Ebola, NEJM, and the Book of Revelation

By: Norman Wetterau, MD - FMHF President

The fourth horseman of the Apocalypse rides in Congo. This is recognized in the New England Journal of Medicine but do our churches know this?

“And there before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named Death…they were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, and plague”.
- Revelation 6:7-8 

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, August 22, 2018, Ebola or something similar will sweep our globe unless we can improve the medical infrastructure in Central Africa, and specifically in Congo. The civil war in Congo killed by sword and famine and unless we can assist this country medically, plague may sweep the earth.

Is support of our medical missions in Central Africa optional? Currently, our hospitals in Burundi, Rwanda, and Congo are not budget items for Free Methodist Missions but do get support from groups like CAHO. Most churches put support of their own church programs and buildings above medical and development missions. In Congo, we have a 100-bed hospital and 20 clinics, which are the main health care for 200,000 people. The hospital runs on $100,000 USD a year, of which 25% comes from US donations. Health infrastructure and care are poor. There are national doctors and nurses. We have nursing schools in Burundi, Rwanda, and Congo and a medical school in Burundi, but there is often no money to support the trained staff. Many recent graduates of Hope Africa Medical School are unemployed. The medical infrastructure and staffing are not enough for even basic medical care: treatment of malaria, TB, and c-sections, but this is far away and often of little concern. Many churches have never had a medical speaker from Africa or given an offering. This is too far away to be on our radar. There are needs right here. We are concerned about Ebola, but it is in Congo, not here.

Recently there was another outbreak of Ebola in Eastern Congo near some of our churches, but farther north than our hospital. This outbreak has been made worse by the lingering civil war in Congo. Some aid workers were attacked by rebels. The situation could become much worse in the coming months. The August 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine had an article that every American needs to read:

“Outbreaks in a Rapidly Changing Central Africa - Lessons from Ebola”
Vincent J. Munster, PH.D. et al.
New England Journal of Medicine. August 22, 2018.

It talked about the current epidemic and the situations that cause such epidemics to arise and spread. Although in the past we have brought these mini-epidemics under control, the article says that the conditions are ripe for the development of new infections and new spread. At some point, it will become uncontrollable, and suddenly reach the populations of Europe and the US, where it will spread death to thousands or hundreds of thousands of people. If we ignore the situation there, we will have to deal with it here. The article had a possible solution, a solution on which we need to get our churches on board:

“In light of the increase in frequency of Ebola outbreaks in DRC and their relatively rapid detection, it seems that it would be well worth the relatively small cost of investing in diagnostic capacity and training to avert the cost of containing any large outbreak. We believe that a similar return on investment could be expected from financial and educational support for improving and expanding the clinical care infrastructure.”

Yes, this is something for WHO and the UN (which some Christians do not support), but also something we can help with. God had given us the opportunity to establish some of the first hospitals, many which still exist and are the mainstays of medical care for large populations. If we continue to just look at our own needs and not that of our neighbors, we may experience what is foretold in the NEJM and also in Revelation 6: death and pestilence.

Update: After writing this article, on November 28 the New England Journal of Medicine published a second article: Ramping Up the Response to Ebola by Jennifer B. Nuzzo PhD, and Thomas V. Inglesby, MD. It is not long and I would encourage you to read it. This article was referenced on the BBC news recently. This is Congo, where our hospitals are and where the Nobel Prize winner is. We have a hospital, over 20 clinics, and over 100,000 members, so we are a major player in that region. Also look up more about Dr. Denis Mukwege. Finally pray for the elections in Congo which will be held Dec 23.

Nundu Deaconess Hospital on the Front Lines Offering Hope

By: Norm Wetterau, MD - FMHF President

Nobel Laureate, Dr. DenisMukwege. Photo: ANP Martijn Beekman.

Nundu Deaconess Hospital has been in a region of civil unrest for more than twenty years. Nundu is located in South Kivu, which is an eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over 5 million lives have been lost, hospitals and schools have been destroyed, and untold numbers of citizens have been terrorized. Women have been especially vulnerable as they have become victims of rape by gangs of soldiers, resulting in gynecologic injuries and the spread of HIV-AIDS. Our hospital at Nundu has survived by God’s protective hands and the prayers of the Free Methodist Church of the Congo. Thank you for being among those who have prayed for God’s protection and provision.

Yes, God has not been silent in the face of terror. Our hospital in Nundu was ransacked but not destroyed. Many of our outlying clinics continued to function at a basic level. People would carry medicines on their backs up the hills to these clinics. The nursing school at Nundu retreated to a safe place but continued to function.

Dr. Esther Labunga Kenge, the wife of the Free Methodist Bishop of Congo, spent time in South Africa as a refugee during this time of terror and has written and taught about this sexual violence and HIV. She has taught that women who were terrorized and traumatized are not being punished by God and are the special focus of God’s love. She is spreading this word and through International Child Care Ministries is developing projects so that widows and their children can grow food, care for animals, and support themselves. The goal is for the mothers to work, receive love and healing through the church and for their children to attend school. Your support of these programs through ICCM is very much appreciated. Though the situation for many has seemed hopeless, God has not been silent in the face of terror.

During this same period of war, a sister hospital known as the Lemera Swedish Pentecostal Hospital was totally destroyed. Rather than withdraw from the Congo, the Swedish Pentecostal Church established a medical center and medical school in the provincial capital of Bukavu. Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Christian Congolese surgeon and member of the medical school faculty, developed a graduate training program in gynecologic surgery. His special interest has been perfecting surgical procedures to repair the damage resulting from violent rape. He has dedicated his life to offering hope to victims of sexual violence. After his complicated surgeries, women have been able to maintain pregnancies and live a normal life. Their curse was healed by God through Dr. Mukwege.

This year the world became aware of what has happened in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. How did this happen? In 2018, Dr. Mukwege and Nadia Murad, a woman who was enslaved by ISIS and escaped, were chosen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Nadia did not receive this prize because she was raped nor did Dr. Mukwege receive recognition simply for his surgical skill. They received this honor because they have spoken on behalf of women both in the middle-east and in the Congo who have become the victims of violence. Dr. Mukwege has spoken at the UN even as he has been threatened for making the story of war and terror known throughout the world. It is wonderful for a Christian to receive such a prize. It is not just recognition for him, but for the church and God’s Kingdom.

What about the Free Methodist Church in the US? The Free Methodist Church in the Congo is strong and growing. They evangelize, maintain schools, operate clinics and hospitals, and worship with enthusiasm. Even in the face of civil war, they did not give up. Indeed, in some areas, the church actually grew. How is the North American Free Methodist Church to respond to such overwhelming human tragedy? In our affluence and in our relative domestic stability, poverty and the terror of war make us feel uncomfortable. It is easy to not want to hear. There is too much for us to handle. Frankly, over the years I have offered to speak in churches about this situation and very few want to hear about it. This is a common reaction for people presented with overwhelming hopeless situations. Is it because the realities of war are so far away and seem so hopeless, or is it because we feel that our meager donations cannot do much? Now the world knows about the realities of the Congo through the Nobel Peace Prize offered to Dr. Mukwege.

Nundu Deaconess Hospital is on the front lines of offering hope. Our challenge is to be informed and tell the story of the Church in the Congo. Pray for those who have been the victims of violence. Pray for the North American Church as it faces the realities of a world with overwhelming human need even as it enters into countries which have been closed to the Gospel. Pray that there will be a response with the resources God has blessed us with in addressing the humanitarian needs of the Congo.

FMHF 2018 Conference Recap

By: Norm Wetterau, MD - FMHF President

Beautiful Seattle

The campground was beautiful and even though the 45 people there were less than we often have, there were many new faces and people to get to know. We will return to Indiana next year, but with good memories of the Northwest and we hope a few new people from the west coast will follow us to Indiana.

The speakers, Eric and Rachel McLaughlin, are both physicians at Kibuye Hope Hospital in Burundi. Their talks were more spiritual than medical. In their medical work in Burundi, things often do not go well. God makes promises, but sometimes God appears to be breaking those promises. We reach out to those who are hurting but our efforts sometimes appear futile. These were some of the themes the pair, one a family physician and one an obstetrician, shared with us.

On Friday night we looked at Abraham. Promises were made to him, yet year after year they were not fulfilled. God promised that his offspring would be as the sands of the sea, but he still had no children. Yet he had faith. Although when he died these things had not all happened, they have happened now. God was faithful. God will answer, but not always when and how we plan. Revelation 21:5 is a key verse here, “He will make all things new”. In their hospital, many will not be healed, but let’s admit that even in our most advanced hospitals, all will eventually die, but God will make all things new.

On Saturday, we looked at 4 areas: insufficiency, losing hope, never enough, and darkness. Each issue was illustrated by at least one case that they had cared for. Insufficiency: Rachael cared for a woman who was infertile. She had lost 4 pregnancies and on her fifth she ended up with a ruptured uterus, In spite of Rachel’s best efforts. She was unable to save the uterus but did save the mother. Infertility, which is a big issue in Burundi, will remain. Her efforts were insufficient. Normally, delivering babies is a happy time, and sometimes it is for Rachael, but she does not do normal deliveries nor even normal c-sections. In the US, she felt that her skills were good, but in Africa they often appeared insufficient for the cases in which she is called to intervene. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says that God’s power is made perfect through his weakness and Rachael shared how she has experienced this. As she walks with those in need, she does not need to lose heart.

Losing Hope: Eric shared a case of triplets. After over 100-days one had finally gained enough weight to be discharged. This very premature baby had gone through many trials, but after 3 months, Eric felt success. It was all worth it. 2 days later, that baby suddenly died. Can a Christian physician have despair? Is lament in the scripture the same as despair? Eric pointed out that lament and despair are two very different things. Despair is the denial of God. Lament presumes that there is a God. Job never quit praying. In spite of his suffering and feeling of extreme sadness, he still believed in God, even a God who would not give him any answers. Many of the Psalms are laments, but one needs to work through various verses and stages until at the end the psalmist can see God. Lament is part of a Christian’s life, but despair should not be.

Never enough: We work hard, we do so much, but it is never enough. There are so many patients and so many needs. We are exhausted, but maybe we could have done more. We watched a short video from Schindler’s List where Schindler kept saying: “I could have done more”. Hundreds of Jews were in the room telling him that he had done so much, but he kept repeating: “I could have done more, I could have done more”. Eric referred to a sermon given by Tim Keller (Hope for the Poor - October 4, 2009) where he agreed with Schindler, that he could have done more. The main message is that our drive to feel that we have done “enough” is often motivated by a desire to earn God’s approval. Effectively, we want God to say that we have done enough. But the gospel (and the beginning of 1 John 3) remind us that God’s love and his adoption of us as sons and daughters is never dependent on us having done enough. It is an utterly free gift of grace.  So, in the face of feeling like we have “never done enough”, we need to return to the unmerited nature of God’s love for us. The motivation for what we do is God’s love. As people we can never do enough, but God can. We need to turn our life and actions over to God.

Darkness: At times things seem very dark. The situation may be very dark and hopeless for our patients, and at times for us. Jesus is the light of the world and that light can shine in any darkness, but we also are the light. In spite of difficult situations, we are involved in and patients who appear to be in darkness, but the light is Jesus and we reflect that light as it shines through us.

So many points were brought up in the talks that one could write a book, which is indeed what Eric has done. It is in the final stages of editing and should be available within the next year. We felt privileged to hear Rachael and Eric share their stories and insight as to how God is present in the most difficult and seemly hopeless situations. We should never lose heart.

On Saturday evening we had another treat. Eric writes music and is an excellent guitar player and pianist. He sang songs he had composed around the theme such as “Man of Dust”. The words were much deeper than many contemporary Christian songs and deeply reinforced his talks. Many of these songs are on his website, so for those who could not attend, there will be the book and his songs, but even more important, Christ and his Word. Let us not lose heart!