by Danny Williams
Danny is a 1st year medical student at Dundee University, who served short-term at Loloma Mission Hospital in Zambia.
As a prospective medical student, I wanted to be open to opportunities to serve God in an overseas context and to use my healthcare skills. As a Christian, I wanted to see how the good news of Jesus Christ and discipleship was impacting local people. I had an opportunity to do both during a recent four-week trip to Loloma Mission Hospital (LMH) in northwestern Zambia in the heart of the African bush.
I was delighted to be hosted by the Beer family. Tim Beer has been in Zambia for the past 20 years and he is currently the chairman of the LMH board: a group of senior staff and mission workers involved in the management of the hospital. Tim preaches in the local language, Lunda, at the hospital, regional gospel halls and at conferences where hundreds of locals gather. Joy, Tim’s wife, was born in Zambia but lived in the USA for 13 years. Their three children, David, Daniel and Kara, are home-schooled. It was wonderful to meet this family, most of whom were born into an overseas mission context. They have such a deep understanding of the local culture and languages and are wholeheartedly committed to sharing the good news of Jesus and discipling local people.
Rebekah, a Canadian mission nurse at the hospital, has served as a full-time volunteer for five years. She works with Tim as a hospital board member. I was amazed that such a newly qualified nurse would be willing to go from Canada to the African bush. When I asked her how long she planned to stay in Loloma, she replied, ‘Until the Lord calls me elsewhere.’ I also met Sarah, a Canadian paramedic, who visited Loloma for three months.
I Love Africa
Wherever I went, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by everyone, usually with two whole-handed claps or two taps to the chest. I was impressed with how modestly the Africans dressed compared to those in the West. It is a generous culture and people are treated as more important than time. My favourite saying is, ‘Europe has all the clocks, Africa has all the time.’
The biggest culture shock for me was when I visited a remote village and encountered absolute poverty for the first time. About 90%of the people had malaria and the same percentage are HIV positive. The language barrier made it difficult for me to understand them. It is hard to imagine how the material poverty of these people could be alleviated.
Loloma Mission Hospital
In the past, there was often no doctor for several years at a time so diagnosis and treatment were carried out by the nurses and clinical officers. Today, LMH has around 120 staff and serves a catchment area of nearly 60,000 people. The hospital has two Congolese doctors: Dr Nkonde who has served at the hospital for six years, and Dr Mutombo who began work there a year ago. It is mostly the responsibility of the patient’s relatives to provide personal and practical care for the patient, while the doctors and nurses prescribe and administer treatment.
During my time at the hospital, I had the privilege of getting to know two nurses, Edgar, whom I met at a weekly men’s Bible study, and Abraham. They were extremely helpful. I asked them lots of questions about each patient, so I had a background understanding before the doctor’s ward rounds. I could then ask the doctor appropriate questions to understand what treatments he was prescribing and why.
The biggest culture shock for me was when I visited a remote village and encountered absolute poverty for the first time.
In the laboratory I saw many blood samples tested for malaria. Last year the hospital recorded 9,300 cases of malaria. The X-ray machine is manned by their radiographer, Grant Zulu, who showed me how he develops the X-ray prints.
Last year there were 230 major and 90 minor surgical procedures. One patient had been hit by a motorbike. When I first met him, his old plaster cast was being removed as his leg had been badly set elsewhere. Several days later, a new cast was applied while manipulating his leg under anaesthesia. Dr Nkonde and the scrub nurses allowed me to observe an operation to remove bladder stones from a patient. I also saw three baby boys delivered, one by C-section. The first baby’s mother asked me to name him, so I called him Paul. Last year, 1,000 babies were delivered at the hospital.
I had the chance to talk to Dr Nkonde. He is from a Christian background and fully committed his life to Christ half way through his medical training in Lubumbashi, Congo (DRC). He told me that his role was to care for the physical needs of the local people; but as a Christian he does this to point his patients towards their ultimate spiritual need for salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dr Nkonde emphasised the challenges facing LMH, including the need for support and supplies to run the hospital. Thankfully, more supplies are now available from within Zambia and neighbouring countries. Attimes, Western secular organisations offer funding, but on condition that controversial procedures such as abortion and euthanasia are adopted. In keeping with its values and ethos, LMH hospital declines these funds.
Staff training is another challenge the hospital faces. For newly trained Zambian doctors, it is tempting to go to Lusaka or the wealthy Copperbelt in the north. There are few Zambian doctors who are committed to working in remote areas such as Loloma. Therefore, the hospital trains some of its staff. Ronny and Obed started working at the hospital as cleaners, but with training and experience they are now scrub nurses; although they have no official qualifications.
I went to Zambia thinking that I really wanted to work for the hospital and ‘get stuff done’. However, it was more beneficial to step back, observe, learn and build relationships with people. My time at Loloma has helped me see how fortunate we are in the UK with abundant medical care and training. I hope to keep visiting Loloma to learn from the cultural context and potentially provide medical assistance in the future. Being a student means I can go with a mindset to learn and build relationships, in order to better understand and appreciate the challenges of medical care in such a setting.
Proclaiming the Good News
The hospital is well equipped to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to staff, patients and relatives. On Monday and Friday mornings, a Bible devotion is given to the staff. I had the pleasure of presenting two devotions, as I had learnt to do at a men’s leadership group in my home church. When we visited Kayombo Christian Boarding School, I was asked to give one of the devotions, which a Zambian called Kapi translated into Lunda. On Monday afternoons, Tim and local Zambians visit the hospital to preach the gospel to the patients and their relatives.
The hospital is well equipped to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to staff, patients and relatives.
The work is a practical Christian ministry. The patients have their physical needs treated and hear the good news of Jesus Christ, through whom their ultimate spiritual needs may be met.
- for the new operating theatre that took five years to build and officially opened at the end of my trip
- for LMH’s new portable ultrasound machine from within Zambia
- for Abel Chikuta who graduated as a doctor in 2018.
- for the hospital staff, as they meet the medical needs of their community
- for the protection of the vulnerable, particularly the elderly
- for those who hear the gospel through the hospital and other outreach ministries, that they might come to know the Saviour.