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Saving Baby Jordan - 1st American Born in South Sudan

Brooke (CNN) talks to Nancy and Shelvis Smith-Mather about the harrowing experience of their child's birth in South Sudan.  Click to watch the video.

More information in this letter.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 21:35

Medical and Family: Discipleship Snapshots

We'd like to share several recent examples of discipleship happening in our midst, as "word" snapshots...

  • As we sat outside of the CT scanner in Kampala, Uganda waiting to do a follow up scan after Given's head injury, we were struck by this image: Eva and Logan sitting on either side of a young M. girl about their age, dressed in the traditional head covering (b-ka).  They then quietly pull out their Bibles and begin to "feed their spirit" by reading God's Word to themselves.  It was humbling to watch as they did this, of their own accord, not because of our urging, and this young girl watched with curiosity as they did so.  What the impact of their actions is we will never know, but we simply live our lives and obey the Lord, and trust He is working in that little girl's life.  We didn't have a camera, nor would we have felt it appropriate to take a picture if we did, but the image will be forever burned in our minds.
  • Two high school students have been following Jeff for over a year as he does medical work-- whenever they are on a break from school.  Recently they finished the top level they are able to do in South Sudan, and are awaiting their results before pursuing further education in Uganda & Kenya.  In the meantime, His House of Hope has hired them on as medical assistants, along with another female student interested in being a nurse.  Over the last few weeks, they have learned to sterilize instruments, take vital signs, keep up the medical registers, and many other things.  One skill they are mastering is assisting in surgery.  While finishing up the 4th C-section of the week, I was struck by the fact that we were operating on complex patients in a resource-limited setting with a couple of high school students scrubbed in to help-- and doing a good job of it!  I said to one of them, "You are doing much more and have seen much more than I ever did at your age!  You will be a great doctor.  You just need to hurry up and finish your education so you can come back and relieve me!"
  • Recently, our own children have also started helping out in the hospital.  In her first few forrays into the hospital, our oldest daughter witnessed a one year old die of malaria, 2 C-sections (including holding the premature, 2 lb 14 oz baby after delivery), and assisted her dad with hand surgery.
Part of the reality of life is that there are many more disappointing examples than these positive ones.  We continue to disciple our own children, which is not always pretty.  Even as I have been writing this, my wife and I have had to break up a nearly physical fight between two of our girls-- over a shirt!  We share this so you know the whole story, because it is true, and so you are not tempted to think more highly of us than you ought.  We are an ordinary family, with toddlers to teenagers, simply walking out the call Jesus has put on our lives.  "AS YOU GO, OBEY and make disciples of all nations..."


Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 19:16

First American baby born in South Sudan-- at Bet Eman

The following is a letter recently received from friends of ours, fellow missionaries in Yei, South Sudan, who delivered their first child here at Bet Eman.

Dear Servants of Harvesters and Bet Eman/His House of Hope,

We are writing this letter to thank you for your efforts on behalf of our family, update you on our progress and request your continued prayers.

My wife, Nancy, was scheduled to return to the US this week because our first child is due in December.  Nancy, however, went  into labor last Saturday, October 20, 2012. The Medical Team at Bet Eman knew a premature birth of this nature might exceed the capacity of their facilities, but they courageously worked to save the child's life. The doctor initially treated Nancy with a medicine to stop/delay the contractions, but the labor continued. They also injected her with steroids hoping that (with time) the treatment would transfer from Nancy's blood stream to the baby's, in order to strengthen baby's lungs. They hoped that the contractions would stop for 48 hours... but the labor continued.  Given the circumstances, once the baby was born, the head doctor advised a medical evacuation out of South Sudan to a hospital with a neo-natal care unit.

During all of these events, Nancy and I felt the presence of God in every step of the birth and evacuation. A short-term Mission Team from Wisconsin arrived days earlier to our town in South Sudan with medical equipment from the US which was used for the first time during Nancy's delivery. The head of the short-term mission team was a Pediatrician and his wife a nurse; they joined the hospital's staff and worked tirelessly to care for Nancy and the baby. Dr. Jeff Perry, the hospital's Head Doctor, remained composed, attentive, thorough and optimistic throughout the entire procedure. While his wife, Elizabeth, drew from years of experience mothering nine children and her graduate degree in Public Health to coach Nancy during the labor. In addition, we were surrounded by the prayers of dozens of South Sudanese mothers and children who left their own hospital beds to stand at the entrance of our door to pray. Many believe this level of medical assistance is unheard of in a country which was recently identified on International Women's Day as "the worst place in the world for a woman to give birth."

When the child was born, the doctor's assessed that a "CPAP Machine" (also known as a "Continuous Positive Airways Machine" was needed. They, however, did not own this expensive machine, so they used a device which was fashioned together months ago with plastic tubes, a cup of water and several small bands. This device was made "in the event" that a CPAP machine was ever needed.  And it worked beautifully, absolutely beautifully. The Medical Team also used the only incubator in town to stabilize the baby.

After the child's breathing steadied, a chain of colleagues from the Presbyterian Church USA, RECONCILE International, Yei's Immigration Office(S. Sudan), Juba Immigration Office (S. Sudan), the United States Embassy in Kenya and several NGOs secured an air evacuation plane holding a nurse, a doctor, and all the medical equipment needed to care for our baby. They flew into Yei, landed on the dirt airstrip, fixed the incubator into a Land Cruiser, transferred the baby into their medical equipment and flew us to Nairobi, Kenya. Once we arrived in Nairobi, an ambulance met us on the runway and hurried us to Aga Khan Hospital where the child was admitted immediately into neo-natal ICU.

As you can imagine, the last few days have been quite challenging, but we are convinced that through this process the Lord has revealed the height and depth of God's love through the hands of our South Sudanese, American and Kenyan sisters and brothers. We are happy to report baby continues to improve day by day. To God be the glory.  The US Embassy in Nairobi has also informed us that according to their records, little "Jordan Eman" is the first American born in the new country of South Sudan. (The 1st baby born from American-born parents).

To God be the glory for the life which has been given to our child and the hope which has been shared with us. I am receiving treatment for Malaria, but the doctors believe my condition will be remedied with rest and medication during the next few days. Nancy continues to make great strides in her recovery from labor and she has received outstanding care from Aga Khan Hospital since our arrival in Kenya.  Lastly, the doctors believe Jordan will shortly be moved out of ICU, and we are prayerful that he will continue to improve each day. We ask for your prayers for Jordan's continued progress and our rest.

Please feel free to share this with anyone who will pray for Jordan and our family.

Thank you.

In God's Grace,
Shelvis, Nancy & Jordan

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 19:16

From runner to missionary doctor… thoughts of an American in East Africa

Growing up, my identity was wrapped in that of being a runner. Many of the greatest long-distance runners in my sport hailed from East Africa—Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and surrounding countries. The only time I seriously competed with East Africans was when I was 20 years old and in a college cross-country race… and even then I was 2-3 minutes behind the Kenyans who dominated the 5 mile competition. Around that time, I committed my life fully to the lordship of Jesus Christ, and running became far secondary to following Him. As I progressed in my medical education, my dream of being a sportsmedicine doctor was reshaped by the Lord to being a doctor to those that had basic health needs unmet.

Fast-forward to age 40, when I am helping to open a mission hospital in South Sudan, and have occasion to visit an established mission hospital in the heart of the Kipsigi tribe in Kenya. On the surgery schedule, I see all the names that I used to hear as those of the marathon and 10,000 meter greats from Kenya. I have learned that it is not all Kenyans that are naturally gifted runners, but only those of a particular group of tribes (Talatchin—including the Kipsigis, Maasai, and others). And when one sees where they live, you can understand—hilly, forested, temperate (not too hot to run for long distances), and elevation of 7-8,000 feet. Yet I don’t run while there, but observe a radical hysterectomy done to attempt some treatment for an advanced case of cervical cancer in a patient with AIDS.

Then, we visit Uganda shortly after Kiprotich, a Ugandan, wins the London 2012 Olympic marathon gold. As I run one morning, some schoolchildren start running with me, and I reference their recent Olympic medalist. They have a blank look about them, as they obviously have never heard of him or much about the sport of athletics. For most people in the world, life is about surviving day to day, not extras like sports.

I still enjoy running, but now I run with my wife through the jungle, so we can have a few moments peace to talk and relieve the stress of work and life in East Africa. Occasionally I run with one of the South Sudanese high school boys, which usually ends up with me close to death, walking, while they finish the run well ahead of me. Or, I am humbled when a drunk man or a schoolgirl of 11 keeps pace with me for a good distance—wearing flip-flops and a school uniform.

I dreamed of being a great runner and keeping pace with the East Africans. But thanks to the call of the Lord Jesus Christ, I find he has given me the greater gift of a calling with purpose-- of being part of His work of redeeming people for Him. And yet, He hasn’t taken away the enjoyment I have in running, and has actually given me some of the greater desires of my heart (see Psalm 37:4)—an amazing wife and children with whom I get to journey through this life, and with whom I also do run with the East Africans. Our good God hears our hearts, but knows what we want and need better than we ourselves do.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 19:16

Delivering Babies in South Sudan

South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world (1 in 7).  As His House of Hope has started delivering babies, we regularly see cases that highlight why that is true.  When a baby or mother dies, we pray with them and attend the funeral if possible.  When a death is avoided, we are quick to say "Shukran ta Rabuna Tanina Kweys" (Thanks to our good God!).  We pray before, during, and after these difficult cases, and our prayer is that the "labor prompted by love" (1 Thess 1:3) that occurs at HHH will lead more people to trust fully in the hope that is found in Jesus.

Some recent cases at HHH (in parentheses are some of the reasons for the high maternal mortality here):


  • A mama delivering her 9th baby comes to the hospital after delivering the previous 8 at home.  The baby is large, and in a breech position.  Drs. Perry and Poole decide to deliver by C-section, and a 4.1 kg (9#2oz) girl is delivered, who requires more than an hour of intensive resuscitation.  A day after birth, baby is still on oxygen but is doing better and able to feed. (Breech presentation, large baby)
  • A woman pregnant with her 8th child but only 7 months along comes to the hospital because she is having labour pains and has not felt the baby move for one week.  Ultrasound confirms that baby is not alive, is breech, and exam shows a bulging bag of waters, apparently dilated.  Her blood count is low, but transfusion is not available as the lab tech is unable to get to the hospital due to a rainstorm and it being late at night.  The patient is ruptured, the fluid filled with pus, and cervix then felt to be too tight to safely deliver baby quickly and avoid risk of mother hemorrhaging.  A C-section is performed, and the mother does well.  Her blood count actually went up the next day, likely due to a temperamental lab machine.  (Fetal death, breech, chorioamnionitis/infection, severe anemia)
  • A mother presents to the hospital 4 hours after delivering a baby (who was doing well) at home, with a large amount of bleeding reported.  She is agitated, has still not delivered the placenta, and has some bleeding.  She is taken to the delivery room for removal of the placenta and control of bleeding.  The placenta easily comes out, but the patient dies just as it is removed due to near complete loss of her blood volume. (Post-partum hemorrhage)
  • A woman is pushing her baby out, but her pelvis is too small and baby's heart rate begins dropping.  Decision is made to go to C-section, and baby is delivered and resuscitated successfully.  (Obstructed labor due to small pelvis relative to baby-- a very common occurrence)
  • A first time mother-to-be presents in active labor, but cervix is only dilated to 4cm (less than halfway).  After monitoring progress for an hour, she was 5cm, so the doctor (Dr. Perry) decided to go to church (about 250 meters away) for a bit.  An hour later, he receives a call that the baby is out.  The cook made it to the bedside first and delivered the baby, while the nurse was busy cutting the cord when the doctor arrived!  (Illustrating that sometimes the doctor is NOT needed, and the importance of cross-training staff.)  Dr. Perry offered to do the cooking the next day since she did his job that day, but in the end he did not, as everyone realized that might be harmful to the patients' health.
There are many issues which make delivering healthy babies here in South Sudan a very difficult undertaking.  There are the medical reasons above, which are then complicated by cultural, social, economic, and spiritual barriers that limit people coming to the hospital for the care they need.  For example, a woman is thought to be "courageous" if she delivers at home, while at the same time not costing her husband any hospital fees.  Once the patient is at the hospital, the struggle for us is making sure there is adequate staff and supplies to provide good care.  Due to the many years of war, there are few trained medical personnel in South Sudan, making it hard to find and maintain a good indigenous crew.  The regulations and costs of importing medicines and supplies into a country that produces none of these items for itself makes for an exhaustive process-- one that is barely a second thought in the West.

Please pray with us for these challenges-- medical, cultural, logistical, and spiritual.  Thanks for standing with us in this battle!



Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 19:16

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Our Mission:

Share the gospel of Jesus Christ and strengthen His Church through medical care and education, discipleship, and loving the people of South Sudan as a family.

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