Sawubona, Dr. Stark! Welcome back to the states!
Last week, Dr. Stark returned from her 7th medical mission trip to South Africa with the organization Africa Christian Ministries (africachristian.org). She agreed to sit down with me to discuss her experiences, as I knew you would all want to hear about them, too.
It was quite a trip, indeed! Just to get to this remote Northeast part of South Africa, it takes over 42 hours, requiring 4 different flights and several more hours by car. The missions team is set up through Kensington church and includes MD’s, PA’s, RN’s, medical support staff, as well as engineers, artists, and other laypeople for non-medical work. They bring all their own supplies and stay at a host church, which provides children’s ministries throughout the year.
The program has 5 clinics in 3 locations within the region. Dr. Stark and her team provided primary medical care to over 900 patients in the time they were there, from ages 1 to 94 years. All the medical supplies- including prescription and over-the-counter medications, wound care supplies, and eye glasses for the Eye Glass Clinic, are donated and brought by the missions team.
While patients are being seen in the clinics, other team members help the church with building maintenance and projects within the community or provide food and other services for the team itself. The host church provides daycare and 2,000 children with after-school bible classes, and there is always much to be done for their programs.
Many of the patients the missions team treat are members of the Zulu community. This is a very rural area and most families have chickens or cows at home and small farms. For many of them, this annual clinic is the only health care they receive. Word of mouth is the primary method by which they know when to come to the clinic. When they arrive, many on foot, they start lining up the night before and camp out, expecting to wait all the next day to be seen by a provider.
South Africans are used to waiting. When I asked Dr. Stark what the biggest contrast she noticed upon returning to the states after two weeks there, she said the “waiting” and the “potholes.” Apparently the potholes on their roads give Michigan’s potholes a run for their money. Theirs are big enough to swallow a truck or a cow…which is actually a reasonable concern as the cows travel the same roads as the people. And efficiency is not the priority there as it is here. A trip to the grocery store or the process of renting a car can take all day.
The patients seen in the clinics are suffering from the same chronic conditions we see here, like high blood pressure and diabetes. But because reliable healthcare is so scarce, many are also suffering from untreated and debilitating pain, lung and skin infections, terrible rashes and parasites.
The people of this nation have certainly seen their share of suffering. Food, medical care, and jobs are scarce. Public support is limited and inefficiently handled. Far too many are ill and impoverished. It seems like there would be this sense of hopelessness, but when I suggested to Dr. Stark that she might come home feeling sad from these trips, she immediately disagreed, saying,
“The people that we serve, despite their circumstances, are so joyful. They are so grateful for what they do have. They thank us, they pray with us. Things are always hard and things don’t work all the time, but they are patient and have faith they will be provided what the need.”
What wonderful people to know! If you are interested in participating in a missions trip or donating to this wonderful organization, check out africachristian.org.
Also, for as hard as the missions team work, they do also have a bit of fun. This trip they visited a wild game park, Hluhluwe, where the group saw lions, rhinoceroses, elephants, baboons, warthogs, hippopotamuses and more, oh my!