Simret's St.ory

Simret (left) with Debebe - two of our CT technicians this past year
Simret (left) with Debebe - two of our CT technicians this past year

This week we said goodbye to an employee that has been a special addition to our staff.   Even though Simret wasn't with us very long, the hospital had a big impact on him, and we'd like to share the story with you.

Simret is one of our CT technicians.  He came to Soddo Christian Hospital about a year ago, doing something that not many people do.  He moved from the big city – Addis Ababa – out to the country – Soddo.  Simret was recruited to help run our CT scanner – the newest instrument in our armamentarium to care for the people of southern Ethiopia.

Simret grew up in a culturally religious tradition, but he admits that he didn’t read the Bible, and he certainly didn’t know God personally.  As he grew into adulthood, he moved from Debra Zeit to Addis and had the beginnings of a successful career.  Not that different from most young professionals anywhere in the world.  Little did he know what would be in store for him when he suddenly made the decision to accept an employment offer at Soddo Christian Hospital.  Wait, what?  Move to Soddo?  Well, it seemed like an interesting opportunity, so he went for it.

Things were going well in his new job.  And then, just a few months after joining our staff, Simret got the news no one wants to hear.  His older brother, living in Seattle, Washington, had just been diagnosed with cancer.   Brain cancer.  Dealing with these things is hard enough when the family is together.  But in this case, Simret’s unmarried brother and their sister were in Seattle, and the rest of the family here in Ethiopia.

Simret became hopeless.  He even began having nightmares.  One day, he had shown up for work, but was just sitting in a chair slumped over in despair.  One of our brightest and best employees, and also a strong Christian went over and engaged him in conversation.  Teka, one of our pharmacists, shines with the love of God, and he wanted desperately to encourage Simret.  He invited him to a discipleship group.  These discipleship groups are like small group Bible studies that our staff engage in every Thursday morning.  Simret went, and his life was forever changed.

He began studying the Bible in small group.  In fact, he got a Bible for the first time in his life.  Another of our employees, Dr. Mehret, gave him a daily devotional guide.  He started reading that too.  And for the first time in a long time, Simret said, he had HOPE.

Now, when asked about it, Simret says that his life is different because of Soddo Christian Hospital.  He says that he wants everyone to know that our hospital “is not like other hospitals”.  “In the big city, the hospital only wants to make money.  But here, we care about patients, we care about the poor, and most of all, we want everyone to know Jesus,” Simret said.  Our patients… and our staff!

Simret left this week for a different job - a new and exciting challenge that we are sure he will excel in.  We are thankful for the year you spent with us, brother!

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Empowering the Next Generation

Imagine a missionary doctor sitting under a tree in Africa, seeing patients as they line up from far and near.  She sees 100 patients a day or more.  In a year, perhaps 3000.  In ten years, 30,000.  Not a bad contribution to the problem of suffering in her country.  But imagine how burned-out, how completely exhausted she is after this work.  And when she finally gives up, the work is finished.  Many thousands of patients were treated, and many lives saved even.  But the work is not enduring.  It is not sustainable.

Now, imagine that same doctor pouring her life into doctors-in-training in that country.  Year after year, spending intentional time teaching 10-15 resident physicians.  In ten years’ time, perhaps 20 or 30 are trained.  Each of those go on to treat thousands of patients in their careers.  Some of them are retained as teaching physicians, and they in turn pour into others.  This is multiplication.  This is empowerment.  The impact of that one person is perhaps 50-fold when compared to the lone worker at the beginning of our story.

This is what we do at Soddo Christian Hospital through PAACS.SCH_Surgery130

The Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons was founded in 1996 with one residency program in the jungles of Gabon.  Since then, it has grown to twelve programs in ten countries.  We are one of those programs.  Why is it so important to train African surgeons?

Right now, 56 million people in sub-Sahara Africa are in need of surgery.  In most of the continent, there is one surgeon for every 250,000 population.  In Ethiopia, there are only a 300 surgeons for a country with almost 90 million inhabitants.  (If WHO guidelines were met, we would have 4,150!)  PAACS has the goal to train 100 surgeons by 2020.  Thirty-six have been trained thus far, and God-willing, the goal will be met by 2019.

Because the program is fully accredited, our graduates are eligible to be members of the College of Surgeons of East, Central, and Southern Africa.  And in turn, are fully licensed by the country of Ethiopia as surgeons.  And the faculty actively disciple the residents during their training - teaching them not just excellent surgical practice, but equipping them with the spiritual tools to use medicine to bring people to Christ.

We praise God for this kind of empowerment and training.  Of Africans.  For Africa.


Battling the Brain Drain

What is the “brain drain” anyway?  In developing countries all over the world, the “brain drain” refers to the tendency of qualified and skilled workers to leave the country in search of greener pastures.  To America, to Europe.  The salary of a physician in the USA may be 100 times that of his counterpart in the developing world.  Is it any wonder that so many leave?

And yet, the consequences are felt by the countries they leave behind.  The people in those countries long for skilled engineers to design their infrastructure.  For skilled physicians and surgeons to treat their medical problems.  For talented musicians and artist to elevate their culture.


Physicians in Ethiopia

In health care, the effects are especially acute.  People’s lives are at stake.  The minister of health for Ethiopia has even famously said that there are more Ethiopian physicians in Chicago than in Ethiopia itself!    So the country is taking on the challenge head on.  Thirteen new medical schools were opened in the past two years.   But this just means more junior level doctors who will also be looking for the exits.


We can train them in a specialty.  You see, the vast majority of Ethiopian medical school graduates (general practitioners, or GPs, they are called) are looking to advance their education by further training.  Just like in the US and other places, they want to do a postgraduate residency.  Whether it’s Obstetrics/Gynecology, Internal Medicine, Radiology, Pediatrics, or whatever.  They are not content to be only graduated GPs.  They want that further training.

And so, Soddo Christian Hospital is actively battling the brain drain as well.  We have a five year General Surgery residency that is fully accredited by Ethiopia’s Higher Education Authority and COSCESA – the College of Surgeons of Central, East, and South Africa.  We are actively discipling them with the Word of God.  As they study Jesus’ heart for the “least of these”, they are motivated to use their skills to alleviate the crisis in their own nation.  Not leave for another country.  Yes, that's right.  Our graduates stay in Ethiopia!  And so, we see Dr. Frehun in Addis, and Dr. Haile in Asela and Dr. Tedi here in Soddo training more surgeons.   By God’s grace, all of our graduates have stayed home!

We’ll tell you more about PAACS and how this organization is helping not just Ethiopia, but all of Africa, in the next post…

Taking the Mission Beyond the Hospital

At Soddo Christian Hospital, we are investing in our staff through discipleship.  And some of them took what they were learning to the Soddo community - going outside the camp to bring about transformation.  Here's how it happened:

The members of the small group meeting in SCH chapel.
The members of the small group meeting in SCH chapel.

While studying the Gospels in their small groups, some of the members had an idea: to minister to the prisoners in the local Soddo prison.  They would share the Gospel and meet practical needs of the people they met.  Wanting to hear from the Spirit, they took a month to pray, fast, and ask for God's guidance in their plans.  Then, they began to collect donations from individuals as well as the Hospital.  Those of us working here were more than happy to play our part in seeing these faithful employees live out our mission in Soddo.

On June 7th and 8th, the group ventured into the local prison.  There were 50 people involved in the ministry.   Their efforts reached out to 600 prisoners - providing medical services, giving out donated medicines and clothing, and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In those two days, 74 people prayed to receive Jesus as their Savior.  Among them was a man imprisoned for murder.  He asked, "Can God really forgive someone like me?"  Yes!  He repented, and received Christ.  Praise God!

One of the core beliefs of our hospital is in doing holistic ministry - sharing with people the salvation found in Jesus combined with practical and excellent medical care.  This group of ministers sent out from us carried that holistic message to the broader community.  Fueled and excited by seeing the work of God's spirit, they are now planning their next move.  They plan to try a similar program in some neighboring towns, or possibly to focus on job creation and discipleship training.

Counseling and sharing the hope of Jesus Christ.
Counseling and sharing the hope of Jesus Christ.
Celebrating all of what God did!  Praise to Him who makes all things new!
Celebrating all of what God did! Praise to Him who makes all things new!

Feeding the Soul


Look at all those onions!

These are three of our committed kitchen workers at SCH. Our hospital is unique in that we provide three meals a day to our patients (at other hospitals, the patients’ families have to bring the food), and this is a critical part of getting them healthy. In addition to providing great food, kitchen staff meet in two Bible St.udy groups weekly. They just completed a study on maturing in Christ. When asked how the study has impacted their lives, here were some of the answers:

“We used to get angry easily in the kitchen. Now we understand that this is wrong.”

“Before, I didn’t want to give to the poor. Now I have compassion. My heart is broken and I try to help them.”

“Now sometimes we will even cook food for the patients’ families too.”

One of the groups collected money for two poor patients in the hospital in order to help them pay for transportation costs home from the hospital. Praise God for how He is using these women, and how He is transforming their hearts!

Another Surgeon For Ethiopia

This is a guest post from Dr. Jon Pollock, originally featured on his personal blog.  Dr. Pollock is a staff surgeon at Myungsung Christian Medical Center in Addis Ababa, our sister hospital.  Our surgery residents, including Dr. Daniel Gidabo, train at both facilities: here in Soddo and at MCM in Addis.  (In fact, Dr. Pollock himself previously served as one of our staff surgeons here!)  The following is his account of Dr. Daniel's graduation:

Dr. Daniel surrounded by our staff surgeons and current PAACS residents

Last Saturday, we celebrated the graduation of the sixth PAACS resident in Ethiopia.   Dr. Daniel Gidabo finished his five years of training in general surgery at the end of August.   Daniel has taken a position as a surgeon in his hometown, a city of more than 100,000 people that has not had a full time surgeon in a very long time.   There Daniel will have the opportunity to treat hundreds and thousands of people who otherwise would have died without surgery.   We are very proud of Daniel and his accomplishments.  He has a well deserved reputation as a bold and effective evangelist and has led literally hundreds of people to Christ during our time with us.

Dr. Pollock speaking at the graduation ceremony

During my remarks at his graduation ceremony, I spoke to Daniel from Psalm 34, one of my favorite Psalms.  It begins with triumphant words of praise.

I will extol the Lord at all times;

His praise will always be on my lips.

My soul will boast in the Lord;

let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

Glorify the Lord with me;

let us exalt his name together.

These words were particularly appropriate for this day.   We praise God for what he has done for us.   When Daniel started his training five years ago, he had no guarantees that his work would amount to anything.   The PAACS program in Ethiopia was not accredited at that time.   There was little hope that this little upstart program would ever amount to anything.   Fast forward five years and we are accredited by both the Ethiopian Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa.  We have expanded from one hospital to two and have tripled the number of residents in the program.  This is only because of what God has done to bless the work he has called us to do.  Praise God for what he had done. I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

He delivered me from all my fears.

I assured Daniel that there will be times that he will be afraid.  Fear is an integral part of being a surgeon, particularly in the first year starting out on your own in practice.  I urged him to seek after the Lord, and He would deliver him from all his fears.  Delivery from fears comes with another promise if we look to him.

Those who look to him are radiant;

their faces are never covered with shame.

I encouraged Daniel to look to Him and be radiant.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;

He saved him out of all his troubles.

I reminded Daniel that his hometown has been without a surgeon for years and that people were crying for help.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;

blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. 

As PAACS surgeons, this is as essential to our lives as anything we do in the operating room.   We have the unbelievable privilege to invite people to “taste and seek” that the Lord is good.   I encouraged Daniel to continue to be bold in his witness.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord delivers them;

He delivers them from all their troubles. 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Finally, I told Daniel that as surgeons in Ethiopia, if we let ourselves, our hearts will be broken and our spirits crushed.   There are so many challenges, so much pain and disease, so much death that if we are not careful, we can become hardened and uncaring.  But as painful as it can be, we must allow our hearts to remain soft and able to be broken, because the pain, disease and death that we face everyday, breaks the heart of God.