“Please remember to minister to the WHOLE person,” my tutor spoke to me in French a few weeks ago. “Missionaries remember the spirit needs feeding, sometimes they forget about the stomach!” We were discussing my upcoming trip to Galmi Hospital, where Ken and I would be taking four teens. We traveled eight hours on a toll road – the toll for both vans to drive across country one way was 2500 cfa (about $4). While the Slagters (Jenna and Tad) oversaw the six teens who were leading a Bible School for children of missionaries at the Galmi Day School, Ken and I were with the teens who had signed up to serve patients in the hospital. On the way out, a camel almost kissed our van, but looking rather startled, he turned away at the last second. I won’t describe the drive except to say that it kept me in prayer.
When we talked with the teens about our plan for the hospital, we tried to keep it simple. We were going to encourage the patients. You might wonder what two adults and four teens can do in a hospital to truly give any help or assistance to others. You’ll have to judge – I would have told you before this trip that short term missions is only good if it yields someone who ends up being a long term missionary. Otherwise, in my mind, the possibility of being useful over a short time is just too slim.
Standing outside of a hospital room, not knowing who you will meet inside, really there’s only one response – and that is to pray. I reminded the two teens with me that we were there to encourage people, and our interpreter prayed with us. French was not my friend with these women, only Hausa is spoken here.
As we would enter a room, our interpreter, Yop, who speaks English, French and Hausa, would begin by telling the women that we were there to encourage them. I would then ask our girls to give each woman some fruit (handing it over with the right hand only please!). Every woman had someone with her – a mom, a co-wife of her mom, an aunt, or possibly an older sister. We gave two pieces of fruit to each woman knowing if we didn’t, that one piece of fruit would be shared between the two of them. One of the difficult realities we saw was that there was usually nothing in the cupboard or under each bed. If a woman had food provisions, they were stored under the bed or in the cupboard beside the bed. Some of the patients in the post-surgical ward had bags and boxes of food under their beds. Of the women we sat with, two of them had food provisions. The others had a little bit of money that their caretaker would spend out on the street each day to buy millet to make a thin porridge. And, most of these women were nursing.
The next three days were full of incredible stories of strong women (whose names have been changed) and their ability to survive. Here are three:
Fatih, who looks to be in her mid-twenties, is holding her very large baby as we walk into the room. She explains to us that this is her ninth pregnancy. She is happy her baby is so big. However, his size is the reason she is in Galmi Hospital. She tried to have him at home, but he got stuck. She came to the hospital and she received a cesarean section. Her baby was born alive, and she is recovering well. Out of her other eight pregnancies, four of her children are still living. The other four died between the ages of 2 – 7. My translator, after asking a few questions, says that it was most likely malaria, which is the number one killer of children here. Fatih is smiling softly as she tells us about her life. Her expression turns as she tells how each of her other four children died. She is here in the hospital with her mother’s co-wife. Her mother could not come, but the co-wife is very kind to Fatih and is here helping her.
Hadiza is very young. She went into labor in her village, and during labor an arm poked out of the birth canal. Her baby was sideways. She was taken to the hospital at Galmi. When she arrived, she was quickly examined. Before the surgeon started her cesarean section, he stopped his team who all stood around Hadiza to pray for her. Hadiza lost her baby. This is her fourth and last pregnancy. She has one living child. Hadiza says that she knows this place is “different.” She clearly remembers hearing the surgeon (Yop’s husband!) pray for her, and now we are here to listen and to care. We tell her that we are there because Jesus loves us and asks us to love others in His name. As I give her a radio with a flashlight, I remind her that Jesus knows her by name – that he loves her. I ask her to please think about that in the night when she turns the light on. Hadiza’s complications were such that it is now impossible for her to conceive again. We pray for the survival of Hadiza and her four-year-old son.
Ladi is sitting on the next bed. She is eight months pregnant and very anemic. She has received two blood transfusions, and is awaiting a third. There is not enough blood in the blood bank at Galmi for the third, so her father is on his way into the hospital to donate blood that will be given to Ladi . During the first transfusion, she is quiet. During the second, she begins to talk about her life. And, during the final one, she is feeling well enough that we get a glimpse of the real woman inside – strong and determined. This is Ladi’s second pregnancy. She had the same problems with anemia last time, and does not yet have a child. She can feel her baby move, so she has hope. Her grandmother is with her. As we explain about the radio, Yop tells her to be careful not to let others see it as she leaves the hospital. It is for Ladi and not for anyone else. The grandmother says that she would like to take the radio home with her and Ladi can listen to it at grandma’s hut. Yop firmly shakes her head and says that this radio is only for Ladi and her husband. Grandma may listen to it at Ladi s home. We all laugh, and I ask Grandma to make sure that the radio is safe for Ladi to use. She agrees.
On our third evening at the hospital, we got to do something amazing. Our first evening in Galmi, one of the staff had arranged for our dinner to be prepared. She had cooked enough for a small army, and we had eaten our fill. We had so much left over, that I asked one of my Sahel students to go and find out how many guards there were at the hospital gate. We could easily feed them too. This very special student speaks English like an American, takes AP French 4, but is a native Hausa speaker. He took a few other students along and came back giving me the number of guards. The students take food out to the guards, and we stored the rest “dans le frigo.” On our third evening in Galmi, the refrigerator was full of extra food.
Jenna Slagter, who was cooking for our whole team, was sitting with me on the couch. “Jenna,” I said, “are you up for visiting the hospital this evening?” She looked at me curiously, “Without a translator?” “Yes, though, I’ll ask one of the nurses who speaks French to help us.” She laughs, “I’m game. What are we doing?”
We walk over to the hospital lugging a hefty backpack. We walk into the nurse’s station where four nurses are working. After our greeting, I say that we have brought food and would like to give it to the women.
One of the nurses is confused, “For the babies?”
“Uh, no, for the women.”
She motions to the counter, “Leave it there. We’ll get to it.”
“We would like to give it out. If one of you will help us?”
A nurse dressed all in pink scrubs (?!) says she will help us. And, as we entered the rooms where I had been ministering to women with Yop for the last three days, women smiled and waved to me from their beds. The nurse explained why we were there, and the women grabbed their communal bowls. We filled each bowl with rice, beans, meat sauce, and noodles. After we had been through three rooms, the nurse looked in each of our buckets. We had enough for one more room. But, word had spread and there were people who had not had babies crowding the hallway looking at us. The nurse warned them off very sternly and said we were feeding the women in the OB/GYN Ward only. We entered the next room, and the nurse stands between us and the door and waves a finger at the children trying to enter the room. “No, this is not for you.” The nurse turns and tells the women why we are there. They all grab their bowls. One of the women in the back of the room is lying on her bed with twins. We had not visited this room during our time at the hospital, we were all strangers. The woman watched us as we began to ladle the food. Her eyes met mine, and I nodded. I asked the nurse about her. The nurse looked over, saw the twins and looked for the woman’s relative. She asked her in Hausa if that was her daughter. The woman was on the edge of the group, and she nodded. The nurse told her we would make sure that she would have food. The patient smiled at me. Her mother was the last one who we served. We scraped all that we had left, about 1.5 times the amount we had given each person, and ladled it into her bowl. The other women nodded their heads in approval. For at least one night, these women would not go to bed hungry.
As we took our leave the nurse looked at me, “Que Dieu vous benisse.” I smiled, “No, vraiment, que Dieu vous benisse.” She thought we had been a blessing, and she had said, “May God bless you,” but really we wanted God to bless her for translating.
Galmi needs people who are willing to learn Hausa, who will sit and listen to life, who will encourage and pray. People come to Galmi to be ministered to – and they receive amazing care. However, we need to minister to the WHOLE person, just as my wise tutor said to me before I left Niamey.
Thanks for reading. Every woman that we spent time with received a radio/flashlight, each radio loaded with four gb of the Bible translated into Hausa. These women have heard that Jesus knows their name, and that he loves them. Know that it is a blessing to give and I’m filled with thankfulness at being able to do it.