October 25, 2004
There are a lot of missionaries here in Malawi. The Sherbinos are a young couple from the Presbyterian Church of Canada. Joel is the associate pastor of St. Columba CCAP (10,000+ members) and Rebecca works in the Blantyre Synod Projects Office. The Hansons have been here for five years already and have four children. The Presbyterian Church of Ireland has sent Rev. Hanson to be the chaplain for all the CCAP Secondary Schools in the Synod (there are 42). Those are just two examples of some of the missionaries we have met here. Over the last few weeks we got to meet some very short term missionaries, and I thought I would tell you a bit about them.
Three doctors from Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh gave up their salaries for two weeks to come to Malawi and do medical work at the remote Domasi Mission Station. There is a small but well equipped health clinic at the mission which is called the H. Parker Sharpe Clinic. It was built several years ago by the Dorrance family from Pittsburgh, and is staffed by several nurses who treat patients and teach health classes each day. The CCAP churches in the area announced to their congregations that the doctors would be at the clinic for two weeks doing examinations and dispensing medicines. The doctors brought $20,000.00+ worth of medicine with them.
When Chip (a member of the Presbyterian Church of Sewickley), Carolyn and Daniel arrived for office hours at the H. Parker Sharpe Clinic the first day, there were dozens of people awaiting treatment. Word spread and each day the crowds of sick people grew. The nurses had to give out numbers to make sure that the hundreds of patients were seen in order. They sat and lay on the ground surrounding the clinic waiting for their turns. At the end of each day, those patients that had not been seen were told to return the next morning and they were put first in line.
Chip said that one day, when the nurses announced that office hours were over, one family protested loudly and made a fuss. When they were questioned, it was discovered that they had gotten up at 4:00 a.m. that morning and walked nine hours to receive free medical care for their sick family members. So the doctors took care of them and then the family began their trek home, walking through the night.
When I asked Daniel how practicing medicine in Malawi was different than practicing medicine in the USA, he said, “you have to think on your feet and scramble more here.”The doctors could not order x-rays, blood tests, CAT scans, EKGs, etc. here, but had to rely on their own intuition and rudimentary tools like pulse, blood pressure and temperature.
Carolyn said that she did a lot of educating, as well. “People rely on old wives tales and the advice of witch doctors rather than sound medical principles. But when you take the time to explain things to them, they respond very well.”She thought it was sad that so many young people had STDs, but was pleased that the classes at the H. Parker Sharpe Clinic and elsewhere are making progress in teaching how to prevent the spread of them and HIV/AIDS. The HIV/AIDS rate in Malawi is somewhere in the area of 30%...no one is exactly sure.
When I asked Chip what kinds of cases he treated, he said that they saw a lot of malaria. He admitted that they probably saved many lives by giving antibiotics to scores of people who came in with pneumonia. “We also were able to give medication to lots of patients with skin infections and scabies. We treated headaches, rheumatism, stomach ailments, parasites, and fevers.”The doctor noted that because of the time that it takes to translate the patient’s symptoms and complaints, translate back the doctor’s questions and instructions and then translate the medication instructions, office visits were much longer than they tend to be in the USA. However, he noted, “on our last day of office hours, we closed down a few minutes early; we had taken care of every single person who had come to the Domasi Mission Station for treatment.”
Much to the surprise of the Clinic Nurses, at 9:30 a.m. when tea was served to the staff, the doctors did not sit down and take a break, but grabbed their mugs and headed back to the examination rooms to continue seeing patients. After a long day of work, the doctors would head back to the Pittsburgh Guest House for some “down”time. Unfortunately, the electricity was down most of the time. At one point it was out for 36 hours. It was off during their visit more than it was on, but they never complained, and would read by candlelight until they went to sleep. A cook was provided for them, but he quit, so the doctors fixed their own meals and washed dishes until a replacement could be found. They never complained.
They felt bad that there were some people that they could not help much. Chip noted, “Many of them had vision problems that we could not help, and some of them complained of joint pain and body aches, that just come from living here. Life is hard in Malawi. When you carry huge loads on your head every day, your neck is probably going to ache…we gave out a lot of ibuprofen and did the best we could.”
The doctors probably did more good than they realize. The Merry family admired their dedication and that of the other short and long term missionaries that serve here. Sue Makin is a world class gynecologist/obstetrician at Mulanje Mission Hospital. She has been a PC(USA) missionary there for six years and served in the Congo before that. Sue Peach is an accountant from England who works in the Synod office. Glynnis Smythe is a teacher from Scotland who has volunteered a year to teach music to Secondary School Students at HHI, a Synod School. Alastair McClain is a young man who hails from Northern Ireland and works on the Synod computers. He also teaches agriculture. Then there are thousands of people who support these missionaries with their offerings. You don’t have to be a doctor or a pastor to be helping here in Malawi, you are making an impact by supporting these people’s endeavors financially and with prayer. Keep up the good work! Zikomo!