Obedience leads to an extraordinary blessing for a missioner as she returns to Sierra Leone.
by Tina DeBoeser, Director of Missions & Outreach, Ebenezer United Methodist Church
I had no plans to go to Africa in 2019. I will say that again - I had no plans to go to Africa in 2019. My year was simply too busy. A year of too much going and too much going on. Although I had been part of a team in 2018 and fell in love with the mission and people, I was not going back in 2019.
That was final.
Ever heard of the old Yiddish proverb, “We plan, God laughs”? I should have known my head’s very reasonable reasons for staying were no match for the Holy Spirit whispering ‘go’!
So I went back to Bo to embrace the people, beauty, dignity, promise, and the mission.
I am no stranger to international missions; I am in fact the Director of Missions & Outreach at a large suburban church. As such, one of my key roles is to recruit, prepare, and send teams around the globe to work with partner organizations like Helping Children Worldwide. I recognize and appreciate what a privileged position I hold, one where I have the freedom to choose to experience these opportunities.
I am also no stranger to the criticisms of short-term mission trips. Many of the concerns raised are valid. When done poorly, a short-term mission trip can actually cause harm and prevent healthy development.
But when we start a trip well prepared, with a humble heart, and the expectation of developing a mutual relationship, it can be a thing of beauty. This has been my experience with HCW.
Returning to Bo in 2019 was especially exciting for me. Part of the trip was devoted to visiting and developing an agreement between HCW, my church and two (of an eventual five) villages. This new formal relationship is the brainchild of HCW and we are thrilled to be the beta test!
Visiting Samie and Fengehun villages was a surreal experience. We were greeted by the senior residents and chiefs, welcomed with song and given the VIP tour of community resources and liabilities.
Once we sat down to hammer out an agreement, it was fascinating to hear the villagers’ hopes for their community’s future. I was so encouraged to hear strong women speak about their aspirations for themselves and their children.
One thing I have learned from short-term missions is the truth about mothers. All mamas, regardless of where on the globe they happen to stand, want the same thing. They want the opportunity to raise their children in a safe environment, free of fear and disease. They want their children to have the opportunity to learn, pursue their purpose, to know that they are valued and loved, and to fall asleep with full bellies.
I believe that much division and fear in the world could be solved with proximity. Taking the time to be in authentic give-and-take relationships with others who do not look, act, buy, speak, think, vote, love, or live like us is the only way to remove the fallacy of ‘otherness’. Sometimes it takes going to the other side of the world to open your eyes and heart to those on this side of the street.
Africa imprints on your soul, just as surely as the beautiful, deep, organic smell clings to your clothes and suitcase long after you have returned home.
Although I have no plans to return in 2020, I believe I can hear God laughing right now.
Learn more about joining a mission team to Sierra Leone: www.helpingchildrenworldwide.org/mission-trips
The Mercy outreach team identified a toddler with inguinal hernia. Little Saidu was transported to Mercy Hospital where surgery was successfully performed by Lawrence Kargbo, surgical health officer, to correct the condition. Saidu made a full recovery under the care of Mercy staff and was released to his grateful mother.
About 3-5% of healthy, full-term babies may be born with an inguinal hernia and one third of infancy and childhood hernias appear in the first 6 months of life. In premature infants, the incidence of inguinal hernia is substantially increased, up to 30%. Children in Sierra Leone and other parts of the developing world may be more prone to conditions like inguinal hernia due to conditions that may be caused by inadequate maternal and infant care.
At a medical outreach clinic in Kahungabu Village, the Mercy team encountered Amos, a one year old boy suffering from vomiting and abdominal pain. The child had been enrolled in the nutrition program, but was failing to gain weight. Amos was diagnosed with an inguinal hernia (groin area) and an umbilical hernia (belly button area) and surgery at Mercy Hospital was recommended.
Umbilical hernia is common in the developing world and may be the result of a congenital weakness in the abdominal muscles, or caused by severe coughing that leads to increased abdominal pressure. Various risk factors can cause inguinal hernias, including premature birth. Left untreated, umbilical and inguinal hernias can lead to severe health complications in children.
Amos was transported to the hospital, where he was admitted. The surgery was successfully performed by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Amara and Mercy's surgical officer, Lawrence Kargbo. His family didn't have any money for the surgery, but Mercy treats patients regardless of their ability to pay, so there was no charge for the treatment. Amos spent some time in recovery before being released. He and his mother returned later to say "thank you" to the staff of Mercy for their compassionate care.
I am in charge of the outreach program. I make sure the schedule is planned and adhered to when we go on outreach. I make sure the mobile clinic is set up and supervise volunteers and staff to make sure their units are functioning well and doing what they are supposed to do. At the end of the month I ensure all statistics are collated and submitted on time.
Why do I like my job? Ah! It is the passion! It’s really a passion. I like serving people. I like saving lives. I like encouraging people. When they are sick they are stressed and I like to make them feel better. I really like my job as a whole.
This job is very, very important. One, we are targeting vulnerable people, particularly the malnourished children. We have seen that the cases are many so we need to rehabilitate them and help them recover. Many of the protein rich foods are expensive here and families are too poor to afford them. We give them the pikinmix food and health talks to make sure they are helping their children grow. We also do a lot to prevent the malaria prevalence rate, which is so high here. HIV is another area where we can help. Many villages don’t have the facilities so we give them quality counseling and make sure they have access to their medication. Also the prenatal program helps so many people. We advise them to come to Mercy and not give birth at home and give them multivitamins that otherwise they would not get.
Emmanuel Moriba (7 months) was identified on the Mattru on the Rail outreach. He was acutely malnourished and had a fever and coughing for three days. He was given medicine and enrolled into the nutrition program. After two months in the program, he was discharged this month.
His mother, Kadijatu, says, “I was really worried with my child’s condition. I heard that the Mercy Hospital Outreach team will visit our village and I brought him to see them. Thank God, he will well now. They are really caring."
First-time mother Fanta Kargbo, was only 18 years old when she enrolled in Mercy Hospital’s Prenatal Program at one of the outreach team’s trips to her village in Bandajuma in July. Ever since then, she has attended each monthly outreach to check the progress of her pregnancy, and was encouraged to give birth at Mercy when the time came.
She arrived at Mercy one morning in October, experiencing labor pains (which had been going on for some time). She was suffering from prolonged labor and finally gave birth to a healthy baby boy after 5 pm. According to the Mercy’s State Certified Midwife, Christiana Tommy, “it was not easy because she is a first time delivery. She was having trouble pushing and we had to encourage her. We thank God for her being at Mercy where we were able to provide her so much assistance. There were five of us helping her!”
When asked what the fate of Fanta and her baby would have been had she attempted to give birth in the village, the normally cheerful midwife became unusually solemn. “It would have been a problem because she was having difficulty pushing and she needed help. They would have forced her to push and that could have led to a fistula or even the death of the baby. We were able to encourage her, give her a catheter, and stitch up her tear so that she did not get fistula or any other problem.”
Christiana is referring to a basic lack of qualified personnel in the villages. While a village may have a Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA), this person is someone who likely has very little to no formal education (not even primary school), but has some basic training in childbirth, and can deliver under normal, uncomplicated circumstances. Many of the village clinics do not have midwives or TBAs, and may only be staffed by a nurse not necessarily trained in childbirth.
Fanta, clearly still exhausted the next day, was also very excited to welcome her new baby into the world. She could not stop smiling as she shared, “I am okay now, thanks to Mercy. I am so happy that my baby is safe."
Foday Koroma Jr. (12 months) is enrolled in Mercy Hospital’s Nutrition Program, and has been receiving Pikinmix (a healthy meal supplement) when Mercy’s Outreach team comes to his village each month.
On a recent trip, the Outreach staff discovered that Foday had a runny nose, cough, and headache. Mercy Outreach staff were able to quickly diagnose and treat him for an acute respiratory infection.
According to his mother, Florence, “I am very happy with the medication. I really saw great improvement. I am impressed with Mercy and the free treatment.