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Working Together for Health Through the United Methodist Fellowship  of Health Care Volunteers by Roger W. Boe - 5489 BytesLink to New World Outlook: March/April 2001 - 13200 Bytes

Ganta Hospital is located in a remote part of northern Liberia, near the border with Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire. For many years, it has exemplified the way a Methodist mission hospital can serve both the health requirements and the spiritual needs of a country and its people. Yet the terrible civil war that raged in Liberia for seven long years destroyed much of the country and seriously damaged its infrastructure. The war left Ganta Hospital unable to continue fulfilling its mission.

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A very small patient at Ganta Hospital in Liberia.


This is a story of how several agencies within the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) have launched a cooperative effort to assist a hospital and a country in dire need. It is also a story of how a mission health-care team can reach out and bring a healing ministry to a place of great suffering and distress. Through personal witness, team members can tell us much about what it means to participate in health care as mission volunteers. They can also explain what the United Methodist Fellowship of Health Care Volunteers (UMF/ HCV) is trying to accomplish.


Ganta Hospital in Liberia

Ganta Hospital was established in Liberia in 1926 by Dr. George Way Harley, a medical missionary from the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. It began as a one-room clinic in a mud hut. By the 1980s, the hospital and the 750-acre Ganta United Methodist Mission Compound had become a self-sustaining community, providing quality health services to a surrounding area of some 400,000 people. It also served as the main referral source for another 50,000 people from neighboring Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire. The health facilities included a 65-bed hospital, a large outpatient service, a leprosy and tuberculosis treatment center, a dental clinic, an eye clinic, and a school of nursing.

In 1991, the disastrous civil war in Liberia began. The Ritters—Dr. John Ritter and Marcia Ritter, RN—who were longtime Methodist missionaries to Liberia, returned there in 1998, shortly after the war ended. Although the hospital buildings were not destroyed, the place was a shambles. All of the equipment was gone—even the electrical wiring. The water-supply system was nonfunctional, and there were no medical supplies or medicines. The loyal hospital employees, however, were ready to go to work. They had continued to provide emergency care through the long years of war, despite almost impossible conditions. Now they were ready to take part in the restoration of hospital services.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the relief and development agency of the GBGM, recognized the critical importance of Ganta in providing northern Liberia with medical care. UMCOR immediately supplied medicines and equipment and provided operational resources. Through a grant from USAID/ UNICEF, UMCOR also made possible a prosthetics and orthopedic unit at the hospital, providing help for those suffering disabilities from the war, birth-related orthopedic problems, or the effects of polio.

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On the road from the Ganta Mission Compound to the Leprosy Clinic.

By the fall of 1999, Ganta was ready to accept volunteer teams. The first health-care team came from the church's North Central Jurisdiction, which has had a long-standing relationship with Liberia and Ganta Hospital. This seven-person team was composed of members of the "RXConneXion," the jurisdiction's component member of UMF/HCV.

Experiences on the Team

Janet Auman from Ohio, who says she is "a semi-retired RN," calls her experience on the team "the fulfillment of a youthful encounter with Christ and a childhood dream to go as a nurse on a mission to Africa." At Ganta, she taught classes for students at the school of nursing. She also worked daily with a young man who was paralyzed from the waist down, patiently giving him physical therapy. Her conversations with him and his family eventually turned from medical concerns to faith in God and hope for the future. "This family taught me so much," she says. "God's blessing and message to me was one of love from the Liberian people. I had a chance to use my God-given skills and to come home as an ambassador for the people of Liberia."

Ray Auman, Janet's husband, put his skill at making repairs to good use at Ganta. He did a number of jobs that no one else knew how to do, including his work with the Liberian staff to lay a new floor for the hospital. Ray Auman illustrates the value of having nonmedical members on any health-care team. Many of his team colleagues placed him high on their list of people to invite for a return visit.

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Janet Auman, (far right) works with the hospital supply team at Ganta Hospital.

Another team member, Dr. Bud Stevens, is a family physician and director of a family-practice residency program in Michigan. He was struck by the variety of patients seen at Ganta. Believing that new doctors should get a taste of mission early in their professional careers, he expressed a wish that his residents could have taken part in the Liberian experience.

Dr. Stevens spent a lot of time at Ganta organizing a hospital pharmacy, throwing out unusable and outdated drugs and supplies. This work, like many tasks, was not in his job description, but it needed to be done.

Another member of the volunteer health-care team, Dr. Mike Sluss, talked about his mission experience at Ganta to a group at Bellin Hospital in his hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Bellin, like many US hospitals, has United Methodist ties. The interest generated by Dr. Sluss's presentation resulted in a formal proposal that Bellin Hospital and its nursing school should partner with the Wisconsin Conference's Volunteer-In-Mission (VIM) program to form a sister-hospital relationship between Bellin and the Ganta Hospital and school of nursing. Bellin will provide some needed medicines and supplies and will give paid time-off for employees who wish to do mission work at Ganta. There are also plans to develop specialty teams and the possibility of professional exchange visits.

Dr. Sluss sees great potential for other United Methodist hospitals in the United States to enter into relationships with Methodist mission hospitals throughout the world. The UMF/HCV agrees.

It is of note that Dr. Sluss—along with several members of the board of directors of the UMF/ HCV—serves as part of the Hospital Revitalization Program's core group. The Revitalization Program is another example of the network of support for world mission that the General Board of Global Ministries is building. (See Reviving Methodist Church Hospitals in Africa and Asia. )

Dr. Kelley Jewett, a family physician from Minnesota, now serves at Ganta Hospital as a long-term United Methodist missionary. She had previously spent two years in Liberia with the Peace Corps. Now she shares clinical medical responsibility with Dr. Francis Kateh, the Liberian medical director of the hospital.

Busy almost beyond belief with surgery and patient care, Dr. Jewett also plans to devote time to a program that provides health education, vaccination, sanitation, and a safe water supply to more than 20 villages in the area. This program puts into practice the principles of Community-based Primary Health Care (CBPHC), which locates the health-care system in the community it serves and teaches community members to be responsible for their own health. Soon local health workers in each village will be trained.

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Welcome to the Ganta United Methodist Hospital.

Connectionalism in Action

According to Dr. Jewett there is a great need at Ganta for volunteer health professionals—including doctors, nurses, dentists, and laboratory technicians—both individually and as part of teams. She would especially welcome those who are interested in passing on their medical skills to the Liberian staff. She also encourages interested people in other fields, such as management and construction, to inquire about helping to meet Ganta Hospital's desperate needs.

UMF/HCV regards the Ganta Hospital story as a superb example of United Methodist connectionalism in action. Great things can be accomplished through cooperative efforts that utilize the agencies and programs of the GBGM. Ganta also shows how many seeds a single team of health-care volunteers can sow. These seeds will continue to grow until our awareness of the world's great health-care needs is raised, relationships between countries and cultures are formed, and lives are transformed among both the servers and the served.


The United Methodist Fellowship of Health Care Volunteers

UMF/HCV is a new organization affiliated with United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) and the Mission Volunteers program area of the General Board of Global Ministries. Our purpose is to invite health-care professionals and other interested people to witness their Christian faith through ministries of physical, mental, and spiritual healing, providing health care to a world in need.

UMF/HCV:

  • develops and promotes health-care volunteering;
  • builds an international database of potential volunteers;
  • recruits potential team leaders and members and helps match teams with areas of need;
  • provides leadership and team training; and
  • provides a means to obtain needed medicines, equipment, and other supplies.

Roger W. Boe, M.D., is coordinator of the United Methodist Fellowship of Health Care Volunteers. Photos are courtesy Dr. Boe.

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Text and photographs copyright 2001 by New World Outlook: The Mission Magazine of The United Methodist Church. Used by Permission. Visit New World Outlook Online at http://gbgm-umc.org/nwo/. For reprint permission, contact New World Outlook by E-mail at nwo@gbgm-umc.org.

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