the ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."
“God doesn't require us to succeed, he only requires that we try.”
Bongolo Hospital looks like Africa.
It is neatly nestled into the jungle forest.
Nearby, beneath the jungle canopy, it’s almost dark even during the day.
The hot and humid weather is just what you’d expect on the equator.
It feels like New Orleans and South Florida, complete with explosive thunderstorms.
Gabon’s rainforest is the second largest in the world, behind the Amazon.
The heat really slows me down. I’ve asked my new friends if this is what it’s like all the time.
And they have playfully answered: "No. Only about 80% of the time!” Great.
Geckos and iguanas dart quickly around almost everywhere. Which is fine with me. They are my friends. They eat insects! Go geckos!
Centipedes of various sizes show up at unexpected times. I’ve been told that the ones with orange feet are the poisonous ones. I’ll take their word for it.
The only snakes I’ve seen so far are dead ones, run over by vehicles on the red-dirt roads.
When they are found alive, the locals set them on fire.
Yellow-Billed egrets gracefully strut and fly around the hospital and the mission compound.
I’ve looked for monkeys but there are none.
I’ve been told that the locals eat them. Is that true? Well, true or not, I’ve not seen any.
The Ants go marching! Driver Ants!
The narrow lines of fast-moving driver ants appear and disappear unpredictably.
Those lines have so many ants moving so fast that they look like running streams of water flowing across the roads and grass. There’s no way in the world that I’ll ever bother them. Why?
Because I got a little taste of that. A few days ago, when I was innocently bending over and checking out a group of those ants, suddenly I could feel a few of them crawling up my pant legs. Luckily, I was close to home. I ran upstairs, stripped off my pants and headed for the shower. There I picked them off my legs, one-by-one. Ouch! Mean little buggers! Ants in my pants!
Brief History of the Bongolo Mission Station
In 1934, the Christian and Missionary Alliance started the first mission station at Bongolo along the Louetsi River. In 1977, Dr. David Thompson, a 4th generation overseas missionary and a surgeon, arrived and started the expansion of the 20-year-old dispensary into what is now the Bongolo Evangelical Hospital. Today, it is the home of a Christian surgical residency training program under PAACS (Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons), supported by a 3 General surgeon faculty, an Obstetrician-Gynecologist, and a renowned Ophthalmology program under Dr. Hofman; and a nursing school.
There is a hydroelectric power plant nearby.
A charming custom
Bongolo is a friendly place. One of the nicest things about being on mission is being asked to dinner by the local missionaries. Everyone is always curious about who you are and all the new incoming visitors. And I am just as curious about them. Why are they here? How did they get here? It’s always makes for a good evening. The Bongolo Mission station is very organized about all this. When I arrived, I was actually given a written schedule of where, what time and on which day I was invited to have dinner at the homes of various members of the station. Free food and conversation? Just show me where to go!
The water crisis
The other night one of the water pumps broke down. The result? No water. No water in the faucets. No showers. And no operations. One can’t run the sterilizers, autoclaves or do operations without running water. But even so, I did manage to do an emergency C-Section with their stored-up bottled sterile water during the crisis. The elective OR schedule went down for a single day. Then, we were back in business.
High School French
I should have studied harder. How was I to know that 40+ years in the future I would be working in a mission hospital in a French-speaking country in west Africa? Who knew? One thing is true for sure. The better one can speak the local language, the more effective one is. Most of the local missionaries have been sent to language school in Albertville France before they began their long-term missions here.
The hospital library
The library has a secret. On the bookshelves, I noticed some books that I thought I recognized. I opened them. To my surprise, I found my own name written on the inside jackets!
How did that happen? Then I remembered. It turns out that years ago, I donated some of my own medical books to overseas missions. I put my books into boxes and sent them to a container ship bound for Africa, leaving from Cleveland. I never dreamed that I would ever see them again. And now, here they are. They reside on the bookshelves of the surgical resident library at Bongolo Hospital. How neat is that?
My visit to Lambarene and Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s Hospital
Without my asking, on one of my weekends off, the mission made arrangements for me to visit the site of Dr. Schweitzer's famous hospital in Lambarene. It is a 3-hour drive from Bongolo. Historically, it is impossible to speak of missionary doctors without including the name of the very first and most famous of them all: Dr. Albert Schweitzer. I’ve read many of his biographies and his own writings. He was the first European physician to leave home and come to serve the people of Africa. He built his hospital next to the Ogooue River He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. He was a world figure during the early 20th century. With great reverence, I walked around the same places where he himself had walked on the original site where he once presided.
The highlight of my day there was when I donated a new book to their historical library:
“Working with Dr. Schweitzer” written by Dr. Louise Jilek-Aall.
She wrote a wonderfully sensitive and personal story about her time working in Lambarene as a young physician. Amazingly, I made friends with Dr. Louise a few years back. Now, I was bringing her story back home to Lambarene in her honor. I think that she would have liked that.
Bongolo: A training site for young future African surgeons
The primary reason for my coming to Bongolo was to substitute for 2 wonderful general surgeons (husband and wife: Drs. Zach and Jen O’Connor) who are in charge of the surgical training program here (PAACS: Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons/ COSECSA: College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa). I helped with teaching the young residents in conferences and guided them though surgical cases. It went well. I loved being part of this wonderful hospital.