Anyone who has visited the hospital in Yei, Sudan, will understand what went through the Rev. Boo Hankins' mind after he fell and fractured his right shin.
"As I sat on the ground, holding my foot in place with my shoelace, I wondered how this would turn out," Hankins said in an email from Africa. "The carpenters cut two pieces of wood for a splint, and Phyllis drove me to the Yei Civil Hospital -- the place I had prayed so many times never to have to be as a patient."
Within little more than a week in November, two Holston mission workers serving in South Sudan experienced painful injuries requiring travel to seek medical care, and in one case, surgery.
On Nov. 8, Steve Hodges suffered a motorcycle accident during a two-hour trip to the remote village of Kirikwa, tearing a tendon in his right shoulder. On Nov. 17, just two days after he and wife Phyllis moved into the newly constructed "Captain's House," Boo Hankins fell on the property, suffering a spiral fracture of his tibia.
After receiving a quick diagnosis of a rotator-cuff injury from a physician in a Yei mission clinic, Hodges and wife Diantha were able to get a plane to Kampala, Uganda, within a few days. The MRI results brought good news.
"I am extremely happy that I don't have to have surgery," Hodges said in an email. "Praise God for that and for an excellent physical therapist in Kampala who gave me some good exercises and a list of things not to do."
However, Hankins endured two days, three hospitals, and a plane trip before he finally found a surgeon with working medical equipment.
"Our good friend, Dr. Mike Hartsell from Greeneville, Tenn., was on the phone with us a number of times," says the Rev. Phyllis Hankins in an email. "He helped us decide among the several options."
Hartsell advised surgery in Kampala, so on Nov. 18, Dr. Norbert Orwotho inserted a large, long pin and three screws in Hankins' leg, from knee to ankle. After two days and some complications, Hankins was discharged and flew back to Yei.
"Then the real pain began," says Phyllis Hankins.
The injured pastor suffered with sleepless nights and swelling for several days, with limited medical care.
"There is no emergency room here in a nice, sanitary hospital," his wife said. "You pretty much self-medicate and get advice. Sometimes we look it up in 'Where There is No Doctor.' Then you drive to a pharmacy for what you need. There are no pharmacists and no laws about prescriptions."
The stitches were removed from Hankins' leg on Dec. 3, with no sign of infection. Both Hankins and Hodges are on the road to recovery, while expressing concern about the extra hardships imposed on their spouses and reflecting on the realities of life in Sudan and the U.S.
"The main limit I face is not being able to drive either the motorcycle or the land cruiser for several months," says Hodges, who performs about a half-hour of exercises, three times a day, to strengthen his right arm.
"It means Diantha and Phyllis have to do all the driving," he said. "And it makes it harder to figure out how to travel to the village churches, but we are determined to work that out so we can go to at least two to three every month and continue our work."
Hodges is meeting with each of the 17 churches in the Yei District for village planning, he said.
For Hodges, "some parts of dealing with injury have been surprisingly smooth," he said. "But it is daunting to realize the distances to medical care that we had gotten used to having nearby ... The hardest part of the whole process was trying to communicate with insurance companies in the U.S. who showed little flexibility to the difficulties of dealing with a health problem when overseas, the difficulty and prohibitive cost of communication by phone, the difficulty of finding a fax machine here, and so on."
Most sobering of all, Hodge said, was realizing that Sudanese people have never had access to the medical care and health insurance available to people from the U.S. "It was a powerful reminder of the enormous privilege we continue to carry as we live and work here," he said.
In his most recent newsletter, Boo Hankins spoke of feeling "completely helpless" during his painful recovery.
"During all of this, there was nothing I could do to help myself," he wrote. "Our pastors and friends came by to pray for us and offer their help. I thought of the people of South Sudan. Helpless, without hope – unless somebody from outside comes to help. That is why we came to Yei in the first place. And didn’t God look upon a fallen and broken human race and decide to come and help us? This is the real message of Advent and Christmas: Jesus came to give us hope and life and light."
On a recent Sunday, Boo did not feel well enough to attend worship. But he was blessed when, later in the day, 27 of the youth and children from the church walked 45 minutes in the hot sun to visit him at The Captain's House.
"They sang and then they all laid hands on me and prayed, out loud, all at once," he said. "What a humbling and powerful experience that was. So many times we have prayed for these children – and now they were praying for me."
Holston members are requested to pray for quick healing for Boo Hankins and Steve Hodges, and for strength for Phyllis Hankins and Diantha Hodges.
- Sudan Christmas gift ideas: "Give a Gift of Hope for the Children of Sudan" (PDF booklet)
- Boo and Phyllis Hankins' newsletter and blog
- Steve and Diatha Hodges' blog
- "Off to Sudan: Diantha and Steve Hodges prepare for new ministry" (The Call, 6/9/10)
- "'Nothing is easy': Boo and Phyllis Hankins report from Sudan" (The Call, 9/25/9)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.