Feature

1,000,000 . . . and One

Ministering Christ's compassion in Mali

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Editor’s Note: Mali has the world’s eighth worst infant death rate. Since the Koutiala Hospital for Women and Children opened in May 2006 in southeastern Mali, more than 5,000 healthy babies have been born. But there is still heartbreak. Alliance medical workers are not immune to feeling overwhelming sadness and even anger when children die in their arms from treatable diseases like malaria (see Tim Ziemer’s article, “Wiping Out Malaria”).

One million. That’s about the number of people in the world who die from malaria-related causes each year. I used to think it was an exaggeration. That was before I survived my first malaria season—June through November—at Koutiala Hospital for Women and Children in Mali.

After admitting 350 patients with severe malaria, giving more than 150 transfusions, examining countless children in a vegetative state who will never walk or talk again, receiving numerous kids who died on their journeys to the hospital and placing my stethoscope on the chests of at least 10 little ones, only to hear their hearts take their last beat—I believe it.

If anything, one million malarial deaths a year is an underestimate.

Trusting God

Sadly, malaria doesn’t exist anymore in the United States or Europe. I say “sadly” because if it did, we would have developed a vaccine by now. We would have put every last dollar toward malaria research rather than watch another one of our children die or be permanently brain damaged because of this vicious killer. Yet most who have the technology and the funds to battle this disease live an ocean’s distance from the screams of mothers watching their children die.

You never get used to the death of a child. It really hurts. I have to trust in God that we are making progress here, that we’re creating a difference in these families’ lives and that despite a child’s death, the family can see that we really seek to meet their needs.

As long as the Lord allows, we’ll be here to save those who make it to us in time and hold the hands of the parents of those who don’t.

But one infant did make it to us on time—barely.

Raised from the Dead

Awa is one of the many children we saw last year who had severe malaria. She was so sick that her father had given up all hope of her survival and had gone to work at the market. Because her mother had heard about our hospital through some friends, she brought her dying child to us on her own. Thankfully, after receiving medications, oxygen and blood transfusions for a couple of days, Awa was doing quite well. Awa’s father came to the hospital and was astonished to learn that his baby daughter was still alive!

We have seen this scenario many times. Because in the past, Malian children never recuperated after reaching a certain point of illness, when they do recover, parents feel as though their children have been raised from the dead!

Our prayer is that through blessings like these, parents will be open to hearing about the One who does raise the dead and is behind everything we are doing here at Koutiala.

This Person—Jesus

Mori (pronounced “Maury”) is an example of how ministry among the sick and dying can open doors to share the good news. He is the father of Arouna, who came to us with a type of jaw tumor known as Burkitt’s lymphoma. Mori had seen a 12-year-old boy with a cleft lip from their village return home after having been surgically repaired at our hospital, so he came to see if we could fix his very ill son as well.

But when he arrived at our hospital, Mori, having already been to many hospitals and doctors, was in despair and had resigned himself to losing his little boy. Thankfully, Mori was able to learn that we could often treat and cure Burkitt’s. Although the family had only half of the $500 needed for Arouna’s chemotherapy, we were able to cover the rest of their expenses because of gifts to the Koutiala Hospital benevolence fund.

Mori’s village is about an hour away from Koutiala and has no Christ followers, so he had never heard of Jesus. But at our hospital, Mori often heard the name “Jesus.” Listening to the audio Bible broadcasts piped into the hospital hallways in his local language, Bambara, he began to understand that we are here because of this person, Jesus.

When Arouna’s chemotherapy sessions were coming to an end, we talked more about Jesus with Mori. When I learned that he had taken an adult literacy class and is one of the few Malians who can read (the World Health Organization estimates that only 20 percent of the population is literate), I gave him a Bible so he could study Jesus for himself.

He began to read it regularly, carrying it with him wherever he went. A member of the predominant religion here, Mori told me that he is fascinated by Jesus and wants to study more about Him. But he also feels confused because of what he has always believed. (He noted this with a smile, so I think it is a healthy confusion.) Interestingly, “Mori” is also the Bambara word for a teacher of Mali’s predominant religion.

Please pray that during Mori’s studying of the Bible, the Lord will speak to this young father about who He is. Pray also that Mori would be someone who could help us enter his village in order to provide medical care and thus open the door to tell his neighbors about the Jesus of whom they have never heard.

Malaria Worlwide

  • Forty-one percent of the world’s population lives in areas where malaria is transmitted (e.g., parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Central and South America, Hispaniola and Oceania).
  • Each year 350–500 million cases of malaria occur worldwide, and more than 1 million people die, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Pregnant women are more susceptible to Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly strain of malaria-causing parasite; in malaria-endemic countries, P. falciparum contributes to low birth weight, which in turn decreases the chance of a baby’s survival.
  • In 2002, malaria was the fourth leading cause of death in children in developing countries, after perinatal conditions (conditions occurring around the time of birth), lower respiratory infections (pneumonias) and diarrheal diseases. Malaria caused 10.7 percent of all children’s deaths in developing countries.
  • In Malawi in 2001, malaria accounted for 22 percent of all hospital admissions, 26 percent of all outpatient visits and 28 percent of all hospital deaths. Not all people go to hospitals when sick or having a baby, and many die at home. Thus, the true numbers of death and disease caused by malaria are likely much higher.

—From the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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