Saturday, 31 July 2010

The ascent of Mount Wilhelm

One of my favorite books of all time is "Hinds Feet on High Places" by Hannah Hurnard.  You know, one of those books that you have read so many times the pages are marked and worn and falling apart.  It is the tale of an ugly, crippled little girl called Much Afraid.  Much Afraid is a servant of the Good Shepherd.  One day the Shepherd calls her to go with him to the High Places, promising to give a new name.  The rest of the book tells the story of Much Afraid's journey... through the desert, along the Shores of Loneliness, up the Precipice Injury, in the Forest of Danger and Tribulation, in the mist and the Valley of Loss, and finally to the High Places where she receives her new name.  What is that name?  You will have to read the book to find out!  It is a beautiful allegory of the Christian life, as Jesus transforms us from slaves of sin to sons and daughters of righteousness.

This past weekend, 14 Kudjipites made their own journey to the High Places.  Topping out at more than 14,800 feet, Mt. Wilhelm is the highest place in PNG.  Priscilla Radcliffe was the reason for our journey, as she will soon be leaving for college in America.  You can't grow up as a missionary kid in PNG and never climb Wilhelm!  Well, maybe you can, but it was a good excuse to plan a trip.  (Unfortunately for me, the planning started only 2 weeks before lift-off... not exactly enough time to train for this sort of a thing!)

Friday morning all of the docs rounded early and we gathered at the circle about 8:00 AM.  You know you are a missionary when you tie planks to the top of your land cruiser, to be used to repair any impassible bridges.  (Don't worry Mom and Dad... building your own bridge is completely safe.)  Backpacks and sleeping bags were loaded.  We paused for a group picture and brief prayer before heading down the road to our neighboring Simbu Province.

We arrived at Kundiawa, capital of Simbu Province, and left the "good" road of the Highlands Highway.  The not-so-good dirt road wound us through the valley, along mountain ridges and over river gorges.  We crossed 14 bridges and never did need those extra planks... though one of the overpasses was rather precarious.  Only Dr. Bill was brave enough to drive across.  The rest of us gladly walked.

Three bumpy hours later, we made it to our destination.  We paused at a local school to eat lunch, wait out the rain, and pick up a few extra passengers.  Yes, the heavens opened and showers of blessings began to pour on the very day of our hike.  Unfortunately the blessings did not make it all the way to Kudjip.  We are still in desperate need of rain.  Please keep praying!

The rain paused slightly around 2:00 PM.  Four guides lead the way up the foothill path.  Paid carriers shouldered the heaviest of our loads.  Shortly after we began the ascent, the rain started to fall again.  It was a cold and slippery walk.  Up and up and up some more!  About half way into the hike, we entered a beautiful valley that had been carved out by a glacier thousands of years before.  It looked like a place from another time; you could just imagine a scened filled with prehistoric creatures.  Luckily we didn't actually see any.  Our last big push was along side a cascading waterfall.  By that point I was starting to wonder if I would make it!  

But just a few more steps and we arrived at base camp.  The guest house was situated above the shore of a mountain lake. It had a central dining area, three smaller rooms with beds, and one large room with mattresses on the floor.  There was no running water.  The rustic pit toilet was a short walk from the house.  The smaller rooms of the house were already occupied by an Australian geology team that was studying the history of the glacier.  We all piled all of our stuff into the larger room, rolled out sleeping bags, and hung our damp clothes to dry.  Our first class dinner included Maggie (ramen) Noodles, tinned mystery meat, and beef flavored crackers.  I imagine just about anything would taste like gourmet when climbing a mountain.

After a cold and restless few hours of near-sleep, the group awoke about 3:00 AM to get up and start their hike.  They were on their way even before the light of dawn.  Knowing my limits, I decided to stay around base camp for the day.  I enjoyed a few more hours of sleep, finally warm with an extra sleeping bag piled on top of me.  

I woke up feeling a bit more rested and decided to attempt a shorter hike.  Reuben, my fellow Kudjipite and adopted brother for the day, and I were led by the four girls teenage who carried our packs to base camp.  The lake next to the guest house is called "meri wara," or the woman's water.  It is a nice sized lake that is apparently filled with rainbow trout.  Meri wara is fed by a waterfall from a higher and somewhat smaller lake called "man wara," or the man's water.  The path led us around the meri wara.  We scaled the side of the cliff where the waterfall tumbled over.  There were some rather interesting points along the way, but the girls did a wonderful job of pushing and pulling me to the top!  And it was well worth it.  As we sat on the banks of the man wara, I was awed by the silent beauty of the place.  It is because of the silence that PNGians say it is forbidden to swim in that lake.  They believe it is inhabited by the spirits of the dead.

I asked the girls if they knew any local stories about the lakes or how they came to be.  They thought there was a story, but were not sure of it themselves.  Several Biblical analogies came to mind.  We recently finished studying John 7 in our Bible study.  Jesus said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him" (vs. 37-38).  I imagined the man wara representing Christ, giving up of himself as living water.  Just as the waterfall cascades down the side of the cliff, Jesus pours his love down from heaven.  We are the meri wara, receiving that gift of living water.  We are filled to overflowing and can spill the water of life to those around us.

Back at base camp, we relaxed by the shores of the meri wara.  The Wilhelm hikers stumbled back one by one.  Everyone had successfully reached the summit!  And what tales they had to tell.  A few minutes for rest and packing up, and we continued the still slippery downward climb to where our vehicles were parked.  Our guide Willie directed us a few minutes down the road to his home village where we enjoyed the hospitality of his family.  We cooked our Maggie Noodle dinner over an open fire.  The family provided us with scones and delicious home-made strawberry jam.  The accommodations were simple, but we were oh so thankful for a warm place to rest our weary bodies.

Sunday morning we arose with the dawn and began our journey home.  Another almost three hours over the bumpy dirt road and rickety bridges, though aching joints and muscles made it seem like an eternity.  We stopped at a nice little bakery in Kundiawa for breakfast and coffee.  What a treat for our motley crew!  The mostly-paved Highlands Highway seemed so smooth for our final hour back to Kudjip.  The Myers dropped a tired and dirty and sore Steph off at home sweet home.  A military shower never felt so good!

So we have come to the end of the chapter on the "Ascent of Mount Wilhelm."  While I would have like to have made it all the way to the top, I am very satisfied with my experience.  Actually, it was amazing.  I love the beauty of this country.  I love the people of PNG, to hike with them and story and spend time in their homes.  I know I have said this many times before, that I am so blessed to live and serve here in this place.

I would still like to hike to the top of Wilhelm someday, perhaps when I have a bit more time to prepare myself.  If not before, I'm thinking that would be a good way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my 30th birthday.  That gives me a few years to get ready!

For a few snaps of this incredible journey, take a peek at the Mt. Wilhelm photo album.

"The Lord God is my strength,
and he will make my feet like hinds' feet,
and he will make me to walk upon the High Places."
Habakkuk 3:19

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Stephoscope: July 2010 Newsletter

Hello out there...

Here is the July 2010 edition of Stephoscope!

Check out this month's prayer points... our two best ultrasound machines recently quit working and we are getting desperate for rain.  Thanks for keeping Nazarene Hospital in your prayers!

hugs from PNG,
~ steph

P.S.  If you don't already receive my newsletter by email and you would like to, please drop me a note:

Friday, 23 July 2010

Rain, rain...

There are two seasons here in the highlands of PNG.  During wet season, "taim bilong ren" or "time of rain," it precipitates pretty much every day.  Things get a bit soggy.  Our front yard occasionally becomes a small lake.  Sometimes there is some flooding in low lying areas.  But it is nothing as crazy as the monsoons in India!  The other season is dry, "taim bilong san" or "time of sun."  Instead of raining every day, it will generally rain a couple of times a week.

This year the dry season is a bit drier than usual.  There have been a couple of times that we have gone without rain for plus or minus a week.  Apparently the overall rainfall is at a 10 year low for the area.   

Lack of rain makes things interesting for several reasons.  First, we depend on rain for our home water supply.  The rain runs down the roof, along the gutters, and is collected in a water tank.  We use this water for drinking, making ice cubes, showers, washing clothes, and anything else you might use water for.  When the rain doesn't come and the water level on the tank begins to fall, we need to conserve water.  Dirty dish water is used to water plants or flush toilets.  Long luxurious showers are traded for bucket baths or "military showers."  Good thing we haven't had to give up bathing all together.  So far.

Rain water is also used to supply the hospital... the tap for washing hands, cleaning laundry and sterilizing instruments, water for patients and their families to drink, formula for babies, supply for the operation theater.  There have been several times when the water has run dry on one ward or another.  Thankfully the hospital hasn't run out completely!

Previously we had a well system that was used as a back up system for the hospital and homes on the station.  If your tank ran dry, you could fill it up with well water.  This hasn't really been working for a couple of months now.  I think it is a broken pump, or perhaps an almost dry well, or both.

Another difficulty for my Papua New Guinean friends is their gardens.  Gardens grow year round.  People don't need to store up for the future because they can just go out to the garden and get what they need when they need it.  So when things are too dry, the gardens don't produce as much and food supply starts to become a bit an issue.

Back home in the US, I certainly never thought about how much water it takes to flush a toilet, or letting the water run while I brush my teeth.  I don't really think about it during PNG rainy season.  But now I am starting to feel a concerned!  There are millions of people around the world who are affected by limited access water.  In fact, clean water and sanitation are two of the biggest public health issues.  Here are a few water and sanitation facts from
  • 1 in 8 people does not have access to safe water
  • more people in the world have cell phones than access to a toilet
  • diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children under 5
  • women spend more than 200 million hours each day collecting water for domestic use
  • a 5 minute shower uses more water than a typical person in a developing country slum uses in a whole day
(For more information, here is a fact sheet on water and sanitation provided by the UN.)

Rain, rain... please don't go away!  I pray that you will come today.

"Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime;
it is the Lord who makes the storm clouds.
He gives showers of rain to men,
and plants of the field to everyone."
~ Zechariah 10:1

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Dad and Mom come to PNG!!!

Start:     Dec 22, '10
End:     Jan 11, '11
I am so excited to be able to share PNG with my parents :). This will be one very special Christmas!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Light medicine

A few months ago, I wrote a story about my least favorite disease:  cervical cancer.  For many years this was a fatal diagnosis in PNG.  There was no hope for a woman with cervical cancer.  She was going to die from her disease.  And it is a pretty bad way to die... usually from kidney failure or slowly bleeding to death.  I know, because I have already seen too many.

A spark of hope ignited last year with the re-opening of the PNG Cancer Treatment Centre in Lae.  The Cancer Centre offers radiation therapy which slows the progression and sometimes even cures cervical cancer.  When I identify a patient who might be a candidate, I do my best to explain the treatment.  How exactly do you describe radiation to someone who lives without electricity or running water?  I call it "light medicine."  

We have now have 6 or 7 patients who have finished the course of "light medicine."  Do you remember Kuni?  She is one of them.  I see the ladies in clinic for follow up every month or so.  Most are doing quite well.  It is an incredible blessing to see how God is working in their lives!

At the end of April, the spark flickered when radiation treatment was put on hold.  Dr. Niblett, the only radiation oncologist in the country, left for holiday.  He was scheduled to return the beginning of June.  Every week we call with new referrals, but the Cancer Centre has no idea when he will be coming back to PNG.  We have been told there are visa issues, or maybe delays due to contract negotiation.  Who knows for sure.

Meanwhile, time is ticking for our patients who are in need of radiation therapy.  Here is a picture of Kant and her husband Bakre.  Kant has already been waiting several months to be able to go to Lae.  I only hope that she will be able to go before her disease is too advanced.
I am writing this blog today to share about the situation, but more importantly... to ask you to pray for the cervical cancer program.  Here are a few prayer points:
  • the HPV vaccine will available in PNG
  • women will hear about the services that we offer and come
  • Pauline as she screens patients with pap smears
  • Meripath, for Judi and Joanne and those who have so invested themselves into the program
  • Dr. Becky and I as we follow patients with abnormal pap smears
  • more health care providers to be trained in colposcopy and treatments for cervical dysplasia
  • Dr. Jim as he does surgery on our patients with early cancer
  • Dr. Niblett, that he will be able to return to PNG and soon
  • someone to be trained to continue radiation therapy when Dr. Niblett someday retires
  • our patients

"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"
~ John 8:12

Thursday, 15 July 2010

See one, do one, teach one

"See one, do one, teach one."  That was the unofficial motto of my residency program.  Although sometimes it was more like "read about one, supervise an intern doing one!"

We follow the same sort of philosophy here at Kudjip Hospital.  I have definitely seen, assisted with, and done some procedures I had only learned about before:  pericardiocentesis, bone marrow biopsy, ultrasound, fracture reduction and casting, suturing an ear back in place... just to name a few.  This is not the kind of place where you can be afraid to try something new!  I am thankful for wonderful colleagues who have shown me the ropes and given me direction over the last year and a half.

The other day I had the opportunity to try another something for the first time...

When I was doing my OB fellowship, I learned about a procedure called breech extraction or internal podalic version.  I was never lucky enough to have such an opportunity during my fellowship, but I had heard the procedure described by my attendings on more than one occasion.  This scenario is possible when a mother is laboring with twins, the first being cephalic (head first) and the second breech (bottom first).  There aren't very many cases where you would do a vaginal delivery of a breech baby on purpose, but this is one of them.  In fact, not only is it possible, but studies have shown it is better for the second twin than waiting for spontaneous delivery (less fetal distress).

So last week I had the perfect patients to give this thing a try.  The mama had delivered 7 babies previously, and was in labor with numbers 8 and 9.  I gowned and gloved, called Sister Sylvia in for moral support.  (Sister Sylvia is the head nurse on D-ward and has many more years of experience than I do!)  The first twin delivered head first and with ease.  I reached in and felt the feet of the second twin through the amniotic sac.  I grabbed the feet, water broke, and with a little urging the kiddo began to descend through the birth canal.  I went through the maneuvers of breech delivery, ones I had studied many times and even taught to students and residents.  And guess what?  IT WORKED!  The baby slid right on out and gave a little cry.  It was amazing!  Thanks be to Papa God that mama and both babies are doing well.

"This is what the Lord says--
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
'I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you what is best for you,
who directs you in the way you should go.'"
~ Isaiah 48:17

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


Jessica is one of our miracle stories.

About 6 months ago, this little five year old came to Kudjip Hospital in a coma:  she was paralyzed on her right side, not responding or speaking, unable to eat or drink.  These were all signs that some sort of badness was going on inside her brain.  Not uncommonly we see patients with these sorts of CNS symptoms.  It is difficult to make a firm diagnosis because we do not have access to CT or MRI.  The one CT machine in the country is located in Port Morseby and the capital city is accessible only by plane.  The cost for travel is usually prohibitive to our patients.

Dr. Susan took care of Jessica on pediatrics ward and made the diagnosis of tuberculosis meningitis.  At least that is what we hoped the problem was.  Why would we hope such a thing?  If we give TB medicines and the patient improves, then it is probably TB and there is hope that she will recover.  If the patient worsens, the more likely cause is a brain tumor or something else that we are unable to treat here.

So Jessica was started on treatment for TB.  Over the next several months, she slowly began to improve.  She started to open her eyes.  Eventually she was able to sit up and eat on her own.  She began to move her right side.  She learned to walk and talk again!  I took care of her during the last several weeks of her hospital stay.  It was so fun to see the little bits of progress that she made each day... more steps taken, another word or phrase spoken.  On the day of her discharge, she still had a long way to recovery but was well on her way.

It has probably been about 4 months since I last saw Jessica.  Today I opened the door to my exam room and saw a very smiley little girl waiting to see me.  She ran down the hall as we went to say hello to Dr. Susan.  She loves to shake your hand or even better--give you a hug.  She is so full of energy and life!  Thank you, Papa God, for this precious miracle.

"But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.  And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you."
~ Romans 8:10-11

Dr. Susan blogged about Jessica a few months back.  Here are the links to her stories: Jessica and Update on Jessica.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

25 Christmases

Dr. Jim and Kathy Radcliffe are my PNG papa and mama.  The first time I remember meeting them I was a student at Mount Vernon Nazarene College.  As a pre-med with a call to missions, I was awed by the stories and pictures that Dr. Jim shared with the science majors.  And of course we share the same Ohio State alma matter.  Dr. Jim is a hard core Buckeye fan, even from the other side of the world.

Thanks to my Radcliffe connections and their encouragement, I made my first visit to PNG as a fourth year medical student.  I volunteered for three months, working in both the hospital and with CBHC.  It was during that trip that the Radcliffes became part of my family.  They had me to dinner more times than I can remember!  They have always been so gracious to adopt stray volunteers :).

Here I am with Dr. Jim and Kathy and Tanu during my 2005 trip to PNG.

Fast forward a few years to 2010.  On July 4th weekend, Dr. Jim and Kathy celebrated 25 years of service in Papua New Guinea.  I wonder how many people they have blessed over the years.  I am just one.  There are so many more.  Can you imagine how many surgeries have been performed?  So many lives saved.  Wow... what an incredible legacy.

To Dr. Jim and Kathy and all of your family... thank you for your service.  May the Lord bless you many times in return.

"Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men."
~ Ephesians 6:7

P.S.  If you happen to wonder why the title of this blog entry is "25 Christmases," let me explain.  In a place where time and dates aren't really that important, years are marked by the passing of Christmas.  So rather than ask how old someone is, you ask "How many Christmases are you?"

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Home is where the heart is

Home is where the heart is.
On my recent trip to the States, I was reminded at how blessed I am to have so many places to call "home."

During my 6 years in Fort Worth, many friendships were forged in the fire of residency at JPS.  I spent a tornado style 2 days of visiting with former faculty, co-wokers, friends, and my Westridge church family.  And it was a Texas-sized tornado, making the most of every moment!  Brent and Elaine and Heather and the Carters and so many others... it was wonderful to be with you.  The time was short, but oh so sweet.

And of course Mount Vernon is and will always be home sweet home.  Time with my family was therapeutic after months of limited communication due to malfunctioning internet.  I welcomed my new nephew and was able to enjoy his first week of life.  I'm really going to miss that lil dude.  It is crazy to think that he will be walking and talking the next time I visit!  Praise the Lord for Skype and now-working internet.  At least I get to SEE him grow up (virtually).  My friend Sarah's wedding was also the catalyst for numerous reunions with forever friends... late night chats over a cold Coke or Friendly's ice cream.  I only wish there had been a wee bit more time to visit with those I missed.

"Where in the world is Aunt Steph?"

I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to visit my Columbus home and my little church in the inner city.  Thanks to all of you who have supported and mentored and prayed for me.  I am praying for you, too.  Lower Lights will always have a special place in my heart.

I was a little concerned that at the end of my visit to the US, I wouldn't be ready to come back to PNG.  Would I be leaving my heart in America?  

To tell you the truth, 3 weeks in the modern world was just about to be overwhelming for this FOB.  As much as I enjoy escaping the bush, I have really come to enjoy the simplicity of life there!  

More than that, I realized how much the people of Kudjip have also become my home... Beck and Brutus and Pete, Meti, my fellow missionaries, girls in the Bible study, colleagues at the hospital, Robert and Kauntz, and so many more who have touched my life over this past year and a half.  In Mark 10, Jesus promised that those who left home and family and everything else for the sake of His kingdom would get that and more in return.  His promise is so true.  Thank you, Lord, for that gift.

"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children for fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--and with the persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life."
~ Mark 10:29-30