Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lutherans start clinic in Africa

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

The people in Sierra Leone needed medicine - and some people from Temple wanted to help.
So with some fellow Lutherans from San Antonio, Waco and New Mexico, they developed a plan to open a clinic.
'And we did,' said Pat Dietrich, pastor of First Lutheran Church. 'The experience was overwhelming. The amount of need there is great, and the poverty they face is humbling.'
She was one of the group of 12 who undertook the mission. So was Dr. Dan Ladd of FLC-Temple.
They departed Feb. 1, and arrived in the West Africa country on Feb. 6.
'We got held over in London,' Ms. Dietrich said. 'There was a massive snow storm, and we were stuck.'
It was awkward, said mission participant Pam Hendricks of Covenant Lutheran Church in Temple.
'We didn't have any appropriate clothing,' Ms. Hendricks said. 'We were all dressed for tropical hot Africa.'
Bonnie Oltmann from FLC-Temple nodded her head. She and her husband Keith went on the trip.
'We had to go buy all new clothes,' Mrs. Oltmann said.
And the layover shortened the group's stay in Sierra Leone by four days. But they managed to accomplish their goals in the time they had. The Evangelical Lutheran Community Health Clinic was established long before they returned home on Feb. 16. Plans to start the clinic have been in the works for more than three years. It started with a Sierra Leone pastor's visit to FLC-Temple.
'He discussed the medical issues there and how great the need was,' Ms. Hendricks said. 'They're known for being the poorest English-speaking country in the world, and they have a very high mortality rate of moms and newborns.'
The infant mortality rate there far exceeds the U.S. number.
'One in 56,000 die here,' Ms. Dietrich said. 'One in eight die in Sierra Leone. That's how big the difference is.'
So the congregation of FLC-Temple decided one of its mission goals should be to improve the health of their brethren in Sierra Leone. And that was fitting, the pastor said, because the Calvary Lutheran Church of Sierra Leone is FLC-Temple's sister church.
The first step was to raise money and garner more help.
Through a quilt raffle and the publication of a cookbook, FLC-Temple managed to raise more than $2,000. And they received several donations from individuals.
Then through their parent organization, the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, FLC-Temple issued a universal invitation seeking participants for the Sierra Leone mission trip. That's how the core group of five Temple Lutherans grew to include an additional seven.
After the fundraising and search for volunteers, it was time for FLC-Temple to obtain medicine - a very necessary ingredient in the recipe of a new clinic.
The church applied to charitable organizations for a supply of antibiotics, antivirals, painkillers and anti-septics. What they received was enough medical supplies to fill 10 suitcases.
'Each one had about 50 pounds of medicine,' said Dr. Ladd.
When the group got to Sierra Leon, though, they learned the medicinal needs far outweighed the supplies they managed to collect.
'We were expecting only babies, children and mothers,' Dr. Ladd said. 'But we ended up getting requests for treatment in high blood pressure and diabetes.'
Those needs won't go unanswered. FLC-Temple plans to send more supplies when it can collect them.
'Part of the purpose of this trip was to evaluate the need,' said Ms. Hendricks, a retired hospital lab technician. 'Now that we know what kind of things are needed, we can address it.'
The clinic didn't close when the group left. It remains open under the auspices of a staff doctor, nurse and full-time missionary.
The group's time in Sierra Leon was enjoyable.
'The scenery was gorgeous,' Ms. Dietrich said. 'Especially the beach at sunset.'
On the western coast of Africa, Sierra Leon skirts the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
They stayed in the Family Kingdom Hotel.
'It had air conditioning and a TV,' Mr. Oltmann said. 'It was very comfortable.'
But commuting between the hotel and the clinic was a struggle.
'It was only 13 miles between the two,' Mr. Oltmann said. 'But it would take 2 hours to get there.'
Ms. Dietrich nodded her head.
'The traffic was just awful,' Ms. Dietrich said. 'It was very congested. It was a two-lane road, both lanes going opposite directions. And every imaginable thing was in both lanes. You had bicyclists, push cards, pedestrians, big trucks, cars and cabs like the one we were in.'
But that frustration was a small price to pay.
By the end of their trip, the medical mission team was able to treat 1,500 people.
tlunsford@temple-telegram.com
How To Help
To make a donation to the new Lutheran medical clinic in Sierra Leone, call Pastor Pat Dietrich of First Lutheran Church in Temple at 773-9975.

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