Tuesday, 24 May, 2022
Philippines Medical MIssion

Lots of Joy – John Sloan


It never fails to strike me, even having carried out almost twenty visits to poor nations over the past decade, I always notice: very poor people have few choices in life, yet they don’t complain.


When we saw Charlene, who was 13 years old, she sat quietly with her elderly grandmother, even though she was fighting for breath. From across the room I could see she was in severe heart failure. When I examined her I found that the cause would have been simple to treat one month earlier, but beyond treatment now. They accepted our stopgap medication, and then shuffled away without a word.


We were visiting the poor communities on Mindanao, in the southern Philippines. It is our fifth medical mission there, and our team consisted of Myra and I (we are both doctors), Deloris, a nurse, and Graham and Sue Derrig who are experienced clinic helpers. The team was working with Pastor Boni Sembran who has planted 170 churches over the last 30 years. As a young person he nearly killed another man in a fight. His father pleaded with the judge and he was given a choice between prison and Bible College. He chose the latter! He was converted and met Odette who became his wife. They now run their own Bible School, and as new churches are planted a young trainee is installed to pastor the new flock. They also run two orphanages. Boni is a visionary and an extremely resourceful man. He is now building a new centre, which will house the Dipolog church, the Bible School, the New Hope medical clinic with dental and surgical facilities and accommodation for both the bible students and the orphans.


Our initial plan was to carry out ten days of clinics, train two health workers, and then visit some of the far-flung pastors that Boni oversees in the east of Mindanao. There is an undercurrent of Islamic terror in Mindanao, which has been relatively quiet in the recent 2-3 years. Three days before we arrived, terrorists blew up a bridge en route to Catabato, in the east of Mindanao. This was the area we planned to visit. In addition, we discovered that there had been a number of recent kidnappings and one murder. As we were unsure whether the PCC would pay our ransom (!), and having been warned by text from a praying friend (who was unaware of the situation) we changed our plan. The next day the police chief actually said it would be unsafe to go. This turned out for the good – we arranged for the Catabato pastors to travel to us, meanwhile gathering many other pastors so that we were able to hold a pastor’s conference over a day and a half. It also meant that we could spend dedicated training time with Amette and Joyce (Boni’s daughter-in-law and his daughter). Eilleen, another of Boni’s daughters, wanted to be trained as a health worker, so we trained all three over the ten days of clinics, also holding a theory session. They became extremely competent in diagnosing the main illnesses that beset the poorer people.


Our way of working is based around holding medical outreach clinics in the more remote, poor areas. The picture shows us crossing a river on a bamboo raft to get to one village! We bring with us all the drugs and minor surgical equipment that we need. Before we came away, many friends in Heswall counted worming and vitamin pills into packets containing the right number for one person, and this was enormously helpful. We often see patients with advanced disease, such as painful abscesses that have been suffered for weeks. We can give simple anaesthetics, a wide range of medicines and lots of advice. Simply de-worming children may improve their body weight by 10%. During the clinics we always take the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus, and many respond. In fact we have seen a number of churches planted on the back of a medical outreach.


Each mission brings both joy and sadness. One very sick nine-year-old child called Joy, whose mother had already died, needed intravenous drugs. This was beyond our capability and we decided to pay for her hospital treatment. The reality of life is that healthcare in not free in most countries, and the Philippines is no exception. She had widespread infection, probably from typhoid, and was already blind. In the hospital, the wards were all full; beds were back to back with two sharing a bed, stifling heat and stench, and only one doctor for over 100 patients. The doctor told us that most patients are taken home to die, as they cannot afford medicines or surgery.


Despite heartbreak, all the Filipino children appear happy, playing in safety. The sense of community, strong family bonds, and joy-filled friendships was stark. I felt, perhaps, we might have inadvertently traded in these things in the UK in our quest for a better life. Boni’s two orphanages are always wonderful to visit. The children all form part of the extended family, looking out for each other. The picture shows Joshua and Amette’s Gatas orphanage.


As we came away we were overjoyed that there are now three capable health workers. We are funding Eilleen as the key worker, and there is a permanent health facility being set aside in the new building, shown below. Our budget will allow for a monthly supply of medicines. Two of Boni’s other daughters Jeannie (a trainee dentist) and Martha (a trainee midwife) will be able to help, and a local doctor is willing to give two hours per week to help in difficult cases.


The overall cost of this mission, just for medicines and road journeys (but excluding all airfares and our upkeep) came to £1800. For this sum we saw and treated 1500 patients, and witnessed around 200 professions of faith. However, we are certain that we WILL not see the true value until that great day! Our costs are covered by our charity, New Hope, and the Medical Mission continues under the overall banner of the Connections network. The orphanages need support, as does Boni and Odette’s building. Please consider how you can help.


Philippines & Med missions