In the U.S., according to 2010 Census figures, 50.7 million individuals were reported to be uninsured, an alarming number. However, Americans have much to be thankful for in contrast to the millions in Africa with relatively little access to quality medical or dental care.
Bethel’s Global Reach, a Houston-based nonprofit embarked on a mission trip in June to do their part to serve and render basic medical care to a people eight thousand miles across the Atlantic.
“While we do have some issues, here in America, that need to be addressed, I can promise you that it pales in comparison to the problems across the world.
When you look at America and look at all the resources we have available to us, it’s not the same way around the world, especially in Kenya. And that’s why Kenya has really found such a place in our hearts,” says Marcus D. Holman, senior executive director of Bethel’s Global Reach.
“If you look at the demographics of the area, 72 percent of Kenyans are unemployed. Most of the people make no more than a dollar a day. So the poverty rate is absolutely astronomical,” says Holman.
In June of this year, Holman, along with 34 volunteers, went on a mission trip to Miguta, a settlement in Kenya’s Central Province, located an hour north of Nairobi. The missionaries brought basic necessities, such as Tylenol, toothbrushes, high blood pressure medicine, and other medications, and set up a pharmacy at the Holy Spirit Catholic parish church to provide vital dental and medical services.
In Kenya, poor oral health has become a major public health issue due to lack of dentists, poor oral hygiene, unhealthy diets, and other factors.
Nearly 90 percent of adults have at least one formof gum disease, according to the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board. The government healthcare system in Kenya, challenged by treatment costs and accessibility issues, caters to the wealthy and middle classes who are able to afford consistent care.
“This was the first time in a lot of [Kenyan’s] lives they were even able to talk to a doctor. It was tremendous. Often, things we take for granted in the states, it’s a necessity over there in Kenya,” says Holman.
Missionary trips of this kind are not new to Bethel’s Global Reach. Last year, the nonprofit took a 35-member team of ministers, doctors, registered nurses, a pharmacist and other volunteers to Kenya. At that time, Global Reach shipped $350,000 in medical supplies and medicine, along with a medical unit and four dental units. In 2010, the ministry led volunteers on a on a two week mission trip, for which, an estimated $5.5 million in supplies were loaded and shipped to Kenya.
“This year we really focused on the medical, dental, and pharmacy aspect of it, taking some well-needed medical supplies over to the region, says Holman.
Other notable services, such as, foot washing, saw an increase on the 2012 mission trip.
“We did foot washing, nail polishing, meeting the medical needs, and helping the people with different things,” says Kathy Radley, administrative director for Bethel’s Global Reach.
According to Radley colds, ringworm and jiggers were prevailing issues.
The jigger (Tunga penetrans) is a tiny flea that embeds itself in the skin under the toenails and fingernails resulting in sores and lesions that can become infected and cause great pain. If left untreated in children, symptoms can stop them from walking. And as symptoms progress, jiggers can lead to inflammation, toenail loss, amputation, or death, in the worst cases.
“In America, if you don’t have healthcare, there are several clinics like Ben Taub where you can still get ample medical treatment, even though you don’t have insurance. Not so in Kenya,” says Holman.
In the outskirts of the region where the mission team traveled, the closest doctors are in Nairobi, more than 60 miles away, and even if rural Kenyans were able to make it into the city and obtain access to a particular doctor, the price for care is often beyond their means.
Though the Kenyan infrastructure has yet to produce affordable healthcare for the masses, the good news is that private practitioners, volunteers and churches continue to provide services in order to fill-in the gap.
“We get back to America and we realize that things like a simple cup of water, clean water, a bed to sleep in, covers to wrap around us when we get cold, are things that we oftentimes take for granted. The missionaries come back with a deeper appreciation of the blessings that God has bestowed upon us. And I believe that translates into their everyday lives,” says Holman.
Some missionaries shared the impact of an encounter with Kenyans in GilGil at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, where the number of inhabitants can range from 50 to 300 people. Living there were orphans, survivors of the tribal wars from 2010 that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Kenyans. Before making the stop, the missionaries were riding through the Eastern Red Valley, passing up several IDP camps among hundreds, when they stopped at one camp, for no particular reason. The people from the IDP camp greeted the missionaries.
“When we pulled up, they were just singing and praising God and happy to see us, and they welcomed us in,” says Radley.
“It doesn’t sound strange until you see their living situations,” says Holman.
These orphans were living on dirt floors in 5 by 5 make-shift houses, constructed of sticks and plastic, with three to five people to a home.
Earlier that day, the hotel had given box lunches to the missionaries. Upon the suggestion of one of the volunteers, they all gave their box lunches to the Kenyans at the IDP camp.
“They took those box lunches, and they were so happy,” says Radley. “[Later at church,] it really hit me, ‘God sent us all that way, to see those people, to give them a box lunch.’ That’s the only contact we had with those people. To see their home and give them a box lunch.”
Holman adds, “As we got in the van and began to leave, I said [to the missionaries] one of the prayers that I hope all of us can take away from this is asking God to let us see Him the way these people see Him.”
Even though there was much more work that needed to be done, the missionaries served an estimated 3 to 4 thousand Kenyans with medical, dental, and health aid.
To donate to Bethel’s Global Reach, contact Pastor Marcus Holman or Kathy Radley at 713-728-4445, ext. 340.