We embark on 2024 with gratitude for the host of individuals (such as yourself) who work with us to build God’s Kingdom in Congo. We are also blessed to partner with many Congolese of faith, sacrificially serving beside us in God’s work here.
Imagine an area half the size of North Carolina, without an x-ray machine in any hospital. In one region of Congo, that changed in 2023. This story began when a US-based Congolese brought a pastor friend to Sala, his village in Congo. Sala, is in the ‘heart-land’ of the Yanzi people. Eager to further the translation work of the Bible into the Yanzi language, this pastor also met Dr. Heritier Ngandu, director to the Sala Evangelical Hospital, and very active member of the Baptist church there. Dr. Heritier shared how 7 years previously, then newly-arrived as hospital director to Sala, he invited the hospital staff to form a choir – to combat spiritual lethargy, awaken a vision of being salt and light in their workplace, and encourage church attendance. (The lead photo shows Dr. Ngandu in the back center with the Sala Hospital staff and choir.)
The need for an x-ray in remote Sala became a burden for this pastor; then a commitment in faith; then a miracle of funding. Katherine learned from a missionary colleague of the availability of a ‘digital’ x-ray costing under $15,000; considerably more affordable than the $75,000 units available in Congo. With the funds raised by this pastor she ordered one for Sala.
“Normally”, one would import an x-ray machine to Congo by ‘air freight’, but that increasingly involves a tangle of customs brokers, weeks of delays, and arbitrary taxes even up to $4,000. The unit weighed hardly over 50 pounds, so Katherine ordered it sent to Baltimore, where Wayne’s long-suffering brother and his wife have become accustomed to an onslaught of packages preceding our every visit. An extra piece of luggage costs $200. We often return to Congo with up to four extra pieces packed with vital and unobtainable “treasures”: ophthalmology equipment, glucometers and test strips, nursing scrubs, OR gowns, and solar system circuit breakers. To those treasures, we added the x-ray. Upon arrival in Kinshasa, we announced to customs officials in Lingala, ‘personnel effects and medical equipment for hospitals.’, and they looked no further!
Excited Dr. Heritier came the 500 miles from Sala to Kinshasa to receive the x-ray. Contacting an experienced technician friend, they escorted the machine to Sala. Three months of “hand-to-hand combat” ensued, against numerous odds. They scavenged a missing cord. They exchanged multiple email/social media messages with the supplier – issues of passwords, missing software, new files, and installation questions. These exchanges required the technician to ride a distance by motorcycle to where phone signal was strong enough for internet connectivity.
The technician eventually brought the computer back to Kinshasa for better connectivity and to get assistance from other technicians already using similar machines. Katherine despaired that she had wasted a generous gift and betrayed valued colleagues.
But, in early August, an image (WhatsApp) came from Sala. The first x-ray! The machine worked. Triumphant Dr. Heritier treated the patient with fractured femur right there in Sala, sparing her the 75-mile motorcycle ride to the Vanga hospital, the closest point of care for this type of injury.
Fractures are now routinely repaired in Sala, through a God-ordained partnership: a pastor and his flock in the US, Katherine’s facilitation, and a persistent Dr. Heritier, his technician friend Lunda, and a determined team at Sala. Dr. Heritier trained in the medical residency program at Vanga, where doctors of faith willing to serve the underserved continue to receive training in a rigorous 4 year program. Because of teams like the ones at Sala and Vanga, and folks like you, we eagerly wait to see what God will do in 2024. Thank you for building God’s Kingdom in this world with us.
Katherine and Wayne Niles