Re: The Beginning

Well, I've made it! Shaunda Helm and I arrived at Gimbie Adventist
Hospital at 11:00 p.m. local time (4:00 p.m. EST) Wednesday, after
quite the journey. Let me give you a brief update on what's been
happening so far. 

Our adventures started before we even got to Africa. First, while
checking in at Dulles, I was a bit worried because my bags were all
pretty heavy. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to bring the bee
hive foundations that I'd stuffed in my bags at the last minute. Sure
enough, after hoisting the bags on the scale, each one was about 7-8
lbs overweight. Fortunately, God had led us to a merciful ticket
agent, who allowed me to take the bags without any hassle at all. And
that was just the beginning of how God was watching out for us!

About an hour and a half after leaving Dulles airport at 9:00 p.m.
Monday, our pilot told us that they'd been having a few glitches and
that we were going to have to return to the airport. Nobody was very
happy to hear about the delay. But after experiencing a rather bumpy
landing and then being promptly surrounded by a convoy of fire trucks
and ambulances, we managed to swallow our complaints. Prayers at
After a night in the terminal, we left Tuesday morning. I was
fortunate to meet two very gracious Ethiopian gentlemen while on the
plane who kindly told me a little bit about their country and helped
me start learning some Amharic words. One man even showed me some
Ethiopian coins, insisting that I keep them. Almost everybody I've
met so far has been very friendly.

We finally arrived in Addis Ababa at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.
After collecting our bags and changing some money, Shaunda and I got
in the (rather long) queue to go through Customs. I'd heard stories
of other people having some pretty intense experiences getting
through, and I was praying pretty hard as we approached the front of
the line. Here again, we saw God's hand at work as one of the
officials came up to me and asked if I had anything to declare. I
told him I had changed some money in the airport and that I also had a
laptop with me. "Okay," he said motioning, "Go through." I somewhat
incredulously gathered my bags and walked past the long line of
people. Shaunda quickly explained that she was with me, and he let
her through as well. I kept expecting somebody to yell for us to
stop, but nobody did. What an answer to prayer!

Now we just had to find Ashebir, the person sent to meet us. We
didn't see anybody with signs and after looking around for a few
minutes, I decided to find a phone and call one of the numbers Paul
had given me. Using the coins that my friendly seatmate had given me,
I was able to get a hold of Ashebir. He and Gemeda, the Business
Manager for Gimbie and Laura, an incoming medical student from the UK
had been about to leave because they heard that we weren't going to
arrive until later. Another thing to add to the praise list

We spent a little time figuring out how to pack everything in the Land
Cruiser and then we were off! Driving through Addis is really an
experience. There are beggars everywhere; sitting on the sidewalks,
sprawled in the middle of traffic roundabouts, sleeping on the
medians. . . Many of them are children. Sad stuff:(

Heading out of town, the traffic soon thinned out. The road itself
was pretty nice for a lot of the way; apparently a contracting company
from South Korea recently finished constructing one of the nicest
highways in the country from Addis to Ambo, a distance of about 120
km. There were still plenty of obstacles however. In addition to all
of the people bringing stuff in to sell in Addis, there were lots of
donkeys, cows, goats, and sheep. They all seemed pretty unfazed by
our hurtling Land Cruiser, which led to a lot of honking and swerving
and screeching of brakes. Auto horns are put to good use here; a
double honk is the equivalent of saying, "Hey, I'm coming." In fact,
it's one of the few road rules that is actually followed.

The scenery is beautiful one you get out into the country. Everything
is very green (unless it's mud, in which case it's red) and there are
lots of eucalyptus trees and shrubs and other foliage. I want to
describe a few of the most commonly appearing sights along the road.
One is a few cows off grazing along the side in the care of a six or
seven-year old child who will frequently jump up and shout "Faranji!"
as soon as he or she sees you. Another is some women bent over under
huge bundles of sticks they're carrying to the market. Another are
the piles of logs and dirt randomly piled on the (nonexistent)
shoulders of the road. I guess the dirt is for repairing the road and
the logs are waiting to be sold to trucks coming along. We even saw a
few monkeys.

We made pretty good time to Ambo, arriving around 12:30 p.m. Ashebir
needed to repair something in the suspension for the Land Cruiser, so
we stopped at a really nice hotel and had lunch. We had injera and
some awesome shiro. For those who have never had the privilege of
eating this delectable food, injera is a type of thin, sour pancake
made from fermented teff (endemic grain) dough which serves as a plate
and, when torn into pieces, as a spoon and fork also. Shiro is the
sauce that goes on top of it, generally incorporating lentils, onions,
spices, etc. It's wonderful stuff! Then we went out to shay, a kind
of really sweet tea, served in a little thimble cup. Finally we met
up with Ashebir and continued on our way.

From Ambo to Nkempte, a distance of about 180 km, the road is not so
good. Ashebir was trying to make up for lost time, so we careered
along at quite a good clip. He's pretty good and we missed most of
the major caverns in the road, but we hit enough that just as we
entered Nkempte (after about 5 more hours), we had to stop and change
a flat. This must be a fairly frequent occurrence, as Ashebir carries
two spares with him.

The next section of road is pretty good (at least it's paved most of
the way), so we were able to travel the remaining 120 km in about 2
hours. We saw a hyena during this section. The seating arrangements
were Ashebir, me, and Gameda in the front and Laura and Shaunda in the
back seat, holding back a cascade of blankets and luggage. The
luggage area was completely jammed full of stuff and there was a few
more bags of oranges and guavas, propane tanks, and some more blankets
strapped on top. I had a really hard time staying awake during these
last two hours, but since it was virtually impossible to rest my head
in one place for longer than twenty seconds, I had the interesting
experience of mini-dreams every time I closed my eyes

We finally got to the hospital just before 11:00 p.m. It sure was
nice to see Paul and Petra's smiling faces! They gave us a very warm
welcome and after unloading everything, invited us down to their
house, where after giving them some of the things I'd brought over for
them (and showing off the bee foundations) we fell asleep.

The next morning Paul kindly woke me up at 9:00 so I could start
getting used to the new schedule. He gave me a tour and a little
orientation and then I started right in. My first task was updating
the hospital's price list. Inflation is about 15.9% so far this year,
and that's really eating into the hospital's profits. I became a
little bit more familiar with the hospital as I worked my way through
the departments trying to figure out what the current rates were for
things. (This is proving to be a bigger task than I anticipated as
I'm not quite finished yet, 3 days later.)

The next day, Petra and I went running at 6:00. It was just getting
light and there weren't very many people around, which is good,
because they're not used to seeing anybody running for exercise, and
farenges to boot. The mud was pretty sticky; Petra encouraged me by
saying that it was like having built-in leg weights! Boy, if I keep
running with the weights and the altitude will really get me in good
shape. (Andrew will never be able to keep up;).
Later that day, Shaunda and Petra and I went out to Dongoro clinic.
It was really neat to see how one of the outpost clinics operated.
The nurse there, Ngadaye, was pretty overwhelmed with all the
patients, so we brought along another nurse to help out for the
afternoon. They are set up in a little round hut and the patients
come up to her table and tell her what's wrong. She does a little
examination and then gives them a prescription or refers them to
Gimbie. They then take the prescription over to the cashier and pay
for their pills or injection or test or whatever. Often they don't
have enough money to pay for the $2 or $3 dollars worth of meds so she
tries to prescribe something cheaper. Then they come back and she
dispenses the meds and explains how to take them. It was pretty crazy
as she often had eight or nine people clustered around her. I tried
to act as crowd control and just help wherever I could.
After the clinic closed, Shaunda and I counted the money brought in
over the previous two days and compared it with the patient receipts.
Then I returned the money and receipts to Gimbie. We also bought a
new lock ($1.13) and put it on the door to cut down on the loss of
drugs. Petra found a good deal on some musi faringi (sweet little
bananas) and a jackfruit (a huge thing, about the size of two
basketballs and weighing around 25 lbs!) so we managed to fit them
into the Land Cruiser, along with all 10 of us

Sabbath was very welcome! Friday night, Paul encouraged us to take
showers because the water is often off on the weekends. Warm water is
quite scarce, so showers are usually quite short. Fortunately we've
had water and electricity pretty consistently so far.
Paul and I headed off to pull together something for the Sabbath
School lesson, which was about the Apostle Peter. The
English-speakers have our own Sabbath School, and we had a really neat
discussion. About 10:40 we headed over to church and were treated
with an amazing performance by the children's choir. They sang
several songs, first in decently recognizable English, and then in
Oromifa. It was powerful! When they sing, they really sing! They
were ably led by an eleven or twelve-year-old choir director

Petra sang with the A choir (I guess they have B and C choir too) for
several songs and Shaunda accompanied them on the piano. They sang
hymns that I recognize (ex: Crown Him) but in Oromifa and they were
pretty good too. Next AY choir sang a song based on Matthew 24. The
guitar player accompanying them was grandly out of tune, but nobody
seemed to notice. Then Fromsa, the head gardener for the hospital
preached a sermon. The church kindly provides an interpreter, so it
was possible to follow the sermon.

We had potluck at Paul and Petra's house for lunch, along with all of
the British (and one Canadian) medical students, Linda and Amber
(visiting midwives from the US), and Becky (the matron, also
American). The food is generally fantastic here. I'm going to post
another blog just about the food, but probably on the hospital blog.
The highlight of the meal was the sugar cane.

Afterwards, Paul, Petra, Laura, Becky, and I headed out for a hike.
We went down the hill and toured the hospital garden (needs some
attention), and then hopped the chain link fence and went exploring.
We climbed a couple hills, forded two streams, fought stinging nettles
and a few biting ants, clambered up trees, picked some berries (which
I succeeded in turning into mush by the time we returned), found
evidence of African Porcupines, as well as some lovely flowers, and
met a few of the locals, before heading back. The evening we spent in
good conversation and a quick game of 7-Up before heading to bed.

That's pretty much what's happened so far. Shaunda's got her hands
full figuring out how to help manage the outer clinics; starting
today, I'm going to be in charge of the finances for the clinics, the
nursing school and the upcoming construction project. Henock, (the
accountant I work with) and I are going to take inventory for the rest
of the week first, before I really get started on that.

It's incredibly busy and it's going to be a huge task just to keep the
hospital's head above water. But God is here; He's done miracles to
get us this far, and He's got lots more in store, I'm sure. Keep us
in your prayers!


Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing
of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and
perfect will of God.
Romans 12:2


  1. It's so good to hear that you're doing well and that God is blessing. I'm praying for you and the hospital.

  2. What a crazy trip that you had! Glad you made it there safely. We will be praying for you and all over there! Keep us in Thailand in your prayers as well. Thanks for keeping in touch. God bless you, my fellow SM!

  3. joel, it was a treat to read how you are doing. i am praying hard for you!

  4. Joel, it sounds like GOd is really blessing you! That is so exciting. You're in my prayers :)

  5. Joel, thanks for the update!

    It appears that the Ethiopians are far ahead of the Southern Cafeteria as far as going green! We need utensils and plates that you can eat here!

    Blessings, Joel!

  6. Wow! you write a lot! I am now back on this blog thing so I can read about your trip. Yay!

  7. Wow! I was totally engrossed in that story. I could really picture it. Thanks for sharing. And yes, whenever you dedicate your life to work for God, He will do amazingly unforgettable things for you and through you. Don't worry.


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