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In the Midst of Famine

A letter from Barbara Nagy serving in Malawi

March 2016

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Dear friends,

Greetings once again from Nkhoma, Malawi, where we are still facing major challenges. You may recall from my last letter that Malawi is facing a destructive cycle of flooding and drought related to the El Niño weather phenomenon. The government has also slashed the health care budget due to lack of funds.

In the midst of “malaria season,” a months-long period when the number of children on the Pediatrics ward increases to as many as 200, many are critically ill and many blood transfusions are required for severe malaria. Sadly, many young children die because families wait too long to seek care because of the rising cost of treatment. Another major problem is the collapse of the health system in Malawi, with many health centers and clinics out of essential medicines. In spite of these extreme challenges, Nkhoma Hospital and health centers continue to provide a full spectrum of primary health services, supported by your prayers and financial gifts. We can’t say thank you enough for this, on behalf of ourselves and our community.

A beautiful smile

A beautiful smile

Today is Wednesday, which is the day for the pediatrics specialty clinic, and people come from many miles away, or even other countries, to try to get help for their sick children. The “disease of the day” seemed to be tuberculosis—we admitted four children with new tuberculosis infections, completely overwhelming our ability to isolate them, but your generous and timely gifts of food have helped us make a diagnosis and start treatment soon, so that I expect a full recovery for each of them. It is difficult to make a diagnosis of tuberculosis in a young child in Malawi because we lack many of the sophisticated tests and tools available in developed countries. So, after treating for the more common causes of illness and malnutrition, we usually send them home with enriched soya porridge and wait to see if they recover and grow. It is wonderful to treat tuberculosis because the patients usually recover well and are restored to robust health. Even children who were completely unconscious when we first saw them can run up and hug us when they return for follow-up checks!

We also see a large number of children with congenital malformations, heart disease or other problems. These children are often ostracized and their families accused of witchcraft if we don’t take special care to contradict this specifically and protect the child. We were blessed to have a pediatric cardiologist come to make diagnoses for about 20 of our children with congenital cardiac problems, who will be referred out of the country for surgery. I was delighted to see a little girl with a severe cleft lip and palate back in the clinic after her first surgery, doing very well. This child was born at Nkhoma Hospital when a visitor had “just happened” to bring special bottles and nipples for babies with cleft lips and palates. She took many months to finally start gaining weight, but was able to have the first of a series of surgeries last August, and she is now able to eat normally. Her mom’s smile was as radiant as hers, and she is thriving.

Gleaning after maize distribution

Gleaning after maize distribution

One of the greatest privileges for me in the past few months has been to stand in the midst of severe famine and take part in food distribution missions. I am now convinced this is another sacrament. To be in the midst of severe suffering and grief, to share these experiences with people whose faces shine with the image of God, and then to be God’s hands and your hands, distributing food and relief supplies, has been a holy, holy experience for me. We have gone out to the most remote villages, where people don’t really believe a man has walked on the moon but where belief in evil spirits controlling one’s fate is universal, and epitomized that God’s light has shined in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Several of our food distribution sites have asked the pastors with us to return. The Jesus film in Chichewa has been shown as part of the follow-up, and new prayer houses have sprung up. We have also tried to link food relief with teaching about sustainable agriculture development, which will provide a foundation for community transformation projects just starting through the Nkhoma Public Health Department. Since the PC(USA) has championed the Community Health Evangelism program we have at our disposal a ready vehicle for linking a Christian worldview, health and community development.

We want to thank all who have supported our ministry as a family, and the work of Nkhoma Hospital. Your prayers and your financial support allow us to continue here as your partners in God’s mission. Please continue to keep us in your prayers, and to support us as you are able.

Barbara Nagy for the Nkhoma community

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