By Mallory Sherwood, Managing Editor
After flying for 23 hours with more than 100 people from across the United States, Lane Miller was ready to disembark from the South African Airways airplane. He looked around the plane at the group of people sitting and sleeping in their black T-shirts with Zambia Medical Mission printed on the front, knowing the 20 or so from Abilene and smiling at the others. He glanced out the window as the plane was touching down and saw Victoria Falls. Finally, he thought, he was back again, back in Zambia, Africa.
Miller, freshman exercise science major from Abilene, was one of nearly 180 people from across the world that had arrived nearly 8,000 miles from home on July 6, to work alongside local Zambians to serve with the Medical Mission, which brings medical care to villagers for the next two weeks.
This was Miller’s second year to come to Africa and although he had been here before, his mind raced as he boarded the plane first in Dallas, then Atlanta, Johannesburg, Africa, and here in Livingstone, just a few hours away from where they would stay.
“I knew what to expect,” Miller said, “I just had nervous anticipation about getting there. I was excited to be serving the Lord.”
As he waited at the airport, holding his small carry-on bag and pulling the red tote filled with donated medicine from across the world, a caravan of 14 vehicles was on its way to pick up the travelers and take them back to Namwianga, their host city.
Coming in a yellow school bus, Julie McQueen, instructor of developmental mathematics, contemplated the past few days’ events. This was her third year here so she knew she had to get here early if she wanted to overcome the jetlag and seven-hour time difference before she began working. She had arrived three days earlier with her husband, Ronnie, to begin setting up for the medical mission that was to begin once the entire group arrived.
McQueen had begun by sorting through dental equipment, an area she was familiar with and would be working in for the next two weeks. Her husband found himself busy with the task of setting up tents, finding water for when they traveled to remote villages and solving other problems as they arose. Now they were in Livingstone, wondering how all the people would fit with their luggage and medicine.
As the group boarded the buses, Land Rovers, small pick-up trucks and the back of an eighteen-wheeler, they curiously looked at the landscape on the trip to their headquarters, noticing how much it looked like West Texas and anxious to begin early the next morning, some ready to do what they had been doing for the past six years, some anxious because they had no idea what to expect.
All in a day’s work
The next morning at 6 a.m., the group awoke, and excitement was in the air as they loaded into the vehicles and drove 10 mph across dirt paths that had been made so the group could make it to the village. As they drove the 37 miles to the first village, Zambian volunteers broke out into song, encouraging them as they prepared for the first day.
The mission was set up on school grounds, and by 9 a.m. the doctors, nurses, assistants and spiritual teams were ready to begin helping the people of Zambia. However, the locals had begun arriving hours before.
“The villagers had heard about the mission from the chief of the village, and by the time it opened we had more than 200 people descending upon us,” said Dr. Neal Coates, assistant professor of political science and a first-time member of the Zambia Medical Mission. “Either the night before they start arriving by the hundreds and set up campfires, or they arrive early in the morning.”
As the people arrived, volunteers, such as Miller, began directing them into lines by gender because the men would cut in front of the women and children and crowd them out, McQueen said. Then they would go into specific lines that addressed ailments where doctors from America and Canada and nurses from Zambia were paired up to act as translators and medical personnel in tents designated for eye care, dental work, wound treatment, colds and the flu, infectious diseases, broken bones and others as well. .
The local villagers moved through the lines after waiting several hours and were appreciative of the help, Miller said.
“There are some people who come in here that are in bad shape,” Miller said. “I don’t have the guts to do what these doctors are doing here.”
Miller said that besides grotesque wounds and burns, people also come in with herpes, hepatitis, tuberculosis, AIDS and things as common as coughing or the flu, who just want medicine from the pharmacy.
“You have to look for people with hair that has a red tint to it and bloodshot eyes first,” Miller said. “It’s what they warned us to watch for since AIDS is so prevalent.”
Living in a country that is short on medical care and high on poverty, it is common to see people no older than 35 years old in the villages, said Jason Morris, director of the McNair Scholars Program and first-time member of the Zambia Medical Mission.
“When you looked around you wouldn’t see very many old people,” Morris said. “The average life span is 33 years and that is my age. The oldest person I came into contact with was 78, and that is rare.”
People lined up all day long and patiently waited with their children, Morris said.
“One of the hardest parts for me was to see the mothers bringing the babies in because I have a one-year-old at home,” Morris said. “It tore me up to see the babies come in that were malnourished. The first day I was on the verge of breaking down.”
McQueen said the children looked better and were healthier than they had been in years past though because this year wasn’t a drought year, like other years she had come. She said it was still so sad to see, as a mother, that these mothers couldn’t provide for their children.
For seven days the group ran medical clinics in five villages and provided medical help for more than 17,000 Zambians. They averaged helping 2,800 Zambians a day and occasionally had to turn some away because it was dark and they could no longer see to perform examinations, McQueen said.
“Usually they could get through the whole crowd but for those that don’t receive help, some walk through the night to get to the next village where the medical mission will be,” she said.
Once the villagers made it through the lines and had gone to the pharmacy to receive medicine, they had the option of staying and talking to one of the members of the spiritual team to ask questions and hear them read from the Bible in their native language, Tonga.
Beneath a tree, sat Neal Coates, holding a Bible and waiting with a Zambian translator for anyone to come and talk with him. Just behind him in an animal trough, local Zambians were putting on a baptismal robe and being baptized.
Coates said that as Americans, they may have come on a mission trip to take care of the people and share the gospel, but it was the Zambians who gave inspiration.
“Zambian Christians are a real inspiration to American Christians because they are putting a real effort into their evangelism, and it is having a great effect,” Coates said.
“To give you an idea of what the Zambians are doing in their country with tools like the medical mission, in 1980 there were 211 churches of Christ,” he said. “In 2004, there are 1,050 Churches of Christ.
“They’ve experienced in 25 years a growth rate of 379 percent and now there are about 73,800 members of the church. That doesn’t happen just by sitting around,” Coates said.
Morris, also a member of the spiritual team, said that people would sit and talk for hours about God. He said that the Zambians would get into deep conversations about God that people in America would rarely talk about.
McQueen has also seen this fire in Zambia.
“People are hungry for the Word, and they love to have the Word read out loud,” McQueen said. “We raise money for Bibles every year so they can have the Bibles in their own tribal language. We have had people come and beg for a page out of the Bible because they don’t have that.”
This year 202 baptisms took place, more than they have ever had before, McQueen said.
The volunteers at the Medical Mission may have helped to prolong a life, but the Zambians made just as much, if not more of an impact on them, Coates said.
“When you meet Christians around the world that have a real fire in their belly for God, and you see what they are doing, it makes you remember that wherever you’re from, you need to be doing the same thing,” Coates said.
More than 11 years ago, Kelly Hamby, a retired faculty member and his wife, Eleanor, started the Zambia Medical Mission. Since then the medical mission has grown from 20 people to 225, said KB Massingill, director of information technology and co-director of the Zambia Medical Mission.
Massingill said that the Hamby’s have been working in Africa for more than 30 years, and it was their dream to start the medical mission. After he took his family nine years ago to participate in his neighbor’s mission program, he fell in love and has been a passionate director ever since.
“It comes down to this,” Massingill said. “The first year we went, my daughter was 9 years old. I fully anticipate my entire family going again this year and they have been every year.
“As a father, when I find a ministry that every one in my family participates in, in a ministry that has a meaningful opportunity for every member of my family to contribute to, I just can’t let it go,” he said.
Others, too, feel the same way.
“Once you go, you’re hooked,” McQueen said. “It’s like not getting to see your family, if you don’t get to go. It’s an incredible experience, and the need is just so great.”
McQueen first began going when her daughter was in high school and wouldn’t stop talking about her incredible trip to Africa. It has been six years since then, and her daughter and husband have gone every year. McQueen was able to go three more times and plans on going each year.
“Each year we think we won’t be able to afford it, but each year, God somehow provides, and we go to help,” she said. “I wish everyone could have this experience.”
Every time a volunteer goes, they always try to make it back.
“The next chance I get, I am going back,” Morris said. “If you are a Christian, and you want to see Africa, there is no better way.”