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.
Oct 19, 2013
Flying into Kenya was very different than the DRC we had left. Nairobi was like a US city with large buildings, good roads, bustling shops, and lots of cars. As we left the city we got to see more of the beautiful open landscape and at times just wild animals along the side of the road. Kijabe means “place of the wind” and that is where the hospital we served in was located in the Rift Valley. AIC Kijabe Hospital is known across all of Africa especially for its neurosurgery. Which is crazy because it is tucked in this small town with one little grocery store, a market and a few other little shops. The only other big thing in town is the large private school Rift Valley Academy. The school is well known for its academics and just producing well rounded young men and women. It was neat to meet some of the students and those involved in the many ministries at the school.
I came excited to meet the physio team, to share therapy ideas, learn more about the Kenyan hospital system and learn more Swahili. We had spent the last two weeks training nurses and those in the village with an interest to learn but with no therapy background. I figured this would be the easiest training we had done since we were working with physio’s with some schooling, but God certainly had a lesson in store. I quickly found myself wondering if the therapist understood the role we came to play. As we followed the therapist around during their daily treatments each remained very welcoming but quiet. No questions were asked and no real opportunities to share treatment ideas. As we treated together I saw areas where I could give input but was struggling how to approach without looking like the American trying to come in and show them how to do therapy. At times one therapist was explaining some very basic principals to me as if I were a student and I found myself getting offended that he assumed I did not know that basic principal.
That is when God humbled me and help me see the attitude of my heart as I approached this experience. It is amazing what pride can do to you. I realized if that empowers the therapist to help teach me basic therapy concepts then that is my role to listen. It was amazing once I changed my perspective God open doors and allowed opportunities to not only share therapy ideas but also about my faith and other experiences. At the same time I was able to learn more about chest physio and feeding which I had very little experience in. We were able to get to know the staff on a more personal level and hear more of their individual stories. It was exciting to hear them learn how there is little to no therapy in the Congo and talk about wanting to go do trainings with us. We talked about the possibility of going into local villages in Kenya to do trainings where there is such great needs and little to no services. They had no idea these needs existed because, just as it is in our country, therapy is very prevalent in the places they had lived in Kenya. We could see their love to serve in the work they were doing in the hospital by the way they cared for their patients, but it was inspiring to hear them come up with other ways they could use their therapy skills to serve and share the love of Christ. It was also very moving to pray with them for their country while the attacks were going on at Westgate. To hear the faith many have in God to not place blame, but rather trust in the peace that passes all understanding.
I am constantly humbled and thankful for the things I have learned from the people God brings into my life as I attempt to follow the path He has me on. It is very often not as I plan but always as He plans. God can do so much more when we lay down our pride, allow ourselves to be stretched and get out of the way so He can be glorified.