Quickly throwing a robe over my night clothes, I grabbed a solar lantern and headed out to unlock the screen door, letting the hysterical mother and her convulsing baby into my screened-in porch. The baby had been okay when he fell asleep earlier, but later awakened having convulsions and a high fever. A quick exam told me I needed to get out to the medical office to get a malaria blood test. I decided to keep them on the porch since there was electricity to be able to see what was happening.
By the time I arrived back on my porch with a malaria test kit and injectable medications to stop the seizures, our team nurse was on the porch as well, having been similarly awakened by the mother’s screams. She was praying aloud with the mother, as I was simultaneously crying out to God for help in managing this critical situation.
Is this a common occurrence in my practice as a physician among the Baka people in Cameroon? No, praise God! But when it happens there is no time to spare. If our team was not in the rain forest, this child would have died, having no way to get to a clinic in the next town in the middle of the night. Of course, we cannot report amazing results in every emergency. But the times we have prayed with distraught family members, started medications immediately to address a health crisis, explained to the parents in their own language what appears to be happening to their child, wept with those whose loved ones’ lives on earth have ended, and rejoiced to see healing occur have enabled us to demonstrate God’s care for the Baka people.
Many days the frustrations of living in the rain forest and the limitations of medical facilities and equipment seem to outweigh the positives. Yet when I remember our initial meeting with Baka people in 1992, when there was no local group of believers, children were suffering from easily treatable medical problems, and no one had hope for the future, I know that our family’s presence has been used by God. As part of a holistic church planting team, my role as a physician has been to meet physical needs. My late husband’s role was to address nutritional, agricultural, & development needs. Together we initially built trust relationships among a people who were used to being exploited by outsiders.
Many times in the past 25 years I’ve been asked why I don’t work in a hospital setting. There would surely be opportunities in a hospital to bring help that is beyond my means in the rain forest. I could work in English or French instead of struggling for the right words in a newly written language. However, I know that it is very difficult to build relationships in a hospital setting- especially as a physician. My desire to live alongside the Baka people would not be feasible, “along the way” discipleship opportunities would be extremely rare, and while meeting medical needs of many in a hospital setting would be satisfying to my self-esteem, the impact for the Kingdom of God among the Baka would be lessened.
The days when the kerosene fridge refuses to cool down enough to keep meat frozen, or the clouds keep the solar pump from drawing enough water, or the army ants invade the house forcing us to vacate can cause me to wonder why I’m still here. But remembering the grandmother who trusts our medicine for her grandson now because we treated her daughter 15 years ago, or seeing the woman whose life we saved after her husband stabbed her now standing in line to be baptized brings me joy in knowing that I have had a part in God’s plan for reaching the Baka.
48 hours after the 2 am emergency treatment on my front porch, the baby was calmly recovering from cerebral malaria. He is healthy and happy today with no signs of residual brain damage. His mother and father love Jesus and are raising their 2 sons to love Him too.
That’s why I’m still in the middle of the rain forest.