From Despair to Hope: Over 1500 people touched by GFR Medical Clinic in Uganda
I am emotional again even as I sift through these pictures to upload to this blog post. I wish I was sharing this story with you all in person right now because I fear that my written words will not convey the fullness of this experience. I will never forget this day as long as I live.
A week ago, on our final clinic day in Uganda, we pulled up in the car as over 900 people waited in line to see Dr. Bill at our GFR medical clinic. It is mind-blowing to me how many people in Uganda do not have access to healthcare. People will walk literally for days to get to a medical clinic; and even then, the chances are slim that they’ll even be able to afford the fee. Our GFR Team, with the help of our trained emergency room physician and GFR board member Dr. Bill, ran three days of a free medical clinic in three different villages of Uganda. In those three days, we treated over 1500 people. It seems impossible for one doctor – with untrained assistants like us following his orders! – to see 1500 people, but it is absolutely phenomenal how fast Dr. Bill works. He is highly proficient in international medicine, and his work in the ER prepares him well for stressful and fast situations. I took about 4 minutes of continuous video footage of this so you could see how it works. As soon as my video buddy TJ edits these videos, I’ll post them to this blog. Thank you TJ.
The day we saw the most patients was this particular day last Thursday, our final day of the clinic. That day we saw over 800 patients. In this particular village, more people gathered to see the doctor than had gathered at any other clinic we had done – either this trip or our last one in March. We were told by our GFR Ugandan staff that this was because there are no medical clinics for several, several miles in this area and so people had been walking for a couple of days and many even stayed overnight to wait in line to see the doctor that day. It was an amazingly humbling experience. I can’t imagine how Dr. Bill felt. Being given the gift of being able to treat people with medical care is a gift straight from God, and when he saw that crowd I know he felt the weight of that responsibility. He took it as a great privilege but also as a great responsibility.
We set up the pharmacy (tables with thousands of bags of pills we put together and labeled the night before), set up the registration table at the front, designated a couple of the guys at the front door to control the crowds and ‘organize’ people as they came in, and set up the doctors’ station for Ugandan medical intern Dr. Ivan to sit with Dr. Bill and translate patients’ requests as they came in. We were ready to go.
We saw about 300 patients before the sky began to get a deep grey and the wind began to blow… Suddenly it began to pour rain outside. People waiting outside in line didn’t move a muscle. They had not walked tens of kilometers for a couple of days to leave their spot in line and miss their chance of seeing the doctor. Only a handful of the 600 people who remainined in the line had umbrellas, everyone else simply crouched down onto the grass covering their heads. Then the tin roof above us in the small building we were in began to get very loud… Hail! It was hailing outside. We looked out the open windows and sure enough there were large hail pellets crashing down on the people outside. This scattered about 400 hundred people in the crowd as they screamed and ran for safety. Anyone who has never been in a hailstorm before without shelter, it is incredibly dangerous to let large hail hit the top of your head directly. It’s very sharp and coming at a high speed to your head. 400 people left, but…. the 200 people waiting closest to the door remained. I could not believe this. People were screaming and clamoring to get into the doors of the clinic, and Bob and David had the difficult and heart-wrenching job of keeping them out so chaos would not ensue inside the clinic – where 30 people were already inside waiting to see the doctor next. So we kept things moving as quickly as we could, all the while not being able to hear ourselves at all because of the loud and fast hail pounding on the tin roof above.
Someone suggested lunch might be a good idea since we could no longer communicate with one another because of the loud noise of the hail. But as our lunch pails came out with our supplies to make PBJs, crackers, and bananas, I lost it. For us to sit inside this shelter and eat while people were waiting outside in line getting pelleted by hail just didn’t seem right. Tears ran down my face in an uncontrollable fashion, and there was no way I was eating that food. It just wasn’t right. My friend Melissa had the same thought. She took one look at my tear-stained face and said, “Let’s give our food to them.”
It was like the five loaves and two fish story. We broke up our sandwiches into four pieces each, cut up our bananas, cut up our pineapples, broke in half our crackers, split open our hard-boiled eggs and cut them down the middle, and we began passing out our food to the people in line. Our GFR team is an amazing group of humble servants, and the rest of them followed our lead almost immediately. Everyone else gave up their food as well. And between the 12-15 or so of us who had packed food, we were able to feed quite a large number of people in that line. I’m sure it didn’t take away the pain the people were feeling from the hail pounding on their heads or the despair of potentially not getting to see the doctor after having waited so long, but it at least showed them the love of God that is in us to put their needs before our own. I hope they felt that. They were very grateful, and many of them cried and hugged with gratitude even for a small slice of food.
After the hail subsided about 30-40 minutes later, we were able to continue the clinic. The 400 people who had scattered because of the hail returned and joined the other 200 in the front of the line who had waited through the storm. We went as fast as possible to try and see everyone before darkness came because there was no electricity where we were and we’d have to stop as soon as it got too dark to see. So we worked until it was absolutely impossible to see anymore, and we still left about 100 patients untreated in that line. It was gut-wrenching to see the people still waiting to see the doctor, but we had done all we could do that day. Dr. Bill gave a final charge of gratitude and inspiration to everyone who helped with the clinic, and then we had a moment of prayer in thankfulness to God for making this possible.
I want you to take a look at this picture. This sea of faces represents the hundreds of people waiting in line for the clinic. Despair all over them. There was an amazing thing that happened as they crossed over the threshold of the clinic doorway. As they entered in to see Dr. Bill and be blessed with the medicine prescribed and given to them, hope fell all around them. They left the clinic doors with hope, thanking God for giving them this opportunity to receive treatment. It was absolutely amazing.
I was very convicted by all of this. I flippantly cancel doctor appointments when something else comes up, I complain about having to wait in the waiting room any longer than 30 minutes, I argue about the high costs of things and negotiate discounts of ungratefulness for the treatments I have received. How selfish am I to disregard the gift of healthcare with such disrespect.
No longer. I am deciding today to change my attitude. I want to make a challenge to you to join me as well. Take your heart of gratefulness to God and invest with me in the efforts of Global Family Rescue to help bring more hope to these families. We’ll be going back in March to run more medical clinics, visit more families, and bring the love of God to more people in Uganda. It would mean so much to us to have your support. I’m giving $1,000 right now by clicking here. Please join me however you can. And comment below in encouragement to us all if you’re in with me on this. Demonstrate a sacrifice of our own selfishness and an investment in the lives of people living in poverty and in need of a transformation from despair to hope.
Thank you in advance for your generosity. I love you all and appreciate the love and support you give to us and to Global Family Rescue.