Orthodox Christian Mission Center’s Blog

August 17, 2011

The Work of the Holy Spirit in Uganda: by Team Member Penelope McClintock

Our first day of setting up a healthcare clinic in a small town in rural Uganda was a mild frenzy. Our small Team of eight Americans, consisting of two doctors, three nurses, and two students, was faced with the great challenge of providing basic medical care and medications to over one hundred Ugandans crowding around a church door and open window, which we turned into a makeshift doctor’s office and pharmacy. Amid the chaotic crowds waiting to receive their medicine, the piles of triage cards, and the constant chatter of mixed English and Lugandan (the major language spoken in the district of Sembabule), we managed to successfully treat and provide medication to children with intestinal worms, families stricken with malaria, babies with fevers, scalps balding due to ringworm, and women and men suffering from various STDs. Most patients received their prescriptions with enormous smiles, saying “Webale” (meaning “Thank you”), and would depart us with a shake of the hand in gratitude. It felt wonderful to provide these people with the medicine they needed, to eat with them, to discuss our lives together, and to connect over sharing a common faith although we live an entire ocean apart.

However, not every patient’s story was one of success that day. Of the hundreds of faces I met, the face of a teenage girl, simple and serene, held slightly crooked while she walked from the church on a crutch, stands out in my mind from that first clinic. We were able to diagnose the large infected wound in her shoulder as osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone and bone marrow. Without treatment, her infection was becoming progressively worse. Even though our Team offered her grandfather enough money to provide her transportation to a hospital, he refused to take her, and we had to leave the town that day knowing we could do nothing to help her. And yet, as our van made its way down the red dirt road away from the church, she smiled at us with the most grateful eyes, and waved us on our way.

Over the course of the next week, our Team vastly improved our efficiency in triage and prescription filling in the pharmacy. We would transform a stone church filled with wooden pews into a waiting area, examination area, shot area, wound care area, working pharmacy, and medication dispensary. Our Team worked together, along with the help of some wonderful translators and Ugandan Orthodox priests, to take what we learned from the chaos of the first clinic and turn it into a smooth and systematic operation.

However, riding down the bumpy road to our last clinic, none of us were prepared to be faced with our biggest challenge yet. The church we had to work with was not a large empty room filled with convenient wooden benches, but a dark tiny hut made of mud and straw. We had only a couple of benches to use for the doctors and pharmacy, and there was already a line of people eagerly awaiting our arrival. Because it was too dark inside the church for the doctors to see, we had to set up outside… and there were dark rainclouds forming in the distance. Although we were using boxes to make work tables, filling prescriptions in the back of a van, and grabbing the medicine and running inside the church every time we felt raindrops, we managed to see every single person who came to us that day. Just as the girl with osteomyelitis welcomed what little help we had for her, and did not pout at her misfortune but responded to us only with gratitude for what we could give her, I felt that our meager resources that day only made us more determined to run a successful clinic. Despite the simple setup, we provided the same quality of care and medicine, and we felt even deeper the spirit of the people we had come to help, experiencing life the way they do each day. This spirit, one of hospitality, gratitude, love, and delight in simplicity, is the most striking mark of the people in Uganda, and the most evident way that our Team was able to experience the work of the Holy Spirit in Africa.

The Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) organizes many different short-term Mission Teams. As a twenty-one year old nursing student, I joined a Healthcare Team based in Uganda. We spent two weeks setting up healthcare clinics and administering basic medications through the Orthodox Church in Uganda. This experience was incredibly humbling, and one that I will carry with me in both my spiritual and professional life as a nurse.

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