The biggest help for Dr. Mark Nelson wasn’t in his doctor’s bag at a hospital deep in Ecuador’s rainforest, but instead what came from his mouth—greetings in the language of the Achuar people who live there.
An exasperated hospital staff member brought to Nelson a boy who’d been bitten by a vampire bat. Because of a rabies outbreak, the bit could be life threatening yet the father declined vaccination for the boy. “We were able to visit,” he recounted. “I found out where he was from and I knew some of the people that he knows.”
Between Nelson’s Achuar and the father’s Shuar language, doctor and patient advocate arrived at an agreement. The boy was vaccinated.
“My desire as a doctor is to be able to be part of my patients’ lives,” said Nelson, a physician serving with HCJB Global Hands in Ecuador, “And learning a language is part of that.” As a family practice doctor at Hospital Vozandes-Shell years earlier, he’d learned to attend to Achuar speaking jungle dwellers in their own language. When several years later the rabies crisis hit in a different part of the jungle, Nelson’s friend and former co-worker on medical caravan work, Germán Friere, knew exactly who to call. (Friere heads the Nacionalidades Achuar del Ecuador (Achuar Nationalities of Ecuador).
Other longterm mentoring relationships helped put Nelson into the epicenter of the rabies outbreak as several had already died in the remote area of Ecuador. An Ecuadorian physician, Dr. Natalia Romero, was directing the Ministry of Health’s epidemiology division and invited HCJB Global Hands to help out. Years earlier, Romero had graduated and later taught in the Hospital Vozandes family practice residency program in Quito.
Nelson had just days to establish rapport with the Achuar, but accompanying him to Taisha was decades of Hospital Vozandes tradition established over decades by HCJB Global Hands pioneering medical missionaries. In the late 1960s, missionary doctors risked all by entering a potentially lethal environment of internecine tensions to assist during a devastating polio outbreak. The lives of Waorani warriors and their families alike were saved and the gospel went forth among these jungle people.
Hospital Vozandes-Shell was borne of the late missionary Nate Saint’s passion to see the people of Ecuador’s rainforest hear the gospel of Christ. It was dedicated in 1958 as Epp Memorial Hospital in Shell, known in Ecuador as Hospital Vozandes del Oriente (HVO).
Here we have the privilege of helping some 20 patients find personal faith in Christ each month. As with the Hospital Vozandes Quito, the poor are able to receive financial assistance to cover health needs through a charity fund operating at the hospital.
As evidenced by an Ecuadorian newspaper account that “despite the belief that shamans must be a cure to prevent further deaths, hundreds of residents of this isolated area have agreed to be vaccinated against rabies”, clashes continue in Ecuador’s jungle region. Spears and treachery are less common, but a clash of worldviews continues to this day.
“Typically the Achuar will come to the hospital and will want to be seen. But they will also go and want to be seen by the shaman (witchdoctor) as well,” said Nelson. It is our privilege at Hospital Vozandes Shell to reach people with God’s love and to be the Hands of Jesus in this part of our world.