A medical mission trip had been in the back of my mind for a long time and Mission Doctors Association provided the opportunity in late 2014. This was my first trip to Africa and the preparation provided by Mission Doctors Association Staff was invaluable. Despite the excellent preparation I still had preconceived notions and some misconceptions of what things would be like. I underestimated the intensity of the experience itself culturally, medically and spiritually. The ongoing outbreak of Ebola in West Africa before we went added a level of uncertainty but I knew that if I did not go I would never forgive myself. I was impressed with the burden of disease there particularly from malaria, typhoid, HIV and tuberculosis which the people faced so bravely. I was happy for any small comfort I could provide them by relieving their skin diseases. I mostly saw the spectrum of common skin disorders seen in the United States. I did see an early melanoma and a squamous cell cancer and was grateful they were caught early and hopefully cured. That alone made me feel that the trip was worthwhile.
I was impressed with the vibrant Catholic Faith in Africa that gave hope to patients and staff alike. The opportunity to attend daily Mass at the Chapel at St. Martin de Porres Hospital, the Nun’s Chapel and the nearby St. Anthony’s Church was a blessing. To my surprise the 6AM Mass on Sundays at St. Anthony’s was full and lasted 2 to 2 ½ hours. The people at Mass participated actively in the service with a zeal and spontaneity that was truly amazing. About half the patients we saw in the Clinic were Muslim. It was uplifting to see Muslims and Catholics practicing their faith and living together in harmony.
I was inspired by the dedicated Nuns and Staff at the Hospital who worked so hard and made the best of the resources available to them. They created a warm welcoming environment for newcomers like me. We also met visiting doctors from France and Italy, and Lay Missionary Helpers from the United States which made me feel we were part of larger community. Looking back on the experience at times it seems almost like a dream but it was real.
Dr. Joseph Langlois