Medical Missions – Our Journey
In 2011, SAVE launched our Medical Missions initiative as a component of our Village Partnership Project (originally “Adopt-A-Village”), driven by our mission of sharing the good news about Jesus Christ in a holistic manner, including the physical health and well-being of the people served. This was to be accomplished by bringing a team of trained personnel to come alongside the healthcare personnel and mechanisms already in place or available at the village, and assist with screening and evaluation of the general health of the population, and providing some treatment for identified medical problems where appropriate. It was important to SAVE from the beginning to incorporate indigenous medical and evangelical groups, and that the local Church be seen as the center of the work.
Our first mission in March 2011 included 5 missionaries from the US (one physician, a nurse, a vascular technologist, a teacher and a college professor) traveling to Freetown, where they were joined by 17 Sierra Leonean volunteers who together travelled to our partner village, Kenema Vagboi, in Dasse Chiefdom, Moyamba district. The in-country volunteers assembled by our ministry partners included pastors, nurses, a dental therapist, pharmacist interns, a medical student, logistics and transportation professionals and with health teachers and trainers. At the village there were 2 maternal and child health attendants (MCHA) already in place, who were quite familiar with the ailments of the chronically ill villagers and served as our host healthcare professionals. The focus of that visit was more exploratory, to better understand the needs, realities, and constraints of healthcare in the village and test a strategy for long term benefit to the villagers. We did hypertension and diabetes screening, de-worming of children, limited dental care, addressed some urgent medical conditions, evangelism and counseling, and provided basic evangelistic health training for some of the villagers. This was very successful in creating relationships between SAVE and the villagers of Kenema Vagboi. Over 700 people attended the sessions, including 316 children from 9 or so surrounding villages.
Our second mission team in April 2013 consisted of 7 US participants (a registered pharmacist, a registered nurse, 2 physicians, 2 teachers) and 15 healthcare and other professionals from Freetown, including a dental assistant, one medical student, 4 Nurses and 3 pastoral staff. This was a more streamlined event, incorporating the lessons learned from the first visit. There were 2 sets of offerings intended for every visitor: 1) evangelism (adults and child-focused), and 2) health screening, including blood pressure, malaria, and diabetes, as well as de-worming, and worm prevention education. We also included supportive services as needed – dental, physician and pharmacist services, and counseling. This was very successful and we saw a greater sense of ownership and broader participation by the villagers, who coordinated a food element that was absent the first time. It also included a Freetown-based, multi-disciplinary medical education component on breast cancer, with lectures, symposiums and even bedside teaching, by Dr. Alonzo Walker of the University of Milwaukee Medical Center. We were quite encouraged about how well this was received.
In April of 2014, we were able to see the medical mission carried out completely by our Sierra Leone partners, headed up by the Sierra Leone Fellowship of Evangelical Students (SLEFES), one of our foundational partners, who used its Rural Missions Program (designed to help students learn about showing God’s love to others through missions) to conduct a similar Medical Mission, staffed completely with local Sierra Leone personnel. We supported this very positive development financially, and it turned out to be a resounding success. There was collaboration with other SAVE partners, (Bethel World Outreach School and the Presbyterian Church of Sierra Leone) and reflected the sort of unity and holistic presentation of the gospel that SAVE is all about. Volunteers included previous SLEFES members (now qualified physicians), Dr. Adrian Borbor and Dr. Stevens Ngegbai. Over four days, 614 villagers were seen, and surgery was performed on 11 patients at the regional hospital after permission and access were granted by the Ministry of Health. Dr. Bobor operated and the mission covered all medical expenses.
Interwoven with all this were morning devotions with the villagers, evangelism by small teams to the surrounding villages, and evening Bible studies. This was the first time several of the student volunteers had participated in rural missions or village life. An interesting side note is that they were housed in the recently completed parsonage (a SAVE project), through the generous donations of our supporters. Several people embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ during these events and others reaffirmed their faith. This scope and scale of this locally planned and organized mission was very impressive and more extensive than previous ones and presents wonderful opportunities to continue developing in the future.
Further medical missions were aborted by the outbreak, in May 2014, of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, heralding a virulent epidemic that claimed the lives of thousands. However during the crisis, one of our members served on an Ebola Task Force, set up at the request of the Sierra Leone ambassador to the United States. In addition, we also supported the efforts of some Sierra Leonenean physicians, to help people displaced by flooding in Freetown, at the tail end of the epidemic. By God’s grace and the attention of the entire world, Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free in January 2016.
As SAVE’s church planting and village partnership model has progressed, we now work directly through one of the largest, fastest-growing church planting ministries in the country, Bethel World Outreach group of churches. In 2019, SAVE Board member physicians traveled to Sierra Leone to coordinate medical missions in a church planting environment with the Bethel Medical Personnel Committee, with integrated outreaches planned for the years beyond, again led by local personnel and supported by SAVE volunteers.
2020 Medical Mission
In March 2020, after several months of planning SAVE supported our Church Planting partner, Bethel World Outreach, on a 3-day medical mission to Magbety Village, where a church had recently been planted. The mission Team of 45 people included three SAVE Board members but was comprised of many volunteers from Bethel church in nearby Makeni.
The “Health Fair” was set up early on March 4 with hundreds of villagers lined up for screening and assistance. There was no established clinic in the area, so temporary facilities were prepared to shield people from the hot sun. Also, there was no clean running water in this village (an issue in many village communities), further complicating the work. There were about 12-15 nurses and other medical personnel along with Drs. Palmer (SAVE) and Kangbai (Bethel). The remaining 40+ volunteers assisted with registration, counseling, evangelism, feeding the crowd, and working with children.
The primary conditions of focus were hypertension, diabetes and other local health issues like de-worming. The largest single element of expense for the mission was the cost of drugs. Many of the conditions noted above required dispensing of the appropriate medicines, which supplies had to be refreshed by a trip to a Makeni pharmacy. This first endeavor with Bethel was so helpful in identifying what might be needed in other areas as Bethel replicates the medical mission model developed here in Magbety. There were detailed records kept starting at registration, that can be used for future follow up for medical support.
By the end of the mission, over 800 villagers were served, and the team stayed later than scheduled on the last day to make sure all those in line were addressed. All who came for medical assistance were pleased by the level of service they received!
During the mission, The Jesus Movie was shown to 300 adults and children the first night in their own language, and 80 of them gave their lives to Jesus in that showing! In addition, one story emerged where a villager opposed to the establishment of a church in the village would not let his granddaughter be seen by the medical team, despite significant burn wounds. But in the end, the love and prayer of the team were effective, and the young girl was brought for treatment. By that time her injuries were such that she needed hospital care. The team collected and donated some funds for this desperate situation, and provided transportation to the hospital, where the child received immediate surgery. This brought relief and joy to that family.
Though initial considerations for continuity and follow up were disrupted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, this experience serves as a model for the future – Christian outreach using nursing and other medical missions to support the growth of the Church in Sierra Leone. Thanks to all the SAVE supporters for enabling us to reach out to the least of these in Sierra Leone!