A few weeks ago, a taxi drew up to the hospital entrance and a crowd quickly gathered around some agitated relatives who emerged and called for a stretcher. Out of the taxi was bundled an emaciated lady, and on our first inspection it was hard to decide if we were dealing with a patient or a corpse. The on-duty nurses rushed with us to the emergency room where we recognised some signs of life - a few gasping respirations and an agonal heart beat. It was quickly apparent that we were in a hopeless situation. Her body gave off a faint smell of smoke and a hugely swollen and discoloured leg had patches of large - possibly deliberate - burns. Her abdomen was swollen with ascites (fluid), and there was an ugly carpet of fresh chatta marks cut into her leg and abdomen. Her blood pressure was unrecordably low and her pupils already fixed and dilated. She had been unwell for 2 months, we heard, but Chitokoloki was clearly a last resort, some time after the family had wasted money and treatment opportunities on 'traditional healers' (witch doctors). We undertook a round of resuscitation but abandoned efforts shortly afterwards; it was clear that battling for her survival was futile and our role was merely to confirm death.
False beliefs can have tragic and fatal consequences. Although Zambia is ostensibly a Christian nation, many people remain tied to the tenents and practices of traditional animistic belief. In the area around Chitokoloki, river-users are regularly lost to crocodile attacks. Perhaps surprisingly, the response of the villagers is not to modify their bathing behaviour, but to mount a witch hunt for the local who must have turned into a magic crocodile. Even those who profess a Christian faith, there is great fear around the world of spirits and curses. It has been clear to us on many occasions that loving the people around Chitokoloki means not only addressing their physical health problems, but addressing maladies of the heart, mind and soul.
Stuart and Jess Ferguson are nearing the end of their time serving at Chitokoloki, so please pray for them as God leads them onto their next venture, and praise Him for their amazing contribution to the work at Chitokoloki.