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Outreach to the Tribes

I’ve been quiet on the blog here for a few weeks…just soaking up the moments with my Mom and Dad here.  It has been a precious 6 weeks. I am so thankful.  I am very excited to have my dad as my “guest blogger” 🙂  He wrote such an amazingly detailed account of the outreach to the Southern Tribes that he and Dave went on together.  I’m anxious to share it with all of you.  Please continue to pray for these people here in Southern Ethiopia who are just now hearing the Gospel for the first time…

thank you Dad, for who you are…for working so hard to put this writing together…and for loving all of us so well.

Thank you for doing life with us, embracing the good and the hard, and for pressing in to Jesus more–I love you deeply.  -jewels

~writing and photography by David Weinz~

The alarm was set for 6:15 am.  However, I was awake long before it went off.  Shower, breakfast, finalize packing (mainly food), and we were on our way to meet the helimission chopper in a big “empty” field just outside of Soddo.  We loaded our gear, mostly medical supplies, into the Land Cruiser and Dr. Dave, Julie and I headed out.  As the field came into sight we could see that the helicopter had not yet arrived.  That was good as we did not want Markus to have to shut it down . . . . . we simply wanted to load our supplies, jump in and be on our way.   A couple of children came running as we turned off into the field.  By the time we stopped and got out of the vehicle there were ten or twelve people gathered around.  They are fascinated by “ferengies” (whites) and many of them are often begging for “birr” (Ethiopian currency).  Within a few minutes the helicopter appeared on the horizon and landed about fifty feet from us.  By this time about forty people had gathered.

On the chopper were three members of our outreach team:  Ben Skaggs (missionary to unreached tribes for 20+ years), Charlotte, LPN (the wife of Andrew, the mechanic, who keeps the helicopter in tip-top mechanical order) and Markus, the pilot.  As we loaded the chopper, Dave walked Julie back to the Land Cruiser and she headed for home.

Within minutes we were lifting off to begin our one-hour flight to the T’ara tribe.  I ended up in the co-pilot seat with a bird’s-eye view of the terrain below.  Our cruising altitude was between 700 and 900 feet.  As we approached and passed over the mountain peaks, it often appeared we were flying right toward the side of the mountain.  We would then gradually and smoothly gain altitude, fly over the crest and quickly be introduced to the beautiful valley several hundred feet below us.  The Omo River was in view for much of the trip.  This river winds for hundreds of miles through southern Ethiopia.  Because of the red soil, the water appears to be a muddy brown from the air.  It is full of hippos and other wildlife.  Ethiopia is a beautiful country.  Soddo Christian Hospital sits at about 7,000 feet elevation and the T’ara tribes live at about 6,000 feet.  The hillsides were covered with lush vegetation.  From the air it was easy to spot the mud hut villages with beautifully manicured farm plots, some freshly plowed (by hand with the help of an ox) and some with mature crops.

In spite of the remote location, the distance from any town and the elevation,  many of their out buildings had tin roofs, all of which were transported in by hand.  Because this is one of their two rainy seasons there were several beautiful waterfalls along the way.

As we approached the first Tara village (Oshka) we could see the people beginning to gather.  Ferengies attract lots of attention, but as you can imagine, helicopters attract even more!  By the time we touched down there were several dozen people gathered:  men, women and children.

Greetings were done immediately between Ben, Markus, Dr. Dave and the church leaders.  We quickly unloaded the medical bags, the cot, and a couple of stools, all of which were to be used in the “clinic”.  The first building we passed was the church, the second was our clinic.  It was about twenty feet by thirty feet and consisted of vertical eucalyptus poles for the sides, spaced two to four inches apart.   The roof was framed in with eucalyptus and covered with tin.  The floor was dirt.

As Dave threw about fifteen zip lock bags of medications out onto the ground for easier access, some of the tribal men began carrying crude wooden benches in for the patients to sit on.  In spite of Dave’s numerous requests to have only the current patient and the next one to be treated inside the clinic, the room was quickly full of men, women and children.  Even though a “guard” had been posted at the door, more and more continued to filter in during the next several hours.  The men, of course, were the biggest offenders, sneaking in, rushing to the cot for treatment, with the women and children waiting patiently to be seen, some of them for a couple of hours.

As one might imagine, language can be a huge barrier to learning the symptoms of a patient, diagnosing the problem and then giving directions for medications.  Our translator was Johannes, a young man of about twenty and one of the church leaders in Oshka.

As patients came to the cot Johannes would determine their symptoms and pass that information on to Dave.  In most cases he would ask additional questions in an attempt to narrow the focus and diagnose the ailment.  I was so impressed with Dave’s ability to determine the ailment (as best possible), identify the proper medication(s) and dose(s), administer the treatment, verbally communicate the directions for ongoing treatment (via medicines provided) and send them on their way.

It’s interesting what one can do medically in remote Africa . . . . . . . when necessary I served as a novice pharmacist, providing medications from our baggies and mixing some of the oral meds for the patients.  It was nice to be able to contribute in some small way.

My guess is that Dave saw about forty patients in the four hours that we were there.  Each patient is required to pay ten birr (about 50 cents). . . . no birr, no treatment!  This was adhered to firmly.  My initial reactions to this requirement:  where in the world would these tribal people, out in the middle of nowhere in the mountains of southern Ethiopia, get birr AND what would they ever use it for; and what if someone was in dire need of treatment and they had no birr?  I later learned that the T’ara sell honey, grow crops, and raise cattle. Itinerant traders come through weekly or monthly to buy and sell and trade goods.  This explains the “western” clothing that many of them wore.  In addition, there were probably a few tribal people that would make the long journey by foot (one to 2 days) to the nearest village to conduct business.  Bottom line, with the exception of one young man who appeared quite healthy but was refused treatment because he had no birr, everyone else came prepared to pay.  As a side note, the day after we returned to Soddo I was given the task of counting the money.  The total was 1,890 Birr, about $100.  The idea behind requiring payment is to avoid perpetuating the belief or feeling that “ferengies” are rich and give everything away for free and that they should come to expect that . . .. the idea of entitlement.

It was funny as each patient sat on the cot to receive treatment.  Early on I thought, this person has no birr.  However, the first thing Dr. Dave did with every patient was to ask for payment.  Every patient produced the birr, pulling it out of every conceivable place on their body . . . . I won’t go into any detail here . . . . just let your imagination run wild!  I was surprised and amused by some of the locations from which the birr were produced, but what made me chuckle was when a young man pulled out a wallet from somewhere and opened it up to reveal a wad of birr.  I’m sure he could have paid for everyone’s treatment that day!

Treatments were provided for scabies, diarrhea, coughing, vomiting, malaria, injuries and more.  After seeing just a couple of patients, Dave was told of a young lady that had given birth to twins three days earlier, but the second baby had not yet come out.  There was a lot of confusion around this but it was finally determined that she would be able to be carried to the clinic from her hut so that Dr. Dave could diagnose what was really going on.  Within the next hour she was brought into the clinic on a “stretcher”.  The “stretcher” consisted of blanket, tied to a pole on opposite ends, with mommy and baby inside this “blanket sack”.  By this time the general understanding was that she had indeed delivered her baby three days prior.  There was not a second baby, but the placenta had not yet been delivered. . . apparently one of those translation problems.

As soon as Dave began his examination, a stench filled the hut!

The umbilical cord was still attached and exposed, so he pulled gently on it and it broke away from the placenta.  He quickly determined that he did not have the equipment or the expertise to remove the remaining placenta and clean out the infection.  Although the young mother seemed to be doing okay, without medical treatment there was a good chance she could die from infection.  She would have to be flown to Soddo Christian Hospital for the required care.  What followed was interesting.  It would cost her about 1,000 birr (around $50.00) to be flown by helicopter to Soddo.   The true cost for Helimission was $1,800).  After treatment at Soddo, she would have to return to the nearest village by vehicle and walk for one and a half days over the hills to her village.  She said she could not afford to go.  Her family said they had no birr.  Dr. Dave suggested the family or the community donate a goat.  After a great deal of time, the birr for the trip was collected and she was indeed going to Soddo.

Mid to late afternoon we heard the helicopter approaching.  Most of the eyes peering through the wall slats disappeared, rushing out to see the approaching chopper.  Dave saw his last few patients, we packed up all the supplies, loaded them onto the chopper and headed off to Agara, the second T’ara village.

As we approached Agara, gathered below was the largest group of villagers yet, possibly fifty or sixty.

The other medical team had arrived here early afternoon and conducted a clinic.  This team consisted of Sophie, a nurse from Soddo, who has lived and served here for about three years, and three of her church friends (Derrick, Allison and Christy) from Idaho who had come to visit her.

Lutherans all! They did not have nearly the number of patients that we had seen so they finished earlier in the afternoon and were simply spending time with the people.

We unloaded all of our supplies and Markus left immediately with a patient from this village with a serious hand wound (infected machete cut) and headed back to Oshka to pick up Dave and the new mother to transport them back to the hospital for emergency care.  They would have time to get to Soddo, but darkness was likely to keep them from getting back to the village that night.

For the next couple of hours we just mingled and played with the villagers.  All of us visitors from the states had our cameras and everyone, young and old wanted their pictures taken so that they could look at the screen and see themselves.  Prior to this experience it had never occurred to me that there are people in the world who have never seen themselves; not in a picture, not in a mirror, not in a pool of water!  Hard to believe.  The four of us were taking pictures, each with a large group of villagers surrounding us.  They would look at their pictures on the little screens, point and laugh.

It was quite amusing: even a couple of the “elders” of the tribe came up, poked me and pointed at themselves.

They too wanted to be a part of the fun and see themselves.

Most of the pictures were of groups, simply because if anyone saw a camera going up they would crowd around to be in the picture.  After awhile, I managed to get a picture of an attractive young lady, possibly in her early twenties.  She had a very stern look on her face.  I took my fingers and pushed the sides of my mouth up into a smile and then pointed at her.  She quickly understood that I wanted her to smile.  She was quite shy, but eventually broke out into a big smile.  When I showed her before and after shots, she began laughing.

It was difficult to get candid shots because people would gather so quickly when we took a picture.  On several occasions I wandered off to the edge of the cleared area and waited until I could quickly snap an uncluttered shot.

After an hour or so of picture taking it was time to have a bite to eat.  All the members of the outreach team went into a hut and pulled out food that we had put into the packs.  Our meals consisted of canned tuna fish, peanut butter, homemade bread (thanks to Julie), energy bars and trail mix.

When we ran out of the water we had brought with us, we filtered the local water for our use.

Okay, we had all held out as long as we possibly could.  Now it was time to find the “bathroom”.  Several of us hiked down the hillside until we saw a trail leading off to the right.  About fifty feet down that trail was a little hut, shaped somewhat like a phone booth with no door.  A hole had been dug before constructing the hut and tree branches were laid across the top of the hole.  In the middle, the tree branches were spaced about 8 to 10 inches apart to form a toilet seat.  BYOTP!

Vickie and I had brought three soccer balls with us from the states . . . it was time to pull one out!  Derrick took the lead here and instantly had about thirty men and boys in a big circle playing “circle volleyball”.  They hit the ball back and forth for more than an hour . . . no yelling, no hitting, no fighting; just a lot of laughing, smiling and fun.

All of a sudden there was a familiar sound in the distance, the sound of the helicopter approaching.  This immediately ended all activities as everyone went running for the landing sight to watch this odd looking “bird” drop out of the sky, delivering Dr. Dave and Markus.  What must they think?  Most of them have never even seen a car or a motorcycle or even a bicycle.  I still can’t quite wrap my mind around this.

As darkness set in, the villagers began singing and dancing.  This was loud, energetic and lots of fun to watch.  During this time rough hewn wooden benches were set up in one of the rectangular huts, a tiny battery operated light was hung from the ceiling and the people began pouring into the hut to hear the message delivered by Ben Skaggs and two translators.  Ben would preach the message in Me’en, one of the tribal evangelists would translate Ben’s word’s into Amharic and a second tribal evangelist would translate the words into the local tribal language.  The message went on for about an hour and in spite of the fact we ferengies couldn’t understand a single word, it was a great experience because of the energy and excitement in the room.  It was obvious these people take their faith seriously, hunger for the Word, and boldly express their love for God.  We could learn much from them!

About half way through Ben’s message he took a break to include some worship songs.  The evangelists immediately broke into song and the entire assembly joined in.  For the next ten minutes or so the singing and “dancing” were exhilarating.  Then, back to the message.

God’s word was shared in each village, sometimes for ten or fifteen minutes, sometimes for one to two hours.  If it weren’t for people like Ben Skaggs, who have devoted their lives to living among the unreached tribes, learning their language, developing a written language, and ministering to them for many years, these people would still not have heard about the one true God and the salvation provided for them and for us through Christ’s sacrifice.

The church service ended about ten p.m.  I was shot. . . .I can’t imagine how tired Dave must have been!  It had been a huge day as we had boarded the helicopter about eight a.m.  Was this really just one day?

Most of the villagers exited and made their way to their huts.  All of the benches were removed to make room for our tents.  The eight of us had five tents and within a half hour or so all the tents were up, sleeping bags unrolled and we were ready to call it a day.

Interesting though, there were still eight or ten villagers in our hut, probably amazed by all the “stuff” we needed in order to sleep.  Eventually they were invited to leave and it was time for lights out.  Actually there were no lights, just headlamps and flashlights.

Sleeping was somewhat fitful.  I woke up about one a.m. and heard a lot of breathing.  Some of it seemed like it was just inches away, right outside my tent.  But the other tent was about ten feet away so I set that thought aside.  In the morning I was one of the first to rise.  As I climbed out of my tent I had to step over three young tribesmen.  They had apparently snuck in after we fell asleep, rolled out their mat and covered themselves with a blanket.  So I had not imagined the breathing right next to me . . . it was real.

Following our “breakfast” of canned tuna fish, peanut butter, homemade bread, and trail mix, Markus, Dave, Ben, Sophie, Allison and I boarded the chopper with all of the medical supplies and headed off to our next tribe, the Kwego.  In contrast to the T’ara, who are a highlands tribe, the Kwego are a lowland tribe about a forty-minute flight away.  But it wasn’t as simple as flying directly to the Kwego.  We first had to refuel, which in the mountainous region of southern Ethiopia, is not a simple task.  There are no towns or airports where you can simply land, take on fuel and lift off again.      Markus, who pilots the only helimission chopper in Ethiopia, must order fuel well in advance of these trips and have it delivered by truck to one of the tribal centers that has access by “road”.  It is then rolled through the terrain to wherever the chopper is able to land.  Bachuma was to be our fuel stop.  As we flew toward the village high in the mountains, after two or three attempts, it appeared we were not going to make it because of clouds and fog.  Markus decided to drop down into the valley, cross the ridge and come up the other side.  Success!  We were able to land on the side of the hill.  About one hundred feet away stood our fifty-gallon drum of fuel.  A couple of tribesmen rolled the drum to the helicopter.

We again drew a crowd.  As Markus pumped the fuel into the chopper, a couple of self-appointed guards whacked people with sticks to keep them away from the chopper.  Ben took advantage of this re-fueling time to touch base with a couple of the church leaders for the Bachuma tribe.

Within 30 minutes we were back on board ready to head out.  As I looked out over the landscape, everything was foggy.  It made me wonder where we were going since I couldn’t see more than thirty feet or so.  As we lifted off, Markus moved us away from the side of the hill, then allowed us to drop almost straight down and out of the clouds.  It was now clear sailing to our next stop, the Bode tribe.  The Bode are the most tribal and warring of all the Ethiopian tribes.  Several weeks ago a group of Bode tribesman attacked and killed five T’ara and stole their cattle.  The offenders have since been caught and arrested.  What a great story to hear as you anticipate descending into their village!

As we landed in Bode territory we attracted a much smaller group.  The purpose of this stop was for Ben to touch base with the church leaders.  We were probably on the ground for about forty minutes.  Dr. Dave and I wandered around the grounds while waiting for Ben to finish.  An interesting difference here was that all of the huts were on stilts, four or five feet off the ground.

Any “tools” or “utensils” were gathered and hung from the trees too.  I’m guessing this was to protect them from the animals.  Also, we saw very little western clothing . . .  they looked much more like what I had anticipated Un-reached tribal people might look like.

Before long we were back in the air, headed for our final clinic with the Kwego tribe.  The Kwego are somewhat nomadic in nature, moving their villages as necessary for food and water.  So it took a little looking to find them.  Before long a number of huts were spotted and Markus found an acceptable landing area.  As we walked into the midst of the people, I immediately noticed a different attitude and the feelings that came over me were uncomfortable.  An older tribesman engaged with Ben right away and they had an animated discussion for about ten minutes as the rest of us moved to an area under some trees where the clinic would be held.  Once we were on the ground Markus headed out to transport some other people and do the final refuel for the long trip back to Soddo.  The plan was for him to return in about one and a half hours.

Ben and the elder tribesman joined our group under the trees and shared the focus of their conversation.

First of all the tribesman was insisting that everyone receive shots from the doctor, because shots involve pain and there can only be healing if there is pain involved.  Ben shared this with Dave who indicated that that was not going to happen.  The tribesman continued to insist with the conversation growing even more animated.  As this went on the younger tribesmen were checking the rest of us out, looking at our watches etc.  One of them indicated to Dr. Dave that he wanted his watch.  No!  This tribe was much more “tribal” in nature.  No western clothing, many carried spears, some wore very little clothing, lots of exposed breasts and many of the little kids wore no clothing of any sort.

The men seemed fascinated by “jewelry”.  One young man had a leather strap around his neck with a flashlight attached.  Where in the world did that come from?  He was quite animated around us and certainly gained our attention.  Another wore an “earring” which was nothing more than a plastic tab from a bread bag.  One had a wristwatch.  He grabbed my hand and pulled it up to where his watch was next to mine so he could compare them.  His wasn’t running so our times were different.  I’m not sure he noticed.

Meanwhile, the conversation between Ben and the elder tribesman came to an end.  Ben told Dr. Dave he was still insisting on shots. Dave told Ben to tell the elder tribesman, no shots.  You’re not the doctor . . . I am.  If they don’t want a clinic we’ll pack up and leave. (I’m thinking, difficult to do with no helicopter).  The tribesman finally backed off and we were able to proceed.  Prior to the clinic, however, Ben shared the Gospel with some of those that had gathered . . . it was apparent that not everyone was interested as there was plenty of disruptive activity as he was teaching.  It was so different than with the T’ara.  The Kwego appear much less civilized, less trusting, more challenging, resulting in a much less comfortable feeling.  They have no Birr, the relationship is still being built with them so the clinic is free.

The treatments here were much different:  more injuries and wounds than illness.  So lots of salves, bandages and antibiotics.

One little baby had a bad head burn resulting in a fairly serious infection.  As Dr. Dave cleaned the wound with an iodine solution the mommy shed a few tears.  Another young adult had a serious infection on his ankle.  As Dave scrubbed and scrubbed the wound the young man grimaced and tightened his entire body, but not a single tear was shed . . . . . they are a proud strong people.

The third or fourth young man seeking treatment was assisted to the cot by two friends.  He doubled over with pain as they laid him out on the cot.  As his two friends moved away, something immediately caught my eye . . . . around his neck was a leather strap . . . . with a flashlight attached!  This young man who had been so jubilant and gregarious around us twenty minutes earlier was now on death’s doorstep . . . . or so he wanted us to think.  I got Dave’s attention and pointed this out.  Without hesitation he instructed Ben to tell him to get off the cot, that earlier he was just fine and he was simply playing games.  Ben spoke to him and his friends and was convinced that this young man was in serious pain.  Dave insisted that they remove him and after a few exchanges back and forth with Ben, his friends lifted him off the cot and set him on the ground where he immediately collapsed onto his back.  The next patient came to the cot for treatment.  A few minutes later I looked to see how the young man was doing and he had disappeared.  A little later we saw him rough housing with his buddies behind the group . . . a not so miraculous healing!

For most of these patients a prayer was offered by Ben.

As we neared the end of the clinic most of the villagers began running away from where we were gathered.  Once again they had heard the approaching helicopter before I did.  Dave told us to gather all of our supplies and get things loaded on the chopper so that Markus would not have to shut it down.  We headed that way with all our supplies.  By the time everything was loaded he had finished with the final patient and he and Ben were on their way to the chopper.  However, we quickly learned that Markus had again just refueled prior to coming to pick us up and he was unable to take off with a full load.  Because of where we were located, he had to go straight up, then start going forward.  It was quickly decided that Dave and I would hop in the chopper with Markus.  He took us a few miles from the village and dropped us off out in the middle of a huge Ethiopian plain

and flew back to pick up Ben, Sophie and Allison.  We told him to be sure to set his GPS coordinates so that he would be able to find us again!  Within ten minutes or so we could hear and see them approaching.  He dropped down, we climbed aboard and began our flight back to Soddo, landing on the hospital grounds

about a football field’s distance from Dave and Julie’s home.  Even here there was quite a group of people to welcome us as we climbed out of the chopper.

It was late in the day and Markus still needed to retrieve Derrick, Christy and Charlotte from the Tara village where they had spent the entire day.  Because he was returning to the T’ara village, he was able to transport  the young mother and her baby that had been flown in for emergency treatment the day before.  She was excited to get back home.  A quick re-fueling was completed, the patients were loaded and off they went on their hour flight back to the T’ara village.  With a little luck Markus would be able to return to Soddo and arrive before nightfall.

It quickly became evident to me that God had given me a very special experience.  Very few people have traveled to these remote tribes.  Only two of the doctors (David Ayer and David Hardin) from Soddo Christian Hospital have gone.  My guess is that the vast majority of these tribal people have seen only a handful of ferengies.  Why am I one of them?  What am I to do with this experience?  I will continue asking God this question . . . . I’m sure he has something in mind!


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