An African Tragedy by John Dallmann, CEO of EMI
We had just tucked our kids in for the night when I heard a knock. Visitors at late hours were not common in this remote village. I went to the door. The guard from the local Baptist health center was standing there. He told me in Fulfulde that a pregnant mother had been carried in from a distant village to our health center. She was having serious trouble delivering her baby. Our small clinic could not perform the needed C-section. She needed to go to the government hospital in Banyo, some twenty kilometers away. And she needed to go now. He reminded me that I had one of the few vehicles around. No others were available. Would I help this girl? We were her only hope.
It was one of the things you just do as a missionary: Show love to strangers, like Jesus did. I told my wife, Gala, that I might not be back until the next day. I drove the truck to the clinic where the girl and her caregivers were waiting. I remember the look of horror and fear on her face as she was loaded into the truck. Her friends tried to console and quiet her, but she was in great pain and incredibly scared. Her husband sat in the seat next to me. After thanking me, he started to tell their story. His wife could not deliver the baby after two days of trying. They were extremely poor but had collected a bit of cash from friends and family. Their only hope was the general surgeon. “There is nothing else we can do. We know this hospital is a place where people go to die, but we have no choice. We must try.”
Carrying a woman in pain in the back seat of my truck, I winced at every washboard ridge and pot-hole in the dirt road. Why do roads in Cameroon have to be so bad? On top of everything else, I thought, why does she have to be tortured by this road? I tried to lessen her suffering by going slow, but that only made the journey longer. We finally arrived at the hospital. There wasn’t a proper drop off point for emergency patients. There was also no stretcher. A couple hospital workers picked her up rather roughly and hauled her to a ward on the hill. She grimaced in pain. Several hours later, word came back that they would have to wait until morning to talk with the surgeon. The husband was worried his wife would not survive the night. We prayed and asked God to keep her alive. Morning dawned. They waited in line to talk with the doctor. He said he could do the surgery if they paid a certain price... and if they could purchase a list of medicines and supplies required for the operation. Their only hope was the local pharmacy. We quickly went and purchased what was available. Though some items were missing, the surgeon agreed to proceed. The husband was pleased and insisted I head home. He was grateful for my help but was concerned that I get some sleep.
Later that day, I received a message from the family. The operation had been performed, but both mother and baby were lost. The family was devastated by the tragedy. I was angry, defeated, and sad. They had spent everything, hoping for life. In return, they had received only death.
This is one of my many experiences in Africa. They help me understand what life is often like for those living in the developing world. Everything seems to be working against you: the roads, the electricity supply, the health care—the entire system. Life can be overwhelming and filled with immense sorrow. And there is little hope that things will ever change.
But this is where God can use engineers and architects to make a difference. I ended up moving my family to Banyo for seven years. I worked to bring clean water to the town and to dozens of surrounding villages. A small Baptist health center we helped start in Banyo has since grown into a 30-bed hospital. And EMI assists mission hospitals around the world through master planning, design, and in some cases, construction. The physical and spiritual impact of these facilities touch thousands of people, bringing real hope into everyday life. Facilities that might have saved the life of my young passenger and her child years ago.
You and I need to use our technical skills to build a world with transformed infrastructure and communities which bring glory to God. That is the vision of EMI. That is why you need to join me in EMI’s critical task of designing a world of hope.
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