As the time of our departure for Uganda nears, we are trying to ready ourselves for the work that God will have us to do there. The need in Uganda is so large, that it is easy to get overwhelmed with it. We have been told many times that we will need to have a narrow focus to make a difference. Much of the push in Foreign Missions today is towards training local people to do God’s work and less on actually trying to accomplish it by ourselves. The more I think about this, the more is sounds true. Jill and I are convinced, that if we are to make a difference for Christ in Uganda, we will need to do it through relationships and one person at a time.
I am sure that you have heard of the starfish story, but if you have not, please see the website of our friends, the Gash family, at http://www.throwingstarfish.com/. One of the first “starfish” that I was able to put my hands on was “JN” (His name reserved for anonymity).
As I got off of the bus to go into the clinic for our 2nd day in the medical clinic in Uganda this past summer, I was met by one of the “providers” at the clinic. He would be the equivalent of a nurse practitioner or PA here in the US. He wanted me to come quickly to look at a small 4 year old boy named JN. His mother had brought him in for the community clinic that we would be having that day and it was noticed quickly that he was quite ill. Before my arrival, the clinic had tested him for malaria and found his test to be positive. I found JN very weak and getting tired of his difficulty breathing. He had a temperature of 103 and his oxygen level was about 80% until we put him on oxygen. My ER “sick kid” radar went off and a nurse from Ardmore and I looked at each other like we better do something quick or this is not going to end well. Much to our surprise, the medical staff from the clinic did not seem too concerned. Not because they did not recognize sick, but because they saw it so often that it did not shake them like it did us. In Uganda one in 5 children die before their 5th birthday. JN was too sick to be in Duncan Regional Hospital (mainly because we don’t have a pediatric intensive care unit). If I had seen him in Duncan, he would have gone by helicopter to Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City. But we were not in Duncan, we were in a small medical clinic in the middle of "Nat Geo" Africa. One of the nurses was able to get an IV ( a minor miracle on this kid that was so small and dehydrated). We gave him IV fluids and medications for malaria and antibiotics for a pneumonia that he obviously had by exam. Our team had brought a nebulizer unit and medication to use with it. I was thinking, boy that is great, that is exactly what JN needs right now to help his labored breathing. As we went to set it up, we realized that we did not have the converter needed to run the nebulizer on the electrical plugs that they use in Uganda. Everyone in our group had converters at the guest house we were staying in, but that was an hour away. I was able to perform some “MacGyver” medicine and get the breathing treatment to work with the pressure from the oxygen tank. Whew, we finally had him stabilized. About that time, they brought another young boy named KN from the Watoto children’s village. He had almost the same symptoms and vitals, but he was 2 years old. We were able to get him stabilized as well. KN had the ability to go to the hospital in Kampala, because of an arrangement that Watoto had with a local physician and his hospital. He would be going to stay in the hospital.
Our group had already decided that we would chip in to pay for JN to go to the hospital, as his parents could not afford to take him. The government hospitals in Uganda will only see and care for you if you have the ability to pay. We were surprised to find out that if we sent the antibiotics with him, he could stay for 3 days for $30. While patients are in the hospital, family must feed them, and bathe them and care to their basic needs. Many times it looks like a refugee camp outside the hospital as families camp out to take care of their family members. It turns out that JN could not go to the hospital because his family could not go to Kampala. We compromised and JN and his mother stayed in the clinic (which honestly is nicer than the government hospitals) until 9:00 pm and then was allowed to go home. One of the nurses on site showed JN’s mom where she lived on the Watoto campus and advised his mother to return if JN got worse. The next morning, JN had already come and gotten his IV antibiotics and returned home before I got to the clinic. The next day, JN was a completely different young man. He was smiling and energetic. I am convinced that KN would have made it if we had not been there. He had access to the medical clinic and had access to a hospital via Watoto. JN had neither. If we had not been there, JN would not have been invited to the medical clinic. He likely would have passed away. I know that God must have something big planned for JN.
I may never see JN again, this side of heaven. I’d love to find him when we are in Uganda and get to know he and his family better. I'd love to form a relationship with his family and get a glimpse of what God's big plans for him are.