Beautiful feet: A story of medical missions
As a surgeon, our friend Dr. Paul Osteen spends several months each year doing medical missions in Africa. Through this work, he and his family witness God’s miracles of healing performed by compassionate believers: the hands and feet of Christ on earth.
This is the story of one of those miracles.
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Each year, I spend a few months serving at Christian hospitals located in remote parts of Africa. I go to relieve long-term missionary surgeons so they can have a break from the exhausting pace and go back to their home countries to see their families and friends.
Several years ago, I was working at a small mission hospital on the banks of the Zambezi River in far western Zambia. Late one cold winter night, we were in the theater [operating room] doing an emergency surgery when there was a knock on the door. Through the glass, we could see Gift — the nurse on duty — and the urgency in his eyes. He told us that a young lady had come to the hospital needing our immediate attention.
She lived in one of the many small villages on the other side of the Zambezi River. Several days earlier, she’d had a miscarriage and was suffering from continuous bleeding. She had lost so much blood that she was barely able to stand and was much too weak to walk. She was in desperate need of help.
Her concerned family and friends loaded her onto the back of an ox cart, and after journeying for several hours through deep sandy paths, they made it to the river long after dark. They then lifted her into a small dugout canoe and paddled across the crocodile-infested waters. After making it safely to the other side, they carried her on a makeshift stretcher up the steep bank and another kilometer to the hospital.
After news of her arrival, I finished my surgery and quickly went to assess her. She was wet — shivering — and in shock. She was so pale. Her hemoglobin, which should be 12 to 15 grams, was a mere 3 grams. Her blood pressure was unrecordable. Gift took a sample of her blood to find a cross-match for a blood transfusion.
I remember so vividly that she had no shoes on her feet, and her feet were calloused and scarred from her daily life of toil. Every crevice and ridge on the soles of her feet were darkly stained with soil. In the bright light, the contrast of her pale skin and the swirling dark patterns made her feet look beautiful — almost like a work of art.
By then, the operating theater was clean and ready, so we moved her to the table and covered her with as many blankets as we could find. Julie Rachel, one of the long-term nurses, skillfully started two IV lines. Allison, another nurse, helped Kyombo, who works in the theater, quickly get the instruments ready. Victor and the lab team brought us three units of blood. We squeezed two units of blood in as fast as it would run and then hung the third one to slowly drip in.
Then I performed an operation to stop her bleeding. Within an hour, her blood pressure had come up to 100 mmHg. She was now dry, warm, and no longer pale.
As we waited, I couldn’t help but reflect on what I had witnessed. A young lady who was desperately ill and so far from medical care. Her concerned family and friends who risked their lives to get her help. Gift quickly and accurately assessing her condition. Victor, who had left his home on this cold night to make sure she had blood. Kyombo and Allison, tired from working all day, never hesitating to help.
Now her blood pressure was normal, the bleeding had stopped, and the blankets were piled on top of her. She was surrounded by people who had compassionately and expertly cared for her. And it was all in the name of and for the sake of Jesus Christ — our Lord and Savior. There is no doubt in my mind that this greatly pleases his heart.
A few days later, she crossed the Zambezi again in the small dugout canoe. She trekked hours through the sandy paths back to her village. She smiled broadly as she was embraced by grateful family and friends. And she wore no shoes on her beautiful feet as she made her journey home.
This story would have had a different ending if it wasn’t for the committed and faithful men and women who said “yes” to God’s call and give their lives to help those who are sick, hurting, and in desperate need.
Like the people at this small mission hospital on the banks of the Zambezi River, I have witnessed — in every country I travel — the people of World Vision out in remote places working to improve the lives of children, mothers, and fathers. The caring, godly men and women of World Vision truly are the hands and feet of Jesus to people in need around the world.
These hands supported more than 18 million children with better health and nutrition in 2016 and 2017. They handed out almost 13 million bed nets to prevent malaria in 2017. And their voices in 2017 counseled almost 400,000 pregnant mothers and caregivers of young children about nutrition and infectious diseases.
This dedication to being Jesus’s hands and feet to the world is why I love World Vision. I wholeheartedly support their programs because I’ve seen these hands at work, and I’ve witnessed the impact they make for millions of children worldwide, including more than 30,000 children that have been sponsored through Lakewood Church and Joel Osteen Ministries’ Night of Hope events. I encourage you to support these programs too.
World Vision’s compassion for people in need and dedication to healthcare is why I am proud to partner with them at the Mobilizing Medical Missions (M3) Conference in Houston next month. Through my experiences in the mission field, God moved my family and I to start this conference, bringing together healthcare professionals to help meet pressing global healthcare needs. Learn more about the next M3 Conference on Feb. 22-23.
You can also meet with representatives from World Vision at Joel Osteen Ministries and Lakewood Church’s Night of Hope events. Learn more about Night of Hope.
Dr. Paul Osteen is a general and vascular surgeon, and he serves with his wife, Jennifer Osteen RN, and their family four to five months each year providing surgical care and education to remote and under-resourced countries in sub-Saharan Africa. When not abroad, he serves on the pastoral staff at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas.