“I could just sit and wait for all Your goodness, hope to feel Your presence.
I could just stay right where I am and hope to feel You, hope to feel something again”
-All Sons & Daughters
The daily healings and hope at Kudjip have flavored the last eight years well. Some of the challenges of life in the highlands have become character-building inconveniences. The patients’ struggles have tempered my naïve ambitions. In a way, what once seemed exotic has become a bit routine. So, I looked forward to getting into some of the last places on Earth with a team that included our newest OB/Gyn doctor, her husband, and one of our maintenance staff.
As the MAF Caravan started circling I thought, “Where are we going?” I had been captivated looking into the unfolding valleys of jungle, but I certainly didn’t notice anywhere that looked like a place to land an airplane. On the second loop, it appeared in front of us – a level and well-cut stretch of ground with a few tin-roof buildings on either side. We were in Sengapi – perhaps one of the most remote health centers in the world.
“I could hold on to who I am and never let You change me from the inside.
I could be safe here in Your arms and never leave home, never let these walls down”
On the first night I under-estimated the change in altitude. I woke up a few times, clicked on my solar lantern, piled on more clothes or blankets, and tossed and turned my way to dawn.
We began our days with devotions and teaching while waiting for patients to come down from the surrounding ridges.
A young man hiked over the hills and arrived mid-afternoon looking weak and uncomfortable. Once the rag over his arm was removed, it was obvious why. A small sore in his finger grew into an impressive abscess of his hand and forearm over some days. With a high temperature, high heart rate and slightly low blood pressure it was clear the infection quickly overwhelmed his bloodstream. We gave him IV fluids and antibiotics and prepared him for a minor surgery to drain the infection. (Thankfully I had packed a few vials of light anesthetic with me). After a relatively quick procedure, we admitted him he did well.
The community had gathered on the lawn outside the clinic. “Isaac, what topic do you want me to talk about?” “Coronavirus – they are scared.” I gave a brief overview of the virus and the importance of the vaccination, then opened it up for questions. A local leader stood up: “We are just bush people, and we don’t know about this, but we have heard a lot of things about it.” He went on to inquire about several of the common misconceptions surrounding the vaccine. They were right off the pages of FaceBook … likely propagated into the remote areas of Papua New Guinea through simple word-of-mouth by unwitting individuals, susceptible to assuming that anything they read on a smartphone must be smart.
Afterward, our health staff took the lead by receiving their COVID jabs and several community leaders came forward wanting to be immunized as well.
“And I will be yours, Lord – I will be yours for all my life.
So let your mercy light the path before me.”
At the far end of the clinic building was the gently but appropriately used 4-bed inpatient ward. A woman slept there but stayed outside most of the time – because of a personal preference or to minimize odor, I don’t know. She had noticed abnormal bleeding and presented to Sengapi where she was presumed to be anemic from a pelvic mass. Fearing the worst, the nurses there asked her to await our team, assuming we could provide some answers.
Using some new and impressively portable ultrasound technology, we were able to confirm that she had a cancerous mass in her uterus. In an ideal situation, this could be removed surgically. Because of the delay in diagnosis, the tumor had now spread and involved other internal organs – meaning surgery would cause her great pain and fail to cure her. We broke the news to her and her husband, prayed with them, and entrusted her ongoing care to the staff and local pastor.
About a dozen ladies had queued to see Dr. Laura. I’m certain that for each of them it was the first “well-woman exam” they ever received. Laura was able to bring a new device for treating cervical pre-cancers. She discovered some worrying lesions and saved five lives by being able to provide instant therapy – likely preventing the devastating scenario that our patient in the ward now suffered from.
“But You have called me higher – You have called me deeper.
And I will go where you will lead me, Lord.”
We had already packed our bags, knowing that we were departing that day but unsure of the exact time due to a heavy but quickly lifting fog. I had a devotion prepared to share with the staff that I looked forward to. As I walked up the airstrip to get a better signal, my phone rang. The MAF operations director greeted me warmly, “the plane should be overhead in a few minutes.” As if on cue, the sound of an engine crept over the ridge in front of me. We collected our bags, loaded the plane, said farewells and in what felt like a bit of a whirlwind I was back in the air heading home to Kudjip.
Now as I walk down the corridors of the hospital, I see faces around me in a slightly different light. What journey led them to us? Now those little hand-written scraps of “referral letters” from outlying aid posts carry a new gravitas.
Jesus said, “to the end of the earth” - and I think He meant it. I admit I am guilty of thinking I am already there sometimes. But I suspect my tendency is to redefine His phrase. “I did my bit. I am already in a tough place. The ends of the earth are coming to me anyway. The work I am doing is sending others there.” All very legitimate points - but positions to be held and scrutinized in fear and trembling. Am I, too, willing to go higher and deeper if I am called there? I pray that I can let His mercy light that path before me.