September 23, 2011
September 21, 2011
By Catherine Furry
I wish I could capture in words what it felt like to look into the eyes of the children who carried in their younger siblings to receive malaria treatment, the dehydrated baby separated from her young mother who was hospitalized with AIDS complications, the elderly grandparents suffering from chronic pain from years of intense physical labor to feed their families . . . and know that we were at least making a little bit of difference. I wish I could share with you the experience of handing out prescriptions in paper bags from our makeshift pharmacy on the bed of a pickup truck that we set up next to a little mud-wall, dirt-floor, straw-roof church (my favorite church ever!) and the grateful smile and “webale” (thank you) in return. To show up at a church in the morning and see a crowd of people already waiting for us, some of whom had walked miles and miles barefoot to get there, was a humbling experience.
The need that remains both in Uganda and world-wide is still great, but each interaction with the people we did encounter was an opportunity for us not only to serve and practice being witnesses of Christ’s love, but also to learn from the people with whom we interacted and build relationships. I think one of the biggest things I learned was the beauty of simplicity. Our operation wasn’t high tech — we set up our clinics in the local Orthodox churches (though open to all faiths), used school benches to perform exams, and filled prescriptions on cardboard boxes – but we were still able to offer a little something of what we could give to several thousand people, and they received it with joy and gratitude, opening their hearts and homes to us. The love with which they welcomed us will always stay with me, and I’ve definitely come home inspired to continue serving both near my US home and hopefully abroad again.
September 9, 2011
September 1, 2011
August 30, 2011
August 26, 2011
August 24, 2011
August 17, 2011
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.
August 10, 2011
July 26, 2011
Turkana. To me this word evokes memories of stifling heat, colorful clothes, joyous song, and vibrant dancing. This was the second trip for my wife and me to these beautiful people, located in the far northwestern desert of Kenya. Some of the Turkana people are considered an unreached people group which means that they have not heard the name of Jesus Christ, or don’t know enough about Him to become Christian. It has been a joy and an honor to minister in Turkana and we hope to return there in the future.
After a Team orientation in Boston and long hours traveling, we arrived in Lodwar, the largest city in Turkana-land. We made an additional four-hour drive through the arid desert to reach Loupwala, where our first catechitical seminar was held. As we began that last leg, we realized that we had the same Land Cruiser our Team had last year. Because of years of use on the bumpy rutted roads of the region, the 4X4 no longer worked. Not to our surprise, we soon were stuck in the soft sand. After thirty minutes of pushing and the help of another car (with a working 4X4) we were on our way again. Then darkness fell. The narrow road was at times lined by thorn trees and because of the heat all the windows were open and thorn branches would whack those sitting near the windows. After another two hours of constant vigilance from the approaching thorn bushes, and getting stuck in the sand several more times, we finally arrived at the compound of the Orthodox priest serving Loupwala, Fr. Zachariah. We set up our tents in the dark, and fell asleep.
The next day we woke up, purified water from the new bore hole built by OCMC, and walked to where people had gathered under the shade of an acacia tree. We began celebrating the Divine Liturgy, the same sacred sacrament that millions of Orthodox celebrate every Sunday across the world. As similar as the service was, it was also different. The scorching sun; the different sounds of the Turkana language; the smells of a desert; the sand blowing with the wind; the rhythmic dancing of the congregation. Yet for all the differences, the experience melded together with the familiar; the same petitions; the same readings from the Gospel and Epistle; the same Body and Blood of Christ.
Fr. Vladamir, another priest living in the region, had told us that after the Liturgy we would baptize around 20 people. We walked down to the dry riverbed to look for a pool of water although it had not rained for almost a year and the river had been dry for many months. The entire community walked as a mass of people in a giant procession towards the river. This is how early Christians must have felt. Walking together, sharing in each other’s joy. Eventually we found a pool of water and started the baptisms. 1 – 2 – 3 – 5 – 10 – 15 – 25 – 50 – 100 – 119! An entire community was baptized. Not 20 people, but 119! After finishing the baptisms, we slowly walked back; hot, dehydrated, hungry, tired and overjoyed. Once back at Fr. Zachariah’s compound we collapsed on the woven mats and drank as much water as we wanted. What a difference the newly constructed bore hole made from last year’s Team when we rationed our water.
The next day we were supposed to go to Nacabosan, an hour’s walk from our base in Loupwala, an area we had been invited to bring the Christian message. The priests of the area told us that there had been a falling out between the two villages, yet after much discussion we decided to go anyway. Nacabosan is also an hour’s walk from the nearest dirt road and deep in one of the most remote regions of Kenya. A little nervous about how we would be received, we walked through the already hot sun to Nacabosan. Once there we were greeted by Salale, the shaman of the village. We were shown a place they had built just for us to stay if we wanted to stay overnight and their village school, located under an acacia tree. Under the acacia tree we performed skits of Bible stories and then broke up into small groups for catechism lessons. Later the members of our team and the young adults from the village stood in a circle and took turns teaching each other the simplest songs we could remember. It was a beautiful experience of unity trying to pronounce the foreign sounds of the Turkana language, trying to teach our difficult language, and finally dancing together. We gave Salale a solar powered MP3 player with the Bible loaded in the Turkana language. Finally, before we left one of the Elders of the village led the entire village in a prayer. He thanked us for the lessons we brought about God and prayed for reconciliation with the village of Loupwala. Having finished our lessons and saying our goodbyes, we started back towards Loupwala. Forty minutes later we arrived at the dry river bed we had crossed that morning. The river had started flowing! As we crossed the river and felt the air rushing out of the newly wet sand we thought how beautiful it was to witness this blessing of God on the two villages.
While many other beautiful events occurred on this trip I would like to leave you with this thought. Thanks to your prayers and support the Church in Africa is growing. We heard stories of miracles on our trip. We saw a people embracing Christ. We saw a river flow in a drought stricken region. Going on a mission trip is a life-changing experience. As much good as you can bring to those you go to serve, you get more in return.