By Jonathan Smith, Editor in Chief
He just couldn’t move a person in a wheelbarrow.
Dr. K.B. Massingill leaned over the wheelbarrow and picked up the helpless Zambian woman, now rigid with fear. Carrying her to a doctor, he could tell from the odor that she had not bathed in days. None of that mattered.
He just couldn’t move a person in a wheelbarrow.
Recounting the scene four years later, Massingill, the university’s chief information officer, cannot help but get teary-eyed.
After almost eight total months spent in Zambia-a country in southern Africa just slightly larger than Texas-memories flow of people he has worked with, people he has helped. Pictures of them line his bookshelves, all seeming to face the 5-foot-by-7-foot map of Africa filling most of one of his office walls.
Massingill and his family returned from his eighth medical mission trip in July. He co-directs the trip with Dr. Kelly and Eleanor Hamby, retired ACU employees who began the ministry in 1994.
Kelly Hamby said he and his wife began the mission after vacationing in Zambia with a dentist to offer dental care to people there.
“It caused us to see a much bigger need medically,” Hamby said.
That need gave birth to the medical mission trip, which 10 years later sends about 40 medical professionals in various fields and more than 80 other volunteers to assist in whatever way possible for almost three weeks each July.
Joining the team
Massingill lives next door to the Hambys and heard about the mission trip through them, but his family became interested in the trip in 1995 after befriending Patrick Kawinga, an ACU student from Zambia.
“He leaned over our back fence one day, and he was looking for work,” Massingill said. “He wanted to mow lawns.”
Massingill, his wife and two children became friends with Kawinga while he worked for them.
“He kept saying, ‘When are you coming home?'” Massingill said, “meaning when were we going to come to his home” in Zambia, where the average life expectancy is 35 years and an average college-aged student in America could be considered middle-aged.
Massingill promised him they would go in 1997, admittedly unsure to what he was committing.
“I don’t know if I thought he would forget or if I thought this is far enough out that I can work it out,” Massingill said, “but 1997 came around, and we just stuck to it.”
At first, Massingill said he and his wife thought the trip would be a good way for their children to see the world from a different perspective.
“There’s little doubt in my mind that the reason that we’ve kept going is exactly the same,” Massingill said. “It’s not that I feel that they need it anymore; it’s because it’s their ministry.”
Massingill said he loves the family-friendly atmosphere of the medical mission-another reason they continue to go.
“When you’re a family and you find something you really care about and can do together,” Massingill said, “you just keep doing it.
The physical work
The team spends almost three weeks in Zambia each July. They dedicate seven full days to clinics, during which time they may see more than 18,000 patients. Villages swell from 500 people when the team arrives to 2,000 or 3,000 people-many of whom will walk three days to attend a clinic.
Massingill said the majority of cases they see are malaria, parasites and burns. Some of the infirmities, Massingill said, would be almost unheard of to many Americans.
“We met a man last year who had been run over by a plow 20 years before,” Massingill said. “Twenty years ago the oxen got loose while he was plowing and pulled the plow into his leg. It was still an open wound from 20 years ago.”
Massingill told of people who have abscessed teeth for years that will get infected, and they die because of the infection.
“We can’t imagine dying because we’re not able to go to the dentist, but in Zambia it’s a routine problem,” he said.
Because fire acts as the only source of light and heat at night, Massingill said some of the most severe cases the team treats are burns.
The team begins many days at 5:30 a.m., before the sun comes up, in order to reach a location and set up a clinic by 9 a.m.
“I feel a huge burden when we roll into a place,” Massingill said. “I’m a slave driver. I’m just rushing and going, and I see these crowds of 1,500 to 2,000 people gathering out there.
“Every 10 minutes we see 150 people,” he said. “So if we’re 10 minutes late starting a clinic then 150 people are going to go home without care.”
By 9 a.m., the Zambians are separated into lines of men and women and children who need medical, dental or vision help.
As people move through, the lines multiply and fan out to all the different medical professionals.
In order to care for 150 people every 10 minutes, Massingill said the team must operate with extreme efficiency. In some cases, visits end as simply and as quickly as giving the Zambian several Tylenol tablets or vitamins. However, if the patient is running a temperature or seems to be more ill, up to half an hour may be spent in diagnosis and prescribing medicine.
Even the volunteers who have no medical training stay busy.
“We’ve got about 220 people we’ve got to feed every day, and remember, we’re cooking on open fires,” Massingill said. “It can take half a dozen people plus several Zambians every hour, all day just cooking.”
Other volunteers are stationed with each doctor to have the next patient ready to walk in as soon as the current one stands up.
A few workers at a time eat lunch in half-hour shifts before immediately going back to work.
By 5 p.m. and several thousand Zambians later, the clinic shuts down, leaving workers half an hour of daylight to collect their things. Dinner and a devotional close the 16-hour days.
“By 9 o’clock everyone is pretty well asleep because they’re dead tired,” Massingill said.
The spiritual work
Even though the team does medical clinics about half its days in Zambia, Massingill said he does not even consider that the most important part of the trip.
“I would never want anyone to think we go to do medical work,” he said. “We go to bring people Jesus.”
As missionaries, Massingill said they are welcomed into the country because Zambia considers itself a Christian nation.
“[The team] has a chance to see what Jesus means when he says the fields are ripened for the harvest,” Hamby said, who saw the need for the trip even though many people in Zambia have some knowledge of Christianity.
However, the farther off the tar roads a town is located, Massingill said the more animistic society is, and the people talk more of evil spirits.
Massingill said he remembers one time two years ago a baby dying in a town where a clinic was located and the rituals the locals went through during that time.
“Way off in the distance I could hear African drumming-I mean traditional tribal dancing and drumming,” Massingill said. “I had never actually heard that authentically. That all comes from superstition and witchcraft.”
Back at the same town one year after introducing Christianity to the people, Massingill remembers a completely different atmosphere.
“I lay my head down to go to sleep, and I hear this singing start,” he said. “It was in Chitanga, not English, but it wasn’t tribal dancing. It was Christian music.”
Massingill said that is what he takes from the trips-seeing God work in the people to whom they preach.
And the work continues long after the team leaves Zambia at the end of each July.
A church development team made up of Zambian Christians follows up with all the congregations begun throughout the nation during the year. Massingill said this team does the real work.
“We consider it our cause to assist the Zambian church, not to plant an American church,” Massingill said. “We just go and cause a reason for a lot of people to come together.”
Missing his friends
Pictures and portraits that fill his bookshelves and line the walls speak to what Massingill remembers most from Zambia: the people. Just looking at a picture resurrects a story.
“This guy owns a garage and comes with us,” Massingill said, gesturing to a picture of a Zambian carrying a large hose around his shoulder. “We call him the Soul Mechanic because he really wants to do spiritual work, and he does most of the time, but he’s our mechanic. And I don’t know what we’d do without him.”
Two others, Dominic Moonga, who visits the Zambian churches year-round, and his daughter Caroline, Massingill regards with utmost honor.
“You’re looking at two of my heroes right there because they really do the work,” Massingill said.
Leaving at the end of July is bittersweet for Massingill, and not just because he does not want to leave the work he does there.
“I have some deep, abiding relationships with some people there, but I can never count on the fact that they’ll be there when I come back a year later,” Massingill said, holding back tears. “So what sticks out in my mind are my friendships I can’t count on, because people that are healthy one year die the next, simply because they don’t have adequate medicine.
“It’s not that they couldn’t be saved,” he said. “It’s just that they don’t have what it takes to be saved physically.”
That is why Massingill goes to spend time with the people and help give the Zambians something he says not even their politicians give them: dignity.
That is why he just couldn’t move a woman in a wheelbarrow.
“You can be there working, ready to do the next chore that comes along, and it just so happens that the next chore that comes along could be this really important chore of carrying somebody into a doctor’s office,” he said. “Whereas my next chore here is to make sure my computer is locked before I leave.
“You are put in a situation where the next average thing you might do is going to really be meaningful to somebody.”