Feature

Teaming Up

An open door that no one can shut

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When I was a child on the Alliance mission field in Gabon, visitors other than denominational leaders were rare. But over the years, as the costs of air travel fell and Western culture shifted to place a high value on experience and imagery, supporters from home churches began to visit foreign mission fields.

Traditionally, missionaries returning from service traveled regionally to report on their work and show slides taken on the field. These visits seemed to satisfy church members’ curiosity about missions. Today, constituents want to participate in missions firsthand and form their own vivid images. Many groups visit overseas fields each year, usually to provide a specific service such as construction work, prayer support or medical ministry.

The growing number of short-term teams has provided wonderful opportunities for local church members to use their skills in the field. Some question the impact at the field level and wonder if the costs are justified. In response, let me share three scenes from medical teams hosted by CAMA, the Alliance relief and development arm, in Guinea, West Africa.

Building Credibility

Local church leaders and I presented equipment to the hospital in the town of Gueckedou as a follow-up to a 2002 short-term medical team outreach. We anticipated a small ceremony but were met by a large group that included the prefect, mayor, hospital director, public health director, most of the area’s deputies and the hospital staff. Etienne, pastor of the local C&MA church, and I explained that the medical team’s ministry and our presentation of equipment were expressions of love and concern for the population. We stated that our prayer is that the Lord will bring peace, comfort and healing to this area, where almost all have suffered trauma from rebel attacks.

Back at the church, the local pastors explained how a presentation done before so many local authorities had a strong impact. The team’s ministry and our follow through on agreements with the town added credibility and brought attention to the national church. “Word will spread by nightfall, and many doors will now be opened for the local church,” the pastors said. This fulfilled a goal we had set with the medical team: to use our skills and training to meet needs in love, building a platform from which Guinean brothers and sisters from the local church could proclaim the good news.

Because of significant financial commitment from many churches, we were able to open doors for local pastors and believers, members of a minority religion in a poor society. Some say that the C&MA’s work is completed in an area when a national church has been established. But is our work as a mission really over when a church is in place and Alliance workers no longer reside in the area? Visiting teams can invest their time and skills into such areas and provide much-needed support to national churches.

Overcoming Resistance

A large group gathered on a bluff overlooking the Niger River. In October 2003, the second medical team in ten years concluded its stay in the village of Kourala. More than 900 patients were treated for various illnesses. Two healthy babies were delivered, one by a caesarean section that saved the lives of both mother and child.

Members of the medical team, believers from the town of Kankan and missionaries from a number of agencies joined villagers from Kourala for a closing ceremony. An elderly man, who has persevered in his faith since the first medical team visited, shared with delight that during the week, three more have joined him “on the Jesus road” and six others are inquiring about that path!

For decades, ministry to the Maninka people in Upper Guinea has been extremely difficult. Missionaries have labored with few results. In contrast, in the past decade, two medical teams spent just over two weeks in Kourala, resulting in six conversions and several seekers. Given the history of missions in the area, this shows that short-term teams can play a significant role in impacting a resistant people group.

Paving the Way

The village of Gueassou sits in the southeastern part of Guinea not far from the Côte d’Ivoire border. In an area known for fetishism, this remote village carries particular distinction as a “dark place.”

A medical team went to Gueassou in October 2004, giving compassionate medical care to more than 800 people. Alongside members of the Protestant church in the town of Lola, representatives from the national C&MA church shared the gospel, and 190 accepted Christ. At the closing ceremony, the village elders asked, “Why has it taken so long for us to hear of Jesus?”

A choice plot of land was given for a church, and a missionary couple from the Mano people, Joseph and Yalima, moved to Gueassou to provide follow-up and discipleship. Thanks to the advance work of the local missionaries and the Mano church in N’Zao, the efforts of the medical team and the participation of the Lola church, a dark area was touched with light.

In December 2004, CAMA worker Jon Erickson returned to the village to preach and learned that the day after the medical team left, a delegation from the regional center arrived to warn the people not to accept Jesus. In spite of this warning, the villagers remained open to hearing the gospel, yet many are afraid to come to Christ.

One year later, Erickson wrote that during the Christmas season, Christians from the Mano church went to Gueassou to visit Joseph and Yalima. While there, the group baptized five believers, the first baptism for the village.

Again, visiting teams played a role in touching unreached areas. Working with national churches and local missionaries maximizes the impact of short-term teams. The medical team members used their skills to serve many in a remote corner of Guinea. When the team left, it was Guinean missionaries who stayed in the village. Today, they are seeing results despite opposition.

Many national churches in Africa and other areas around the world are beginning their own missionary efforts. A short-term team can have an effect in an unreached area, raise awareness of a local church or jump-start the ministry of a national missionary.

It takes time to plan and host short-term missions teams, and the trip requires a significant investment by the members and sending churches. But can we place a value on the patients who were treated in Kourala, Gueckedou and Gueassou? Will we grasp the impact these ministries have on team members and their sending churches in North America? Dare we overlook the new believers and seekers in resistant Upper Guinea or a small but growing group of believers in Gueassou? Is it worth it? You bet it is! The question we need to ask is, “Why aren’t we doing more of this?”

Healing the Wounded

When nine-year-old Odille walked into her dark bedroom, she was bitten by a snake. In her terror, she went farther into the room and then turned to flee. As Odille ran to the door, the snake bit her a second time.

The villagers discussed how to treat the wounds on her leg. Decisions in Guinea are made by the group, with the elders having the most influence. Two treatments were proposed. The first was to put a black rock over the bite to draw out the poison. The second option was to put leaves mixed with mud on her leg. The two could not be combined, so the mud-and-leaves treatment was chosen.

Four days later, a relative brought Odille to Hope Clinic in N’Zao. She was delirious, and her leg was swollen to more than twice its normal size. Since Dr. Saskia, from CAMA Zending in The Netherlands, was in surgery and could not see her, nurse Anja Erickson (my wife) gave the little girl an antibiotic and sent her home. The next day, Odille’s leg was opened to drain pus and remove dead tissue. For the first few days we wondered if she would live. Then we wondered if she would keep her leg. When all the infection and tissue were removed, large areas of her limb had no skin.

Odille stayed at Hope Clinic for more than three months. Her dressings were changed two or three times a week. She was put to sleep each time because it was so painful. At first, she was very brave, but after a few weeks, she came to dread the operating room.

Finally, the infection cleared, and it was time to perform skin grafts. Hope Clinic did not have a machine to cut skin off her upper thighs, so Dr. Saskia did this operation by hand. She spent hours cutting and sewing on the grafts.

Nowie, a volunteer at Hope Clinic, spoke with Odille’s parents daily about the love of Jesus. In March, her father gave his heart to the Lord.

That month, a team of doctors, nurses and volunteers came to Hope Clinic from the C&MA church in Missoula, Montana. During their week at Hope, they performed more than 25 surgeries and brought a donated dermatome to finish the skin grafts on Odille’s leg. Odille has recovered but lost some movement in her leg because no one was available to do physical therapy with her.

Because of shortage of personnel, Hope Clinic had to close it doors while Anja and I were on home assignment. We are seeking doctors and nurses to volunteer to give two to three years of their lives so that we can continue to impact the lives of the people of Guinea.
—Jon Erickson

For more information, contact Kent Boothman, CAMA director for Guinea, at camaguinea@fastmail.fm.

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