A Burning Desire to Help

Congo: Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Wasolo was an area of about 50,000 villagers, and the Wasolo Hospital had 11 different outlying health centers feeding into the main hospital. There was no water system for the area or for the hospital, but a public well was close by. Tuesday morning, I met with all the doctors and staff people of Wasolo Hospital at 7 a.m. The hospital, over the years, had earned a strong and positive reputation and drew from a much larger catchment area than just the main town. I discovered that throughout Congo a lot of the surgeries such as caesarean births and appendectomies were performed not by doctors but by the attending nurses. Nowhere did I see a functioning anesthesia machine. Surgeries were performed with local injection or nothing at all.

Dental services at Congolese clinics or hospitals consisted only of extraction procedures. Deadening was only used occasionally if available. 

The illnesses that most often affected the villagers were malaria, acute respiratory diseases, meningitis, diarrheal diseases, sleeping sickness, TB, HIV/AIDS, anemia, whooping cough, measles, and many varieties of intestinal parasites.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the MAF plane met us at the grassy runway and whisked us off over the jungle floor to bounce us into the medical zone of the Loco hospital. Once again we were met by scores of common villagers wanting to welcome us to their area. We needed to work swiftly because we needed to fly on to Karawa before it got dark. 

As we made our way in the back end of a pickup truck to the Loco hospital from the landing strip, I really struggled with how in the world those remote jungle hospitals could even continue to exist. There were 14 health centers or rural clinics that fed into the Loco hospital, but it had been ten years without the use of even the most simple x-ray machine. They had no dental facilities, almost nothing in their surgery room. They had never known an EKG machine, a defibrillator, suction pumps, or an anesthesia machine. 

They were even trying to make their own sterile IV solutions out of a simple series of fabric filters. One of the nurses told me they knew if they had not done a good enough job on filtering the IV solutions because the children would get the “jerks” while receiving them. 

There was no such thing as a continual electricity supply. Patients simply waited throughout the night and a small generator was used if there was a “drastic emergency” for the operating room but the high cost of diesel fuel prohibited much use of even the small generators. 

Just our “showing up” brought great encouragement and hope to the tired doctors and nurses. You could just feel the surge of excitement and enthusiasm pulse through the hospital as we walked the halls and talked to the patients, the department heads and nurses. No other groups had come alongside those remote jungle hospitals. Hardly anyone else knew them. Hardly anyone else came. The desire to help those needy people burned a hole right into me, and I could hardly wait until they received the first shipments of Project C.U.R.E. donations. 

The hospital at Loco had been built by the Belgians as a leprosy hospital, but it had never been finished or used. Then in 1963 a Covenant Church doctor by the name of Dr. Carlson traveled to Congo and began working among the people. He was shot to death by warring soldiers, and later the government honored the request that the facility be given to the Covenant Church as a permanent memorial to Dr. Carlson. It was a fine facility as far as Congolese medical facilities would go, but oh my goodness, it needed everything! 

In the late afternoon we once again bounced down the dirt runway and headed south to Karawa. As we were trying to beat the darkness we ran into a horrific rainstorm above the jungle. Sam, the MAF pilot, was flying our Cessna and for a while we completely lost all sight of the runway, the jungle, the sky, everything. He almost had to pull up and out of the approach path because we could not see anything out the front or side windows. Then suddenly there was a break in the fierceness of the burst, and Sam caught a glimpse of the runway and set the plane down in the layer of rain and mud. We were back on the ground in Karawa. 

It was dark as we walked from the landing strip area down the jungle pathway to Keith and Florence Gustafson’s house for candlelight dinner with the two MAF pilots. I felt great admiration for the missionary pilots. They risked their lives on a daily basis to keep open the only available lifelines into those remote areas. There were simply no roads available from Kinshasa to the health facilities in the north. Part of our challenge at Project C.U.R.E. was to figure a way to transport the donated medical goods into northern Congo. No one else had been willing to accept that challenge. But after having been there I was convinced that we could get the goods delivered even if we needed to ship them into Douala, Cameroon, and transport them inland across central Africa and into northern Congo. I believed God would help us figure out a way of delivery. 

At about 10:30 p.m. our candles were burning low and our energy was burning even lower, so we stopped our discussion with the pilots and the Gustafsons and I went to a nearby guest facility in the old compound. There was once again no electricity and no running water. The only water was in a rusty, 50-gallon barrel, and there was just a plastic bucket to dip the water out and pour it over myself in the darkness of the Karawa compound. 

Mosquitoes were on the lookout for soft, white, Scottish/Irish meat and blood, so I had to hurry right along and get in under the safety of my mosquito netting over my bed. 

Over the years of Project C.U.R.E.’s existence God had been gently preparing me to adjust to really bad and awkward situations in the most remote places of the world. I had slept in Kyrgyzstan in a log house in the middle of a severe winter storm with the snow blowing in through the spaces between the logs and onto my bed. 

I had experienced thugs in India who wanted to rob me. They tried to smoke me out of my hotel room in the middle of the night so they could attack me when I came out of the toxic smoke for air. 

Living without electricity or running water had been my lot in places in India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Africa, and Central America. Burma was a lot cleaner, but every bit as remote and primitive as anything I was putting up with in the Congo. But God had allowed me to gently adjust and be able to cope over the past nearly 20 years without the feelings of panic and fear. I had traveled around the world enough to know that it was already “tomorrow” somewhere in the world. Instead of getting overwhelmed by the tough circumstances, God had allowed the candle of hope to burn just a little brighter as each tough circumstance occurred. 

Next Week: An Adventure of Hope and Pride

© Dr. James W. Jackson

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