A couple months ago, during my on-call night, a young woman came to the labor and delivery room at Kudjip. The feet and legs of a baby presented through her birth canal, but the unborn head had been trapped in her uterus for several hours. Sister Theresia, a dedicated nurse working at Kudjip, assisted in delivering a deceased baby boy. Lo and behold, another baby quickly presented, head-first, and delivered – kicking and screaming – into Theresia’s waiting arms. After addressing this healthy girl’s immediate needs, our nursing students, alongside the grandmother, turned their attention to her baby brother’s preparation for burial. The bittersweet blend of joy and sadness, so pervasive in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, weighed down the room.
Our family has been in Tulsa the past few months on furlough, giving me a little breathing room from the daily grind. I have reflected on an important spiritual lesson that my mentor, IHI alumni Dr. Bill McCoy, taught me as we shared heartaches in the crowded hospital halls at Kudjip. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. Optimism posits that something good is going to happen, regardless of circumstances. While something good may happen from any situation, I do not believe that, as Christians, we have any guarantee of good outcomes in this world. Conversely, hope is a persevering belief that anything can be redeemed for good. God can take difficult, even devastating, situations and redeem them for His purposes – not because those times are good, but because He is.
Hope is one of the three abiding virtues (I Cor 13:13). It is also an anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19). The suffering of this world, that we battle daily, is not a piece of some optimistic jigsaw puzzle – it is a field of hopeful opportunity. If I can appreciate this and leave the outcomes and results to God, my faith may be pressed – but it will not be crushed. This faith, as David Bentley Hart says, “has set us free from optimism, and taught us Hope instead”.
Some weeks ago, another young lady arrived into the labor and delivery ward at Kudjip with a referral note hastily scribbled onto scrap paper by a nursing officer working in a remote corner of our province. This mother was barely conscious, having been struggling to deliver her baby for almost two days. As the nurses scrambled to establish IV access and begin administering medications, I hastily performed a bedside ultrasound – with saddening results. The baby was lodged in the uterus with its face presenting at the cervix, unable to deliver. There was no heartbeat. I mobilized our operating team, but knew that we were only performing surgery for this mother’s sake, since her little baby had already died.
In the operating room I worked quickly. As I removed the lifeless form of this little one, I told the receiving nurse not to attempt any resuscitation – the baby was dead. On her way to the basinet, she exclaimed – “Dokta Mark, em pulim win!” “Dr. Mark, he took a breath!” She got to work bagging the baby and, in a few moments, we heard cries of new life. I repaired the uterus and finished mom’s surgery. Over the next week, mom and baby recovered nicely and that fizzled spark of hope was fanned for me again. “This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life” (Ezekiel 37:5).
Now entering our seventh year working in Papua New Guinea, we see the challenges through hopeful lenses. Our hospital has recently expanded to accommodate our growing maternity care services and surgical disease burden. We have entered into a working relationship with the government to provide referral services for our entire province. We are taking UPNG medical students and have taken our first surgical trainee. Our recent Rural Health graduate has been elected President of the PNG Society for Rural & Remote Health. Through it all, patients are being ministered to, both physically and spiritually – to the tune of about 70,000 each year!
Our family prays to continue in God’s calling for us – in the ways that He plans. Please consider joining us in prayers for perseverance, guidance, provision and continued Hope as we serve in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.