Providing practical and valuable in-roads for the gospel.
After two hours of searching, BJ Cougle (a pharmacist from FBC) and Marianna (an American missionary) got yet another lead in their search for the grandmother of Ithabeleng, a seven-year-old girl at the local orphan care center of rural Lesotho. Ithabeleng’s mother and brother are known to have HIV, but she had never been tested, so she didn’t have access to the free treatment provided by the government. She is now under the care of her grandmother, the key to getting her tested. As BJ and Marianna searched, they knew their chances of convincing the grandmother to allow Ithabeleng’s testing were low because of the stigma still surrounding the disease, even though 25% of the population have been diagnosed, and treatment is relatively simple and free. The pair spotted the grandmother from across a field working by herself with a shovel. As they approached, BJ knew he would need to help her so that she would talk to them. Before he could offer, Marianna grabbed it and took over. They took turns with the shovel, Ithabeleng’s grandmother agreed, and once they found the little girl, the group headed to the clinic. They arrived ten minutes before closing time but were turned away; BJ and Marianna feared that they had lost the opportunity to help Ithabeleng, however, they agreed to find her before school the next day and take her back. The next morning, when they found her, she and her grandmother were leaving the clinic: she had already been tested. Though she tested positive for HIV, the diagnosis means that she now has access to treatment that will greatly reduce her symptoms.
In mid-October, BJ Cougle joined the team from First Baptist headed to the nation of Lesotho (pronounced “Lesoto” or “Lesootoo”), which is completely surrounded by South Africa, to serve the Basotho people (pronounced “Besoto” or “Besootoo”). BJ describes the place they worked as “cold and very windy, at high altitude, and there were rocks everywhere”. The whole team was shocked when, after their uncomfortable 17-hour flight and 8-hour car ride, their living quarters had hot water and they could safely drink out of the tap—unheard of on most mission trips outside of the United States.
The team’s objective was to improve access points for the Reclaimed Project missionaries who serve in Lesotho: Brett and Allison Barnhill and their Lesotho teammates Brittany and Marianna. BJ is a pharmacist, and Dr. Richard Hopper, also on the trip, is a veterinarian by trade. They each spent time providing important information so that Brett and Allison can continue to build trust and relationships with the Basotho people.
BJ sat down with the women of the church, orphan care center, and community at large to talk about public health, hygiene, and basic first aid. The community members were vaguely familiar with the concept of germs, but BJ was able to expand that knowledge and help them apply it through regular hand washing, avoiding sharing cups, and education about not cross-contaminating raw meat with cooked foods while cooking. Those practices are important in any place with any group of people, but in a community where a quarter of the population has compromised immune systems because of HIV, a shared cold or minor food poisoning can quickly become life-threatening. He also addressed when and how to take medication; what fever is, why it is important, and how to treat it; and the proper way to care for burns.
BJ also got to sit in on Dr. Hopper’s veterinary time. The shepherds, in all their shepherd glory, gathered for a question-and-answer time with him. As keepers of livestock, they know their animals and their ailments well, but BJ reflected their amazement as Dr. Hopper attached science to what they experience daily. He was able to advise them on how to make their herds of sheep, goats, and cows more productive, share his testimony with the group, palpate a few cows gloveless (Google it), and leave the shepherds with some practical herd-health tools. In a community where livestock serve as currency and herd size is the predominant financial asset, Dr. Hopper’s veterinary experience provided a practical, valuable in-road for Brett and Allison with the local shepherds.
On their last day of the trip, a little boy jumped out of a car and hit his head hard on the ground. BJ and the team happened to drive by not five minutes later. He was shocked that, while there were people close by, no one was helping him, no one would touch him. As he stepped forward to help, Brett warned him not to touch the boy, either: HIV is spread through bodily fluids, and the boy, though responsive, was bleeding a lot. Finally, someone found gloves, and soon the clinic ambulance arrived. They patched him up, and the boy was fine. As BJ processed what had happened, he was shaken by the fact that the people watching were either too scared or just didn’t know how to help.
BJ was amazed as he saw the women and children of the orphan care center implement better hygiene and handwashing immediately. He saw a shepherd leave the Q & A time, grab another who had missed it, and share the information with him right there. The Basotho people were very open to the gospel and to the story of Jesus, and the highly practical information brought by the team will open more doors for the local church and full-time missionaries to build bridges in the community.
In last month’s issue of Redefined, missionary Brandi Johnson said, “We’ve lived in places where we have been able to disciple people. We’ve lived in places where we were moving rocks, and it was just hard, hard ground. And then, we have lived in the ‘in-betweens’, where we were watering what somebody before us had already planted” (p. 9, Redefined #44). Her metaphors are pulled from the Parable of the Sower and the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians, and the wisdom applies to short-term trips as well as long assignments. BJ said that this trip to Lesotho was the best mission trip he had ever been on. He said, “It felt like we did really good work” because they could feel the Holy Spirit’s preparation. No one gets to choose the preparedness of the soil in which they serve, but in the steep and rocky highlands of Lesotho, BJ and the team found fertile soil.