From our home base on YWAM Ships Kona’s vessel the m/v Pacific Link, our team, consisting of four medical professionals, 13 DTS students, and a media team, had set up our mobile clinic for our first day of outreach. Our goal was to serve the needy of Kimbe, the largest of the many islands belonging to Papua New Guinea (PNG).
People living in the impoverished or more remote areas on this island rarely, if ever, have medical care readily available to them.
The location of the day’s clinic was known as Sector 21. This settlement sits on the outskirts of the island’s one town, also known as Kimbe. The poverty here evidenced itself in houses constructed of wooden planks with thatch or corrugated tin roofs.
I saw no sign of running water or electricity. The bathroom, a communal deal, consisted of a pit dug in the ground inside a wooden shack. It was unlikely safe hygiene practices existed in this neighborhood. That lack, along with other factors, help make people who live in the tropics more vulnerable to contracting diseases and infections that would otherwise be preventable.
Yaws is one of those illnesses.
In the same family as syphilis, yaws is a bacterial infection that can find its way into the human body through a cut or other open wound. Most common in coastal areas, it is especially a problem in Papua New Guinea and is a chronic disease of children.
Nason, a boy who appeared to be about eleven or twelve came to our clinic, probably to check out the excitement of this visit from white foreigners and not to receive a diagnosis about anything.
Our nurse practitioner Rhonda, noticed the raised reddish-brown skin sore on Nason’s left ankle. She recognized it as a symptom of the first stages of yaws. Left untreated, Nason would eventually develop bone and joint problems, chronic pain in the long bones and swelling in arms and legs.
Yaws is such a common problem in PNG that the local hospital was out of the medicine needed to cure it. God, however, was looking out for Nason. We had just what the young boy needed; one injection that would cure him.
Our policy to never treat a minor without permission from a parent or other guardian proved a bit of a challenge at first. Nason told our team members his parents were away working but he wasn’t very forthcoming about their exact whereabouts. The boy’s grandmother would be able to grant the necessary permission but Nason insisted she was too old to come down to the medical clinic.
One reason for Nason’s apparent reluctance to contact his elders may have been the nature of the treatment for yaws which required an injection in his buttocks, a humiliating prospect for a pre-teen.
Afraid the boy would cut and run, two team members, Ben and Chase offered to accompany Nason to his home to find his grandmother. With a crowd of his friends following, the trio climbed the hill. They passed more simple, wooden houses on their way up the steep incline. The jungle spread out to either side.
When they arrived at their destination, however, Nason’s grandmother was nowhere to be found; Ben and Chase eventually located his grandfather and gained the needed permission. There was no turning back now.
Grandfather knew about the situation and would expect follow through. The group hurried back down to the clinic site where a sheepish Nason sidled over to the immunization tent. A crowd of his friends gathered round waiting for the show.
Imagine getting a shot in the backside with all your peers watching and laughing. It was over in just a couple of minutes. The reward for laying down his pride and preventing future suffering was a photograph with his friends and his two heroes, Ben and Chase.
Most of the time we are unaware of how God works in our lives and circumstances.
Proverbs 16:9 says that a man plans his way but God directs his path. God brought us to Sector 21 and we made ourselves available to everyone he brought to us. He then guided a young boy to us to receive vital treatment unavailable elsewhere.
Could Nason have waited until the local hospital had the medicine he needed? Yes but Jesus has a reputation for not withholding his touch, even healing on the Sabbath, a practice frowned upon by the self-righteous Pharisees who made religious traditions more important than people.
We had come to this village to be the hands and feet of Jesus. With doing that, Nason found freedom from pain and disease.
by Cheryl Weber
YWAM Ships Kona Volunteer