Breakfast of Champions
How do you start your work days? If you are like many, you go through the same routines Monday through Friday. Mine include Bible reading and listening to a commentary about the passages I just read. Then, from the comfort of my home, I fire off a text (and sometimes prayer requests) of my thoughts to two groups of men I do this study with. Usually, I’m the first one to post, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, there is some back and forth texting conversation, but not always. Over the last several years, this habit of a morning quiet time has become pretty deeply ingrained to the point where if I do my study at lunch time or, God help me, I miss a day, I feel like something important is lost from my day.
Take that established habit and morph it, and that is what happens at Bongolo Hospital Monday through Friday. In addition to individual quiet times, I am aware of three separate daily gatherings. One is the staff devotions from 7:30am to 8:00am. As this is Africa, those times are more fluid than in America. Approximately, 25-40 employees and missionaries gather each work day to sing worship songs and to listen to a teaching message from one of the hospital pastors, all in French, of course. This wraps up around 8:00 with announcements, final prayer and dismissal. Each time the pastor finishes, it reminds me of an episode of the start of most episodes of the old TV police show, Hillstreet Blues. Every morning, the officers would have a team meeting that included their assignments and any special alerts or warnings. The sergeant always dismissed everyone with, “Let’s be careful out there.” Regardless of what the pastor proclaims in French, it sounds to me like the Sarge speaking.
The other two are just as structured, yet the audiences are different every day. These are the two evangelical talks given by two other pastors. One preaches to the 50-70 patients who have arrived that morning before dawn for evaluation and care (this is a first come, first served system unless it is an emergency), who are waiting for their turn in the main square. The pastor has a captured audience, as these folk need to be nearby to hear their number called. He proclaims an impassioned gospel message that lasts up to 45 minutes, often to responses of periodic applause and cheering.
The other group is somewhat smaller, perhaps twenty patients. This group meets on the elongated porch at “Opthamologie”, the eye center. The pastor, who also works in the eye clinic, preaches for about 45 minutes about Jesus and the difference a life lived in Him makes, to the waiting patients. One common preaching device I have heard repeatedly in the churches is the pastor will loudly call out, “Alleluh!” (Alleluia) and the congregation will respond back with a lusty, “Amen!”, pronounced “Ahhmehn”.
The hospital has grown over the last few years and now treat an average of 40,000 patients per year, across all of the departments. Of those who hear the gospel message, how many actually are actually paying attention? That’s hard to say. Of course, we could say the same thing about weekend church in America. Regardless, official hospital records tell us that nearly 2,400 came to Christ last year – but those are just the ones who reported their faith decision to someone at the hospital. How many others were there? We may never be truly sure.
On the other side of the argument, one could also say that’s a 95% failure rate. That may mathematically true, but another perspective tells a different story: this “failure” averages out to a minimum of 9-10 new believers a day, five days every week! What church pastor wouldn’t want fifty new converts filling his or her ranks every week of the year?! After welcoming them into the faith, these new believers are then plugged into an Alliance church in their village or town, and the local Gabonese pastor takes charge of their spiritual growth moving forward. This amazingly successful dual mission of spiritual, as well as physical, healing is what makes Bongolo such a special place.