My first week here in Uganda has been incredible. There are so many stories to tell, it’s hard to decide which ones to share. Before I write anything else I have to tell you again how strongly I have felt the presence of God here. The fruits of your prayers have been growing all over the place! God has already opened many doors for building new relationships and has presented numerous opportunities for ministry here.
For the first few weeks on the ground, the plan is to learn as much as I can by observation. It’s extremely important to understand the people, culture, and needs here; both physical and spiritual. My most action packed day of observation last week was probably Thursday. We drove down a long, red dirt road from Mbale to Bugobero, one of Kissito’s health centers in Manafwa District. I traveled with quite an international crew: Dr. Sabiiti, a Ugandan; Lindsey, an intern from Kenya; and Angela, a medical missionary from Venezuela. We arrived to see hundreds of people sitting on the ground waiting to be treated; just a typical day at this village health center. Amazingly, two years ago there were no patients here. Not because nobody was sick, but because there were no supplies, no electricity, and no trained medical professionals. Now, because of the intervention by Kissito Healthcare International, hundreds of patients are treated each day. Many of them are pregnant mothers.
There was a mother in the maternity ward whose baby was ready to be delivered, but was still positioned too high up to be delivered safely. Dr. Sabiiti decided it would be best to perform a C-section, so we suited up and I braced myself for what was next. The mother was 31 years old and pregnant with her 8th child. I couldn’t understand the conversation between the doctor and the mother, as most of the villagers speak the Luguisu language. Words weren’t necessary to understand that she was visibly in a lot of pain, and equally afraid, even though she had been through this procedure before.
Without getting into too many details, I watched Dr. Sabiiti perform the procedure with efficiency and precision. What I was most impressed with was the way in which the doctor began his work: with prayer. I have to admit I was praying pretty hard myself; that I wouldn’t pass out cold right there in the surgical theater (operating room). I typically don’t do well at the sight of blood, but I made it through, Praise the Lord. It wasn’t really the blood or the internal organs that disturbed me. What bothered me the most was her feet. I kept seeing her feet sticking out from under the surgical sheet. Her feet told me just how hard this woman’s life must be. They were stained red from the miles she has walked barefooted, struggling each day simply for the survival of her family.
The dirt here is red (think Franklin County, VA). In America, a woman would never come in to give birth in a sterile environment with dirty feet. In Uganda, everyone does what they can with what they have. Having dirty feet is the least of their worries. Snapping out of the daze I was in, I realized I had successfully avoided getting light headed until the end of the procedure when the mother’s anesthesia began to wear off too early. Imagining what she must have been feeling, I had to step outside to get a breath of fresh air and compose myself again. I think if I have kids I’ll definitely adopt instead of the alternative. If anything, this day I gained a new understanding of the miracle of birth and the amazing resiliency of God’s creation that is the human body.
Although I’m not a medical professional, I could see that the resources available in this health center (one of the best in the area) were nowhere close to the standard you would see in a hospital in the U.S. There are so many needs here; it is unfathomable until you see them for yourself. Many health centers here don’t even have stethoscopes or blood pressure machines. Diagnostic charts are few and far between, most of which are scribbled on notebook paper and taped to the wall.
When visiting Uganda for the first time last September, I was made aware of the need for reading glasses here. Many villagers haven’t read their Bibles in years because they simply don’t have access to a pair of glasses. This really touched my heart and seemed like a problem easy enough to fix with a little help from church partners and also from organizations that specialize in sight projects for developing countries. The staff at the Kissito office in Virginia contacted one such organization, but nothing has developed up to this point.
During our day at Bugobero, the most interesting thing happened. The doctor was sharing the surgical theater with a visiting ophthalmologist performing eye surgeries. Dr. Sabiiti had himself recognized the need for reading glasses, so he asked the eye doctor if it would be possible to do a quarterly vision clinic and eyeglass distribution. As it turns out, everyone thought the idea would work, as long as we could gather up as many pairs of glasses as possible and get them to the clinic. According to the eye doctor, 1 out of every 10 patients that showed up for surgery actually needed it. Most of them just needed glasses. In Uganda, a pair of reading glasses costs approximately six dollars, too much for the average Ugandan villager to afford. So, due to lack of access and affordability, people cannot do simple things such as sew a button, bandage a cut, or read the Word of God. We already have 50 pairs of “dollar store” reading glasses scheduled to come over with the next team from the States. My point here is that God put exactly the right people together at exactly the right time. I have seen this many times during my first week here in Africa. The best part is that everything happening here is leading to an opportunity to meet spiritual needs, not just physical.
I have been reminded every day in Africa that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Your prayers have initiated something new, something big, a mission that can only be accomplished by the power of the Lord. Those miracles will be proof that He is the only One who truly transforms people and communities. He is the One with the vision. It is only through Him that we can heal the sick and restore sight to the blind.