Little Miracles Bring Hope

Back when I was in college, someone gave me a short piece of rope with a knot tied in it. They said that I should keep it with me as a reminder that when it seemed that I had reached the end of my rope that I should tie a knot and hang on!

Last Wednesday (Dec 21), I felt I had reached the end of my rope. Hannah (youngest daughter) and Nathan (her fiancé) were in KTM – and were scheduled to come to Tansen on the mission bus the following day. While I was meeting with a group of friends, I heard the news that there was a strike being called in KTM for the day they were to come. I was devastated….. I knew having them come a day later wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but it was one of those times when I had been looking forward to it so much that the thought of the plans not working out was the final straw! I was thankful for my friends who promised to pray for me, and who encouraged me.

Hannah and Nathan did, in fact, arrive on the mission bus on Thursday as planned. They actually had quite a good trip for these days – only 11 hours! (Much better than the 18 Hannah had experienced a couple of months ago.) We have been enjoying having the two of them here with us over the Christmas holidays, and I’ve been thinking about the small miracles and answers to prayer that God so graciously provides for us to keep us from becoming hopeless.

There are several instances which I can think of in just the past few weeks. The first involved me returning from Kathmandu after staying to see Hannah’s Christmas programs. (Les had flown from KTM to near Butwal on Monday (Dec 12), and had gotten a jeep up the hill to Tansen that evening. I stayed on in KTM until Friday (Dec 16.)  I realize that the last blog I wrote was about strikes – and we did, in fact, travel from Tansen to KTM (via Pokhara) leaving at 5 am to get to KTM on Dec. 7.  We really enjoyed our visit in KTM and loved seeing Hannah and watching her performances.

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Hannah directing the KTM Chorale in their Christmas concert

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Hannah’s school performance

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So – back to Dec. 16…. I caught the flight to Pokhara mid-morning that day, and was able to view the mountains for the entire 25 minute flight. It was so beautiful. A taxi met me at the airport, and we had lunch and then started driving towards Tansen. I had decided to fly to Pokhara instead of the closer Bhairahawa airport because that day a 3 day strike started in Palpa district, along with the other districts around the Bhairahawa airport. We drove for about 3.5 hours, and arrived at the border of the Palpa district about 10 minutes before 5 pm. Now – usually these days in a strike, they open in the evenings to let night buses and other vehicles get through. Not this time. This time the plan was to have a continuous bandh (strike) from Friday morning through Sunday night.

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Arrival at Pokhara airport

Views from the road

Views from the road

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River on the border of Palpa district

Well – the taxi driver and I walked over to where the road was blockaded – and he started asking if we could be let through because I was a foreign doctor who needed to get to the mission hospital! (Well – a doctor’s wife is close enough, I guess?) Anyway – I was praying, and I know many others were as well, because after an hour or so, they let us go through! All other vehicles had been turned back – and I was starting to contemplate having to spend a night in the village….

Anyway – one miracle – we arrived to Tansen safely and without any troubles – in the midst of a 3 day strike (which did last the 3 days!)

The second miracle was that the strike which would have affected Hannah and Nathan was cancelled – an answer to prayers, again, I’m sure.

Finally, the other day we were invited to walk down to eat at a friend’s home in the village. After walking down the back of Srinagar Hill for about 45 minutes, I noticed that I was missing my right contact lens. I knew I had put it in my eye because the left one was in, and I always start with the right. But – I hadn’t felt it fall out, and I had no idea where it was. So – after a lovely lunch and visit, we walked back up the hill, and when we went into the house, I went to the bathroom where I put my contacts in in the mornings. I looked on the counter – and then on the floor – and just under the corner of the floor rag was my lens! Amazing! Not only that I found it, but that it was in one piece after others had used the bathroom after I had dropped it and hadn’t noticed. I still am not sure what happened, but I was very thankful for that miracle! (And I was amazed at how my brain compensated for the missing lens…. mono-vision!)

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Hannah and Nathan with Laxmi before lunch. (I could still see well enough to take the photo!)

I know there are many prayers that are apparently not answered – or the answers are very slow in coming. We have prayed for some of our friends here for over 25 years – and they still are not following The Way. We know that people are hurting and that it often feels that God is far away or uncaring.

But – for the moment – when I put my contacts in in the mornings, and when I enjoy the time with Hannah and Nathan, I am thankful for a God who cares for some of the smallest details of my life and sometimes intervenes to give me fresh hope.

May your New Year be filled with that Hope.

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Strikes again. Looking for Peace on Earth!

We’ve been enjoying sitting in our back garden and admiring some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.  It all looks so peaceful – like there should be no worries, cares or problems.  However, we are once again in the midst of a political struggle and we’re not sure how it will all end.

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We first became aware of difficulties last Wednesday when all the staff were talking about a strike starting at 1 pm.  Of course we wanted to know why, and found out it is due to the possible new state lines being drawn in a constitutional amendment proposed to change the originally approved state lines in the new constitution.  Our district would be affected (most people believe in adverse ways) if the new states were implemented.  So – people out here decided to call an indefinite strike.

For us, the first hurdle to overcome was the fact that Les had plane tickets to fly to KTM on Thursday afternoon for a meeting on Friday.  Now, the planes do fly during strikes, but first you have to get to the airport!  And it wasn’t going to be possible by car – which causes a bit of a problem when the airport is approximately 60 kilometers from where we live.

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Never fear!  Les hopped on his trusty bicycle (still in working condition even after various accidents in the past) and started down the hill towards Butwal.  The best thing is that it is almost all downhill (literally) from here to Butwal.  As Les was nearing the last hill into Butwal, his chain broke!  So, he coasted in to town and slowly went along until he found a bicycle repair shop that was closed – but the owner was inside working.  (During the strikes, stores are forced to close, but some people open doors or shutters part way and watch for possible customers.)  He agreed to repair Les’s bike – and they only had to close the door once when a group of protesters came by.  (He also turned off the radio, and turned down the lights until it was “all clear”.)

After getting a new chain, Les continued on down the road to the airport in Bhairawa.  He was able to lock up his bike in the nearby shed of a friendly guard and had a couple hours to spare before getting his flight.  He brought a change of clothes and his computer in the backpack, as well as water, snacks, pajamas, toothbrush, and money. (Good thing  he didn’t have to carry a suit.)

Les enjoyed an evening meal with Hannah, and spent some time with her the next morning, as well.  He attended his meeting – which was mostly to show the people there that Tansen Hospital is very serious about continuing to train anesthesia assistants. (One of the training programs we run here)  After the meeting, Les had another nice meal and visit with Hannah.  (Kathmandu wasn’t under the strike restrictions.  No one there is quite so upset about the proposed state line amendment.)

Saturday morning, the strike in our area was continuing on.  Les got to the airport in KTM about 7:30, and saw the notice that the airport in Bhairawa was closed due to bad weather.  (Mist and fog)  The flight was scheduled for 9 – at 10:30 it was delayed to 11:30, then to 1.  They finally boarded the plane around 1:15, and sat on the runway for another hour!  So, Les arrived in Bhairawa airport just before 3, where he collected his bicycle and began riding – this time UP the hill!

The first part of the ride was rather uneventful.   No cars out, and most shops closed.  Major intersections had people sitting across the road in chairs, making sure no motorcycles or cars were going through, but bicycles and rickshaws seemed to be exempt, and there were plenty of them out.  (The other exemptions are milk trucks, ambulances, and wedding parties!)  But coming into Butwal, there was a huge crowd of protesters blocking the road, facing off with riot police, so Les found a side street and went around to avoid the crowd and the stone throwing which was also happening.

Because it gets dark here soon after 5 pm, we had arranged for a taxi from here to go down to meet him partway.  (During strikes, the roads are usually only closed between 6 am and 5 pm).  Les and the taxi actually passed each other without noticing, but they did find each other and he was able to throw the bicycle on the top of the taxi and get up to Tansen before 8 pm.

This is now Tuesday afternoon, and the strike goes on.  The shops all open at 5 pm and are absolutely jammed with people getting food and necessities.  It is getting difficult for shop owners to replenish supplies as it all has to be done at night.

Tomorrow, Les and I have planned to go into KTM to be with Hannah as she has several performances coming up this next week.  The current arrangement is to go on the hospital bus – leaving at 5 am, and going the long way around via Pokhara.  Because our district of Palpa is the one on strike, and the district of Syangja (Pokhara) is not, we hope to get out of Palpa before 6 am when the strike begins again.  Should be possible – but we have learned that nothing is a certain and sure thing here!

We are thankful that we can be sure of Jesus and His love for us.  As we are celebrating advent here at church and with our missionary team, we are glad to again remember the amazing sacrifice God made in leaving Heaven to come here to earth as a baby.  Merry Christmas!

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Thoughts on Tihar

The season has changed, the rains have stopped, and the views of the mountains have been spectacular.  The daytime temperatures in the sun are still quite warm, but the evenings are getting chilly.  Even though we miss the autumn season in Ohio, this season in Nepal is one of the nicest.

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During this time from the end of monsoon into this cooler season, there are multiple holidays celebrated by the followers of the Hindu religion.  The festival that just ended is called Tihar – also known as Deepawali.  We went out walking on the night of Laxmi Puja.  Laxmi is considered to be the goddess of wealth and prosperity.  On the evening/night of Laxmi puja (worship of Laxmi) everyone who wants to have more riches and prosperity lights the way into their home so that Laxmi will not pass them by.  People also make colorful designs in front of their homes and businesses and small footprints leading into the house so that Laxmi will feel welcomed and be able to find her way in to bless them.  There is much singing and dancing, and also eating of special kinds of treats made only at this time of year.

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As we walked through the streets brightly lit by the candles, sparklers, and lights, I was musing about the difference between Laxmi and Jesus.  Once a year, people here spend much time, money and energy preparing their homes for Laxmi puja.  Their goal – to gain the attention of this goddess, Laxmi,  in hopes of having a more prosperous and easy life.  “Notice me!  Make me rich!  Pay attention!”

On the other hand, we have a savior named Jesus who stands at the doors of our hearts – whether we have prepared, hung lights, or called to Him.  He comes searching for us – to give us the most precious gift of all – forgiveness of our sins because of His great love for us.  And an offer of a relationship with the God who created the universe, but who wants to be part of our lives.  Amazing!

Let’s notice Him!  And may our lives here continue to shine His light into the dark places of the world.

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Kriya (Ritual Hindu mourning)

We returned to Tansen on Sept. 29.  As we were on the bus that day, I got a text from Ganesh (my assistant and the guest house host) that his father was ill.  We met him that evening, and even though he was still feeling weak, he was planning to walk back down to his home in the village (with the help of his son and grandson.)  We were happy to see that he seemed better.  Ganesh’s dad had struggled for many years with alcoholism, and his body was starting to wear out.

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The next day, Ganesh left for a trip to India.  Before he returned, he was getting calls from his family urging him to hurry back as his father was more seriously ill.  The family finally hired a vehicle to bring his dad up to the hospital again and he was admitted with severe pneumonia.  This was on Tuesday – and Ganesh returned that evening from his trip.

Even though his father was quite ill, he seemed to rally after being in the hospital and being on oxygen and medication.  However, by the end of the week he had reached a plateau and didn’t seem to improve any further.

On Monday morning, Ganesh came to our door quite early and asked Les to come down to check on his father.  Within a few minutes, Ganesh was back at our door, asking me to come with him to the guest house so that he could show me where his keys and important information was located – because he knew that his father’s death was imminent.  He also knew that once his father died, he would not be able to return to his home or to work until the 13 days of required mourning was finished.

Ganesh’s dad died at 6:30 am on Monday, October 10.  He, along with his 2 younger brothers, were all there with their father.  One was crying softly, but it wasn’t until Les pulled the sheet up over his father’s face that Ganesh broke into loud sobs.

Things went quickly after that.  They found a jeep, and along with the body (wrapped in a sheet) and the rest of the family, they rode down to the village where Ganesh’s mom and older brother were waiting.  The other relatives and neighbors soon gathered, and they soon had a full bus, a jeep and about 20 motorcycles (all men) who traveled with Ganesh and his father’s body down to the river at Ramdi.  This is the Kali Gandaki River – which eventually flows into the Ganges River.  It is considered a holy place, and is where people take their loved ones for cremation.

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While there by the river, Ganesh and his 3 brothers all had to remove their regular clothes, and wrap in a long white cloth.  They also had their heads shaved – except for one tuft of hair which is left on the back of the head.  After that, the body was burned, and the ashes were thrown into the river.

For the next 12 days, Ganesh, his brothers, Ganesh’s mom, and the wives of Ganesh and his brothers, all have to observe what is called Kriya.  It is a time of mourning which is directed by the Hindu priests.  Because Ganesh and his family are Brahmin (high caste) the rules are often more strict.  Ganesh’s mom (the widow) has to remain isolated in the sense that no one is allowed to touch her.  She has to prepare her one meal a day on her own – after doing a ritual washing.  The meal can only consist of rice, ghee, cucumbers, white radish, lemon pieces or juice, and some sugar if desired.  No salt is allowed for the entire time of mourning.  This meal has to be cooked over an open fire.

We went to the village house on Wednesday to pay our respects.  The widow was by herself at her little place to cook.

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The 4 sons (Ganesh and brothers) were at their place to prepare their food.  They also were being directed to do a specific “puja” (worship) in order to help their father’s spirit get into heaven.  There is a priest who comes daily to the house in order to make sure all these things are followed properly.  Neighbors and more distant family members stay nearby to help – giving tea to guests, and doing the things needed to help the family in mourning.

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The 3 daughter in laws also have their own place to make their fire and cook their food.  They all have the same restrictions on what they can and cannot eat.

To our western eyes – this seems like a punishment for the family who are already mourning the loss of their husband and father.  Is there any purpose to following all these rather empty seeming rituals?

For me, the most difficult part of this to understand is the isolation.  If I had just lost my husband or my father, I would want to be able to touch the rest of my family – to both get and receive comfort.  Hugging isn’t a big part of the culture here, but even just giving someone a hand squeeze or shoulder pat would be helpful.

Even at the end of the 13 days, life will never be the same again for Ganesh’s mom.  She will never be able to wear any red clothes again – and wouldn’t be able to marry again, either.  Life for widows is quite hard in the Hindu religion.

One interesting note about how life is different in KTM from the rest of Nepal – even when it comes to Kriya.  Wealthy businessmen and govt officials in KTM have somehow arranged for their kriya to last only 13 hours instead of 13 days – they don’t have the time to spend on this, so have gotten permission to shorten it significantly.

The hospital here in Tansen actually allows people to have leave (with pay) for the required kriya they have to do.  It would be very difficult if they didn’t do this.

Please keep Ganesh and his family in your prayers as they head into another week of doing this mourning.

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Where has August gone???

August has been a busy month – and it’s gone by really quickly!  We’ve had the chance to catch up with old friends – we started the month with Bokuro Urabe and family.  Bokuro was one of Debbie’s students in Japan back in the 80’s at the Sendai Student Center.  He and his family are now serving in Bangladesh, and we were able to meet with them in Pokhara for a few days.

Urabe family

We also traveled to KTM to meet our mission “bosses”.  Our current boss, Becky, is going to be retiring and we will really miss her – but we were happy to meet our new boss, Paul.  We enjoyed time to visit with them, and of course to catch up with Hannah, as well.  As a bonus, our friend Theo was in KTM with his daughter, so we were able to meet with them too.

GBGM at UMN Theo

Finally, another old friend from Japan, Jun Yasuda, is here in Tansen for a couple of weeks with us following Les around in the hospital.  He is a medical student who was here with his family in the 90’s.  Jun and our Hannah were preschoolers together.

Jun

In the midst of all these joyful reunions, we have both kept busy with work.  Les has stepped down from the medical superintendent role, and is looking quite happy and care free these days.  He is very much enjoying his role now as the in charge of training courses, and also just being in the clinics.  He is called the “RIPE coordinator” – RIPE stands for Rural Inter-Professional Education.  He organizes training sessions not only for the resident doctors, but also for village health post workers and others.

ALSO course

The hospital has been extremely busy – with many, many sick patients, and overflowing wards.  Here is a photo of the patient count recently – note the number of beds available, and the number of patients!  Beds in the corridors are a common sight.

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Last week, Debbie organized a gathering for the didis and bahinis who work in our homes. These ladies work so hard to keep our homes clean, and to provide us with tasty and safely prepared food and water.  Many of them are dealing with family members who are suffering from a disease that is becoming more and more common here – diabetes.  There is a Nepali word for this disease – it is “Madhumeha”.  However – everyone these days refers to it as “chini rog” (sugar disease).  There is so much misunderstanding about how to eat a healthy diet appropriate for diabetes, that we decided to do a bit of teaching about it.  I was happy to receive help from a friend in KTM who sent me dietary information in Nepali, and Les came as the “special guest” to share with the ladies and to answer their questions.  We decided to serve snacks that were all appropriate for both diabetics and for gluten free diets!  Popcorn, hummus with carrot sticks and cucumber slices, peanut sandeko (peanuts lightly fried and spiced along with onions, cucumbers and garlic), and sugar free milk tea.  I had packets of aspartame so the ladies could sweeten their tea.  It was a fun gathering, and several ladies mentioned going right home to share the information they had learned with their family and friends.

Les teaching didis didis listening Didis listening.2 Didis eating healthy snacks for didis

Tomorrow (Wednesday), Les and I will start our travels to the U.S.!  We are very excited to visit our granddaughter – this will be Les’s first time to meet her in person.  We will be away from Tansen for 4 weeks, so Debbie has especially been busy preparing things for her time away.  There are 7 new people coming to Tansen in September – for short term volunteering, medical electives, or to come as a long termer!  A few of these seven have actually been previously, but since they don’t live here regularly, there are always preparations to be made.

We have had a much better monsoon than the last years – but the rains took a break for the past couple of weeks.  The other evening, Ganesh and Laxmi hosted all the team (25 of us!) to a wonderful meal up in front of their house – and this was our view!  We appreciate prayers for enough rain for the rice to finish well.

Ganesh and Laxmi Himalayan view

Thanks for reading – and for your ongoing prayers and support for us!  Much love!

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Who is responsible for them?

A few weeks ago, our head of Social Services/Pastoral care in the hospital posted this photo on his facebook page.

From the Kantipur News in Nepal

From the Kantipur News in Nepal

His post read, “This young man was treated worse than an animal – for six months he was chained to a post in a shed because of mental illness.  Who is responsible for him?”

Pun Narayan (the head of social services) has been passionate in his campaign to try to help people in Nepal suffering from mental illness.  There are no govt supports or structures to help people, and families either keep people hidden away, or send them out into the streets and abandon them.

A couple of years ago, our hospital helped to start the New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center.  When local police find mentally ill people on the streets, they bring them to the mission hospital to get help for them.  After they have been treated, and are ready to be released, there is a problem.  With no family or friends to help most of these people, they just end up on the streets again.  This “half way” house was set up to try to help these people learn to function and take care of themselves even without a family to help.

For several years, we have been renting a place for the NLPRC, but finally they were able to purchase a nice piece of land and have started building a home there.  This land has its own water source (very important in Tansen!), fields which can be used to plant rice or graze animals, and space for the residents to do other crafts or work to help create income.  Les visited the site in April, and Debbie saw it just last week.  You can see the progress that has been made – and we would ask for your prayers as the first building is finished and the residents are able to move in and start taking care of the land around them.  Please pray also for Pun Narayan that his vision and dreams would come to fruition – so that one day in Nepal there will be no more people chained in cattle sheds or suffering due to mental illness.

Looking down on the building site - April

Looking down on the building site – April

 

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The empty rice fields in April

 

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Just getting started – April

 

The building in June!

The building in June!

 

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Rice fields – more ready for planting now that some rains have started

 

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The building is coming along nicely.

 

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Pun Narayan shares his joy in the progress of the new building.

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Memories, Miriam, and Mohan

Four years ago – Saturday, June 2.  I was on skype with my parents, and Les was out for his morning run (including racing up and down the stairs on Srinagar hill).  We had only been back in Tansen for 3 months, and were just feeling settled and back into the work and life here.

A few hours later, we were on a helicopter to Kathmandu – taking Les to the Neurologic hospital because he had suffered a bleed in his brain.  Hearing the CT technician say the words, “Bleed bhayo” (there’s been a bleed), was such a shock to me.  Why would God allow this just after He had asked us to return to Tansen?

The night Les spent in the ICU in the Neuro hospital was life changing for him – as he watched all the other patients around him who were in comas or dying, and realizing that could have been him.

Les in hospital roomLes in hospital room

God has given us 4 more years together – and we hope and pray for many more.  But we are much more aware of how quickly life can change… and how much we need to hold on to Jesus as He is the only unchanging one in life.

About 2 months ago, we were blessed with our first grandchild.  Miriam Rose was born to Luke and Laura, and Debbie was able to visit within the first few weeks of her life.  We are so proud and happy to welcome baby Miriam, and also to watch Luke and Laura being such loving, attentive parents.  Now, Nepal seems farther away than ever!

Such a joy to hold my baby's baby!It’s such a joy to hold my baby’s baby.

We are very thankful for life giving rains which we have been receiving over the past several weeks.  The hills went from brown dust to green in just a couple of days.  Unfortunately, the roads often don’t fare so well during monsoon, but we are in need of a good, long monsoon, so we’ll pray for lots of rain but no landslides.

Dry and burned areas on Srinagar in April

What a difference some rain makes.

Unfortunate side effects of those much needed rains...Top photo – burned and dusty Srinagar hillside in April.  Middle photo – what a difference some rain makes.

Bottom photo – unfortunate side effect of rains on roads.

In the face of many discouragements, there are bright spots to which we can look and remind ourselves that God is at work.  A young boy named Mohan from a nearby district came to the hospital about 6 months ago.  He initially presented with fever and hip pain.  Surgery was needed, but the father was at first unwilling because of lack of money.  After meeting with our social services staff, the father agreed to the surgery.  A hip arthrotomy and debridement were done, and that night Mohan was moved into the High Dependency Unit (HDU) due to sepsis and ARDS. He developed a progressive paralysis, probably Guillain-Barre syndrome, and could not move.  He was very sick and on a ventilator for 2 weeks, and then continued to get oxygen for several more weeks.  Doctors didn’t have much hope for Mohan, but he survived, and was moved into the pediatric ward.  He later got acute osteomyelitis in his femur and needed another operation for bone decompression and debridement.  Mohan finally recovered fully after much care and many prayers.  He spent almost 2 months in the hospital.  His bill was about $2400.  This was completely out of reach for this poor family in which the mom couldn’t work due to poor health, and the father only had a low paying blacksmith job, and not enough land to grow crops even to feed his family.  The family was able to pay about $250, and the hospital Medical Assistance Fund paid the remainder.

Mohan and parents

The family returned home to their village with a restored-to-life son, and hearts full of gratitude for the help and support from the doctors and staff at the mission hospital.  They also asked for a bible to take home – and invited the social services staff to come to their village to visit them.  We are thankful to so many of you for allowing us to be here to care for and pray for Mohan and patients like him – and for giving to the MAF so that charity care can be given to families such as this.

 

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