For me it used to conjure up visions of a lonely doctor out in the middle of the Serengeti, with his wife/nurse at his side. They are the only health care for many days’ hike in any direction. They treat their patients, pray, and then they pray some more. They see many patients, but in my visions they really only see a handful at a time. And by God’s marvelous grace, people are restored to health. In their thankful, healed state they listen patiently to the Words of Life, and they receive Christ. And the tired doctor and nurse team go home, weary but thanking God for the privilege to serve.
So much for my visions. When you actually get into the daily reality of medical missions on a frontier like this, you realize that this thing isn’t always that easy. I can’t speak to the perspective of those dear medical missionaries who serve in countries on the African continent, those who deal with malnutrition and HIV/AIDS and seemingly endless lines of patients. I can’t speak to the perspective of those who serve in urban centers in the majority world, where the diseases and illnesses are myriad, and where compassion is not a cultural norm.
I can speak as one who watches daily as my wife and her co-workers serve our tribal people in this remote region of the Highlands of Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea. These ladies are on the front lines of health care for thousands of people. Our Kunai Health Centre treats disease and illness and malnutrition and offers eye check-ups and dental care. Every day brings a new set of circumstances. Some days it is nothing but triage, treat, and discharge. Some days–like this past week–are triage, treat, treat again, and continue to treat through the day and the night.
And last week, when the nurses thought they were really tired, more critically sick patients came. Not just a lot of patients, but some with high acuity, needing more than a few pills and some instructions. Tube feeding for babies who were dying of dysentery. Constant injections for small children who could not hold down the meds. And none of the cases was related to the other; all from different villages, with different symptoms, and different treatments. But all of them acute. Every three to four hours’ treatment kind of acute. And we don’t have an overnight facility or staff. So these same, weary nurses were pouring out even more. You see, they don’t just treat. They love.
And then it happened.
Let me preface this with what we experience. By God’s grace and mercy, many of our patients recover quickly. Some recover so quickly that we are praising God for the miracle of how He raised them up. Some hopeless cases recover strength and actually walk home. And when it happens so often, the medical team doesn’t get the “big head;” they give the glory and praise to our wonderful prayer-hearing God. Sometimes, healing becomes routine, even expected. Give these treatments, pray, and watch God heal. But then comes the shocker.
In the midst of all these babies and small children being treated, two of them made fantastic, God-glorifying recoveries. And the next one did not. She died.
Same treatments. Same love. Same diligent, strength-draining care on the part of the caregivers. But this little one didn’t make it.
It’s not always that easy. Medical missions is a lot about successes. Medical missions is a lot about being able to love on people who normally wouldn’t listen to the Gospel. Medical missions is a lot about being able to give of yourself and see results. But like any situation where you deal with people’s lives, there is the capacity to be hurt.
Tomorrow will be another day for our medical staff. It will be triage, treat, and discharge. But when the triage turns to ER, and the ER turns to ICU…we’re still in a small tin-roofed building in the jungle. All those medicines and machines of traditional Western hospitals are not here. All the colleagues and consultants are not available.
All we have is a dedicated medical staff of nurses who are always learning, ever loving, and willing to give to the last drop to help someone live long enough to hear the story of a greater Love. These servants of the Lord need your prayers.
It’s not always that easy.