Nov 3, 2013
If I am being totally honest, of all the places we planned to go on this trip, the DRC was the one I was most uncertain about. I had heard from Jennifer about struggles in the past with border crossings, people hassling them for bribes over visas, having to stay in places with no electricity or water, not speaking the language (Swahili or French) and the uncertainty of what foods we would be eating. We knew nothing about where we would be staying or what we would be able to do in the time we were there. All we knew was the small Methodist Hospital in Uvira was expecting us. We did not even know if the hospital workers knew anything about therapy or if anyone locally was doing any form of therapy. So we were just trusting that God had a plan because we sure did not, despite our efforts.
So with a bad head cold I boarded a bus with Jennifer and Pastor Felix. For the next 17 hours we traveled by bus through Uganda, Rwanda, and finally into Burundi, stopping only at boarder crossings. Fortunately, antibiotics kicked in and I was able to sleep a good part of the way. We arrived in Burundi the next morning and had a wonderful day with a friend of Pastor Felix. She opened her guesthouse to us and we were able to share several meals and wonderful conversation with her family. It was also a treat to go and visit the home she had created for 8 elderly women that had been abandoned or no longer had family to care for them. They were very excited, greeting us with song and dance.
The next day we headed for Uvira by taxi. God was looking out for us because we had no trouble at the border and were quickly in a whole other world. It was amazing the difference just crossing the border made. I just got this different feeling as soon as I crossed. You could sense the hopelessness and daily struggle of life there. Many seemed to just be in survival mode with no vision of anything ever changing. Even the churches did not seem to be alive like the churches in the equally poor village of Kayebe we had just left in Uganda were. The only difference was Kayebe was a small village and this was a whole town.
The country has plenty of resources. Why were they sending electricity first over to Burundi and only receiving what was left for their people? How is it that the hospital had to import everything, including water and IV fluids at higher cost? Can’t those be made in country? Why is it that the government does not pay its employees, leaving hospitals to over charge to pay employees, and people constantly harassing foreigners for visa fees so they too can get paid? Why do foreign countries donate meds that are no longer good so hospitals don’t know if the meds they depend on are even going to help? Why is the answer we don’t know how or we don’t have the resources to do that such a commonly accepted answer to problems there? How in a week were we possibly going to do anything to help when they don’t even know what therapy is and the hospital nurses we were to train were already crazy busy with patients? How would the patients accept exercise and education to help their pain when it was common knowledge medicine was what they thought they needed? I knew God had brought us here for a reason, but at that point all I could see were barriers. That was once again when God changed my perspective and helped me see light where I could only see and sense darkness.
We ended up seeing 91 patients in 5 days, but, more importantly, we were able to better understand the needs in the area and help the nurses and the doctors see what can be done through therapy. We were able to educate about how to change the way to do daily activities to help prevent or decrease back pain. We were able to give hope to patients that have had a stroke, showing them they are capable of doing things for themselves again. We were able to help parents with children with a disability see their child’s potential and ways to help the child achieve some functional mobility. We were able to show that you don’t always need medication to help someone feel better. By the end of the week, the doctors and nurses could see the value of therapy and were willing to dedicate space and staff to be trained if we were willing to come back. I left feeling inspired by what God had done in just a week and excited about how we can come together to continue the work that has been started.