Feature

Giving Life

Sharing God's Love in Mali

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Annie Coulibaly was dying. The young Malian pastor’s wife was struggling to deliver her seventh child. What should have been a simple cesarean procedure turned into a nightmare due to inadequate medical facilities. Joan Foster, a 38-year veteran medical missionary, watched helplessly as her friend Annie bled to death on the operating table.

The tragic loss of this vital woman and four other Christians in childbirth that month planted a vision in Foster’s heart. She, along with other missionaries and national Christians, dreamed of a hospital where women and children could receive proper medical care and hear about the love of Jesus.

Mali, West Africa, is the seventh poorest country in the world. The annual per-capita income is about US$250, less than half the average income for sub-Sahara Africa.

Mali government statistics reveal that for every 100,000 women who give birth, 580 die during or after delivery, compared with only 8 deaths out of every 100,000 deliveries in the United States. Twelve of every 100 babies die in their first month, and only one in four children reaches his or her fifth birthday. For those who do survive, nearly one in three suffers from malnutrition—a statistic that climbs higher during years of drought. The harsh realities of life in Mali bring to light the drastic need for medical assistance.

Renewal

The C&MA has been involved in medical missions in Mali since the 1920s. Through the years, The Alliance has built six rural clinics and staffed them with nursing personnel. These clinics offer medical treatment, prenatal care, vaccinations, well-baby checkups, maternity care and prevention teaching

Missionary nurses have worked in these clinics for many years, training local midwives and assistants to help. Recently, Malian doctors and nurses have become involved in leadership and the rural clinics are being staffed and led by Malians. In spite of this work, the death of Annie clearly demonstrated the need for a higher level of medical care than Malian women and children were receiving.

Five years after Annie’s death, Foster’s vision blossomed into a miraculous reality. In February 2006, the Koutiala Hospital for Women and Children was dedicated. Through the generous gifts of churches and individuals, more than $1.3 million was raised to build, furnish and staff the first phase of the hospital.

In a country that is 90 percent Muslim, many are suspicious of Christianity and those who follow Christ. Nevertheless, the Malian government looks with great favor on the project. The hospital has helped to enhance the stature of C&MA church partners and missionaries, as well as build bridges into the community through the careful integration of Christian witness and compassionate, competent care.

His Day

On February 4, 2006, more than 1,000 people attended the hospital dedication. Gary Benedict, president of the U.S. C&MA and his wife, Betty, attended in addition to Malian church leaders and significant government officials. Christians and missionaries came from around the country, as did hundreds of Muslims and animists who were curious to see the wonders of this modern facility.

Before the ceremony began, an entourage of animist worshipers, drummers and musicians, danced into the compound with loud fanfare. They were summarily ejected from the property by the Christian leaders who decried their false worship and declared this day and this place would be dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ and Him alone.

The sizzling African sun didn’t stop the praise and rejoicing at this all-day event. The local radio station broadcast the ceremony live throughout the city. Songs of worship, dances and skits accompanied by pounding drums gave credit to the True Provider of the Koutiala hospital. Messages by Benedict, national church leaders and hospital staff gave glory to God and testimony to His love and provision.

Tim Stephenson, vice president of Development for The Orchard Foundation, helped to raise funds for the hospital. At the dedication he said, “In the building of this hospital, many have demonstrated their belief in God’s love through their sacrifice, generosity and hard work. May Jesus Christ be lifted up.”

In God’s Hands

The road to the hospital’s opening was more rugged than the African bush. Problems with the water supply, electricity, generators and official permits dogged the progress at every turn. But God’s hand is evident in this ministry, and on May 22, 2006, the Koutiala Hospital for Women and Children officially opened. Three days later, the first Malian baby, a girl, was born in the hospital.

Through the long-term commitment of Alliance missionaries in Mali, both in church planting and medical assistance, Malian believers stand ready to lead the hospital initiative. The C&MA medical work was reorganized in 2002 and is now known as the Centre Protestante pour l’Assistance Medicale au Mali (Protestant Center for Medical Assistance in Mali), or CPAM. It has its own bylaws and constitution under the Malian Alliance Church, is recognized as a non-governmental organization and comprises Malians and missionaries.

The general director of CPAM is a Malian lawyer named Daniel Thera. Thera was a government official and is well known and respected by Malian authorities. Through his leadership and determination, the hospital was able to cut through the red tape and become operational.

Eight acres of land were purchased near Koutiala, and so far there are two buildings on the property. One has two operating rooms, exam and delivery rooms and a patient ward. The other is a pediatric building that also houses the pharmacy and lab. The cornerstone has been laid for a large maternity center, which will also house the administrative operations for CPAM.

The Goal

The Alliance chose to build the hospital close to Koutiala because it is a crossroads where many unreached people live. Once they hear about the quality care it offers, people will come from all corners of the country. “The goal of the hospital is for patients to receive the best possible care for body, soul and spirit,” said Foster. If the people of Mali experience God through the loving touch of Christian hospital workers, they might be open to hearing about salvation through Jesus Christ.

The Lord’s hand has provided workers—both temporary teams and permanent medical staff. Dr. Jeffrey Amstutz, a dentist who formerly worked at Bongolo Hospital in Gabon, serves as the team leader. Dr. Dan Nesselroade, from Ohio, is the first physician who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology to join the team. In addition to the Malian staff, Alliance workers provide compassionate nursing care. Simeon Dembele is the hospital chaplain. He and his wife travel faithfully two hours a day, every weekday to minister to the patients.

The goal of the hospital is to demonstrate the love and compassion of Jesus Christ to the people of Mali through the provision of specialized health care and to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Through practical help, prayer and giving of God’s people, this goal is being met. In its first six weeks of operation, the hospital staff provided more than 450 consultations, helped deliver 20 babies and performed ten surgical procedures (including two c-sections). Two known decisions of faith in Christ were made. Pray that God will be glorified and lives will be transformed through the ministry of Koutiala.

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