Mamou, Driver Ants, and Measles
Africa! My first stop was a year at the missionary kid school at Mamou, Guinea, where I was the school nurse. It was a beautiful setting with mango trees, palm trees, and delightful kids. Two things stand out in my mind from those days at Mamou. Shortly after my arrival, I went on a hike with some of the children into the surrounding hills, and we ran into driver ants, a truly electrifying experience. The second significant event was a measles epidemic where I saw wave after wave of kids become incredibly ill with high fevers. This was an era of no immunization and no e-mail; some parents were about a thousand miles away. The Lord was good, and no child died. Rosalys Tyler and Prudence Gerber cared for patients in the daytime, and I worked nights. After this detour year, I flew to Mali, my intended destination.
Every four years was a home assignment. On my first furlough, I took midwifery at the University of Edmonton, and on ensuing furloughs, I worked several months at various hospitals to keep my nursing current.
Home assignments also afforded much travel. I went on tour in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Washington State, Canada’s B.C. lower mainland, and up and down in Alberta.
Back in Mali, my terms were varied. One year I was the school nurse at Ivory Coast Academy, and several years I was stationed at the men and women’s Bible School at N’torosso. There was a stint at Yorosso, working with the Larry Wrights, whose ministry I greatly admired. During that time, I drove up to women’s conferences in the Sangha district towards the Sahara Desert and Timbuktu. Sun, sand and scorpions; it was a wonderful experience.
Mali, Mangoes, and Migraines
The teen girls’ school in Baramba was my first station in the country of Mali. Constructed of mud brick, my house was comfortable, and the surrounding trees yielded up an abundance of tropical fruit like mangoes, papaya, guavas, limes, lemons, and grapefruit. At Baramba, I was immediately thrown into the medical scene when a woman at the front fence held a convulsing baby in her arms, something I had never seen before. Besides medical and maternity concerns, however, language study, six hours a day, was required.
Some medical situations were very frustrating such as the night a man on a motorbike drove up to my north window. He was so anxious he left the motor running. “If you would just turn that motor off,” I shouted, “I could hear you.” He turned it off and told me his wife, from a village eight kilometres distant, was hemorrhaging. I knew her story but had not seen her myself. She had hepatitis and recently had delivered a stillborn baby at our mission clinic; the next day, she went home on the back of a bike.
I quickly got my trusty fishing tackle box with supplies and the car ready. The husband was in the passenger seat, and his friend was following us on the motorbike. I knew the road, but it was often hidden by hood-high grass. Suddenly I hit a foot-high stump on the right side of the road. The impact shot my passenger forward, and he hit the windshield (no seat belts in those days!). The windshield stayed intact, but the centre of the steering wheel flew out; the wipers went on, and the wheel jerked out of my hands, causing my arm to hit the door. The tire rim was bent enough to expose the inner tube, but the tire was not flat. I could not go on, so I gave them some oral meds and returned home. The woman passed away later in the town hospital, a sad ending indeed. Is it surprising, therefore I had migraines from time to time?
Fortunately, there were happy and rewarding times at the school. The girls were a delight to teach. Many were illiterate when they came, but they left after the first year able to read. Each girl had her own Bible, and following three years, she knew much of the Bible and math, geography, and knitting skills. Some of these girls became leaders in Mali’s women’s ministries.
I have no idea where the name of the village N’torosso originated; a loose translation would be “my trouble home.” The meaning had no connection with what N’torosso meant to those of us who lived there, including those in the men’s Bible school. At N’torosso, I spent several terms involved in teaching, classroom, and district church work, along with much medical, clinic, and maternity involvement. During this time, Joan Sylvester (nee Foster) and I did a series of women’s classes in district towns, ending up with parties, headscarf gifts, and coffee served with milk and much sugar.
The Bako Era – Enter Doris
Doris Bruckner was one of the teachers at the N’torosso school previously mentioned. She hailed from France, was fluent in English, German, French, and Bambara, and was both a nurse and a visionary. She became curious about a part of Mali little known to us, a region between Mali’s two big rivers, the Niger and a branch of it called the Bani. This region, Bako (Ba means river and ko means back of), is a fertile area with six hundred villages that are home to numerous ethnic groups, including the Fulani, Bobo, Bambara, Tureg, Dogon, etc. This Bako region was my destiny.
Mud and Mud
You cannot travel or work in Bako without giving careful attention to roads. The wagon trails are winding and signless; in the rainy season, the Africans describe them as “mud and mud.” When the roads are a foot deep in fine-as-flour dust in the dry season, they earn the label “graves.”
Our first forage into the area was an eye-opener. Women and children had never seen white people before, so they were terrified. They would drop their loads, scream, and run. Over the months, they came to understand we had come to help. When Doris and I, and other teams with Africans and two other nurses, Veronika Volland and Gabi Wolterstorff, visited villages, we were greeted warmly.
Eventually, a mud-brick house and dispensary were built at Kalan, where Pierre Dembele and another gifted nurse, Olive Gifford, took care of the medical work. I was on home assignment at the time. Bob and Myrtle Overstreet also built a house and station at Katiena in 1983-84. Daniel Thera, a Malian lawyer and military officer who loved the Lord, was a tremendous help in getting the land. What a time it was!
A Team in Trouble
One day the Overstreets and I were at N’torosso on business. Our friend, Joan, the nurse there, cared for a newborn baby whose mother had died. A couple in Bako wanted to adopt the baby, so we left for Bako in two vehicles, a Toyota truck and Joan’s smaller Peugeot. Shortly after leaving the main paved road, the truck went down in the mud. All winching, digging, and pushing failed, and so did the battery! What to do now? Remember, we had a baby on board. Finally, the decision was made; Bob and Joan, with the baby, left in the smaller vehicle to get to Kalan, home of the future parents. They then continued on to Katiena for jumper cables and African help. It was dark by then, and they had fifty kilometres to go.
Meanwhile, Myrtle and I stayed with the truck. We knew we would be waiting a while, maybe overnight! I planned to sleep on the baggage rack on top of the car, and Myrtle was going to sleep in the front seat, but first, we needed a cup of coffee. We did not have a thermos, but there was a dead tree close by being burnt for charcoal. We confiscated a few nice coals, set our tin can of water on it, and enjoyed our Nescafe!
I was about to climb up to my perch when lights appeared on the horizon; our travellers were back. The truck was excavated, and we were on our way, but about an hour down the road, the truck decided it had had enough; abruptly, the engine died. The rest of the night the Africans were lying on a tarp and blanket on the ground. Joan and I were in her car and the Overstreets in theirs. We dozed and dodged mosquitoes. At daylight, Bob repaired the problem. Bless the Lord for good mechanics!
Progress at Turtle Speed
Famorila, a market crossroads, was pinpointed as a good location for a mission station. A storage building went up first; it would also be used for a dispensary. Water was a must, so a well was hand-dug. Then a clinic building was erected with much African help. It became my first residence before being used for treating patients. My living room was the consultation room, and my bedroom was the future pharmacy.
As soon as possible, I moved to the almost completed duplex, only to move back to the secure clinic building after finding my curtains blowing parallel to the ceiling in a storm and water pouring onto my dresser from the unfinished windows. I was by this time quite adept at moving since I had done so nearly a dozen times throughout my career. I like setting up a house, so moving was not too onerous, just lots of work! Doris, bless her, made arrangements for a new deep well to be drilled at the station. We had clear, pure, and soft water in abundance and indoor plumbing in the clinic and house.
JESUS Film on Mud Walls
Gradually work was established for the Kingdom. My good German nurse friend, Veronika Volland, came to Bako and settled into the other half of the duplex. What a treat to have another nurse close by. Besides caring for numerous patients (on market days, we could treat over one hundred patients), we did prenatal checks and immunizations. By this time, three male nurses had joined us and were living with their families adjacent to the station.
We could not forget surrounding villages which had no knowledge of Jesus. Teams were organized, and visits were made with African pastors, clinic nurses, medicines, and the JESUS film. The latter was projected onto a smooth mud wall in the town centre. I had the fun of running the projector and driving the 4 x 4 Toyota truck.
Katiena station, with the Overstreets’ ministry expertise, was the logical location for numerous camps for kids, youth, and women. To this day, Myrtle and I laugh at our experiment with dish soap, blowing bubbles in their living room in preparation for the kids’ participation. They loved camp and were taught how to wash hands and have hearts made clean by Jesus’ forgiveness. Many children responded to the Gospel.
Teaching the Good News, literacy, health, and the Ten Commandments was our challenge and our privilege.
The Ongoing Saga
Three young men went to Bible school and three teen girls to the girls’ school at Baramba. Male nurses had further education, and some learned to drive the clinic ambulances, which were really just Toyota trucks. Churches, where our African colleagues did the preaching and teaching, were built at five different locations. A beautiful maternity building was created thanks to the vision of nurse Olive Gifford and her parents, along with lots of African labour. There was no more need to deliver babies in cornfields, bathhouses, and amid wagons on market day! This maternity facility is still staffed by African midwives who have had government training. In 2013, Bako had five medical clinics, not just one.
This is an excerpt from the book, On Mission Volume 2. Download your free copy today.