The notion that we might undertake short overseas mission trips was spoken into being in May 1999 by Norman Barnes, founder and CEO of Links International. He was speaking at a church we were visiting when he told us that God had a miracle for us; he went on to say “…doctors?…coo…ya don’t wanna go on a missions trip do ya?” (tape transcript).
The notion remained in us both, proving that there is a need for caution with the words one utters. Owing to the various commitments we had at that time it was slow in coming into being, not least because of our full-time work, myself as a surgeon, and Pat as a consultant psychiatrist, both in busy posts with a heavy on-call workload.
Our first mission experience was in 2003, as short-term volunteers with Mercy Ships. This gave us the very great privilege of serving in some of the poorest West African countries on two ships – the M/V Anastasis and the M/V Africa Mercy. Here we met many people who were simply inspirational, who had servant hearts and did amazing things; and we also developed a love for African people and culture.
A good encounter
Following our retirement we continued briefly to volunteer with Mercy Ships, but that time seemed to be over. While acting as their representative at a Missions Fair in York there was a “chance” encounter with a couple on the next table who were representing Links International – founded by Norman Barnes!
This led to a number of small group mission trips to various countries in East Africa, assisting with the teaching of community health-care on a wide range of topics, such as AIDS, malaria, sanitation and immunisations.
It was on one such trip to a small community in Malawi that we seemed to run out of topics to teach; Pat asked the question, “Is alcohol a problem here?”
There was silence; then the women began to ululate, clap their hands and cheer; the men hung their heads. It turned out that not only was alcohol abuse and addiction an over-riding problem in the villages, but three of the five chiefs who had initially attended the sessions had the problem, and also the chief-of-chiefs.
Teaching about addiction
At first what we taught was more or less the content of various books published by “Alcoholics Anonymous”, with the concept of a “Higher Power”, based on the Twelve Steps program of recovery, linked to the establishment of self-help groups. We tried to deliver this alongside other health-care teaching, however we quickly came to a number of realisations:
a) this teaching could only be delivered as a stand-alone topic;
b) the problem was indeed huge and was wide-spread;
c) it had to be given to the people with the problem and who wanted to quit, alongside those living with the problem – their spouses and families – rather than to “facilitators” who might then teach others;
d) reference to a politically correct “Higher Power” resulted in a weakening of power, the full measure of which can only be accessed through sharing the revealed spiritual truth contained in scripture;
e) the involvement of pastors who were familiar with our teaching was vital for continued recovery;
f) there is a need to return to ensure that the groups worked as they should, e.g. rather than becoming elitist “clubs”.
In communities where things were set up correctly success followed with people becoming sober; new groups proliferating; marriages and family relationships healed; group projects and businesses started; improved health and community transformation; there were fewer funerals, and even churches established!
The promised miracle
In a village called Gunde in Malawi we saw the miracle spoken of by Norman Barnes, when in the course of a drought a dew fell every night on a field of maize planted by “recoverers”, such that it grew tall, green and fruitful; but no dew appeared on any other maize growing nearby, which was stumpy, yellow and did not bear cobs of corn.
Tragically, Pat died of motor neurone disease in June 2017, but the groups which were started are still meeting and the work goes on.