Monday, August 11, 2008

An open letter about health to the Vacation Church School children in Bakersfield, CA

From Katherine, a missionary from California to Cambodia, and Irene, a missionary from Zimbabwe to Cambodia,

To our sisters and brothers in Bakersfield who have received a faith as precious as ours through your relationship to our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. We write to you today with the words of the Apostle Peter when we say: God's divine power has given us everything needed for life.

While we have been eagerly preparing to write to you about the faith we share, we have also been busy hosting a Medical Outreach Clinic this week.

We were visited by a team of volunteers from a Methodist church in Singapore who came to Cambodia this week to help us host a Medical Outreach Clinic. It was the first time for the people from Singapore to visit a Cambodian village and so they were shocked by the poor conditions of the people living there. But they were eager to share their skills and gifts with the people, just like you have been eagerly sharing your skills and gifts this week at your local mission site.

Cambodian pastors from two different villages worked with the local government officials to arrange for us to use a medical clinic building that has been all but abandoned because the government has only hired one midwife to serve the medical needs of the villages in a two mile radius. Many people came to help us host a free one-day clinic: one doctor from Singapore, one from the Philippines and two from Cambodia joined together with five Cambodian dentists and a big group of volunteers from Singapore to run a pharmacy. I worked to register people as they came and Irene coordinated the triage nurses and worked with people needing help to get further care in Phnom Penh. Over 320 people were able to visit with a doctor or a dentist!

After they see the doctor or dentist, people go the pharmacy where they receive free medicines. For the children, we also make sure that they get a de-worming pill and vitamins.

The pastors and members of the two churches are eager to help their community to improve its health. This next week they will continue to visit the sick and to teach the poorest people in their community how to continue to get frees health care through the government "equity program." It is a very slow process for the pastors and the people to become comfortable with the system and learn how to get care. Slowly, we hope to help the pastors advocate with the government to hire a full time doctor to work in this clinic.

Irene tells the story of how it took Rev. Bunny almost two years to learn how to advocate for health care for her community. One step before we can organize a free clinic in the province is to request permission from the Provincial Health Department. In 2007 Irene invited DS Rev Bunny to make this request of local government. Bunny replied, "I cannot go there to ask permission; they don't like us (because we are Christian), and they are so difficult. If you want, you (Irene) can go alone." And with Rev. Bunny's kind permission, Irene went alone to the government offices and made all arrangements for the medical clinic, which successfully treated patients in two villages.

Irene has continued to work with Rev. Bunny and pastors from the villages to educate them about how to access government health services. Here is a conversation that Irene and Thy had about the challenges in this work.

Irene: Do you think pastors believe me when I say that the government will provide health services for the poor from their village if they bring them to the provincial hospital?

Thy: No, they never believe you; they think the government will do this for you because you are a foreigner, but they won't do this for a Khmer (Cambodian) person.

Last month, after many training workshops and visits with the pastors, Irene again invited Rev. Bunny to visit the Provincial Health Department. This time Rev. Bunny and her husband Pastor Sokchieng agreed to come.

Later in the day there was a monthly district meeting. Rev. Bunny said, "I have been to the Provincial Health Department this morning and learned that, yes, the government provides free services for poor people and that the church can help poor people understand and show them where to go. We have limited resources as the church, and so, on our own, we cannot help all. We need to help people get what the government is providing."

How powerful it is to walk alongside people and see the changes in attitudes, building relationships and trust so that we can partner to do the best work.

It is so exciting that we get to work together to make a better world. The volunteers from Singapore are helping. Your missionaries from California and Zimbabwe are helping. The people in Cambodia are helping. And you in Bakersfield are helping. We are all working together to build relationships. And, bit by bit, everyone learns about God and grows in their ability to help each other.

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