Food for the Soul

The following is a story by Gin Gin Dionko, who was a missionary with the Church of the Nativity in August 2011:

As my church is gearing up for another preparation for the summer mission trips, I can’t help but reminisce about last year’s experiences. Little things, events and even smells easily remind me of the people we met and the places we visited in Nigeria last summer. Just today I had a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast and that took me right back at the warm kitchen table we sat on during the 2 weeks we spent with the Sisters at Anawim.

These past few weeks as our bible study group has been discussing the book of Hebrews, the Anawim home keeps popping in my mind. At one point we were talking about how some people just live out their faith in everything they do and they shine a light on people they spend time with. “People want to be around them. They make other people happy.”

That truly is the case with Sister Oresoa and the whole community at the Anawim home. I was a witness to the joy they bring to the people they serve not just in the home but in all the ministries that reach out beyond that compound. One day, Sister let me stay behind so I can be involved with the health clinic that serves the commercial sex workers who live nearby. This is a separate one-story building the size of a small ranch house located in the front part of the compound right across the administrative offices. They have named it after the son of a family who has been great friends and benefactors of this community. I don’t personally know him but somehow when I was in there, I felt his presence. I knew the people in there was doing something more than just diagnosing, treating and counseling women who have or are at risk for having AIDS.

At the start of the morning, a woman would sweep the front of the clinic and lay the cloth mat on the doorstep. As in any health facility, there are paperwork and charts that need to be ready for those who have appointments that day. Sister’s daughter-in-law is very diligent in overseeing the operations and I saw her functioning as our equivalent of an office manager/administrator. She even joins in as the session starts with somebody leading in prayer and worship songs and everybody who are already sitting in the waiting lounge are encouraged to join in. (This is something I personally think that Americans can learn from in terms of having worship be openly welcome in a place of work, but that’s another blog post. Long waits in doctor’s offices can be used more wisely.) As the women file in and wait for their turn, the hustle and bustle fill up the place just like any other medical office. I was delegated to the triage corner to get their vital signs like their weight, height, pulse rate and temperature. That was the easy part. Calling the names and pronouncing them correctly was the challenge, By the second half of the session, we were just all giggling how I have butchered some of their names as the women would just get up from their seats and come to my corner for their turn. Some would go to the lab desk or the pharmacy room if they needed to. There were 2 doctor’s offices which were more like cubicles with doors to provide more privacy for the patients. There was also the counseling room were some of the sisters themselves were performing these tasks. These were not only for the ones who were diagnosed with HIV but anybody who had been tested. Even the ones who received good news of having negative tests had to undergo counseling to help them stay negative especially in the type of work that they do.

Some were there for other run-of-the-mill medical problems. I had the chance to sit in with a doctor a few times and she had a patient who had a recurrent sexually transmitted infection. As much as she was taking the medications one course after another, it was impossible for her to abstain form her work as this was her only source of income and she had to feed several children. I also sat with one of the sister-counselors and talked to a younger lady who works in this trade. She was happy when she received good news. Later that week, when we visited one of the hotels where these women live and work, I recognized her and she offered me a smile. Along with her co-workers and friends, she welcomed us and joined Sister in prayer and songs of praise.

I can go on and on as to how the Missionary Sisters for the Poorest of the Poor impact lives in their community. This clinic may be addressing their physical and medical needs but I know in my heart that it is also feeding their souls. I was blessed to be a part of that in my short stay in Anawim. My only regret is that I missed the day where they had the services for the children. Being in the medical field working with children, that was a missed opportunity for me. Hopefully, God will give me another chance someday. In the meantime, I could look back on our pictures and reminisce some more....

Top photo: Anawim Medical Center social workers, Sr. Oresoa and the Nativity Nigeria team
Bottom photo: Anawim Medical Center