Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Part 3: From Bible Translation to Hospital

     In New Jersey, we lived for a month with Helen's sister Jean and her husband, Dr. Paul Bubna (senior pastor of Long Hill Chapel, a Christian Missionary Alliance church in Chatham, NJ).  They had arranged for two top-notch doctors in their church to check on Helen: an internist and an oncologist.  She was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkins disease that needed months of aggressive treatment... but what about the hospital a-building in Cubulco?  Two stalwart Associates stayed in our home there and did multitudinous jobs (like hanging and finishing dozens of doors in the patient units of the "little Indian hospital" Helen had first talked about!)  Meanwhile, Helen and I basked in the luxury of a lovely apartment provided by two dear members of Long Hill Chapel.
     In late September, Helen's cancer was pronounced in remission, and we drove back to Guatemala in the new Jeep Cherokee Helen's brother Dan had located for us.  We arrived safely back in Guatemala City exactly a year after we had left.  The joyous welcome we received there was repeated with 'trimmings' in Cubulco: the added touch of an early morning Latino-style serenade!  Furthermore, five more Associates were on site, preparing a water system for the hospital... deep well, pump, tower---the works.  Our absence had not stalled God's project!
     The New Jersey doctors insisted that Helen have regular blood tests, and we found an excellent oncologist in Guatemala City.  He took her case and advised her not to 'overdo.'  In January, 1988, we interviewed a Guatemala City Christian doctor about taking over the new hospital.  He said he'd like to see it, but would go only if we drove him to Cubulco and back in one day.  So we did!  His decision was that the hospital was nice, but the town was too remote and the roads too bad for him to consider the opportunity.  Two days later, Helen came down with a bad case of shingles, "not unusual after chemotherapy"... and stress...and exertion.
     That began days of seeing her writhe in 'shingles pain,' so the oncologist found us a pain specialist.  Unfortunately, injections for pain not only failed to help, they also caused a staph infection.  On March 1, she went into intensive care with meningitis.  CAT scans showed an abscess around one vertebra, so a surgeon went in and cleaned it out; in the process, two small emboli formed and paralyzed her left side.  After six weeks of treatment. she improved enough to come home, and began serious unrelenting physiotherapy---the Neuenswander biennial family reunion was coming up in two months (June 23, 1989) and she was determined to be there.  We did it.  We flew to Kansas and back in less than a week, but it was an exhilarating celebration for Helen!  Six weeks later, she was hospitalized with pneumonia, and a biopsy showed that cancer had metastasized to her lungs.  She opted for no more chemotherapy and we settled down to a 'normal' life in Guatemala City, surrounded by our loving Wycliffe family.
     All the time, she was praying for the Lord's direction for the future of the hospital.  We were well acquainted  with Bob and Wanda McRae, director and 'right arm' of AMG, a vigorous Christian relief mission in Central America.  We were impressed with their goals, their drive, and their compassion... but they were already loaded with projects all over the area.  Even so, Helen had the temerity to ask Bob if he wouldn't be willing to take over the hospital, finish it up, and put it in operation!  I'm sure his first reaction was "No way!"  But he did not say that.  He said he would pray about it.  I don't know exactly what went on in heaven, but eternal forces were at work, and before long, the McRaes said they would take it on.     Helen was at peace during the final weeks of 1989, confident that her vision for Cubulco was being fulfilled.  AMG officially took over the hospital on January 1, 1990; Helen went to be with the Lord on January 9.     The hospital still was far from ready to function.  AMG had taken on a big task, but they had strong, God-sent support from "Word and Deed," a Christian relief organization in The Netherlands.  With funds now available, Wanda McRae went to Michigan to 'shop' at the International Aid warehouse in Grand Rapids.  After she finished. they shipped down four forty-foot containers of medical equipment!  Bob McRae was a hard-nosed administrator who made sure that all paper work and any not-quite-finished corners were properly taken care of.  In late March, we held the dedication and grand opening of the sparkling new "Centro Medico Christiano, La Señorita Elena."  As to that name, it was the McRaes' choice, with my heart-felt approval... the whole medical ministry had come into being out of Helen's heart and life.  She was forever the beloved "Señorita Elena" of Cubulco.     Even as the formal opening was taking place, Engineer Bob was planning and constructing other buildings needed for administration, supplies, and guest accommodation.  Visiting teams would be coming great distances to offer medical and spiritual help; and they would need to be fed and housed.  Since we had found no full time Christian doctor willing to live in such a remote region, AMG set up a system being used in other parts of the country.  The plan would have four Guatemalan doctors rotating turns of 'three weeks on and one week off,' so there would always be three doctors on site.  'Right-Arm Wanda' had the job of interviewing and hiring doctors, mostly by running ads in Guatemala newspapers.  Sadly, there was frequent turnover of doctors as they would find easier positions somewhere else.  (In 1989, I had felt sure I could find an American doctor who would feel "called to be a medical missionary in Guatemala."  I failed.  Times had changed.  It wasn't like the early 50's when Helen and I were called.)
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    Nico, there is much more to say about all the hard work and God-work it took to make the hospital a reality.  You only asked me about the origin... where does 'origin' stop?....John and Connie Otten and Gary and Martha DeSterke had come earlier from the Free Reformed Church of Canada to help in the Cubulco ministry (Ottens in the hospital, and DeSterkes in Bible translation).  There was even a time when both couples lived in our unoccupied house along with an older couple from North Dakota who were there to build cabinets for the hospital.  Ask John about it!    Transportation by land for those 'rotating doctors' was daunting and wearying, so Pilot Bob negotiated for a piece of land where an airstrip could be built.  As a result, a six-hour commute  was reduced to twenty minutes.  Later, John Otten also became a pilot and did much of the ferrying. The land purchased for the airstrip was large enough to also accommodate a teaching farm, a practical project to go hand-in-hand with the nutrition program that uses our former clinic.
    Nico, my account has grown long, but it should give the background you requested for your upcoming twenty-fifth anniversary celebration.  To me, it's all a miracle---a blessing God wanted for the Aj Kubul Winaq, (the Cubulco People).  May He give it long life and usefulness!
Sincerely, Mary Shaw, 
Austin, Texas, September 21, 2013