by BETH ALTENA
What did you do for spring break? One Rockford man and his family spent it in war-torn Sudan, Africa, seeing the result of ten years of passion, faith and miracles.
Dave Bowman, with his wife, sons and daughter and their children, underwent a 24-hour trip to Sudan to see the dedication of a hospital that is the only one of its kind in a country where the people literally had no medical options.
The trip, with family members ranging in age from 11-year-old Sarah Hammond to Dave and his wife Nancy, who had her 72nd birthday on the trip. The experience included close proximity to scorpions, termites “on steroids” and two choices of toilet: the long-drop or short-drop outhouse. Still, each family member considers the venture a journey that changed their lives profoundly and permanently.
The ten family members went to see the result of ten years of passion, prayer and hands-on work: a hospital in Sudan. At the outset of the effort to build the hospital, organizers were told it was a humanly impossible endeavor.
“Imaging building a hospital in New York and you have to bring the supplies to build it from Florida and there are no roads in between,” said Bowman. “Supplies either came from Nairobi, 16,000 miles away or they came from Grand Rapids, Michigan. That’s what gives me goose bumps.”
In a way, the hospital is the result of a diagnosis of severe heart disease and diabetes Bowman received. His doctor recommended he no longer work and he was forced to re-evaluate his life.
At the time, there had been news stories of a genocidal war in Sudan where entire tribes of people were killed so their land could be taken. Children, primarily boys as young as four, were without living family members and fending for themselves in a harsh and desolate landscape.
Bowman had heard about these “lost boys” who were being brought to the United States by the U.S. government.
“I thought, ‘I can’t work, but maybe I can be a father to these boys.'” Bowman picked up his new sons at the airport in December, 2000. “At that time I had absolutely no idea I’d have a second career like this.”
As he learned more about the lives of the boys and the country they came from, Bowman began to realize that there was no medical or dental care available. He found out 70 percent of the children die before they reach age five. Those who live have few means. The boys had never seen running water, stairs, never used a toothbrush.
A religious man, Bowman brought up the topic at an adult Bible class. “Our brothers and sisters in Christ are dying,” he told fellow classmates. Bowman said a thought came into his head from God, asking him what he was going to do about it. “I thought, ‘I can’t do anything about it. I’m sick. I’m not qualified.'”
He went to his wife of 46 years and told her he was thinking of going to Africa and starting to build a hospital. He was sure she would say he was crazy, but she didn’t. “I’ve learned God doesn’t need qualified people. He needs willing people,” Bowman said.
In the next years Bowman founded an organization called Partners in Compassionate Care (www.pccsudan.org) and began the long effort of funding-and building-the hospital that he was told could not be humanly built. This spring break he was able to take his whole family to see the hospital, and see how much more there is to be done in Sudan.
Sherri and Dan Hammond went with their two daughters, Hannah, age 11 and a student at Chandler Woods Charter Academy and Sarah, age 15, a Rockford High School student. Sherri said many of the Sudanese the family encountered had never seen a white person before and were taken with the fair-haired girls. “We received offers of many cows for Hannah,” Dan admitted. Hannah said she was a little frightened of the proposals from the men, who wanted an exotic wife.
Dan said the most profound event of the trip was seeing a woman walk into the hospital compound at dusk carrying a sick infant and with two other small children. She was preparing to sleep under a tree to see the doctor the next day. Dan found out she had walked 25 miles to get to the hospital. She was in pain because something was wrong with her back. During the 25 mile trip she had carried her sick infant the whole way. While the woman was in the hospital with the baby, her other children waited outside. One, only three years old, filled a bucket from a pond that has been dug at the hospital, and with a sliver of soap began washing and hanging out the families ragged clothes.
Sarah was shocked at how differently the boys and girls are treated and made a special effort to spoil the girls while she was there. One of the things she did was paint the girls’ fingernails. She was surprised when Sudanese soldiers approached her and asked if she would do their fingernails, too.
Sherri said she believes nothing can prepare a person for a visit to an impoverished country. “You know about it, or you think you do, but when you actually see it you understand. It’s overwhelming,” she said. She said Hannah was crying when the family boarded the plane to leave, knowing they were leaving these children to come home to lives of luxury by comparison.
“They have nothing and you are leaving them and they don’t get to leave. They seem happy, but I don’t know why they are. They literally have nothing. Maybe they are happy just to be alive,” she said.
Although only just dedicated, the hospital has been saving lives for over a year. Between February 2008 and December 2008, there were 7,368 patients and 445 surgeries. People walk hundreds of miles for the chance to see a doctor.
Michael Bowman, 14, went with his dad Stuart. A Chandler Woods student, he helped arrange a donation of books for the school there. He is amazed by the ability of the Sudanese to maintain their faith despite all they have been through. The local school has 250 students and one pit toilet. The country is still frought with fighting between tribes. Children and cows are subject to raids from warring groups. Children are prized because sexually transmitted diseases are so prevalent that many women are infertile.
In addition to the hospital, which has running water and one flush toilet, there have been some wells put in. Before that people drank the same water that cattle and dogs drank and walked through. Five West Michigan Rotary clubs donated $25,000 for a water tower for the hospital. There is hope to teach the younger generations how to grow crops, learn to read and become educated and break the cycle of tribal fighting.
The hospital itself is still incomplete, with a need for more medical facilities, including a lab for blood work, more doctors, and more medicine. Bowman said his goal all along was for the hospital to be self-sustaining but it is difficult in a culture where people don’t have money. On 40 acres, Bowman believes it will be possible to put in crops, and even fish farms to raise money for needs such as medicine.
Bowman is excited that the possibilities for the hospital are so huge, and has received good news about a grant. If his foundation can raise $15,000, it will be given $45,000-funding that is needed and can make an enormous difference to the Sudanese who need treatment. He believes there is much more good to be done and plans to keep at this “second career” with the help of God.
“When word gets out, we will have people walking from Ethiopia. We will have people walking 400 and 500 miles to be treated,” he said. Bowman hopes schools or organizations may become involved and start projects such as book donations or some pen-pal program, although there is no mail delivery currently. More than anything, he is grateful for the chance he has had to help his brothers and sisters in Christ.
“They said the hospital couldn’t be humanly built, and it couldn’t. God can do miracles, though, and this hospital was built by miracles. I’m just grateful God brought me along for the ride.” To find out more about Partners in Passionate Care, visit online. To find out ways that you can help, email Dave Bowman at firstname.lastname@example.org.