Sunday, February 4, 2018

Bangladesh 2018

Samaritan’s Purse is a fairly eclectic organization. I chuckle whenever I think about how my grandmother, when learning that I was going to join SP in Congo, wanted to argue that I was moving to Africa to pack shoe boxes. Among SP’s varied programs, the organization’s greatest passion is to provide emergency relief in a distinctly Christian manner. I have had the honor to spend the past three weeks in southeast Bangladesh, where over 850,000 Rohingya refugees have fled ethnic cleansing in Myanmar (Burma). Since December, there has been a major diphtheria outbreak in what is one of the largest refugee camps in the world. Samaritan’s Purse has responded by opening a Diphtheria Treatment Isolation Center (DTIC) in the southern part of the camp. The clinic has been extremely busy. As most health facilities are in the northern half of the camp, we have seen a disproportionately high number of patients and admitted more severe diphtheria cases than any other clinic last week. 

Our nurses have done a remarkable job entertaining and loving on our patients. I can't credit for these photos, but I thought they were too good not to share.

My role here is a little different than what I am accustomed to doing in Niger. As the Medical Information Officer, I am responsible for Samaritan’s Purse’s reporting to the World Health Organization. I also act as Samaritan’s Purse’s focal point for contact tracing, which involves collaborating with other actors to locate and provide prophylaxis to families of admitted diphtheria patients. 

My colleagues have done a tremendous job in constructing the DTIC. Only months ago, the land where the clinic and refugee camp are situated was jungle. This quick transformation has had some interesting (and sad) consequences, like elephants returning to their former homes. I was recently woken up at 4 AM in the morning by the commotion caused when a lost and frustrated elephant began stampeding through the camp.

This painting of the Good Samaritan hangs in our triage waiting area. The artist is one of our Buddhist employees.

Please pray for the Rohingya people. This Muslim ethnic group has suffered greatly, and our hearts have broken many times hearing their stories and seeing their children suffer from diphtheria and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Pray that they would see the love of Christ through us, and that their complicated social situation would soon improve.

We had some special guests last week. I will let you guess who.
More information on the diphtheria outbreak and Samaritan’s Purse’s response can be found via the links below. The content expressed in this blog is in no way meant to represent the opinions of Samaritan’s Purse.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

I want to share with you how I lived before knowing Jesus

In Psalm 133:1 King David exclaims, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Fellowship with other believers is something precious that we often take for granted. Scripture tells us that fellowship is a means in which we can strengthen one another spiritually (Proverbs 27:17, Hebrews 10:24-25), grow closer in our walk with God (Colossians 2:2, James 5:16, 1 John 1:7), and demonstrate the love of Christ (John 17:23).

My understanding of the benefits of Christian fellowship was deepened after meeting Abdoullaye, a Samaritan’s Purse beneficiary who recently gave his testimony during morning devotions. Abdoullaye, a quiet elderly Fulani man, opened his talk by stating, “I am grateful for being here, and I feel fortunate to be in the presence of God’s people.”

To fully grasp the meaning of the genuine appreciation of this statement, it is important to understand Abdoullaye’s background. Abdoullaye is from a small village near Niger’s border with Burkina Faso. His village is extremely under-resourced. Very few of his nomadic neighbors finished secondary school or speak French. Further, the security situation in this region has deteriorated over the previous few months, which has further inhibited the community’s development.

Abdoullaye is also the very first Christian from his village.

Abdoullaye first heard about the Gospel through Pastor Chaibou, a Samaritan’s Purse evangelist, who was meeting with Samaritan’s Purse’s beneficiaries in the area. Samaritan’s Purse intervenes in Abdoullaye’s community through ALFARI (Assisting Local Farmers to Adopt Resilient Improvements), a program which provides agricultural, nutritional, and financial trainings for farmers. As the population of Niger is less than one percent Christian, the Samaritan’s Purse Niger office is frequently unable to employ Christians who can share their faith with our beneficiaries. For this reason, Samaritan’s Purse hires and trains local evangelists to provide spiritual and emotional counseling to those we serve.

“I want to share with you how I lived before knowing Jesus,” Abdoullaye continued. “I am from a village where no one understood the Word of God, and everyone, including myself, was very resistant to accept the Gospel… One day, the pastor shared the Gospel with me, and he taught me from the word of God, and he taught me how to live according to the Word of God, and how to lead my family, and how to live in the village.”

That day, Abdoullaye decided to follow Christ, and Pastor Chaibou began to mentor and disciple him. Abdoullaye’s wife and children peacefully accepted his conversion, and even began to join him in praying.

“After [my conversion], even the villagers began noticing how my life changed.” As a result, many of Abdoullaye’s neighbors expressed interest in the Gospel and began asking Pastor Chaibou to teach them. Together, they constructed a hangar to provide an area with shade for Pastor Chaibou to hold his meetings in.
Pastor Chaibou teaching Abdoullaye and his neighbors.
Today, 40 community members consistently attend Pastor Chaibou’s Bible studies, and 15 people have proclaimed their faith in Jesus. Pastor Chaibou has earned a lot of respect in the village, even among those who do not attend the meetings.

As expected however, these changes frustrated the local Islamic witch doctors, also known as marabouts. They began pressuring the new believers to leave the village if they would continue attending Pastor Chaibou’s meetings. In one incident, some marabouts urged a group of women to return home as they were walking to Pastor Chaibou’s Bible study. One of the women, obviously frustrated, lashed out, “We have been listening to your teachings for years and nothing has changed! You are not our husband. Leave us alone and tell your own wives how to live!”
Tensions also grew after the marabout attempted to burn down the hangar.

“Pastor simply told me to be patient,” Abdoullaye recalls.

“Abdoullaye was very discouraged when the community tried to kick him out,” recalls Pastor Chaibou. “But I told him, ‘Even though your community and family disown you, God has promised to give you a new spiritual family.’”

One of Abdoullaye’s family members, the village chief, was approached by the marabout to expel the new believers from the village. For weeks, the local marabouts had been sending community members to report on the content of Chaibou’s messages as evidence against the small Christian community.

Tensions between the two groups grew to the extent that Pastor Chaibou realized that he needed to speak face to face with the village chief before things would escalate further. Fortunately, the chief was curious to learn what exactly the pastor was teaching.

“So I preached the gospel to him, and he listened very carefully,” recalls Pastor Chaibou. “And he told me, ‘if this is really what you are telling people, there is no reason to expel any of them from the village.”
(L to R) Pastor Chaibou, Abdoullaye, and Abdoullaye's wife.
Since then, the local believers have been able to meet without fear of being driven out of the community. Abdoullaye is still hungry to understand God’s word deeper, and continues to teach his family everything that he has learnt. Please pray that God will continue to grow and protect this new family of believers.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


It is always great to find new outlets to help decompress from the daily grind of working in international development. Last weekend, two of my friends and I became tourists for the morning and rode camels. Needless to say, this experience helped me get me over the hump of a very busy month.

Camels can sprint up to 40 mph.
Unfortunately, we rode these one-humped camels at a leisurely pace for an hour.

I was not aware until this trip that camels have two knees per leg.

Have a great day!

Monday, March 21, 2016

New Chapter in Niamey, Niger

A month ago I arrived in Niamey, Niger to start my new job as Program Manager of Heath & Nutrition. My hiring for this position could not have occurred at a better time and was a huge answer to prayer. The position opened unexpectantly, and I was unofficially hired the very last day of my internship. Further, delays in retrieving my visa and work permit allowed me to take care of some personal tasks, such as editing a scientific manuscript and visiting family members. Time and again, God demonstrates that He is sovereign over all things. All too often, we waste time worrying about the future instead of trusting in His provision and timing.

I am working for Samaritan’s Purse, the same organization I completed an internship with in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As the Program Manager of Health & Nutrition, I am currently in charge of two projects:
  • World Food Program (WFP) Supplementary Feeding Program. In collaboration with WFP, Samaritan’s Purse targets children under the age of age of five and pregnant and nursing mothers for malnutrition. Potential beneficiaries are identified through measuring the child’s weight-for-height score and the circumference of the child’s or mother’s arm with a tool called a MUAC ( Individuals diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition are referred to the appropriate health center, while those diagnosed with moderate malnutrition are educated on health and nutrition topics and provided food supplements. Beneficiaries are only discharged from the program once their weight-for-height and/or MUAC scores improve to normal levels. In 2015 year, a remarkable 82% of our beneficiaries recovered from malnutrition before the end of the year, and none of our enrolled beneficiaries died.
  • Bridging Gaps in Community Health (BGCH) is a multi-faceted health program which aims to strengthen the local public health capacity and educate the public on maternal and child health (MCH) issues. The program uses the care group model, a method which trains a group of community members to teach their neighbors on the various health topics. The male care groups will focus on family planning (Niger has the highest fertility rate in the world), while women will be educated on a wide spectrum of MCH topics. The hope is that by educating couples, men will allow their wives to apply the information learned in the training sessions. To help strengthen the local health capacity, community health workers will be trained on how to screen for pediatric diseases. We will also be working with the local Ministry of Health to train local health care practitioners on MCH topics. 
Each of these two programs takes place in western Niger. We are hoping to start two additional health programs in the coming year in Karofane.

Below are some facts about Niger:

In 2014, Niger was ranked by the United Nations as the least developed country in the world. Food insecurity, the lack of industry, high population growth, a weak educational sector, and few prospects for work outside of subsistence farming and herding were among the reasons for this ranking (

Niger is a predominantly Muslim country, with some estimating that the country is 99% Muslim ( Historically, Niger has been a peaceful country. This has all changed in the last few years with the advent of religious extremism in the region. One example of this is the public’s response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France. Within a few days of the attacks, much of the world gathered to together in solidarity to promote free speech and proclaim “Je suis Charlie.” The Charlie Hebdo issue following the attacks, which depicted the Prophet Muhammad holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign while crying, sold close to 8 million copies worldwide. The issue was even sold in predominantly Muslim francophone countries, such as Chad and Niger. Residents in these countries were obviously offended and took their anger out against local Christians, whom they associated with the West. Within 48 hours, over 70 churches in Niger were burned. By God’s grace, none of the Christians in these communities retaliated and the violence resided. Samaritan’s Purse is currently assisting the reconstruction of many of the destroyed churches.

The run-off presidential election has been boycotted by the opposition party ( The run-off election, which will be held on March 20th, pits incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou against former Prime Minister Hama Amadou, who is currently in prison for his alleged involvement in trafficking babies from Nigeria ( Thankfully, the first round of the election, which took place during my first week in the country, did not result in massive rioting or violence. Read here for a great resource on the political and security situation in Niger (

Maternal and child health (MCH) is a major problem in Niger, and most of the health programs that I will be involved with will have some type of MCH component. The maternal mortality rates in Niger are the highest in the world at 513 deaths per 100,000 live births (INS Niger 2014). Further, Niger is ranked with having the tenth highest under five mortality rates with 104 deaths per 100,000 births in 2015 ( Family planning is another important, yet sensitive issue in Niger. The fertility rate in the country is extremely high (and growing) at 7.6 in 2012 ( Projects like BGCH will attempt to teach men the importance family spacing and family planning strategies in a culturally sensitive manner.

I realize that many of the facts I just listed are discouraging, and the reality is that the country has much more to offer than the aforementioned maternal and child health problems and religious persecution. I greatly encourage you to take a quick look at the following Business Insider story about Niger. It likely provides a more well-rounded presentation of the country than what I have just written. Plus, it has many pictures.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

God Did Not Forget Us

In previous posts, I have spoken about Nyankunde, a village in northeast DRC where Samaritan’s Purse currently has two health and nutrition programs. For decades, Nyankunde was home to an interdenominational mission base, consisting of a Bible school, airstrip, printing press, a pharmacy and a hospital. Due to the influx of European, North American, and even Asian missionaries, the village was seen as an area of relative prosperity. The village had access to resources that other localities did not. The schools were better, the medicine was better, and jobs could be found with one of the various missions present. Several of my Congolese colleagues grew up in Nyankunde. Almost all of their families were from other villages, and moved to Nyankunde to improve their quality of life. Interestingly, many of my colleagues learned English through playing with the children of the missionaries.

Unfortunately, the resources that attracted the families of my colleagues also attracted military conflict during the Second Congolese Civil War. Viewed as a prime area to loot, militia groups came burning buildings and slaughtering innocent civilians, including over 1,000 hospital staff and patients. As many as 4,500 people were killed in the village as a result of the violence. Thirteen years later, Nyankunde is still feeling the effects of this pointless genocide. Over the last several years, those displaced from the conflict have gradually returned. However, very few have a tangible way of providing for their families, as employment is scarce and basic agricultural information has been lost.
Today, both the hospital and airstrip are running again, but at a much lower capacity than before the war. Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) operates the airstrip, while World Medical Mission, the medical arm of Samaritan’s Purse, employs six expatriate physicians.* Samaritan’s Purse has also constructed an operating room building for the hospital.**

Something That Requires Faith
 In addition to the operating room, Samaritan’s Purse was also hoping to reconstruct the maternity ward that was destroyed during the war. Every winter, Samaritan’s Purse releases a Christmas gift catalogue ( to raise funds for our various projects. In 2013, two American siblings who previously took a cake decorating class, Gabe and Livy, wanted to use their hobby of decorating cakes to raise money for Samaritan’s Purse. They first set off by raising $14 to purchase two chickens. They then raised an additional $75 to buy a goat.
Raising money for these projects came naturally for thirteen year old Gabe and his nine year old sister Livvy. It came so naturally that they were disappointed in how easily they raised the funds. Gabe felt that he was able to meet his previous goals on his own strength, and desired to do “something that requires faith.” That is to say, he wanted to be involved in a project so seemingly impossible that it could only be accomplished through God’s help. So he and his sister searched through the Samaritan’s Purse catalogue and found the most expensive project listed: the construction of a maternity ward for $35,000.

Gabe and Livvy quickly returned to baking and selling cakes. Word of their mission to fund the maternity ward spread, and other children also began helping out. Many of these children became so passionate about project that they asked their parents to donate money in place of receiving birthday and Christmas presents. Upon reaching ten thousand dollars, the project gained media attention. Gabe was invited by a former baker of the Queen of England to be tutored in gourmet baking techniques and be a guest on his television program. During their television appearance, the siblings raised $12,000 for their project. Among the viewers was a representative from the Muhammad Ali Center, who was particularly touched by the children’s story.

Picture of the Gabe and Livvy with Muhammad Ali.***
2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the infamous 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. In an effort to raise the nation’s international profile, recently inaugurated President Mobutu hosted the fight in the capital of Kinshasa. Ali, who knocked-out the then undefeated Foreman, is still beloved in Congo today. In order to commemorate the anniversary of Ali’s victory, the Muhammad Ali Association planned a large party, and the organization wanted Gabe to bake enough dessert for 700 guests. During the celebration, Gabe and Livy were given an opportunity to share their desire to raise money for the maternity ward. An anonymous donor in attendance was so moved by their story, that they provided the remaining $13,000.

Coming Home
The story behind the reconstruction of the maternity ward is multi-layered and can be chronicled from many different angles. It is therefore important not to overlook the many people who made this project possible. The construction of both the maternity ward and the operation room buildings were managed by SP’s Jon Miller. Both Jon and his wife, Heather, are the children and grandchildren of missionaries in Africa. Heather’s grandfather managed the aforementioned printing press and constructed the building that now houses Samaritan’s Purse’s staff in Nyankunde. Perhaps even more amazing is that Jon was born in the same maternity ward that he reconstructed. Not enough credit can be given to this couple for their involvement in this project and the mentoring they have given to the younger SP expat staff.

Exterior of the new maternity ward.

God Will Not Forget Us
I had the privilege of attending the opening ceremony of the maternity ward. In attendance were Gabe, Livvy, and their mother.  It was a blessing to hear them to tell their story first hand, and to eat the softest cupcakes I have ever consumed.

During the ceremony, the president of the hospital gave some stirring words. “When the war started,” he proclaimed. “We said that God will not forget us. [But as the war progressed, we became discouraged, and] we thought that God forgot us. But now we can say that God did not forget us, and that God is with us.”
Even after experiencing unimaginable hardship, our Christian brothers and sisters can affirm that the Steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end.

The new delivery room.


*Though I need to validate my sources, I was told that over twenty missionary doctors were once simultaneously working at the hospital.

***Photo credit:

You can learn more about Gabe “The Cake Man” and his sister Livvy at or by following them on Facebook at

Agricultural & Nutritional Transformation

While traveling through Nyankunde around noon, I consistently see groups of children, hunched over in a circle sharing bars of sugarcane. The first time I observed this, I brushed it off as an anomaly. However, after seeing the fourth or fifth large group of children eating their lunch of this tropical grass, I noted to an educated individual standing next to me, “Lots of children are eating sugarcane...” Thinking I was making a positive observation, he immediately replied, “Yes, it gives them strength!” Surprised by his response, I didn’t say anything. This is probably the first thing most of these kids have eaten today. There isn’t much else in sugarcane besides sugar and water.* I am not a nutrition expert, but I am pretty confident that most American parents would not justify giving their child a candy bar in place of breakfast and lunch because it would made them hyper and “give them strength.”

But it would be incredibly naïve to hold anyone here to American standards. This is not Chicago.* This is Nyankunde, a large village in northeast DRC that was completely devastated by the Second Congolese War. Nyankunde was once home to a large interdenominational mission base with a hospital, printing press, bible school, and airstrip. During the war, militia groups came in and began slaughtering innocent people and burning down homes. It even came to the point that the militants entered into the hospital wards and slaughtered everyone they came across, physicians and patients alike. Though these events happened over ten years ago, the hollow brick buildings seen throughout parts of the village serve as a reminder of the atrocities, and downright evil, that occurred.

Buildings like these were homes to staff at the mission station before the war.
As one could imagine, every type of social service structure (medical, educational, etc.) was undermined during the violence. It is therefore understandable why parents would feed their kids sugarcane: they lack nutritional knowledge and don’t have much of a choice. Sugarcane grows in many of their yards and is simply the most accessible food to give their kids.
There is very much a need for improved nutrition in areas like Nyankunde. Most of the residents here were displaced during the civil war and have returned within the last few years. During their time of displacement, families were unable to farm. As a result, parents were unable to teach their children farming techniques, and rates of malnutrition increased. According to Lindsey Cooper, a pediatrician at Nyankunde Hospital, about half of the pediatric inpatients suffer from illnesses caused by malnutrition.

Samaritan’s Purse has been involved in Nyankunde since before the violence, and has helped to reconstruct sections of the missionary hospital. In addition, Two of the programs I am working with: NAMED (see blog post entitled “Settling In and Project NAMED”) and ANT are based in Nyankunde. I recently had the privilege of visiting our team in Nyankunde with the purpose of learning more about Project ANT.

Project ANT (Agricultural & Nutritional Transformation) is an agricultural training program for families with children suffering from severe malnutrition. Each month, the Nyankunde Hospital refers to us families of children who were hospitalized with the worse cases of severe acute malnutrition. The local government also occasionally refers to us families of children who live too far away from the hospital to receive treatment. Once enrolled in the ANT program, Samaritan’s Purse allocates a plot of land in one of our community gardens to for the families to use. Project ANT staff supervise the enrolled families, lead regular training sessions on nutrition and agricultural techniques, and provide seeds and tools.** As with Project NAMED, the training sessions are often accompanied by a Bible lesson.

The vastness of the ANT gardens. Beneficiaries grow cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, soy, eggplant, leeks, green peppers, onions, and corn in gardens such as these.

While visiting many of the different gardens, one thing I was struck by was the genuine gratitude displayed by the beneficiaries. Consistent employment is rare here, and I got the impression while talking with the beneficiaries that they are proud to provide food for their families. However, the impact of Project ANT goes beyond access to vegetables as beneficiaries can sell their excess crops, providing money to buy other foods and even school fees for their children.

Esdras, one of the ANT staff, with some beneficiaries. The cabbages pictured, not even ready to be harvested, demonstrate the large size of the crops.
The Project ANT team is involved in a plethora of activities outside of agricultural and nutritional training for our beneficiaries. Our staff members give nutritional training to outpatients receiving Plumpy’nut, a therapeutic paste made of peanuts and soy, from the hospital. Also, in order to assist new beneficiaries as they wait for their crops to grow, Project ANT distributes food on a monthly basis for families during their first three months of enrollment (the average length of time before a harvest). Lastly, Project ANT, like Project NAMED, gives a weekly radio broadcast to educate the public on nutrition and provide reminders to our beneficiaries. Considering how much the team does, I joked with the staff members after our radio interview that the program should change its name from Project ANT to Project Éléphant.

In what was my probably my most difficult linguistic challenge so far, I was interviewed live on my thoughts about the ANT program via radio. The radio station broadcasts in Swahili, but my responses were translated from French.

Below is a picture of me with the supervisor and assistant supervisor of Project ANT. Our prayer is that, little by little, the program will empower the residents of Nyankunde to have healthy diets, therefore preventing unnecessary illnesses and deaths.


 **While I don’t encourage comparing levels of poverty between countries, I don’t want to be ignorant of the nutrition problem in Chicago. Many low-income neighborhoods lack grocery stores, prohibiting many from being able to eat fruits and vegetables. Also, I know several kids who live off a bag of chips or a box of cereal (if anything at all) during their days off of school. It is a shame that this occurs in the wealthiest nation in the world.

***Unlike the training sessions, the tools and seeds are only distributed to the beneficiaries during their first year of enrollment. The beneficiaries are trained on the need to save money for seeds so that they can be independent after the program finishes.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Portable Bible School Graduation

Samaritan’s Purse has a pretty cool program that provides Biblical training for pastors living in rural DRC. For three months, pastors undergo intensive training not far from their home villages. Most of these ministers did not finish secondary school, yet alone any form of seminary education. The hope is that these trainings will equip and encourage these pastors to continue their ministries amongst the regions most devastated by military conflicts.
This past Sunday, I had the privilege of attending a graduation ceremony for a Portable Bible School in a village about three hours south of Bunia. Roughly 30 pastors graduated. I continue to be impressed with how Samaritan’s Purse works across denominational lines for the sake of advancing the Gospel. The graduating class contained pastors from various church groups, including Baptist, Pentecostal, and even Anglican. Congregants from all the pastors’ churches came to support them for this exciting occasion. It was a great celebration – this was the first academic graduation ceremony many of graduates have participated in. In past graduation ceremonies in other villages, graduates were showered with flour by the audience (somewhat reminiscent of the bride and groom having rice thrown at them in American weddings). This time, however, the graduates were simply tackled with hugs by elderly women upon receiving their diploma.

All in all, the graduation service was a great privilege to attend. Over the span of four hours, various church choirs led worship in Swahili, and speeches were given in French by a graduate, church leaders, and SP staff. The commencement speech, given by Laurent Trabadello of SP Canada, came from Genesis 12 where God calls Abraham to be a blessing to all nations. He shared a very moving story about a single mother in Uganda who was unemployed and recently discovered that she was HIV positive. A concerned neighbor told her pastor, who then invited the woman to their church. The woman immediately felt welcomed by the members of the congregation, and, soon, the church was moved by the woman’s situation. This church, situated in a rural and impoverished region of Uganda, decided to pool all their resources together to ensure that this woman and her children had all their physical needs accounted for. The commencement speaker shared this story to emphasize that the local church, like the one in Uganda, is called to be a blessing to its communities.

One of the choirs leading worship.
All the guests from Samaritan’s Purse were seated stage right, perpendicular to the stage. Directly in front of us were a group of maybe 40 children who gave all of the expat staff curious stares. I honestly believe that these children would have all approached us if it were not for the ushers, who stated that they must all sit on a patch of grass maybe 15 feet from where I was sitting. During one of the worship songs (which frequently involves dancing in Africa), some of my colleagues and I made some new friends by dancing with the children.

Me interacting with some of the kids.

You can learn more information about the Portable Bible School by watching a video at