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This job's a pill (Lighthhouse Medical Mission journal entry #1)

To get ready for Lighthouse Medical Missions, I volunteer with others to pack medicines for clinics in Gambia and Guinea Bissau.

To mount the Lighthouse Medical Mission to West Africa, first there is a painstaking process of packing pills
To mount the Lighthouse Medical Mission to West Africa, first there is a painstaking process of packing pills

SANTA MONICA – I'm flying to an Africa medical mission, first to Chicago, then Brussels, then Dakar, then Banjul, but my first stop is the basement of Lighthouse Church where I'm packing vitamins in zip lock bags.

A tiny scoop of some 60 adult vitamins were already deposited in little bags to be handed out to patients, and I was distributing 150 packets into the larger bags in preparation for the March 27 - April 6 clinic in two nations of West Africa. This is part of the Lighthouse Medical Missions' twice yearly humanitarian aid to the poorest of the poor worldwide.

Read entry #2 on chronicles of a medical mission here.

Make no mistake, this is no safari. We won't see a single lion. We probably will see cancer oozing from open lesions and all kinds of gnarly diseases. The majority of our African patients have never seen a doctor – ever. At $1 a day to live on, they simply can't afford one.

There won't be much in the way of American comforts either. We'll probably be sweltering in poorly ventilated buildings and trying to pacify ornery multitudes. Many of them will have traveled for days, by foot or by bus, to get there – more travel time than us with our 15-hour flight that hop-scotches to the Senegal.

Once in Dakar, the 50-member team will divide. One group will fly to the river-based nation of the Gambia, and the other will ride a bus overland 17 hours – haggling with border officials – to Guinea Bissau.

Since I like adventure, I volunteered to go on the arduous bus ride. There are great fields of cashew trees along that highway, I'm told, and I yearn to smell their fragrance for miles.

But for reasons I ignore, Dr. Robert Hamilton assigned me on the “easy” trip to Gambia. I'm not objecting to this change of plans. After all, you go to serve, not to be served. Seeking your personal wishes won't do.

As departure day approaches, tension and excitement is mounting. In the meantime I'm needed in the carefully sanitized hallway to count pill packets. They are small brown vitamins that for some reason remind me espresso shots.

The banter among the volunteers is about morning sickness during the first three months of pregnancy. I get distracted easily, and I count louder so as to not lose track and have to start over at 100 and something.

Nurse Dal Basile is in charge of the huge task of boxing medical supplies to be flown in the planes. She's as sweet as honey, but she'll scold you if you drop so much as one little vitamin pill. They're expensive, she says, 20 cents each, and the pharmaceuticals aren't donating any more. So, I'm being extra careful.

The lady next to me is trying to count louder than me, so that my counting won't confuse her counting. I suggest she count in Portuguese, since it's her native language.

When I finish 150 packages, I seal the bag and start a new one. After some time, I get faster, as I figure out a few tricks to streamline my job.

Meanwhile the banter, from the volunteers who are almost all female, turns against husbands. “They're all alike,” someone says. Another says her husband is tough boxer guy, but when he gets a common cold, he gets knocked out.

I stop at counting packet #50 (so that I won't forget where I am) to object loudly that the estrogen levels in the hallway are rising to toxic levels. Nobody pays any attention to me.

I continue stuffing bags, which suddenly remind me of military sandbags. I'm building a wall of sandbags, I think, barricading myself against the estrogen levels next to me.

This is my first trip on Dr. Hamilton's missions. He's a pediatrician in Santa Monica and probably the most compassionate human on the planet. When I was a missionary four years ago, he would see my kids for free. Now that I'm a teacher at the Lighthouse Christian Academy, I want to help him.

Not all of the volunteers going to Africa can fully afford their trip. If you would like to help sponsor someone, please contact Cheryl Tormey, the Lighthouse Medical Mission logistics coordinator, at 310-528-7672. You can also designate donations exclusively for meds. Also, if you believe in prayer, please pray.

To read entry #2 of the chronicles of a medical mission, click here

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