Moshe, Tanzania: May 15, 2006: Following dinner that evening at Rauya we were welcomed by another group of black sisters who resided and ministered at the Rauya Convent. That night the women got Betty Jo McCormick out on the floor dancing. They brought a brightly colored piece of cloth material and wrapped it around her. Betty Jo cooperated wonderfully and kicked and skipped and bowed and swayed with the dancing Nuns. Before long they brought another piece of material and wrapped it around Dr. Cathy. The beat went on. They sang and clapped and danced and laughed and hugged. Of course, our hosts would not be satisfied until we were all out in the middle of the room participating in the fun.
Before the celebration was over for the evening they had insisted that I speak to them. After all, the main business of the sisters and the convent was spirituality. But, oh my, they did enjoy the fellowship. It was as if the seriousness of the discipline of the convent had worked to bottle up the innate rhythm, clapping and singing and trilling and unique movements of the native feet. Once given a holy excuse to uncap some of that God-given emotion and excitement, it displayed itself in some pretty remarkable expressions of worship. The visitors from America had finally come to evaluate and see if they could help the nuns in their ministry. That was enough to uncork the bottle of joy and let the excitement just bubble out everywhere.
I took the cue from the joy of the situation and talked to them about “putting a smile on the face of God.” I could only hope that my Catholic theology was correct and properly stated. But it was a time to capitalize on the experience of joy.
I talked to them from the passage of Scripture in Jeremiah that admonishes:
“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
Let not the strong man boast of his strength
Let not the rich man boast of his riches
But, let him, who would boast, boast of this:
That he knows me and understands that I am God
Who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness
On this earth and in these things I delight
Saith the Lord of hosts.” (Jeremiah 9:24-24)
I bragged on them and how they were spending their lives promoting kindness, justice, and righteousness. They had pledged their entire lives – every breath, every ounce of energy, every emotion, and every thought – exclusively to Jesus, the Church, and to a needy generation of mankind. When they took their oaths and had agreed to a life of discipline and holiness, they were concentrating their efforts on kindness, justice, and righteousness.
“God has declared in his word,” I continued, “that he delights in the promotion and dedication to kindness, justice, and righteousness. Delight means that it makes him happy. He enjoys that. So when you live your life of kindness, justice, and righteousness, it makes God smile. There are a lot of things in this old world that God sees that make His heart hurt. But you are putting a smile on the face of God. And tonight you have topped off your worship very uniquely. You have topped off the whole situation with the unique expression of joy. You have worshipped with ‘joy.’ You have indeed put a smile on the face of God tonight.”
Of course, a little pep talk like that, with more encouragement, appreciation, and acceptance, only worked to trip their trigger. They all returned to their duties having experienced a lot of joy and expression.
Tuesday, May 16
At breakfast at 7:30 a.m., we met up with Father Benedict, who was the bishop’s right-hand man in charge of all the medical operations and activities of the dioceses. We would be traveling with Father Benedict to visit and evaluate the Catholic medical facilities in the Moshe area.
Our first trip would be from Rauya Marengo to the large Catholic hospital in Huruma. In order to get to Huruma we left Moshe and traveled directly east toward the Kenyan border. The rough, “washboard” board took us right up the western side of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We passed through the base camp village where all the climbers begin their trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro. We continued bumping along on the road for another hour after that.
The lower slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro were lush and green with jungle trees, plants, and unique flowers. Banana trees and plantain trees grew prolifically. The soil was rich, and it appeared that anything the people stuck into the ground would grow quickly.
The Huruma Hospital was a 300-bed facility, and including the outpatient traffic, it welcomed over 10,000 patients per month.
Dr. Wilbrodi Kyejo, the director, helped me with the needs assessment and explained to me that there were only two fully qualified doctors there, but they also had on staff nine doctors who were finishing their residency. They served an area with a population of 275,000. They desperately needed anesthesia machines, ventilators, suction machines, cauterizers, and supplies for their operating rooms, as well as a large autoclave for sterilization and all kinds of other equipment for the hospital. Dr. Kyejo had even prepared a very extensive list of needed items in anticipation of my visit to his old, campus-styled hospital.
We returned with Father Benedict to Rauya for lunch at about 2 p.m. At 3:30 p.m., we started out again in his Land Cruiser. Back again we went to the base camp village. But this time we traveled north to the town of Kilema where there was another 120-bed hospital belonging to the Catholics. Dr. Ignas Masawe and his assistant, Sister Chalis, helped us with the assessment. As I walked the halls, assessed the laboratory, and talked with the doctor, it was hard for me to grasp how they could run a hospital, treating over 5,000 patients a month and delivering over 120 babies a month without the basic necessities. There were only a few supplies. I did not see one monitor of any kind, no anesthesia machines, otoscopes, baby incubators, respirators or even a decent birthing table. Project C.U.R.E. could really make a difference in their healthcare delivery system.
At Kilema was located the first Catholic cathedral built in Tanzania. The parish had begun in 1890, and construction of the cathedral had taken place shortly after the turn of the century. All the buildings were still in good condition and in full use, including the large edifice that had been the home of the first bishop. Now, however, it was being used to house a school.
We entered the unique cathedral and had the good fortune of hearing the choir rehearsing for the Sunday mass. The choir director was getting a most beautiful, four-part harmony blend from the members as he pumped with his feet the ancient bellows that supplied air to the organ. It was actually a rare experience to listen to the choir and pump organ make the old cathedral vibrate with acoustical grandeur and exuberance.
It was quite late by the time we returned to Rauya Marengo. Usually the leaders were very careful to make sure none of their people were out on any of the roads after dark because it was so unsafe. But the sisters had patiently held dinner for us in spite of our being so very tardy.
Wednesday, May 17
At 7:30 a.m., Father Benedict accompanied us to the city of Moshe where there was located a large Catholic diocesan center. There we were required to wait and cool our heels until we could get an audience with Bishop Amadeus. At the meeting, the bishop blessed our work and encouraged us to continue our efforts in helping the needy hospitals and clinics in the Kilimanjaro area. The bishop had been a good friend with Father Jim while he was there.
From Moshe, Father Benedict took us on another long and bouncy journey back into the jungle where I would have supposed that no one else regularly traveled. But to my utter amazement, at the end of the terrible road was located a most wonderful African Catholic hospital called Kibosho Hospital. It served a population of over 250,000 living in the area, hardly any of whom you could see, I might add. But there they were doing some splendid work. Some Catholic doctors from Germany had even come and set up an eye surgery department and trained the African doctors how to successfully perform cataract operations and inner ocular lens transplants. I was amazed.
The hospital facility was neat and clean, and Dr. Henrica, who was a Catholic sister, had prepared several lists of urgently needed supplies and pieces of equipment for their hospital.
On our return trip to Moshe, Father Benedict and Father Jim wanted to stop and let me see what the Lutherans were doing at their large hospital. We did not perform a needs assessment there but it did give me a good idea of what was and what was not happening in the area of healthcare delivery in Moshe. Believe it or not, the Lutheran hospital actually had a two-bed ICU department with monitors and ventilators for the fortunate patients.
Wednesday evening would be my last time meeting with the entire group of sisters at Rauya. I was in for a very special treat. I guess that the Lord must have known that this tired and weary “road warrior” for Project C.U.R.E. needed a special blessing.
That day the sisters had written two songs about Dr. Jim. They expressed some beautiful thoughts, and in them they pledged to pray for me and for Project C.U.R.E. every day. They also asked that we would remember to pray for them. The songs were sung as if they had practiced them for months, even though I knew they had just been composed that day. The harmonies were beautiful and the sincerity oozed out of every phrase. I listened and I cried. I had come to try to be a blessing to those in need, and God had turned it around, realizing that I was the one “in need.” He had ordained to bless me by these African Catholic sisters.
After I had bragged on them and Father Jim and presented to the sister superior and Father Jim some Project C.U.R.E. gift clocks, the sisters all gathered around me, extended their hands toward me, and sang a blessing that I shall never forget. I sat there thinking, “You just can’t out-give God. I try to give out as much as there is within me to give … but God continues to give back even more than I can ever comprehend.”
The love and support was flowing like a deep and strong river over all our souls that night. I expect to spend eternity with those sisters and look forward to once again listening to their sweet voices fill the banquet rooms of heaven.
Next Week: Good-bye, Kilimanjaro; Hello, Morogoro