By Fred Comella
Hard as we try sometimes, the holidays can make us weary and cynical. We battle our way through the crowds and take our lives in our hands as we navigate the Christmas traffic going in and out of the local Walmart. It seems one has to go deeper and deeper to root out the true meaning of Christmas amidst the horror of the holiday shopping season. And you need only turn on the flat-screen or laptop for some national or international chaos to really make your Christmas merry. Now with that said, I understand we Christians have a road back to Christmas in our hearts the entire year. And we take comfort in His saving presence which surrounds every aspect of our daily lives. Nevertheless, some “Good News” would not be a bad thing. It reminds us that He is always there and working, even when on the surface it looks pretty gloomy. So when my editor asked that I do a bit of a progress report on a mission I wrote about sometime back, I was excited and hopeful it would boost my Christmas spirit. I wasn’t disappointed…
When I wrote “Through a Child’s Eyes”, chronicling the efforts of Dr. Tom Mancini and “Clinics of Hope” in Togo West Africa, the heartbreak of starving and ill West African children and their families drove much of the emotion I remember in that article. However my sadness for the children seemingly outside God’s reach, was tempered by Dr. Mancini and the truth and hope his team were bringing to those poor people. And I actually began to have a better understanding of how He uses all of us in some way, shape, or form, in order to “reach” every corner of the globe.
Saved during a Billy Graham Crusade in the early 90’s, I remember hearing the enthusiasm in the voice of Dr. Mancini as he spoke of the work in Togo. There was a palpable excitement when he explained how the simplest of medical applications we take for granted here in the States, can move the world of those trapped inside the often manmade markers of poverty and despair. Ironically, we hear a lot about leadership these days as we look to the elections of 2016. And though I know men and women like Dr. Mancini and the Clinics of Hope crew are of the humblest of souls, seeking only the satisfaction of knowing they’re living as He expects, I would submit to you we should check carefully our own definitions of leadership going forward, and consider the example of these folks.
Okay, political speech over, my editor’s assignment for me means more to me than he could know. You see for this Christian in training, I’m still of the sort who clings to tangible things my simple mind can embrace. So when I knew I’d get a chance to do my first progress report, I was excited and hopeful to say the least. Speaking to Dr. Mancini again, I heard no discernable change in his tone or enthusiasm as when we spoke last. I must admit, I was concerned as he was on his cell phone in traffic, and I’m familiar with the many distractions these doctors with God given talents are subject to, having started my career as a security officer at a hospital more than thirty years ago. But he was so anxious to update me on Togo and beyond that I simply let him “run with it”.
Just to refresh your memories, Clinics of Hope is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, founded in 2004 by Dr. Mancini and Nurse Debbie Motta. Since its inception, Clinics of Hope has specialized in establishing high quality, sustainable and cost-effective medical clinics in remote West African villages. They train and employ Togolese nationals to staff the clinics year round, so even the most remote communities can have consistent access to healthcare. For over 10 years now, Clinics of Hope has worked hard to refine its small-scale village healthcare model, and partner with other organizations to provide more comprehensive healthcare services.
GNI per capita $770
Life expectancy (m/f) 55 / 60
Healthy life expectancy (2003) 44 / 46
Probability of dying between 15 and 60 (Per 1,000 population) 371 / 301
Total expenditure on health per capita $70
Total expenditure on health as % of GDP 5.5
Dr. Mancini was particularly excited to tell me of “the new x-ray machine” and how it’s already making a huge difference in the lives of the people in Togo. You see a few years back a retiring x-ray technician colleague of Tom’s, Kathy Moore, expressed an interest in helping with his efforts. Kathy offered to raise money in the form of donations to pay for a sorely needed x-ray machine. Well, through tenacious fundraising and no lack of patience, Kathy called Tom in January of 2015 and informed him she’d finally raised enough money for and purchased the machine. Kathy also told Dr. Mancini that she’d met Gisella Guerro, a Brown University pre-med student through a mutual friend, and that Gisella was instrumental in procuring additional research/grant money to seed the program in place in Togo. To say the least Tom was excited and told me they immediately began making plans to transport the machine to the clinic in Togo. Of course, this, in and of itself, would be no easy task, as the journey would involve much in the way of cargo ships and overseas transportation controls. Needless to say they were all praying the x-ray machine would make it to its destination secure, undamaged, and on time.
In early July Kathy and Gisella traveled to Togo. Tom followed shortly thereafter on a regularly scheduled mission trip, but also to assist Kathy and Gisella. Tom explained they were a bit disheartened to see the machine had not yet arrived. Undeterred, they went about the business of setting up for its arrival, (and praying). Finally, it arrived on the 13th of July. Unfortunately Tom had already left for home just the day before. Tom did report however, that his trip had still been a great success, and that he accomplished much during his stay. Tom and his team saw nearly 300 patients and also laid the groundwork for what they knew would be an extraordinary leap forward in their medical application. Kathy and Gisella stayed on and continued treatments and research using the new equipment, bringing a whole new dynamic to the medical evaluation process on site while emphasizing the need for preventative care.
At home in the States, Dr. Mancini took stock of the progress and began to contemplate what it meant in God’s eyes. He explained how Clinics of Hope had begun in a one room building and was now a mini-hospital, though in need of repair. He’d already discussed renovation of the existing buildings with the landlord when he was in Togo, and was actively fundraising to support the new x-ray capability in terms of equipment and supplies for Kathy and Gisella. Tom also told me of how the mission was expanding into the farther reaches of West Africa where they lack even the electric and water which are “luxuries” in the Togo clinic. These remote villages use solar power and primitive well water only, and have zero medical facilities/capabilities.
Tom sends teams of volunteers, sponsored through the generosity of donor’s touched by the enormous need, into what he calls “the bush”, in order to bring God’s saving words and the medicines and healing which come through His blessing to those most in need. It was especially touching to hear him talk about the simple and almost non-existent expectations of those they’ve come to serve, and how many of the things “We the People” readily take for granted are nothing short of miraculous to those with little hope. He also explained a kind of anxious curiosity about Christ in a land which is predominantly Muslim, and how he sees most Togolese as far too pre-occupied with simple survival to be influenced by radical anything. I was happy to hear this, though I expressed my concern for his safety and that of his teams on these distant journeys. More specifically, I worried about them making their way in a land where there are those who would target Christ followers simply for the sake of their beliefs. The good doctor assured me they share a common goal with the vast majority of the locals they partner with, in that the need is often so overwhelming, that it leaves little room for anything but helping your fellow man. Ideology is a luxury most simply cannot afford, and is often replaced by basic human respect.
Tom continued on about traveling to Togo and how renovations had already begun and were far along on his arrival back in July. He spoke of an extraordinary people who when given hope and opportunity “run with it” unconditionally, seizing the moment and cementing their progress for the good of the overall community. Tom and I spoke further about the ever growing need in places like Togo, and how in order to meet the future challenges and obstacles to the word of Christ in these places, he and the “Clinics of Hope” would need the volunteerism and financial support of Christians who understand the need, but also how the Holy Spirit works in all of us.
With renovations continuing, Dr. Mancini wanted me to convey that fully 99% of any donations received go to the need in Togo and beyond, and that $100.00 in a place like Togo is worth so much more than it is here in terms of what it can buy those desperate for even the most basic healthcare. He explained the need for a diagnostic x-ray printing machine ($9000.00), which prints a hard copy image of an x-ray, as doctors in Togo simply do not have computers to see the digital imagery, as well as additional lab equipment to reinforce the work of technicians ($6000.00), a generator ($5000.00), motorcycles to travel to the remote villages, and how all of this is part of a growing infrastructure necessary to continue to improve the quality of healthcare, and ultimately of life in general for a people who rarely live healthy out of their fifties. Tom is hoping to raise $30,000.00 in the coming months to support these efforts and others. He’d also love to speak to your Pastors, Missions Directors, congregations, and community organizations, so he may give a firsthand account Of God’s work on the ground in Togo, and of the inspiring work being done by the dedicated Togolese people who staff the clinics. Since 1998 Clinics of Hope have also been running short term missions trips to Togo, and people from many churches have been richly blessed by joining us and seeing what God is doing there.
Hearing this “progress report” from Tom himself reinforced my faith as only the work of people truly dedicated to the love and service of Christ can do. And as usual, I lack the literary room to list all of the good going on over there. As I close however, I did want to convey a particularly moving story Tom related to me. He told me of the solar light that shines dimly at night just outside and in front of the designated medical building in many of these remote villages, and how it is the only light in a wilderness of total darkness and danger. He said that on many nights the children of the village will congregate there so they may read and do their homework assignments rather than by the choking fumes of a kerosene lantern needed for emergencies. And also how the village elders will often use that light as well to hold community meetings and social gatherings. I felt a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as my biggest quandary for that day was trying to secure an additional electronic gift for my son for Christmas, with a price tag I’m now too embarrassed to put in print.
To be clear my friends, I understand it’s not the works but rather the walk. However that walk, when walked as Jesus would have us, means more on this planet than I believe anything could ever mean. Will you walk that walk? I’m certainly going to try…Have a happy and blessed New Year people…
The Clinics of Hope healthcare model is only useful to the extent that it’s made available to the many people in sub-Saharan Africa who lack access to even the most basic healthcare. With the help of committed volunteers and supportive communities around the world, Clinics of Hope can substantially increase public health and share Christ in the poorest villages in West Africa.
If you would like to help the Clinics of Hope, you can go to the website www.clinicsofhopetogo.org and/or please contact them at: Tom Mancini, DPM, President/Co-founder, firstname.lastname@example.org Checks and donations can be mailed to: COH, P.O. Box 232, Assonet, MA, 02702