Imagine the excitement in preparing for the birth of a child, enjoying the final stages of pregnancy with friends and family—when tragedy strikes. Complications during labor threaten the baby and leave the mother maimed and suffering from injuries that will likely mark her as a social outcast.
This somber scenario plays out continually in the southern region of Niger, Africa and other areas of the developing world. The medical condition is known as an obstetric fistula, a devastating injury resulting from prolonged labor.
While the surgery to correct a fistula is not complicated, finding qualified medical services is. Without help, these broken-hearted mothers are shunned from their communities and families. Believed to be unclean, they are forced to suffer physically and emotionally in solitude and shame.
At the Danja Fistula Center in Niger, a team of SIM missionary doctors is delivering daily hope to these hurting mothers. Missionary, Psychologist, and ECCU member Dr. Gina McConley works alongside a surgeon and medical team to inspire inner healing within these wounded outcasts, providing emotional and spiritual support that restores body, mind and soul.
“These women are afraid but desperately driven to find help,” Gina said. “The social stigma of being unclean and undesirable forces them to leave their friends, husbands…everything they know. Even though many have never been outside their own villages, they will make the journey to the clinic for even a chance at relief.”
Within days of a patient’s arrival, the surgeon corrects the fistula, and Gina starts the process of healing the hidden emotional and psychological wounds and freeing the minds of these tormented women.
As both a Christian and a psychologist, Gina ministers to the mothers in culturally sensitive ways, addressing the underlying emotional and spiritual issues while respecting the social norms environment of the region.
“The other doctors and I can do what we’ve been trained to do, but it takes the ministry of Jesus to heal the whole person,” Gina continued. “It’s beautiful to see their spirits lift when they finally find hope, healing and comradery at the clinic.”
Along with receiving immediate health and wellness care, women can stay in or commute to the clinic village to receive ongoing vocational training such as sewing and knitting. “We want to see these women restored in every way and even enjoy the satisfaction of contributing to their families and communities economically,” she added.
The clinic was opened in 2012 by SIM on a site adjacent to the Center for Health and Leprosy. The history of the site is not lost on Gina as she commented, “Hope in this area has long been in high demand.” In her 19 months on the field, she has already seen a lifetime of heartache…and healing.
“I know God has brought each woman here for a reason, for the promise of God’s hope. I know He is working on her heart as she is recovering here, and He’s the one who will be continuing to work in her life when she leaves,” she said quietly. “If I did not believe this, the task here would be too grim, too overwhelming.”
As a student in Texas, Gina had wondered how God might have use for her work as a doctor. “‘Who needs a psychologist in Africa…what good would that do?’” she laughed, “but I am so grateful to be partnering with SIM and using personal skills and gifts.”
As Gina faces endless days of long hours supporting needy women, she recalls the creative ways people have stood with her to make this demanding job a little easier. “Groups of people pray for me every day, some support me and this work financially, and others, like ECCU help in practical ways to help me stay focused on my work.”
Gina said she appreciates the thought that ECCU has put into understanding the problems missionaries encounter with something as seemingly simple as banking.
“Just making a transfer of money or a deposit can be tough with the international regulations we (missionaries) face,” she explained. “Because I’m a member, ECCU takes care of that for me, and then they even cover most of the costs for the transactions. Who does that?”
“That’s more than thoughtful,” she added, “that’s taking the great commission seriously.”
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