Wednesday, May 31, 2017


When my missionary mentor, Dr. Susan, asked if I wanted to join her family on their vacation to Madang, I jumped at the chance. The 5-day trip to the northern coast of Papua New Guinea happened to coincide with my 3-month anniversary here in PNG. 

Traveling in PNG is always an adventure, and this was no exception. With roads in various states ranging from well-paved highways to muddy, pothole-riddled dirt tracks; the 460 kilometer (285 mile) drive to Madang took 10.5 hours to complete.

First, we traversed the mountains, reaching the 2,478m summit at Daulo pass. Then we descended the mountain to Yonki Dam and the famous switchbacks that lead down to the Ramu flats below. There was a palpable temperature difference as we left the mountains and sped across the plains, surrounded by fields of palm oil trees, rice, and sugar cane.
After that came a seemingly endless stretch of doldrums (and very bumpy roads) before we reached the rainforest. The highlight of the rainforest was spotting white cockatoos among the dense green foliage. Finally, we crested the last hill and saw the ocean for a second like a gleaming jewel in distance.

The resort in Madang rests right at the waters edge, providing beautiful vistas and a sea breeze that helped a little in the 100% humidity and heat. We spent the next three days snorkeling on the coral reefs just off shore, kayaking in the surf and nearby lagoon, relaxing, and playing games. 

One of the highlights was taking a boat out to Pig Island, an uninhabited jungle island right out of a movie like Castaway or Robinson Crusoe. The reefs and many types of tropical fish there were amazing. We saw clown fish playing in sea anemones, large neon green and blue parrotfish, blue polka dot boxfish, and a sea snake.

The drive home was another trial of endurance— testing our ability to avoid whiplash, motion sickness, and bruised tailbones on the bumpy ride. We were fortunate though not to meet any “raskols” (bandits) along the way. Although I’m not eager to sign up for the drive again, I greatly enjoyed seeing the diverse landscape of PNG and I am thankful for a few days of refreshment, relaxation, and refocusing. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

"General" Surgeon

Here at Kudjip, I’m learning to be a truly general surgeon.

Some days, I’m an orthopedic surgeon: 

This young man came to us after a fall with a bad distal humerus fracture right at the elbow. Dr. Ben showed me how to pin and plate the complex fracture. It was surreal to see this bone protruding from our incision as we worked to piece together a somewhat normal anatomy.

Other days, I’m a pediatric surgeon: 

This baby boy was born in the village hours before being brought into the emergency room with his intestines protruding from his abdomen, a condition called gastroschisis. We took him to the operating room to remove the nonviable intestine and repair the defect. Without IV nutrition available, we are now praying that he will tolerate breast feeding.

The same day, this 8 month-old girl went to surgery for recurrent empyemas (pus in the chest) requiring a thoracotomy. Without a pediatric ICU we were worried how she would do post-operatively, but she has done great. Her mom was all smiles when she was transferred out of the surgical ward. 

Some days I’m an Obstetrician/Gynecologist:  delivering breech twins by c-section, excising cervical cancer, or dealing with the ugly aftermath of a ruptured, septic uterus after a botched village abortion (not pictured for everyone's sake).

Recently, I was a plastic surgeon: 

 This woman was chopped in the face by her own husband. I will never understand why domestic violence is so prevalent here, but many fights end with someone getting chopped by the ubiquitous machete, or bush knife as they are called in PNG (demonstrated here by one of the security guys on my last outing). 

Every day I am learning a new facet of missionary surgery under the tutelage of my partners, Dr. Jim and Dr. Ben, as well as visiting specialists. I am thankful for all that I have learned and experienced so far and for all that God continues to teach me day by day. Please continue to pray for our team as we work, for me as I learn, and our patients as they heal: physically, emotionally and spiritually. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mi Laik Tok Tenkyu

Amid the noise of high pitched squealing, a woman carried a large bag into the church and placed it at the altar. I was surprised to see the bag begin to roll around on the floor. My neighbor leaned over and whispered in my ear, “liklik pik (little pig)”. It was Thanksgiving Sunday at this small bush church. Thanksgiving Sunday is a yearly tradition of bringing offerings of praise to God. Some people give money, others give whatever they have: garden fruits and vegetables, chickens, and even pigs. The offerings go to the support the local church as well as the district level church ministry. 

On this particular Sunday, I was visiting Kopsip Church with Gabriel and Emelyn, my language tutor. Emelyn has become a dear friend and we enjoy visiting on weekends as she continues to teach me more about the Kudjip area. 

In the past 2 months, I have visited several different churches in PNG and they vary as much as the villages and towns where they are located. This week, we trekked 3 miles on foot up a mountain to Kusin Church. On the way, we marveled at the beauty of these mountains, dotted with gardens and the gorgeous purple May flower which is currently in bloom. Maria, one of the local staff at the hospital, had invited Sheena (our dentist), Julia (a visiting PA), and myself to her home church. 

Although the small building looked plain on the outside, inside it was elaborately decorated with flowers and filled with the joy of the congregation as they welcomed visitors to their church. Worship was a mix of English, Tok Pisin and Tok Ples (local language) songs led by a single guitarist.  The simplicity accentuated the heartfelt praise and the emphasis on giving glory to God. 

One of my favorite parts of the worship service here is the testimony time. Anyone can stand up and publically praise God for what He is doing in their life. It is so encouraging to hear how God is working in the lives of the people.  Every testimony begins with “Mi laik tok tenkyu long Bikpela…” which means, “I want to say thank you to God…” I realized that I have much to thank God for. I thank him for calling me to come to PNG. I thank him for the work of the hospital and all that I am learning from my mentors. I thank him for all the lovely Papua New Guinean friends that he has blessed me with and for this opportunity to honor and praise Him together. 

        Although I don’t have a chicken or a pig to bring, I will offer what I do have: the talents and skills he has given me—and my very life—I  lay down at His altar and tok tenkyu.