I began traveling to Chiang Mai, Thailand, with my Burmese friend, Daniel Kalnin, in 1996. Earlier, he had flown to Denver to ask me to help him with his "Barefoot Doctors" program. "We are training village people from the closed country of Burma," he explained. "We instruct them in basic health care procedures in Chiang Mai, then, send them back into their hill-tribe villages. They return as the only 'doctors' in their areas. I don't have any medical goods to send back with them, and I also need help in training them."
Both the man and his story had intrigued me. He was a quiet, dignified Asian in his 50s. His request was straight forward, his urgency and sincerity compelling. I knew that most of the universities and institutions had been closed in Burma, now called "Myanmar," because the paranoid new government had feared the possibility of insurgency on the campuses.
The training process stretched over a 3-year period. Those chosen by their villages to be trained walked out of Burma, usually illegally, and crossed into Thailand and stayed for one month in each of the three years. It would sometimes take three weeks for them to make the journey on foot. The term, "Barefoot Doctors" described well the picture of the simple Burmese villagers walking barefoot among their people caring for the sick and injured.
The first time I visited one of the "Barefoot Doctors" training sessions in Chiang Mai, there were 21 candidates enrolled. Following the training sessions and dinner, I would encourage them to tell me about themselves and their experiences. They all told me how inadequate they felt as they traveled back home knowing they were the only ones in their villages with any medical or emergency information. Everyone looked to them for help. But they also shared that when they received a call for help there was a certain power and confidence that came over them as they faced the emergency.
One woman told me how God had helped her understand how to fabricate an IV- starting device and get some sterile water into a dying boy's body while the entire village looked on. The boy lived, to the astonishment of everyone.
Another lady cried as she told me that the previous year she had returned to her village after having received two of the three annual training courses. "I was called in the night to the home of my dearest childhood friend. She was very sick. I had enough training to determine that she was having a severe appendicitis attack. But I had never done any procedure such as that. My friend begged me to help her. I knew if I did not do something she would surely die.
"Then the lady explained, "I went into another dark room. I prayed to God and raised my hands up toward Him and told Him that I didn't know what to do with my hands and mind, but I didn't want my dear friend to die. I was the only person who knew anything about medical things. We put my friend on her kitchen table and I began the procedure. I was able to perform the procedure and my friend is alive today. It was a miracle!"
As that precious hill-tribe Burmese lady shared her story with me that night, I remembered a quote from Pope Paul VI, "Nothing makes one feel so strong as a call for help." She had heard the call for help. She was emboldened enough to ask God to help her in an impossible situation, and God made her strong in her weakness so that she could successfully respond to the incomprehensible challenge.