Malaria is not a project

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(A guest post by Pastor Olin Sletto)

My family and I lived in the Central African Republic (CAR) for fifteen years.  The Lutheran Hospital in Garoua Boulai, Cameroon, just across the border, was only 60 kilometers away.  However, between our village and the hospital there were 6 government barriers.  On the CAR side, there was a barrier for the police, immigration and customs.  The same was true on the Cameroon side.

Normally, this short 60 kilometers took two hours to drive.  But the barrier people knew me and knew that when I came to a screeching halt, with the dirt flying high, and yelled that I had “an emergency,” they would quickly open the barrier knowing that I was taking someone to the hospital.

One day, the local dispensary sent a message that there was an emergency.  I rushed up there to hear from the Catholic Sister that a mother had walked in with a young girl (about 3) and she had malaria.  “If you don’t get her to the hospital within an hour, she will be dead,” said the Sister.  We tore off down the road, and I was driving like a crazy person.  A miracle happened, we got to the hospital in less than an hour, and the staff began to work feverishly on the girl who was now in a coma because the malaria had taken her blood.

They tried desperately to find a vein to get a little blood in order to find a match for a transfusion.  They even shaved her head and made cuts in her scalp.  Finally they did it.

While we were waiting, I asked the parents if she had been baptized.  They said that she had not yet been baptized, and they wanted that.  I asked the nurse to bring me a hospital basin with water.  We sang a verse of a hymn in Gbaya, and then I baptized her, “ne nin Daa, in Bem, in Saa Omi”.

The mother was a match.  But again, how could they find a vein in the little girl’s body for the transfusion to occur?  Knowing it was dangerous, but with no choice, they gave the transfusion through the jugular vein.  The little girl recovered.

When I checked on her the next morning, not having seen a “white man” before, she really screamed.  It was music to my ears!

They went home.

The following week she got malaria again, and she died.  The family came and asked me if I would bury her.  We wrapped her little body in a blanket, and placed her in the earth, “ne nin Daa, in Bem, in Saa Omi”.

Malaria is not a project.  It’s personal.

- The Rev. Olin Sletto, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Elgin, IL