But By The Grace Of God
A Visit to a Filipino Hospital
Elder Jeff Winfrey, Pastor
Dawson Springs Primitive Baptist Church
101 East Walnut Street
Dawson Springs, KY 42408
And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; (Acts 17:26)
In the midst of damp sultry heat and thick diesel fumes the five of us filed through security and found ourselves in a Filipino hospital in Davao City, Mindanao, Philippines. It was the same hospital that our dear friend, Betty Jo Harter, had entered many times in her seven-year stint of trying to save malnourished children in this impoverished island. Oftentimes Betty Jo had entered this place empty-handed and left carrying a skin-and-bones bundle of a half-alive child in her arms. Over a period of seven years she had nourished hundreds of children back to health in her makeshift clinic located on the property where she and her husband, Pastor Gus Harter, had spearheaded an orphanage that they called Beauty For Ashes.
Though now back in America, Betty Jo had asked us to tour the hospital while we were in the area. In her mind it was crucial that we see this location. She had even called from half way around the world to make sure that we were not sidetracked. I’m not sure exactly why it was so important to her that we trudge through this lonely place. Perhaps she had wanted us to see what she had seen—to know what she had known—or most of all, to feel what she had felt.
There were five of us: Four Primitive Baptist preachers from four different states in America and our guide, a Filipino lady named Annie. Annie is a special lady. Because of failing health Betty Jo had been compelled to return to America a few years ago, and in her absence she had entrusted the care of her much-loved children at the orphanage to this lady named Annie. I somewhat regret that I do not even know Annie’s last name. Like most Filipino women, she has a petite frame. Her brown skin glistens in the tropical sun, and her black hair frames an infectious smile that seems to win the hearts of not only the orphans, but also the Americans who see her love for the children. But as we enter the hospital, Annie’s smile is gone. Her soft-spoken voice has a deep seriousness about it, as she describes the scenes that our eyes try to grasp.
- Ward after ward of sickness and suffering.
- Row after row of deep-set sickly eyes, returning the stares of four invading Americans.
- Lonely looks from loved ones, sharing the space on the cot with ill family members.
- And always the heat—the humidity—the oppressive fumes.
- I don’t like being here, but something tells me to trudge on.
So I follow as Annie leads on. She climbs two flights of stairs, and we arrive on the pediatric floor. As we step off the staircase multiple wards surround a large open central hall. Over one door are the words, PEDIATRIC RESPIRATORY, over another PEDIATRIC GASTROINTESTINAL, and yet over another PEDATRIC NEUROLOGY, and so on. We peer through the glass doors at the rows of children: some gasping for air, some pining away, some with blank stares.
We follow Annie as she enters a ward with infants. I feel as if we shouldn’t be there. What about our germs? What about gowns and masks? But as we step into the room my concerns about germs quickly vanish. Nothing looks very sterile. The babies are on makeshift beds with no sheets and cardboard mattresses. The beds are short—designed for little people—but on most of the beds Mama and Daddy are curled up with their sick babies. Annie explains that they have nowhere else to go, so they just stay in the congested ward and squeeze in with their little one. It’s like Papa Bear, and Mama Bear, and Baby Bear all in Baby Bear’s bed—Only it’s not a fairy tale. It’s Filipino reality.
My friends lag behind near the door, but I walk the length of the center aisle to the far end of the room. To my left and to my right, I pass bed after bed of sick babies and desperate mothers. At the beginning of my march I’m able to choke back the tears. By the time I reach the end of the aisle, I cannot maintain my composure. Tears are streaming—Heart is breaking. As I ease my way back toward the door I attempt to make eye contact with every mother and mouth the words, “God bless you.” Some return blank stares—some faint smiles. I feel so helpless, so desperately helpless. I pray. I yearn for the return of the Lord.
So we finally have this behind us. Let’s go somewhere and preach some gospel. Let’s try to get this place out of our minds. I’ve seen enough. I get the point. But the tour is not over. Annie leads us back across the open central hall and down a narrow corridor that I had not previously noticed. We are headed to PEDIATRIC NEONATAL INTENSIVE CARE.
It is difficult to describe the scene, and even more difficult to describe my feelings. Tiny premature infants lie in tiny little beds. But the beds are so un-American. There are no glass encased, computer programmed, sanitized, works of technology designed to make the perfect environment for such a vulnerable and helpless little life. Instead of modern incubators with precise climate control capabilities, the heat source for these preemies is an incandescent light bulb with a tin reflector.
Now let me attempt to describe the oxygen delivery system. Imagine a plastic two-liter soft drink bottle, only a little larger. Think about what a four-liter bottle might look like, the same shape, only a little fatter and a little taller. Now take a knife and cut the bottle in half. Discard the top half where the opening of the bottle was and keep the bottom half. Along the previously cut edge of the bottom half of the bottle, cut a “U” shaped notch in one side, a notch that is about five inches wide and about five inches deep. At this point you need to punch a little hole in the plastic and insert an oxygen line through the hole. Now turn the bottle upside down. Place it over the baby’s head with the precut notch lining up with the little fellows neck. Ah ha! Now you have it. You have just used a recycled plastic bottle to make an oxygen delivery system for Pediatric Neonatal Intensive Care—Philippines style.
As I surveyed this scene, I lost it. My mind jumped back in time about four years, when my daughter-in-law was expecting twins. Early in the pregnancy things began to go awry. She would eventually spend 111 days in the hospital, as one of the best teams of experts in America fought the odds attempting to save our babies. With all that the American system had to offer, and after hundreds of thousands of health insurance dollars had been spent, and after the doctors had desperately attempted even experimental and untested procedures, and most of all by the grace of God, we ended up with one out of two. Ellie Rose is in the arms of Jesus, but by God’s grace I am able to hold Aspen in my arms.
As I stood in that hospital in that far-away land and looked at the primitive ways of treating those little preemies, my heart melted in my chest. I’m not saying that God could not have caused Aspen to survive even under those circumstances. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. He is the Great Physician and can heal without the help of medical science, or modern incubators or even recycled plastic bottles. But as I stood there that day, it seemed to me that if I had been born a Filipino, I would be without both Ellie Rose and Aspen. The thought overwhelmed me that God in His providence had determined the times and the bounds of my habitation. I sensed that if I had lived in any other country of the world, I would be without my granddaughter and my grandson. Or if I had lived thirty years sooner in America, I would have never known Aspen’s smile or heard him say, “Do it again, Pops.”
I wept for sorrow for the father who sat by the side of his premature son. I wept for joy at the anticipation of holding my grandson in my lap upon my return to my much-blessed land of America. I thought of the warnings to the Israelites about growing fat and forgetting the God of their salvation when they would be blessed to enjoy the Promised Land. I tried to count my blessings.
Thank you Betty Jo for insisting that I see this place that you once visited so often. Thank you for forcing me to look at yet another aspect of the misery that exists in this sin-cursed world. Thank you for making me yearn for my heavenly home. Thank you for making me be more thankful for my earthly home. Thank you for what you did to relieve the suffering for a few.
May God bless your clinic that now sets idle to be reopened. May He inspire someone with a servant’s heart to pick up where you left off. May He bless the little children among His little children.