Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Christmas from Bongolo!

Merry Christmas from the Jungle! 

Celebrating with new "family"

99.6 degrees and a Tropical Rainstorm Christmas...not the typical setting that comes to mind for your merry, jingle-all-the-way celebrations, but we had a marvelous time doing it! 
Christmas Eve we had a really fun progressive dinner throughout the mission station caroling all the way.

Bongolo's Christmas Eve "candle light"service =)

Later that night we went to Bongolo Alliance Church for their Christmas Eve service- talk about a cultural experience! Forget the candle lights! Bright lights, palm branches and loud songs of joy welcomed us into the packed out building. Christmas Eve here is sort of an opportunity for everyone to express their joy in Christ's coming to the world- whether that's in a reading or a song or a dance.
So there were small groups of older women reciting scripture, all the hospital staff singing a worship song, high school kids doing a dance number (think- scene from High School Musical, Africa style) and then there were the Americans who got up and sang O Come All Ye Faithful. Yup! That's right! Even we weren't exempt =)

There was actually a strand of lights up at Bongolo! We
were so excited!

Despite all the holly, jolly, merry celebration of it all, this first Christmas overseas has not been easy. It is difficult to be away from friends, family and a fiancé, feelings of home, snow, family traditions and everything that tells you deep inside that "Christmas time is here," but I think it has only magnified the reason we celebrate Christmas- Emmanuel- God with us. I am so thankful that He has been walking through this season with me.
Emmanuel- God with us. 
Below is a tangible account of that reality, what Christmas means for the world.

"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people."

Thank you to all of you who have so faithfully been praying for the young woman from the previous post, "A Will to Live." I wanted to give you a quick update as to how God has been working. 

We had described the story of a young woman, newly diagnosed with AIDS, who had left the hospital to go back home intending to kill herself, but God had intervened! She had changed her mind and returned to Bongolo Hospital for medical help. Our prayer was that while with us, God would speak to her heart and bring spiritual healing as well. We asked you to pray with us that God would open her mind and heart to the Gospel. 


About a week had passed after the young woman's return to us. I was checking up on the students in the medical ward and checking to see how the young woman was faring. I was surprised to discover that she had fallen into a coma a couple days prior, and had remained comatose since- it wasn't looking good. I could see the discouragement on the students' faces as they told me, and my heart fell as that week before she became comatose, had she had enough time to hear and respond to the Gospel?

The next day she was gone.

A group of us were gathered near her room, discussing whether or not anyone had had the chance to talk through the Gospel with her. No one seemed to really know. She spoke a village language, Pounou, that was not widely spoken in the immediate area. Had anyone had the opportunity to share with her?

Just then one of my students, Zita, came up to us hearing our conversation. "Madame" she said, "I speak a little Pounou. The day before the young woman went into a coma, I talked with her. She told me a woman who happened to be taking care of another patient here at Bongolo, came into her room and started sharing with her about Jesus- in her mother tongue- Pounou! She told her about Jesus- and the young woman decided to follow Christ."   

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." 

What a God we serve! In her brokenness, in her illness, God kept this woman from committing suicide, what compassion that He gave her a willingness to come back to the hospital to receive medical help, what provision that He had her come back with enough time for the Gospel to be presented to her before she fell into a coma, what mercy that God provided someone not only to share the Gospel with her- but someone who spoke it in her heart language, what obedience that that person obeyed the prompting from the Holy Spirit to share their faith, what grace that God would orchestrate all these events to draw this woman unto Himself- right before she fell into a coma and died, what Love that God would send His Son into the World "that the world might be saved through him"....

This is the gift of Christmas - Emmanuel, God with us!

Merry Christmas to you all!

Love from the Jungle, 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Will to Live...

Last week I walked into the classroom for our daily debriefing after clinicals at the hospital with the students. It had been a hot morning and promised to be an even hotter afternoon, I stood at the front of the classroom, sweat running underneath my scrubs, looking forward to wrapping up our discussion and heading to a nice cool shower. The students seemed kind of uneasy and disgruntled somehow. I wasn't really sure why, just then one of my students raised his hand to ask a question. What he asked caught me off guard. He said there was a patient on the medical ward, a young woman who was refusing her medication, she would vomit it up every time they gave it to her and refused to let them give it to her IV, in fact, she was trying to leave the hospital. 

"Madame, can we force her to take the medication?"
Swiftly I responded, "no, it's her choice if she wants treatment or not. Did she say why she doesn't want it?" The rest of the students all started talking at once and responded chaotically,
"She wants to kill herself Madame, she wants to leave so she can go home and hang herself. She just found out she has HIV."

My heart sank, my mind flooded with all the care this young woman needed, not just physically, but spiritually and psychologically and I immediately thought back to all the suicide attempts and suicidal patients  I had taken care of in the ICU in the States, and how legally it voids their right to make decisions about their own care, as their goal is self-harm. So of course she had to stay and get treatment until we could get her the proper help she needed to keep her safe. I opened my mouth to say just that -----and I caught myself.

I'm not in the States anymore, I'm in Africa. In fact, I'm in a hospital in the jungle, and I don't have a clue how they handle these things here. Any experience I might have had got tossed out the window, and I went to ask my nursing colleagues who have years of experience out here.  The response; we have to go with what the family wants, we'll ask the chaplain to try to talk to her, but we can't force her to stay.

I went back to the students to give them the response, all the while my stomach churning within me. What do you mean we have to let her go? Don't we know she's at risk? We can't stop any of this? We have protocols, we have medicines for these sorts of things, and we're just going to stand by....? My thoughts rambled on and on.

I gave the students the information, they responded that they needed to pray that she would stay at the hospital, that God would touch her heart. We decided to pray right then, so I asked a couple students to lead us. I watched as student after student prayed for this young woman, then lost it as I watched one of our older students, a spiritual leader in his home village, slip out from behind his desk, get on his knees on that hard concrete floor, and cry out to God that He might intervene in the life of this young woman. 

He prayed with such faith. I felt almost ashamed. Because there I was wrestling and fighting with the situation inside myself because everything didn't fit into my nice scientific boxes, frustrated because I didn't have the medical resources that I have in the States to help this woman, frustrated because we couldn't make her stay. Yes, spiritual care was  an obvious component of nursing as I cared for these patients in the States, but there were other resources too- and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just that I was standing in the face of lacking those other resources and feeling like spiritual care just won't be enough. The conflict between my scientific-based culture and this spiritually-based culture was exploding before my eyes. In the end, where did my faith rest? Who really is the Great Physician. Who really is the creator God who formed this woman and knows her by name. Who is the One who brings healing. Is He enough?

I dismissed them for lunch, we left the classroom and instead of the students rushing off happily to their midday meal, they all stood dead in their tracks outside the Nursing School. The young woman was getting her stuff in a taxi to go home. She had refused to stay.

Is He enough? In your life, in my life, are we trusting only in Him even when we have other things to help us along the way? Do we trust Him to take care of all of it? I'm not for one minute suggesting we drop all medical resources, I believe and have seen God use and work through those valuable resources, but when they aren't there, do we believe God is enough? When we're working and money is flowing in and we know God takes care of us, are we trusting in only Him, or God plus the income. If that job is gone, is God still enough?

A few days later, this past Monday, I was busy around the hospital with the students, then suddenly the student who had been praying on his knees came up and found me. "Madame," he said, "that young woman, she has come back. She is alive. She wants help."

Is He enough? 

* This young woman is not yet a believer. I can't help but thinking God spared her life and brought her back here to draw her to Himself. Please pray that her eyes and her heart would be open to Him. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

School's in Session!!!

Hello Dear Friends and Family!

Monday, September 10th brought the moment for which we've all been praying and preparing- the arrival of the brand new nursing students!!!

Getting to know each other- a few of the 3rd years (in checked scrubs) and a few of the new students.

Monday started their 2 week orientation to "L'École de Santé de Bongolo" (literally "The School of Health at Bongolo" - ie the Nursing School).  The two weeks resemble a "nursing camp" of sorts, giving them an intense crash course in basic patient care that they will need to begin clinicals when the school year officially starts on September 24th.

This marks the answer to much prayer, as we will be teaching two different classes at once- the 3rd years- who are returning for their final trimesters of training, and the brand new class. We hope to be able to better staff Bongolo Hospital, as it is currently in a critical nursing shortage- 1 nurse per ward!

First day teaching

So yet another "Back 2 School" rolls it's way around - but for the first time, it's as the Teacher =) 

I walked into class at 8 AM Tuesday morning, their first official class at the school, I continued across the cement floor, set my satchel down on the teacher's desk and started praying silently to myself as all their eyes stared eagerly and expectantly back into mine. No time for hesitancy now-I thought to myself,  this was it- why God has called me here. And if He has called me- then He will equip me.
So I opened my mouth and started speaking in French and class had begun, don't ask me what I said, all I know is that God was there. 

Playing a game to work on memorizing Vital Sign norms.

As a class we've been playing a game to work on memorizing Vital Sign norms. I put up 3 signs around the room, "low," "normal" and "high." Then I give each student a card with a value on it, and they have to go stand under which category they think it's in. Each student then reads their card aloud and the class decides if they think they chose the right spot or not.

We've also been having a lot of fun getting to know the students' personalities better through ice-breaker games and team building exercises.

Trust Falls

Working on our team work skills =)

We also introduced them to the Nursing Skills Lab. We have two beds with a full mannequin in each. 
I wish you could have seen their faces as they all trickled into class that day! 
Each one would walk in, greet everyone, then stop dead in their tracks as they caught sight of the "bodies" in the beds- then they and everyone else would burst out laughing! 
Well, when you've never seen a life size mannequin before...

Eager to learn.

These students have come from a world so different from my own. The first day of class, not one of them knew what a pulse was.
By the end of the week- they were taking a full set of vital signs. 
They are intelligent and quick to ask questions, but the material and environment in which they are learning it is stretching them in every way.
However, they are not the only ones being stretched! 
Teaching in a language I've learned less than 7 months and in a country where I've lived less than 2, is not exactly in my comfort zone...

The verse God has brought to mind for the Nursing Skills class that I teach is Colossians 3:23-24

 "Whatever you do, work heartily, 
as for the Lord and not for men,  
knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. 
You are serving the Lord Christ."

We're working on memorizing it as a class. I think it's appropriate because this class is where the theory and medical knowledge and being the hands and feet of Christ combine into one. 
It's where the rubber meets the road.
It's where we start doing patient care.
 It's where we can live out our responsibility to love and serve others with the knowledge and skill that we've been given - in order that God might bring people to Himself. 

At least, that's what I'm praying God helps me to show them.

At the end of the week, we divided up the class of 16 into groups of 4, and each teacher took a group onto the wards at the Hospital to practice vital signs.
I took my group of 4 and we headed to the surgical ward- their first time giving patient care. We went into each patient room together as a group, while one student would take a turn to take that patient's vital signs. I was surprised at how gentle, respectful and compassionate the students were. They introduced themselves, explained each step before they did it, and approached the patient humbly. I was impressed that this continued as we went on to the 2nd patient, and the 3rd patient ...and then we got to the 4th.  
It was a young woman who laid on the bed, her family was gone for a bit, and on her chart I noted her nearing surgery that would probably leave her barren. Her face was downcast as though discouraged, fallen with the weight of the unknown. When the student was all done and I had verified the results, I asked the patient if we could pray with her. She looked relieved and replied 'yes.' I offered the opportunity to the students and they jumped to be involved.

As we debriefed this 4th time, taking a moment to learn from each patient, I asked them if they had noticed the light that was gone from her eyes and the discouragement....they finished my sentence. They were emphatic about what they had seen in the young woman and they were energized by the way in which they were able to encourage her and help her. I looked at them and a smile spread across my face and my heart beat hard in my chest, at that very moment a light had turned on on their faces...I think Colossians 3 had hit home...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Come Fly With Me!

Hello Everyone!

The second week in Gabon, not even a week after arriving at Bongolo, and it was time to take off again for a week in the capital, Libreville. So we took off on our Air Medicale de Bongolo flight out of the jungle and into Gabon's "metropolis."
I loved soaking up every minute of our flight in our little plane, and I was surprised at what a metropolis it actually turned out to be.

Steve Straw- AMB pilot

Ariel view of Bongolo

over the jungle
The river coming into Libreville

The first order of business was to get my "carte de sejour" or long term resident VISA to live in Gabon. Barry and I showed up at the visa building before 6 am, the dark and coolness of night still lingering into the morning air. We arrived extremely early in an attempt to out-wit the ever ambiguous open business hours. Even so, we were already probably 15th in line. We stood outside the gate for a good hour or more, the morning glow beginning to touch all around us, then finally they opened the gate and directed us inside to the appropriate wood bench where we were to sit outside the building.

Another hour or so passed and then finally our section of wood benches was called into the building by the less than happy lady who worked at the counter. I tried to listen vigilantly amidst all the French to make sure I didn't keep them waiting when my name would be called.

Then there it was, I approached the first counter trying to convey as much respect as possible, and trying to remember to pass everything to her with my right hand only.
Over a period of 45 minutes or so, she asked me a series of questions and shuffled me from station to station and then finally, it happened... I got her to crack a smile =)

 I was then passed over to another worker who informed me that I do not in fact, have red hair and that my application was incorrect.
She didn't know what color to put there- but it most certainly was not RED =)
(I was half tempted to offer "carrots" but thought against it.)
I didn't argue, I smiled politely, chuckling to myself inside and thanked the Lord as she handed me my Carte de Sejour despite my inaccurate hair color.

Well by then it was 9 am, I had got the not- so- happy lady to crack a smile, I was educated in the fact that my hair is not red and was now legal to live in Gabon.
 Praise the Lord!

Nursing School entrance exams

From there we drove straight to CEFTAC, the C&MA Seminary in Libreville where we were hosting the Nursing School entrance exams. We were greeted by a long line of eager, nervous faces watching us as we headed into the cement wall classroom to meet Terry.
We finished last minute preparations and then the day of testing and interviews began.
It was surreal to be at the other end of the classroom, that eager, nervous feeling looked so familiar.

We had 21 candidates in Libreville, and Karen, our fellow nursing instructor was giving the same exams for 21 candidates at Bongolo.
It was a privilege to pray with and hear the testimony of each of the students, as we began to seek God's guidance for who would be best suited at the Nursing School.

Terry and I interviewing potential nursing students

Our day of proctoring exams and interviews ended around 4:30pm and we were all pretty tired, when suddenly we saw that the hospital's container had been delivered to the CEFTAC warehouse! We were all so excited, because the container had been stalled at the port in customs for over a month!

The Hospital's 40-ft container from the States

The container was chalk full of supplies for the hospital, items for the African surgeons and nurses being trained at Bongolo, items for the maintenance of the hospital and surrounding buildings, and personal items for the missionaries as they strive to live and work in the middle of the jungle.

It feels like Christmas even just seeing all these packages from the States. Some were surprise packages that people had sent out, others were boxes of rolled bandages that people back home had faithfully put together for the hospital. And among all the boxes... were my crates and my bed! It was so fun to help unload them on this side of the pond. Christopher and I had dropped them off at the shipment warehouse in Cleveland on December  14th 2011.

Praise the Lord my crates made it across the ocean!
Now hopefully they'll make it across the jungle roads to Bongolo! =)

We still eagerly await the shipment's arrival to Bongolo from the capital, Libreville. I so look forward to finally being able to move into my new home and truly get settled at Bongolo.

Look at those muscles!

One 40-ft container unloaded in just a couple hours!
We were so thankful for the short term teams who happened to be there to lend a muscle or two and were such a BIG help!

Great job guys!

Barry and Terry and I
 Barry and Terry have been orienting me to Gabon, loving on me in their home until I can move into my house, and have been just a ton of fun to hang out with.
In Libreville, they started showing me the ropes as far as best places to stock up on staple food items to take back to the jungle, as well as any supplies or services one might need. I was shocked at all that was available in Libreville. During my visit last March, I had seen the orphanage, the guest house and the airport- that was it. Throw in some grocery store shacks and road side furniture sales and that was my knowledge of Libreville.
However there are real grocery stores in Libreville where you can find so many wonderful things- for a price- and a 20 hr drive round trip to the capital =)
We had shopping lists for the team back at Bongolo for things like cheese, chicken and ground beef and fresh lettuce and carrots.

Also, this sight was a wonderful surprise to my eyes =)
I had no idea the beaches in the capital along the Atlantic were so beautiful. This, coupled with the discovery of some quaint little restaurants with delicious food lifted my spirits. Somehow it's encouraging to know, that in the midst of living in the middle of the jungle- there is a place we can come to every so often to get away.

I spent my last day of being 24 walking along the beach of the Atlantic Ocean in Gabon.
I couldn't help but thank God as I soaked in the beauty of His creation surrounding me, ever so aware of His faithfulness in bringing me here.
As I was sitting on the beach with Terry and Barry, Barry asked me if I had been to some island for a vacation. I replied, "no, I haven't really been anywhere tropical." They both laughed as he said, "she replies while sitting on the beach under a palm tree in a country along the equator..." Haha...guess it just hasn't quite set in.....

Thank you for your love and prayers,
Love from Libreville,

Monday, August 13, 2012

On The Ground

Hey All!
Well I've been in Gabon about 3 weeks.
What in the world have I been up to you ask?
Take a look over the next couple posts =) ...

The first week we had our Field Forum.

The Gabon Team + the short term team from Allegheny Center Alliance Church

 The entire Gabon team met at a hotel in Lambarene, a town about 4 hours into the jungle on the 10 hr drive to Bongolo. So off we went in our 4x4s...

Off to Lambarene!

We passed many interesting things, here are just a few...

Furniture for Sale along the main highway

Vegetables for sale

A homestead

Lovely faces at the market

The Equator and the Highway Rest Area... (aka pick a bush ;-)

The week was filled with business meetings but also time of worship together in English, hearing from the word in English and prayer. We were all so thankful to the team from Allegheny Center who lead us in worship, brought us the word and taught the kids in VBS.

We also had lots of fun getting to know each other better- like our team wide photo scavenger hunt in Lambarene =)

The locals seemed to have fun helping us in our crazy game- although I can just hear the conversations over dinner that night- "did you see the crazy white people running around taking pictures today??"

We also enjoyed taking a little boat out onto the river and just talking and soaking in the jungle that surrounded us. It was so surreal to be on a little paddle boat on a river in the middle of the jungle in Africa. We are so not in Kansas anymore...

Getting closer to Bongolo...

And then the week ended and it was time to head to Bongolo! I was so excited and anxious to get on the road and head to my new home! Since we were half way into the jungle, it was only another 5 hour drive.

The bridge right before heading to the hospital- we're almost there!

Yaay, we made it!!!

So sweet of the Holsenbacks and their 2 y.o. daughter Elena....

Barry and Terry Newman are so gracious to take me in these first couple weeks.
The container has not yet arrived with my bed and stuff to move into my house, but I am so thankful after this long road, to see the fruit of God's leading and to finally be at Bongolo!
Thank you for your faithful prayers.
Love and miss you all.

              Love from the Jungle,

Monday, August 6, 2012


Amanda, please know that even as you celebrate today at the new home to which the Lord has lead you, far from your old home, you are loved and missed and in our thoughts and prayers.  Happy Birthday, Jungle Nurse :-)