We often refer to hospitals as “facilities” and we talk about how big they are, how many patients they can take care of, how many beds and operating rooms and the newest technology. But hospitals—just like churches—are made up of people. And people determine the level of excellence of the hospital; people determine the “tone” and “spirit” of a hospital. Let me tell you about the mission hospital where I’m working for this month.
Tenwek Hospital began as a missionary outreach when American pioneer missionaries came to this area in the late 1800’s. Because of the faithful service of one man, Willis Hotchkiss, between 1895 and 1935, a “foothold” for the Kingdom was established in this remote corner of Africa. Reverend Hotchkiss prepared the way for two missionary nurses to set up a dispensary on this site from the mid-1930’s until 1959. It was from this tiny two-room dispensary that patients were seen and treated, medicines were given and babies were birthed. I often think about what it was like for those two women, alone in a dark part of Africa, surrounded by all sorts of danger. It amazes me what courage and perseverance they must have had to do what they did. These two ladies prayed for years that God would send a doctor to Tenwek so they would be able to treat more patients. That prayer was answered when Dr. Ernie Stuery answered the call God had on his life and in 1957 began to make plans to come to Africa. In 1959, after language school, Dr. Steury and his family arrived at Tenwek Hospital. Under Dr. Steury’s leadership for over 35 years, and with the support of so many Christians all over America and all over the world, the hospital began to expand. A male ward was added, then a female, then a separate laboratory, then a cafeteria, then new “theatres”, then mission cottages for the resident missionaries, then a nursing school…and on and on.
Now I have the opportunity to take care of patients in those same male and female wards, send blood to the same laboratory, operate in the same theatres and sit at a computer in the dark of the early morning at one of the same missionary cottages. As I walk by the Hotchkiss Memorial Chapel and sit at the Sue Steury cafeteria and I meet Dr. John Steury (one of the sons)…I am reminded that when I serve at Tenwek Hospital, I serve in the footsteps of a long line of men and women who have courageously given their lives to advance the Kingdom and be the hands and feet of Jesus on the very soil that I now serve.
Last Saturday night, I was taking care of several patients who had traveled for more than four hours over very difficult and dangerous roads to make it to this hospital. I asked the resident physician who was with me this question, “Why is it that these men and women who are so terribly sick and injured would pass so many other hospitals and clinics to get here?” She answered quickly: “Because this hospital has a reputation, it’s known as a place where the hands are gentler and the words are kinder”.
The facilities of this hospital are important, but the “spirit” of this hospital is what draws people here. People drive long distances over terrible roads and walk for miles over the rocky hills because of the reputation of gentle hands and kind words. That reputation didn’t start with me, or the resident physicians or the current missionary staff. We are just a few in the long line of faithful people who have created the spirit of this hospital. And I know in heaven right now, Reverend Hotchkiss, and the pioneer nurses, and Ernie Steury are smiling, knowing that the hands are still gentle and the words still kind at Tenwek Hospital. May it always be so.
It is the goodness and kindness of God that draws men and women…
From Africa with love,