedical engineers will sell us a complete modern laboratory for a little over ten thousand dollars, then at their own expense come build the counters and cabinets for installing it in our lab and show us how to run every test. Another organisation offers digital X-ray units with all the accessories for only $30,000.
We recently decided to open a dental clinic in the hospital, so this year we visited one of the organisations represented at the conference that give surplus medical supplies almost for free to mission hospitals. We collected five suitcases full of dental instruments and supplies for only $1.00 a pound, or $90 for equipment worth many thousands of dollars. We were told by a dentist that some of the individual instruments would sell for $500 to $700 by themselves! I brought the suitcases back to Africa on the plane with me, as well as a portable dental X-ray unit that we paid $600 for from another exhibitor. A dentist working for one of the support organisations at the conference visited the supply centre with us make sure we got all the equipment we needed. He picked out a used deluxe dental chair and a panorex X-ray machine, both of which together will probably cost us only $650. Those items will have to be shipped later by container, but last year at the conference we picked up two portable dental chairs which I carried back on the plane with me then, so the dentist assures us that we now have everything needed for a fully functional dental clinic. So far it has cost us very little.
Before the conference began, we spent a good part of a day walking through a large medical surplus warehouse. I saw nearly everything needed to finish supplying the rest of the hospital. One can fill a 40-foot shipping container with whatever a hospital needs—X-ray machines, lab equipment, ICU devices, OR tables—for only $12,500!
Belinda Dickey from Grace Bible Chapel in San Antonio has recently begun serving the mission as Executive Director of U.S. operations. She has spent many hours talking with the States-side directors of other mission hospitals and the knowledge and expertise gained account in large part for the success we had this year finding and networking with so many useful support organisations. Belinda and her husband Don have years of experience as successful entrepreneurs in the business world. It has been eye opening for me to see up close how such people operate. Continually staying ahead of the competition has so conditioned them that I think they must hustle even as they sleep. The slogan, “you snooze, you lose,” is apparently more literal than I thought. I thank God for the rapid progress their involvement has brought to our missionary enterprise.
In order to take advantage of this opportunity to finish equipping our hospital, I will be returning to the States next May to load up a container of supplies and empty out our U.S. storage unit containing items we have already accumulated. The hospital could be fully operational by next September.
Even before that, we will open the dental clinic and the surgical block. I was goaded into doing this recently when one of my workers asked for a loan of $100 to pay the expenses of the traditional initiation rite planned for his 12-year-old son. During this weekend experience, young men are circumcised and taught the secrets that African culture believes they need to know about sex, death, and witchcraft. A witchdoctor plays an important role in these initiation rites, and the instruction comes from an animistic perspective at odds with God’s Word. I told the worker that I would not provide a loan for learning such things, but he assured me that the money would only go to pay the fee charged by the nurse who would be doing the circumcisions.
I told him to skip the initiation rite and we would do the circumcision for much less! To do this I will have to stock up on the anaesthetic and suture material necessary, then set up the OR for minor surgery so that people can have a low-cost alternative to the traditional rite of passage. Arnaldo, who used to assist me in the OR and did many of the cases, will be retiring soon and needs a way to supplement his income. He would make a good living doing safe circumcisions in our operating room even if we charged half what the other nurses do.
Obtaining these medical supplies will be relatively easy, because at the medical missions conference I met up with the organisation through whom we stocked our OR and pharmacy during our years at Marrere. They remembered me and supplied the forms necessary to resume our partnership in the new facility.
The hospital board meeting a week before the Louisville conference was also a time of progress. For a long while the main impediment to opening the hospital has been the inability to recruit surgeons to do the work. I cannot operate as I did before because of years of inactivity while waiting for the hospital to be built, and if I did return to the OR, the other ministries that have started in the meantime would fail for lack of an administrator.
At this meeting, it was suggested that we stop thinking about recruiting surgeons and instead recruit someone to take over the administration and spiritual ministries so I could re-train for work in the OR. As we considered our options, we realised there was one person ideally qualified to do my present work who already speaks Portuguese, who could slot into the job fairly smoothly, and who may soon be out of work. Of course, the question of a calling from God is still unanswered in the case of this candidate, but we have contacted him and begun committing that to the Lord. Pray that God will put this job on his heart, or provide someone else who could do it without first needing lengthy training.
If God does raise up for us someone who could replace me for 18 months, I would make the hospital fully functional, begin simple operations and gradually advance to the point of doing the major surgeries I once did, then return to the States for a recruitment drive, this time promoting a hospital that is fully operational.
It was a grievous thing to realise, about ten years ago, that I was never going to operate again. I did not dream this result would come to pass when we closed the OR at Marrere to build a larger facility with more ORs that could keep up with the ever-increasing demand for operations. I expected that, after a few years, I would be doing more surgery than before, not retiring from it permanently.
Interestingly, at the Louisville medical mission conference a week after the decision made by the Grace Missions board, I was summoned to a booth representing a mission hospital in Central America. The surgeon who had founded the hospital wanted to speak with me. The two of us had never met before, but he had heard how I lost my career as a surgeon waiting on our hospital to open. Without my anticipating it, and much to my amazement, he said the Lord was prompting him to leave his own hospital, which was in the curious position of being staffed with too many surgeons, and come assist me for three months in doing the bigger surgical cases that will inevitably show up.
By the time our OR is ready for such cases he may no longer be available. But I wondered if his unsolicited offer was meant to suggest that God indeed was pointing us in this direction. If He uses sheer necessity to put me again in the OR, no one will be more surprised or pleased by the outcome than myself.
In family news, Kent will finish up at Covenant Seminary in May. His wife Anna has had a good fourth grade class this year with helpful parents that make her job all the more satisfying, but the pressures of life as Kent wraps up his studies is something they will not miss. Still no grandkids for us, but with seminary drawing to a close, Anna would be happy to trade her twenty much-loved fourth graders for one wee Woodrow. We hope God makes it happen!
Sarah finished her internship in social work with a Christian inner city group in Billings, Montana, and is now working with older people as an activities coordinator in a nursing home. She would like to move to a city nearer the rest of her siblings though, and that may happen in the next year.
Andrew will be graduating from Union University with a degree in communications via digital media. He has a Vietnamese girlfriend whom we like very well. Julie and I will have the joy of being present for both his and Kent’s graduations next May.
It is impossible to keep up with Gracie. She is involved in so many ministries, organisations, and activities at Covenant College that I wonder when she studies. She is a Junior this year and thriving, as always. For the third consecutive summer, she will be returning to Nampula, this time to do an internship in her major, community development. She will be working with Timóteo Bila, one of our church members and founder of Mission Ekklesia, an indigenous organisation working for reformation in the Evangelical churches of Mozambique. Before our mailing list was destroyed, I used to feature his work regularly in our newsletters.
Benaiah is in his last year of home schooling in Nampula. He is active in the church and expatriate youth groups and sings bass in our congregation’s African choir. He likes science and will likely study engineering in college.
Julie has lost all but one of her own children as they move on in life, but hardly has an empty nest. The young people in church throng her and want to be her children too now that vacancies have opened up. I know it is because she bribes then continually with treats from her kitchen. No, I am not jealous of her popularity. The young mothers in our church look to her as the guru on domesticity and child-rearing. I preach on child-rearing and tell them I helped raise our kids too, but no one seems to believe that. When they have a question, they go straight to Julie!
That is a brief update of what has happened in the recent past and what may happen in the near future. We thank God for granting these breakthroughs and pray He will hasten to completion this stage of the medical/evangelistic work.