Monday, December 11, 2023

BANGLADESH: LAMB HOSPITAL : A Hospital in the rice fields

 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6: 3-4

The Pharisees preferred human praise to the glory of God.

John 12: 43


Lamb’s interesting location

Lamb Hospital is located in the most northern region of Bangladesh, not far from many international borders:  India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Tibet.   Amazingly, Mount Everest is closer to the hospital than is Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka.  But you wouldn’t know it, because the area around the hospital is flat without a hill or mountain to be seen.  It’s about 2km to the nearest town, Parbatipur.


Rice is nice

The hospital is surrounded by vast rice fields.  Small farming villages are tucked away in between the fields.  Towns are not that far from each other.  Travel to Paratipur and other small towns is cheap by bicycle rickshaws, motorcycle taxis, small buses, or by train.  It’s like small town rural USA in that way, but without cars.  Private automobiles are scarce.


A different feel.  A different look.

This Asian hospital is a mixture of Muslims, Hindus, and Christians.  The Lamb is a very friendly place.  I made friends with just about everyone.  I made fast friends with the men at the fruit stands in front of the hospital and with the guards in their smart blue uniforms.  Women always look very nice wearing their brightly colored saris.  And though I am not a Muslim, it is hard not to admire the devotion of Muslim women who cover themselves and adhere to their very strict dress codes, working hard to stay consistent with their beliefs. 


Red hair dye 

Many of the older men dye the hair of their heads and beards with an off-color red hair dye.

I was struck by this at first.  Why do they do it?  For some, it is to indicate that have completed a pilgrimage to Mecca (the hajj).  For others, it is to follow the ways of the Prophet Muhammad, and to differentiate themselves from Christians and Jews.

And others try to hide their grey hair (It doesn’t work!).


Baby Hindu Forehead Spots

Almost all the babies I saw had small black spots placed off to one side over their foreheads by their mothers.  Why?  It’s because of the “evil eye”. The “evil eye” is an ancient superstition in Eastern cultures. It is a supernatural belief that a curse can be brought against their child by a simple malevolent glare, usually by an envious person.  To protect their children, mothers place a black spot (or bindi) on their babies’ foreheads.  This is meant to diminish the beauty of their child and keep the evil eye away.



LAMB Hospital’s 40th Anniversary Celebration

I was lucky enough to be there during the birthday celebration of the hospital.

The front lobby waiting area was decorated with festive balloons plus a big TV screen.  The celebration was complete with speeches, projected recordings of congratulations, and musical performances with classical Asian dancing.  Members of our small team came together on stage to sing: “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” while I sat in the back, taking pictures.


Sounds from the rice fields

Trains.  There’s a train track that hugs the back boundary fence of the hospital property. Small passenger trains roar through several times a day.  It’s an urban feel in a very rural area!

The Muslim call to prayer.  The Muslim call to prayer several times a day, often before dawn, trumpeted from the load speakers perched on the small towers of the mosque down the main road in front of the hospital.  This is standard in all Muslim countries.


A fantastic community

Community means everything, especially when you are far from home and far from what is familiar.

And the Lamb community was among the warmest, nicest, and most powerful that I have ever experienced.  This place has a heart.  Every member of the ‘team’ is a devout individual, trying their best to be of service to those around them.  They come from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, India, Brazil, New Zealand, and the USA.  The missionaries are physicians, nurses, schoolteachers, and administrators.  There were ‘first-timers’ who were trying to find their way, mixed with veterans of all ages who had served 10 and 20 years and even longer.  Living in the guest house, I saw a steady stream of members of various aid organizations coming and going.  It takes a lot of people with many different skills and backgrounds to keep a mission running.  Each member of the community touched me personally in some way and made me better.  I made several deep friendships that will affect me for years to come.  We had wonderful meetings on Tuesday and Friday evenings.   Tuesdays were special because each of us would tell each other what we were thankful for during the previous week.  We learned of each other’s struggles and worries.  This brought us together.  Prayer requests often ranged from patients who needed special help in the hospital to people back home with cancer or elderly grandparents who needed extra help.   And on Saturdays, I learned about a board game called:  “Ticket to Ride”.  A group of us would get together and playfully compete.  I just liked being with everyone and I always did my best to lose.  And I always did.


Lamb was a fortunate discovery.

Through them, I was introduced to  Lamb’s only surgeon, Dr. Antje O.  I asked her when she needed some time off.  With her Dutch precision, she told me exactly when to come. And I am glad I did.  


Lamb’s origins

The vision for LAMB began in the early 1950s.   Mr. John Otteson saw the need for medical care where there was none.  He decided to do something about it. W All of us have good ideas, but very few of us actually carry them through and make those ideas real.


Lamb today

Lamb Hospital today has 150 beds and has been in business for 40 years. Its clinics see nearly 200  patients a day, or more than 60,000 per year.  In addition, per year, Lamb treats nearly 10,000 in-patients and delivers 3,000 babies.  There is a rehabilitation center, a primary school for children, a nursing school, and a training program for young doctors. Quite a place!



What’s in a name? LAMB does not mean “Lambs”.

I was fooled.  Lamb’s name has nothing to do with “Lambs”.

The hospital’s name comes from an abbreviation:

LAMB” = Lutheran Aid Medical Bangladesh.

And before Bangladesh independence, the name was 

LAMP”:  Lutheran Aid Medical Pakistan.


Surgery Clinic

Armed with a translator, I met with people in surgery clinic  2-3 times per week.  In clinic, we try to help people solve their problems, and schedule them for surgical procedures when needed.  At first, I didn’t like it that people had to pay for their operations in advance.  But Dr. Antje O. told me that if they didn’t, many wouldn’t show up for their operations!

Glove re-cycling

Used gloves drying in the sun after their being cleaned create an interesting sight.  We never see this back in the USA.  Just about everything that can be sterilized either in an autoclave or with antiseptic fluid is reused.


Making the Attempt to Learn the local language

It’s so very confusing.  I’ve been traveling to so many different countries that I gave up trying.  

Kenya speaks Swahili. Malawi speaks Chichewa.  Chad speaks French.  Egypt speaks Arabic.

It’s too much.  But even so, I’ve concluded that it’s important to try anyway.  

It matters.  Local people are so delighted when we try, even if we’re not successful. 

And the effort and desire to learn brings us together.

So, on this visit, with the help of a veteran missionary nurse, Sarah, I hired a local person to help me to learn some “Bangla”, the local language.  It was my teacher’s first attempt at being a language teacher and my first attempt to learn Bangla.  We stumbled along.  In the end, I am glad that I tried.   


The world is not what I thought it was.    

My European friends taught me some things.

I was taught by a Dutch volunteer that the proper word for his country was not Holland, but the Netherlands.  Noted!

And then I hit a nerve of our Welsh anesthesiologist when I asked what part of “England” she was from.  She gave me a curt history lesson about how Wales was originally independent and not a part of “England” at all.   It was only later that they were unwillingly connected with England they later became part of the  “United Kingdom”.  Noted!  Whew!  I won’t make that mistake again! Obviously, I need to study more about British history.  

One meets incredible people in the missions.  One of the missionaries was a female surgeon who was sharpening her surgical skills to prepare herself to work in Afghanistan next year.  She’d been there before and knew the needs there.  Women physicians are very needed in Muslim countries, because women insist on being treated by women physicians.  I helped her as much as I could.  I hope I did.


Toothache: Another lesson learned

Before I left, I dutifully went to my doctor, and I was cleared to go.  I skipped the dentist.  Time was getting short, and I thought that it was just “too much trouble” to see my dentist before I left.  So, I didn’t.  Bad decision.  Just 3 weeks into my mission, I had a terrible toothache!  

I emptied my emergency bottle of antibiotics and took a lot of Tylenol.  Let me say that it was a lot more trouble finding a dentist overseas than it was back home!  Finally, with the wonderful help of the home organization, I found a dentist in Dhaka on my arrival. Problem solved.  And a lesson learned.


God works best in our weakness 

I’m always trying to do my best.

And when I fail, I feel remorseful and weak.

God knows I’m not the sharpest tool his toolbox.


God tells us:   “My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.”2

In tough times,  we all need to step back, let go and trust God to run things. 

So, I trust and always pray for another chance.  I don’t know when my last one will be.   

And when He gives me that chance,  I’m ready and I act with all I’ve got.  

Later, after good things have happened,  I don’t look for applause.  

I just look up, smile, and give God a grateful head-nod.  

He knows.  That’s all I need. 




1. Photo by Sarah Fischer RN

2. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Friday, November 17, 2023

Kudjip Nazarene Hospital: A Mission in Transition

 To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1


Great to be back

It was great to be back to Kudjip. I’d forgotten just how beautiful the mountains were.   The marketplace down the road was just as loud and congested as ever.  The men still gambled and played darts off the side wall of the store. Then there was that same fellow with his microphone, loudspeaker and amplifier,  lecturing to the crowd and whoever would listen.  I walked slowly over the uneven, muddy road, through the crowds of people.  I had to watch my step as walked in between the parked line of small buses and vans.  One never knows when one of them is suddenly going to start moving!  I always wave friendly waves and greetings to the sellers of carrots, candy, mangos, and beetle nuts along the road. Kudjip’s market is a friendly place.  


Changes and transitions

Kudjip’s medical staff is much younger now.  

Over the last 18 months, several strong veteran missionaries have left and retired from the mission field. The hospital administrator and his wife finished their 2-year commitment and went back home to Montana.  They missed being with her grandchildren over the Christmas holidays.  Erin, our medical director, had also moved on.  And one of my favorites, a skilled veteran Family Physician of over 25 years’ service retired back to Ohio with her husband.  She left a large void.

Newly minted physicians, from Alabama to Minnesota, straight out of training, had stepped in.  All were young couples with at least 4 small children each.   Kudjip now has more missionary children than I’ve seen anywhere.  It’s my new mission-kid capital!

Getting enough schoolteachers for all these mission children is a struggle.  The importance of a good education cannot be understated.   All the parents lend a hand.  Even Dr. Ben, the Chief of Surgery, and the new Medical Chief of Staff, teaches the children how to play basketball.  He can add “Physical Education Instructor” to his list of titles.   


The world is not what I think it is 

I keep getting surprised.   

I was finishing an operation with Dr. Alex, an excellent surgeon and native of Papua New Guinea.  As we closed the skin incision with what we called a “Baseball stitch”,  I innocently asked Alex, “Do you know what a baseball is?”  I figured Dr. Alex, as someone who grew up in a former British colony, knew more about rugby or cricket than he did about baseball.  But I was wrong.  Dr. Alex put down his suture and addressed me sternly: “Doctor, we aren’t savages out here.  I watch ESPN!”

My Brad Pitt Moment

My taste of being a Hollywood star took place one Sunday, when I went to Catholic Mass.

St. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church is within walking distance of the mission.  It’s just down the way on a path through the green tea fields.  When I got there, I sat in the back and off to the side, not wanting to attract attention.  But the Pastor and the parishioners wouldn’t have it.  To my surprise, the church members really liked that one of the white doctors from the hospital had come to their church!  I mean, they REALLY LIKED IT.

At the end of the service, I was surrounded by smiling faces and people wanting to speak to me excitedly in Pidgin, the local language.  I didn’t understand a thing, but I didn’t need to.  Everyone wanted to shake my hand and wish me well.  I think that I shook hands with nearly everyone in the church!  I also felt like an NBA player too because I was at least a head taller than everyone!  

In the aftermath, walking home through the tea fields, a thought occurred to me.  

“Is that what it’s like to arrive in heaven after we die?”   

I don’t know.  But stay tuned.  


The PNG Independence Day celebration

September 16 is PNG Independence Day.  And Kudjip’s Mission Station celebrated.

Holiday at the mission compound.  I blew up a few balloons and enjoyed the dancing and celebrating by the basketball court.  They love their country, and they are proud of it.  It’s good to see.

A Substitute Surgeon in the missions

That’s my role for now, until I’m called to do something else.  Coming in to cover missionary surgeons, who need relief and time off.  Filling in where there’s a need.  And it’s all good.  Trusting God and leaving things to Him.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Coming Back to Bere Adventist - A Promise kept.

 “A deal is a promise.  And a promise is unbreakable.”

                                                                                                                                  - Wonder Woman


Why did I promise to come back to Bere Adventist?


Here’s why.

Bere is a front-line hospital, far from any large city, and exactly where it needs to be.

The people are poor.  Many are nomadic.  They carry their mats rolled up under their arms with them into the hospital grounds.  They roll them out on the dirt, and that’s “home”.  That’s all they’ve got.


It’s hot and dusty.  The night-time darkness can be as black as ink.

The 50-year-old hospital infrastructure is breaking down.

There’s just one power generator on the hospital compound and that’s it.

Sometimes my house had no water.  I carried water buckets home so I could flush and take bucket showers. It’s not exactly where I would send someone on their first mission.   

It’s the challenge of being at Bere that draws me.  Getting some dust on my shoes.

Getting the satisfaction of doing something that is hard.

When I get a tiny taste of what my patients go through every day, I am more respectful.  

I can’t do enough for them.  I help them work through their problems , shoulder to shoulder.

I want to be here and fight their battles with them.  Am I tough enough?  Ok.  Let’s see.


What also draws me here is the need.  I am transparently needed.  It’s real. I’m not lost in the crowd.  

It’s a small place so I can immediately see the results of what I am doing.  If I don’t do it, it’s not done.  I can see that I am making a difference.  And that is compelling.


The tough part is that Bere is resource poor.  While there are things that I can do, there are many things that I cannot do.  People arrive with cancers that are so advanced that I can’t treat them.  And people who need operations that I am not skilled enough or know how to do.  I just want to learn more so I can help more.  But I stay in my lane.  I refuse to try to do things that I’m not qualified to do.

So, because of all this, and a chance to serve the poorest of God’s poor, I came back to Bere.

When old friends see you, greet you, and smile it’s truly a wonderful feeling.


Mission Aviation Fellowship: A new way to get to Bere

I’ll confess that I am not that tough.

On this trip, instead of taking the 11-hour bus ride from the capital N’djamena to Kelo; 

and instead of coming in by motorcycle and pontoon boat from Kelo to Bere for another 3 hours,

I splurged and hired a plane from the Mission Aviation Fellowship: MAF.  It was great.  I rationalized by saying to myself that I’d be better rested when I got to the mission.

When a plane lands on the local airstrip, many of the town’s children come to watch the spectacle.

They call me “Papa”.

Gosh, I hate being called “Papa”.  But that’s my new nickname.

Why?   Well, it’s not because I have any children. It’s because I’m older and my hair is all white.  It’s a gesture of respect for age and experience.  But I don’t really like the name.   I don’t like being reminded that I’m older,  even though it’s completely true.  Sigh.  As usual, I just have to get over myself and go with it.


The Mango “bombings”

BAM! It’s mango season!  The entire Bere mission compound has metal roofs and many mango trees.  BAM! So when the mangos fall, and they hit the roofs with a BAM!

These unexpected “bombings” occur at all hours of the day and night.  BAM!


Cherise: “I am 16 going on 17”.

What happens to children brought up in the missions?  Are they ‘normal’?  Can they function in the real world?  MY answer is an emphatic “YES”.

Cherise is the daughter of veteran missionaries who have served all over the world.

She has spent her entire life in the missions.  When I asked her how old she was, she laughed and sang those first few lines of that tune from “The Sound of Music”: “I am 16 going on 17”.

Has Cherise suffered from being a “mission kid”?  I would say emphatically “NO!”.

Cherise has lived in South America, Asia and Africa.  She can speak 3 languages.  She rides a motorcycle around the mission compound, and she can fly an airplane.  No, I don’t think that she’s suffered at all!


I was so lucky to have Cherise.  One morning, she randomly arrived on the surgical ward while I was doing morning rounds.  She immediately blended in.  I used her as my French translator.  She enthusiastically embraced the job and “took over”.  I also gave her a lot of little jobs to do around the hospital and she rose to the occasion.  I would playfully remind her that St Joan of Arc, the patron saint of France, was also “16 going 17” when she led the French army against the English in the 1600’s.  I think she would have got along with St. Joan very well.

Bats in the trees!

One morning I was amazed at the huge number of “birds” high in the tall trees above the mission. “Wow!  Look at all those birds!” I said.   To this, I received a playful elbow bump to my side from Cherise.    “I hate to tell you, but those aren’t birds!  They’re bats!”  What!?  Really?  And sure enough, when I looked more closely upward, I was shocked.  Cherise was right! “Oh my!  Fruit bats!  Lots of them!  They’re munching on mangos, right?  They’re harmless, right?  I hope so.   


Honey Dressings

One of our young children suffered burns to his arms and legs from sitting too close to a campfire.

Our honey bandages really helped.  Cherise and I covered his burns every day for 2 weeks with gauze dipped in honey.  And voila!  Most of his wounds healed.  The high sugar content kills bacteria.


Prayer Lessons 

I am the victim of good example.

My Christian Evangelical missionary friends pray aloud verbally and frequently for just about everything.  If I playfully exaggerated and told you that they prayed even when they crossed the street, I wouldn’t be that far off.  My style has been to pray silently.   Their style is to pray out loud.  It’s a good idea and I am beginning to imitate them. We always pray together before starting every surgical operation.


Come with me

Imagine that you and I are on the mission compound.

The night is dark, and the power is out.  It’s very hot and humid.  

You and I are walking towards the hospital in the darkness to check on patients.

We can’t see exactly where we are going, but we’ve got our cell phone lights on and pointed to the ground so we can see where our feet are.

And we look up.  The stars above are so bright that we feel like we can touch them.

We can see Alpha Centuri on the horizon.  We can never see that back home.  These are more reminders of God’s power.  

Finally, we get to the hospital to do whatever we can with whatever we’ve got.

I am glad that we’re there, trying to do something.  I may not be hitting home runs every day, but I console myself by knowing that anything I do, no matter how small, would not have happened if I wasn’t here.  The harder it is and the less we have, the more aware we are about how 

dependent we are on God.  

When I’m armed with prayer, a  strong and worthy purpose, good people to work with, and maybe a fan, and a cool glass of water, I find that I don’t need much else.

And yes.  I’ll be going back to Bere again.


BANGLADESH: LAMB HOSPITAL : A Hospital in the rice fields

  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then y...