A medical emergency reminds us of the urgency of sharing the Gospel
The following story is a chronological account co-written by Rachel Schellenberger and John Allen. The TTMK team on the ground in Kotidanga that day saw the reality of “Emergency and Urgency.” Life is fragile and short; how often it takes an emergency to reveal the urgency to share the Gospel. Some of what follows are communiqués sent as the events transpired. This is how Rachel and John saw it.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012 started out just like any other day. Then came the news that one of our airstrip workers, a well-known man in our area, had collapsed during morning devotions at the airstrip.
Andrew Schellenberger and I headed up the mountain with a stretcher, unsure of how serious it was. When we arrived, we found Waitave in severe distress, complaining of chest pain. He could not sit up, so we put him on the stretcher and the airstrip workers carried him down the mountain to the clinic. I ran ahead and informed Lena and Rachel that he was coming, with apparent signs of a heart attack. In four years of her clinic ministry in PNG, Lena has never had a heart attack patient.
I was headed out to clinic when I was informed that two patients were on their way. The first was a worker from the airstrip. I was told only that he had passed out. The other patient was a lady who delivered a baby and retained the afterbirth. This was going to be an interesting day: I opened the clinic and started praying. I was getting items out that we might need for the lady, thinking she would be the more serious. After a few minutes I saw the airstrip workers bringing the man down on a stretcher…it was Waitave! From the way they were walking, I knew it was very serious. Waitave could only moan that his chest hurt. His blood pressure was way down and his heart rate was up; but I barely found a pulse in his hands and legs. We put an IV in him, started pushing fluids, and gave him pain medicine and meds to open his blood vessels. He started shaking and vomiting. I wanted to wretch and cry. I choked tears away and told myself it wasn’t the right time.
Following are the updates as I sent them to our home church and team leadership.
1 PM Wednesday, PNG Time
Thank you, everyone.
Waitave is resting at 1 PM PNG time (I think 11PM Tuesday your time). Vitals have improved but he is still critical. There is nothing more that can be done. I wish everyone in the States could have seen the team working together. Lena and Rachel calmly (but tearfully) working quickly; Sarah Glover administering breathing treatments to make it easier for him to breathe (no oxygen out here); Jason Ottosen came to ask what he could do, and soon he was pushing the IV fluids; Andrew was taking care of the crowd outside and sending reports to Matt; Ricky Beyaba, the airstrip boss, was praying with the whole clinic porch and our Bible school students; and Ben and Nathaniel, two of our students, were at Waitave’s side trying to get through to him about his soul.
I finally left Waitave sleeping on the clinic floor, still in the stretcher in which we brought him. It is so different than the Western world, but so much more real. Mud tracked into the clinic by the airstrip men who hurriedly carried him down. Mud splashed up to the knees of the men surrounding him, including his male family members. Me sitting cross-legged in my muddy Keen sandals. A hospital absorbent pad, plastic side up, covering where Waitave vomited on the floor, and we didn’t have time to clean it up. The believers praying, eyeing each other, knowing how critical this is on different levels: the life of a man, the destiny of a soul, the spiritual response of a large group of men, and the complete dependence we believers are putting in God to work this out and to guide us in our response.
I think my adrenaline has run out. My tears have not, and may they never. Matt and I have communicated this week about the urgency of the task. It is much more real today.
Pray for Lena and Rachel as they also had a mother who arrived by stretcher a few minutes after Waitave. She had delivered a 3 1/2 pound baby overnight but the after-birth was still inside. God blessed and after a lot of difficulty, the placenta was removed. I think Rachel and Lena are going to have a good cry after this day; part in relief, part in glory to God, and part in thanks for what did not happen.
About 15 minutes after Waitave came, the lady came—also on a stretcher. We got her on a table in another room and told her to wait. Selina and I went back and forth between the rooms. Sometimes we were with separate patients and sometimes together. I kept praying, “God, will You fight for us today!”. The spiritual and physical conflicts were great…two lost people who could die. Then, Waitave started to improve, his blood pressure came up and his heart rate become normal! Soon we also removed the afterbirth from the lady and were able to stop the bleeding. Everything began to slow down. Waitave was improving and resting, and the lady was walking home with a baby in her hands. It was then that I had a chance to reflect and look around. So many were involved in helping; and yet everyone, saved and unsaved, knew that it was only the work of God that saved these two lives.
4 PM Wednesday, PNG Time
We were headed out to church, and Waitave was trying to get up so he could go outside and lay in the sun. Such an improvement, it was amazing! Andrew and I stayed with him during the church service because he was having issues about walking…we told him his heart wasn’t ready, but he wanted to go. He tried walking and started vomiting, and then the chest pain started to come back. We gave him some pain medicine, and after church got him into a house close by for the night. Time for a good cry and a little sleep. I’ll be seeing Waitave at 5 a.m.
7 PM Wednesday, PNG Time
Waitave recovered from the painkiller this afternoon. He got up (against orders) and walked off the clinic porch, barfing as he went. Rachel and Andrew intervened. They stayed back from church this afternoon to watch him with his son, Matthew.
Waitave is now sleeping in Pastor James’ old cookhouse with Matthew for the night. All thought it better to have him near a fire tonight to stay warm. Lena has given him more meds to make him sleep and not get up. She’ll be going every three hours to knock him out again.
Two men from our church, Gideon and Augustine, were in the cookhouse when I left. May the Lord give them liberty to witness to Matthew and to Waitave, should he be coherent enough to listen.
Side note: At the end of the service tonight we had a third emergency patient arrive. She had hiked all the way from Wake (wah-kay) village, a hard eight hours’ hike to our west. Her pig had bitten her and took a chunk out of the inside of her forearm near the elbow. Too large a chunk was missing to sew it, so Rachel cleaned it really well, packed it, and covered it. The lady will stay nearby with friends for a few days, coming for daily dressing changes.
There are five hours left in this day. No telling what else will happen.
Keep praying for Waitave and the airstrip guys. The Lord dealt with my heart yesterday, before all this happened, that I should go and preach to the airstrip work crew on Friday morning during devotions, and to press on them the claims of Christ. Pray for me that God will work in their hearts. The word is sown daily by Brother Ricky as he leads in devotions, and the events of today should have them thinking of eternity and of the power of God.
2 AM Thursday, PNG Time
Tonight, I witnessed something Matt and I had discussed just this week: A willingness to sacrifice for the cause of Christ and His kingdom. It is 2:15 AM. Lena is out in the pouring rain, taking shots and medicine to Waitave who is staying next door.
Lena’s cerebral malaria is not finished yet. Her temp was 101 just before she went out, and she has labored under a pounding headache all through the events of this day and tonight. She has been sick with malaria since last Sunday. But she wouldn’t have it any other way; she counts it her privilege to serve.
Rachel has the “morning shift”, going at 5 AM and 8 AM. Lena had 10 PM and 2 AM.
These two nurses are doing this out of compassion for people, with a burden to help them live long enough that they can have another chance to respond to the Gospel. They certainly demonstrate “a willingness to sacrifice for the cause of Christ and His kingdom.”
8 AM Thursday, PNG Time
Waitave is doing much better. Pain is less in his chest and his fever has gone down. He is talking well and says he wants to sit out in the sun a little later. Andrew told him he could go out as long as he asked for help.
6 PM Friday, PNG Time
We just got back from visiting Waitave at the cookhouse. If you didn’t know what happened Wednesday, you’d never guess. He’s awake, alert, and sitting up. Still has chest pain when he stands up. He’s no longer taking shots as he can swallow the medicine. Several people have witnessed him to since Wednesday.
Monday the Lord dealt with my heart about speaking to the airstrip workers. Wednesday He confirmed it with the Waitave incident. This morning Ricky let me have the devotional time to preach the Gospel. I took the Serpent in the Wilderness as my text, and used A Beka flash cards to illustrate. When I took them to the Cross and Jesus taking our place, some began wiping their eyes. All eyes were on the story and their hearts were contemplating. I gave an invitation; the air was thick with expectation. I even told them that if one would respond, others were waiting for someone else to go first. They saw how close death came on Wednesday; I urged them to not delay.
No one responded outwardly, but we left the door open. Pray for these guys—I only know some of their names: Jesse, Kipu, Andrew, Rimas, Pakeni, Ham, Waita, Matyu. There are fourteen total, fifteen when we include Waitave. None has made any move before to respond to the Gospel that I know of, but they hear God’s word daily through Ricky’s devotions each morning.
I believe there will be lasting fruit from this week. I have a confidence from the Lord that we have done what we should, and we shall continue to press forward with the Gospel. These men saw God defeat the forces of darkness on the airstrip mountain; may God gain more ground in their hearts, and may they come to see Jesus for Who He is…the lover of their souls.
9 AM Saturday, PNG Time
I have no idea how many people have witnessed to these two men in the last three days, but there have been many. When Lena decided to let him go home this morning, I went over and dealt with just the two of them (thankfully the usual crowd was gone—a gift from the Lord). Waitave listened intently, indicating that he understood what I was saying (and his son Matthew was translating into Kamea what he didn’t get). Outwardly, he was acknowledging, but not committing.
Matthew is another story. He has been witnessed to many, many times over the years, by Matt, Pastor James, me, and other believers. He says that he has trusted Christ, but that he has strayed from God’s path. I showed him from Hebrews 12 that God always deals with his children. We kept bringing every question back to the Cross. He did not make a decision for Christ today, but he is thinking. Many here, like in America, are bound with culture and religion. They are afraid of their religious leaders, and not afraid of God.
Pray for Matthew, Waitave, and those who have been impacted by the events of this week. God is working!
Monday, April 8 PNG Time
The rest of the story….
A week later Waitave decided to go to a village that is an 8-hour hike away. It was too much for him and he had a second heart attack. He passed out while he was preparing a fire in his house. He awoke because he felt the heat of the flames on his face, barely escaping as his house went up in flames. A few days later some people found him and brought him down on a stretcher. I checked him over in the clinic. He could sit up and talk a little. The worst of it was over, but he was really sick. He had a high fever and stomach pains, as well as the chest pain. We sent him to his brother’s house nearby; and daily Andrew, Sarah and I walked down to check on him. By Friday, Waitave was doing much better. Andrew was able to witness to him again. He told Waitave that God protected him twice now from dying and that God has a purpose for him. Andrew asked him if he was prepared to see God and if God would let him into Heaven. Waitave said he didn’t know. Waitave didn’t make any decision, but he said he would think about what we said. Continue to pray for him and his salvation. Pastor James will be going by to see him soon.
Pastor James did go witness to him, as many of us did. He will admit his need for Christ but has not yet trusted Christ. His reason? He remains confused by a local belief that if he trusts Christ, God will give him a second cross to carry to heaven. (This belief system says that when you join a denomination, you get your first cross to carry to heaven.) Then, when he dies, God will send him to hell because he has two crosses. He first wants to talk to the leader of the church he used to attend before he does anything. Blinded to the free gift of God by a syncretized religious belief, our friend Waitave fails to see the urgency of his situation. Will you join us in prayer for his salvation? Will you pray with us that the word of the Lord may have free course, and that it will break the strongholds of Satan among our dear Kamea people?