This is the first bit of a lengthy post to talk about our medical mission trip to South Africa. Some of the posts below were taking from our team emails that we sent back while over there.
More pics available here
After returning from Vegas (DWF photography convention) at 5:00 am last night, we headed to the church at 2:00 am (less than 25 hours later) to pack up all of our bags, meet up with our team and head to the airport. Everything went smoothly and we were all checked in for our flight quite early. We flew from Detroit to Atlanta to Sal Island to Johannesburg, and then on to Durban. Other than being long, the flights and airport experience were uneventful which is just the way we wanted them!!
After 30+ hours of traveling, we finally made it to our destination safely. All the flights were smooth and Praise God…we got all of our baggage through and had no problems taking any of the meds through customs. Sharon (our team leader) said that this is the first time in a LONG time that ALL the bags arrived without getting lost enroute (she’s been here many times). It was a rainy drive to the Mafu’s home but we arrived to about 40-50 children singing in the driveway as we pulled up. It gave us goose bumps to hear their angelic voices.
The welcoming committee
After our greeting and unloading the bags, we headed across the street to the church to have dinner and enjoy their church service. As I type this, the rest of the team is prepping some Easter eggs for a big Easter egg hunt for the kids in the morning. Hopefully we’ll be able to clean up and get some sleep soon!!!
When I was here 6 years ago, we had just started digging the foundation to the church and it is SOOOO nice to be back here to see this beautiful building that people can sing and serve and worship in. It was also really nice to see some familiar faces…many of which are grown up now!!
Today, Sunday, we had a day of much needed rest. After a night of good food, praise and worship led by the youth of Grace Church, and several hours of sleep, we awoke to a beautiful Easter morning. The sun was shining brightly and the Church was full of eager children already singing. We all headed to church around 8:30 am and spent more than two hours celebrating Easter. After the service we all shared a meal â€“ Zulu and English together â€“ and had a chance to spend some time talking with our hosts, meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones. The children were thrilled with an Easter egg hunt and everyone received some candy at the end.
Easter Egg Hunt
Once the service ended we loaded up the rental vans and drove to Richards Bay for an afternoon at the beach for some relaxation and BBQ-ing to help prepare our minds and bodies for our clinics.
Fun at the beach
The ocean near Richards Bay
This evening we had a great chance to connect as a team, sitting around the living room sharing and talking and laughing together. This team is incredible!!! Already we feel like family and already we feel like we’re home. We are eager to begin the medical work we have come to do.
We have been blessed with a wonderful day. It was truly a day of preparation for the medical clinics. All of the meds were unpacked today. We are now separating them into the containers that the patients will receive. Thanks to all the donations from the teamsâ€™ supporters we’ve received THOUSANDS of meds (vitamins, ibuprofen, cold medicine/antibiotics, etc. etc. etc.) We continue to be amazed at how many of the meds were donated We brought over approximately 1100 pounds of meds if my calculations are correct. All of those trips to costco/sam’s club and the grocery/drug stores are really going to impact the people here.
Some of the meds
A group of us drove into town today to pick up supplies and placed orders for the medicines that we can only purchase in S. Africa (such as Mbendezole which treats worms which is a common problem here.)
We really have been reminded about how dependent we are on water and electricity. They are both quite scarce. The water pressure is almost non-existent in the morning. In the evening, we can take a 4-minute cold shower on the North side of the house or a hot shower on the South side. The only problem with the hot shower is that it occasionally gives you a zap of electricity when you turn the handles!
A great quote for the day was â€œGod’s work done in God’s way for God’s glory will never lack God’s supply.â€ That’s a helpful thing to remember as we’re still a bit fatigued and jet lagged and trying to sort/count/organize tens of thousands of pills for the upcoming clinics.
It was a mostly rainy day here in South Africa. We finished counting the 30,000+ vitamins that our wonderful supporters donated as well as thousands of Tums, Benadryl, and antidiarrhea medicine and lots lots lots more. We are now ready for the clinics.
We had an interesting experience tonight. On the way back to the Mafu’s home where we’re all staying, there was a truck blocking the road in a really muddy spot. The roads out here are really bad and to â€œfixâ€ the road, they dumped loose dirt that now causes many MORE problems. When it rains like it did today it turns into a giant mud pit. In a narrow section of road, a flatbed truck was sideways with the front wheels stuck in the ditch on one side and the back wheels stuck in the ditch on the other side. There was no room in the front or back to rock it out of its spot. The road was so muddy it was completely stuck and no cars could get by and it was pitch dark outside. The van we were driving was left at a nearby house and the groceries and supplies we had purchased were unloaded and carried back to the Mafu’s house which luckily was only a ten minute walk but a very interesting one with the mud so thick it was pulling people’s shoes off. Walking down a muddy road in the dark in Africa will definitely help me remember my 30th birthday (today) in many years to come. Since we have the clinic tomorrow we had to go back and retrieve the van so a group of people went out with some of the locals and somehow weaved in and out of the cow paths and made it back around the road block.
There is so much laughter here. The group is getting to know each other and becoming a great cohesive team working very well together. We will really be put to the test tomorrow, we will be setting up the clinic outdoors and most likely will have 150 to 200 people waiting for us when we arrive. It is truly miraculous that we were able to sort and package all those meds in just 2 days.
This morning we were up at 6:00 am packing and loading meds for the clinic. We had a beautiful 3-hour drive up into the mountains at Ingwavuma.
The drive to Ingwavuma
View at the Jozini Dam
When we got there, there were a number of people already waiting to be seen by the doctors. The clinic was set up at Mercy Mafu’s mother’s house, which was in a beautiful mountain setting. There was a small brick building with a tin roof that had 2 rooms, which were used by the docs to see the patients. A third room was used by our triage nurses for taking blood pressure and vitals. Cheridy and I were helpers for the pharmacy team to dish out the prescribed meds.
The clinic at Ingwavuma
The pharmacy was pretty much setup to run out of the tailgates of the two vans. More and more kids started to show up and to entertain them while the adults waited in line, Julie started a game of duck duck goose which seemed to be quite amusing for them. It started out with about 25 kids and I don’t think they even knew what the purpose of the game was, but they had a great time running around in a circle. Before long there were probably about 80 kids in a HUGE circle filled with screaming and laughter. This was extremely helpful for those of us that were running the pharmacy because it kept the kids out of the way.
Duck Duck Goose
Watching the games
The people waited in line for almost 5 hours to see the docs. They would wait in line, get registered, then be seen by one of our â€œnursesâ€ to get their blood pressure and other vitals checked, then wait for one of the docs. Afterward they would get their medicine from the pharmacy and then be prayed for before being sent on their way.
Heading to the pharmacy
After taking a break and having lunch prepared by some of the local women, we had an Easter egg hunt with the kids that was pure insanity/fun.
The Easter Egg Hunt
The clinic continued with more and more people trickling in. Unfortunately it started to get dark and when it gets dark in the mountains of South Africa, it gets REALLY dark. Our amazing doctors â€“ Sharon, Crystal and Danny – had to use the small lights from their ear/nose scopes along with a few candles to diagnose and treat the patients, and those of us running the pharmacy had to work from the lights of the vans.
The pharmacy after dark
By the time the last patient was seen, diagnosed, given medicine, and prayed with, it was WELL after dark!! We drove to the hotel in Hluhluwe, which was a 1.5 hour drive down the mountain, and, praise God, we made it just in time (three minutes to spare) before the kitchen closed for dinner. After a short team meeting we headed to bed for a short nights rest.
After an exhausting clinic all day yesterday, today was our day off. We were scheduled for a 6:00 am â€“ 9:00 am tour of the Hluhluwe game park. After struggling out of bed, we jumped on the safari trucks and drove the 18 km to the park and then spent the next 3 hours looking for animals. We saw giraffes, rhinos, elephants, zebras, wildebeest, water buffalo, warthogs, monkeys, baboons, etc.
View from “the hilltop” in the park
Some of the homes (Rondovals) outside of the park
After arriving back at the hotel, we had a wonderful breakfast and most of us went to take a nap because we were all exhausted. The rest of the day was free and some people stayed at the hotel and relaxed, others went into town and looked for souvenirs, while the rest of us went back to the game park and looked for animals for most of the day. We had another nice dinner at the game park followed by a short Zulu singing and dancing show done by some local teens.
Today we thought all we had to do was stop at the market and drive back to the Mafu’s house but on the way home, the clutch on one of the vans went bad and it wouldn’t shift into gear. Again, by the grace of God, we were already back in the town of Empangeni and right near a shell gas station where we were able to pull over, get some snacks, use the bathroom, and call the car rental company who was able to come and bring us another vehicle. The clutch could have very easily gone bad when driving down the mountain late at night two nights ago. Sometimes it can be difficult to take care of seemingly small issues while in South Africa, but today…everything went smooth and easy.
A visitor at the market
While we waited for a new vehicle, the rest of our group in the second van went and did the grocery shopping and we were then able to start setting up for tomorrows clinic. We arrived back at the Mafuâ€™s a lot later than we’d thought and Mercy was immediately met with a crisis in the life of one of the Mafuâ€™s’ good friends. AIDS seems to raise its ugly head around every turn. There is no rest for the Mafuâ€™s and we continuously pray for their renewed strength and peace. They have a funeral to attend almost every week.
Today we had our second clinic. We were able to sleep in a bit because everything was setup last night. We headed over to the church around 9 am. There were already people lined up for the clinic. We quickly got ready and prayed and then we started. It was a little slow at first with many of the older folks coming through who have a long list of ailments. Much of our time was spent listening to them and hearing them, which was as much a ministry as any medicine we gave out today. Midway through the day things picked up a bit and we were seeing a lot more moms and their children. We saw a lot of very sick people. People who waited up to four hours to see a doctor and were thrilled with the little we could do to help them. A lot of kids came through later in the day and it was difficult on the pharmacy because the docs were getting them through very quickly and they each had a long list of medicines they needed.
Our team once again worked together like a well-oiled machine. Working as a â€œpharmacistâ€ has been very interesting as I never new ANYTHING about different types of illnesses or medicines. Trying to interpret the doctors hand-writing on the prescriptions has been VERY interesting and would have been impossible if not for the help of Tracy and Sarah who can somehow decipher the scribbles. Basically the docs tell us what meds to give and what they’re for and then we had to take them, put them in bags with instructional labels (written in Zulu) and then we had to have the translators explain to the patients what the meds were, how much to take, and what they were for. Trying to explain to a sick 4 year old what all these different meds are when they have no parents is a heartbreaking task. All in all we saw about 150 patients and had a long but fantastic day.
A game of soccer outside the clinic
Waiting for the doc
Registering for the doctor
This has been an awesome day of worship and rest. Today the team had the privilege of actively participating in the Sunday school and worship services. We took half of the team and went to 8 AM church services at Gubhethuka primary school. There the team engaged the children with the story of Hermie the caterpillar that taught the kids about how to feel less different and more unique. The team activities emphasized that God loves us and that He transforms us into the image of His Son Jesus. The team used beautiful color illustrations and the kids just loved it.
The other half of the team conducted the Sunday school class at Grace Evangelical Church at Kwamashesha at 10 AM. Both classes did very colorful and creative crafts highlighting the lessons of today. The children proudly displayed their crafts.
Arts and Crafts with the kids
We had an awesome time of worship and praise. Pastor Isaiah and Sister Mercy have trained some of the teens at the Church and empowered them to assist with the worship services. It was awesome to see the next generation of ministry being nurtured.
We had a quiet and restful afternoon. It was a peaceful and rainy day. We had time to spend with each other in conversation and relaxation. This evening, we will prepare the Church for our medical clinic tomorrow. Even those of us without medical training are busy with jobs to do.
To begin, we awoke today to a glorious day of sunshine, cool breezes, and that fresh smell you can only experience after a night of showers in a beautiful near-tropical climate. The weather can be a major detriment to our patient count â€“ we were concerned that the rain wouldnâ€™t stop and patients wouldnâ€™t come. Between the rain and cold added to a half-day bare foot walk on dirt roads is just too much. Howeverâ€¦God was good, the rain did stop and it was a beautiful day and lots of patients were already lined up outside the clinic.
A couple of quick stories to tell to give you a better idea of what we saw: One woman in particular that Danny treated stated that she had taken a day off of work today to get the ibuprofen we were going to give her. She said it was more economical for her to get some from us than to pay for it herself which would cost more to her than one day’s pay.
Kevin, Adam, Julie and Spha delighted the children today with their balloon animals and balloon hats and the children thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Having the clinic at the church across the street from the Mafuâ€™s house was really helpful because if we forgot anything, we could just run across and get it. We saw over 150 patients and were finished by 5:30 this evening. We then had church service at 6:00. As we left the church around 7:30 to walk home, Diane noticed the myriad of stars one can see in the South African sky and was moved enough to give me this: Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe. (Phil 2:1-15)
On another bright note, our newest houseguest, Lihle, who had been staying with us because she was too ill to take care of herself, was well enough to go home today and walk on her own strength!!
I’m not sure if we mentioned this before but the Mafu’s home and the grounds of the church are guarded by dogs. They come out of their pens mainly at night and keep us safe and sound. There is a smaller puppy that seems to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and he was attacked by the other bigger dogs. He had big open wounds on his face from where teeth dug in, and he was so skinny and weak that he couldnâ€™t lift his own weight to stand without shaking. Sharon, one of our doctors, became a vet today and started nursing the dog back to health.
Little “mRudy” after a few days of loving care and lots of bacitracin
So, the reason we woke up early today was morning devotionals at 2 schools, Ncomo and Gubhethuka. The children were so sweet and beautiful. I can’t even begin to tell you the difference in their behavior compared to those I have seen in schools back home. The teachers would say â€œGood morning childrenâ€ and the children would say back (all in unison) â€œGood morning educatorâ€. Some of the classes had 70+ kids in a small room and they literally had to walk across desks because there was no aisle space.
Waiting for class to start
Looking out the window
Rainbow over the schoolhouse
Cows walking past the school
Most of the locals here are Shembites and the leader â€œShembeâ€ is a powerful man in the area and itâ€™s good to keep him happy. He is the â€œgodâ€ of a major cult of South Africa and as there are a lot of things here that are VERY political, some of our team members had to â€œmake an appearanceâ€ to keep him happyâ€¦yikes!!
Cheridy and I had an opportunity to use our talents of photography to get some pics of Zomusa, who is the daughter of the Mafu’s. She is gorgeous and was very grateful to have this done for her. She hadn’t had an opportunity for pics in much too long.
We had another birthday, even if it was delayed, for Mike Rudy. There was a burst of laughter when Mike blew out the candles and much to Diane’s surprise (as she was holding the cake for Mike) the cake was covered in powdered sugar which blew right into her face. Apparently Mike turned 5 (that was how many candles there were).
We had an awesome day here in Zululand today. We had a clinic in Empembeni and saw 197 patients. We have one more clinic day tomorrow in Empenbeni (which meant we didn’t have to pack it all up tonight, yeah!!). If any of us ever need a job we are definitely qualified to work for “2 men and a truck” with all the packing up and moving we have been doing.
Kids playing games outside
Kids playing games outside
Coming to the clinic after school
After the clinic today Cheridy, Dan, Adam, & Mike joined the locals for a hilarious game of soccer.
It’s pretty late on Thursday and we’re all pretty beat. Today was our last clinic up at Empembeni. We knew it would be a busy day because today is also Freedom Day here in South Africa, which is a public holiday. The kids all had a day off of school and a lot of people had a day off of work. So, when we pulled up to the church around 8:30 a.m. there were already about sixty people waiting. Set up was a breeze since we were able to leave everything out last night.
Clinic started slowly and smoothly again and we enjoyed a bit of a respite in the pharmacy for the first two hours or so. Mercy had given away the 200 tickets by about 11 a.m. and the chairs were full and the gates were closed. Unfortunately for us, later in the day, the gates were accidentally opened by someone that had to leave, and a whole bunch more people came in. The line of people seemed endless and seemed to grow rather than shrink. We felt like we were standing in a rushing river and we were drowning and couldnâ€™t come up for air without getting knocked back downâ€¦it was an exhausting day.
Everyone once again worked tirelessly to see each of the 254 patients that came in today. They saw some incredibly sick people â€“ worms, allergies, pain, UTIs, STDs, â€œchronic illness,â€ fungus, ringworm, tinea, as well as the illnesses that are associated with AIDS. God provided more than enough medicine this year, through the generosity of our supporters, and we were able to at least help every person that came through our lines to be a little more comfortable and a little healthier.
The line outside the clinic
After seeing the docs the patients would come to the pharmacy where Tracy, Prem, Cheridy, Mike and Sarah interpreted the docs’ prescriptions and dosed out meds. We were blessed with some incredible translators again today. They truly made sense out of what could be a very scary and confusing time for our patients. Everyone wants glasses and we only have reading glasses so there are a lot of times we have to say no. At the same time, it’s a blessing to give someone glasses who hasn’t been able to read and see their face light up when they are able to read for the first time in years.
Trying on glasses for the first time
We finally closed the clinic around 7 p.m. and again left everything up at the church so that we could get home. It was well after dark and driving at night here is REALLY bad â€“ holdups, rapes and car jackings are quite common. Mike’s testimony reminded us of how awesome it is to be exhausted at the end of the day having given everything we have in serving others. Thinking back now, I’m reminded of how long our patients waited in line today â€“ mostly in the hot sun â€“ and how far many walked just to be there. It makes our tiredness seem minute somehow. That’s why this experience is so amazing. It truly brings into focus the things that are important and makes us each realize how blessed we truly are to be here serving others. Mercy once told me that you can sleep when you’re dead. And that’s how the Mafuâ€™s live. They work tirelessly, giving all of themselves to those around them. They are inspirations to us and we are blessed and honored to be here serving with them and serving them, too.
Today was supposed to be a day of rest after our last (and totally crazy) clinic last night. We’re pretty wiped out. Instead of working together as a team this morning, we had groups that went in all different directions. One group of people went with a local permanent missionary (Katie) to the AIDS clinic to get a feel for what it’s like, meet some of the patients and pray with them. The conditions were very bad. The patient care is terrible mostly due to the overworked and underpaid employees. One of our team members was told that the nurses make barely enough to live off of. Many of the really sick patients have few comforts…not even a pillow…. and are soiled and probably have been that way for quite a while.
Another group went to take Mike Rudy back to the airport. He had to fly back to Johannesburg to meet his sister Stacy who is being treated at a medical clinic there and then they will fly home. A third group went back to the church in Empembeni where the clinic was yesterday and picked up the medicines and cleaned up. They also visited the family of a woman who died a few days ago and were able to be a part of the prayer and consolation that the Mafuâ€™s provided to the family. It was very interesting to see the home of a typical family here. The house itself had essentially nothing in it. Outside were several children four of whom belonged to the woman who had just passed away and would now be under the care of their grandmother.
A typical home in the area
Life in Africa
Life in Africa
The children are the hope here â€“ the future â€“ and they fill the seats of both Grace and Empembeni every Sunday. It’s amazing to see, and even more amazing to hear the stories of the teens that often lead parts of the service. Nearly all of them are the only Christians in their homes. Their faith â€“ and courage â€“ is an inspiration.
Later in the day, a group went to a bible study in Empembeni and another group went to the beach with some of the local kids to relax and play for a bit.
Most of the team walked to the Indian Ocean from the Mafuâ€™s home. I was at the Bible study but Cheridy was able to go to the Ocean.
There was another bible study at Grace church in the evening and then we had a wonderful steak dinner to celebrate our last day in South Africa. Standing in the yard at the Mafu’s house with the smell of smoke from the barbeque and a sky filled with an endless amount of stars was just incredibly peaceful.
We had to count/sort all the medicines that were left that won’t expire soon so that they would be left for the next team that will be coming to do the clinics next year. We also provided the Mafuâ€™s with a supply of meds that Mercy â€“ a trained nurse â€“ can hand out to the local children and parents when the need arises.
This trip has been absolutely spectacular. As usual, the team came out here hoping to have a positive impact, but we were probably impacted more than they were. The humble spirits, beautiful voices and smiles, tireless work ethic, and endless love for God and each other has just been amazing to see and learn from and our whole team has grown from the experience.
4/29 â€“ 4/30
The grueling trip home (approximately 36 hours of travel time door to door). The flights were uneventful which was great. There were some very emotional goodbyes for both our team and some of the local kids, many of whom will never see each other again. Now itâ€™s time to get back into the daily grind.