Masks are in the news. Whole countries are in urgent need of hundreds of millions of disposable masks. When COVID-19 arrived in Congo four weeks ago, popular demand for masks sky-rocked and now disposable surgical masks have become “black market” goods. Street vendors offer single use surgical masks for $1.70 each.
I, however, have an abundance of reusable cloth masks. Each is a hand-made, neatly stitched, labor of love by untold numbers of American Baptist women who contribute to White Cross.
The beauty of these masks is they can be washed, sun dried, sterilized, and used again. A mask facilitates care given patiently and appropriately while decreasing risk of infection / contagion for both care-giver and patient.
In the normal routine, Baptist mission hospitals don’t go through a huge supply of masks because they are used predominantly during surgery, and cloth ones can be re-used many times. With COVID 19 bearing down, our hospitals will need at least one mask for every care-giver. Thanks to White Cross, we have an ample supply!
So this week I prepared parcels of additional masks to send to Baptist hospitals. Bunched together in one large box in the last White Cross container, I methodically unpacked, un-bunched, re-folded, and counted masks into groups of ten. It was a time consuming task that gave me time to reflect. In this pandemic requiring social distancing, confinement, and protective barriers in caring for patients, a hand-made cloth mask draws Congolese medical providers together with women living thousands of miles away who took their time to make them. While slowing the march of a virus means separating ourselves from others, this mask in my hand is crafted by members of the body of Christ, so other members far away can continue to serve in God’s name.
Even in Congo, the current generation of physicians is accustomed to disposable masks. But these reusable cloth ones were the only option during my father’s 35 years as a physician in Congo. Answering a knock at the office door, there stood young Dr. Miriam Katele (named after my missionary nurse mother), wearing a disposable mask. She works at the Baptist Hospital in Kikongo, and came urgently to Kinshasa to purchase supplies, but couldn’t find masks.
Her father, a diligent and effective physician with an impactful career in Congo health care, was among the first Congolese medical residents trained at the Vanga Evangelical Hospital. I held up a mask. “Miriam, when your father and mine worked together at Vanga, these were the only kind of masks they had!” “Oh, we need those masks today in Kikongo!” We laughed, and she left the office with eighty.
As we enter a fearful chapter for Congo’s health care workers in woefully under-supplied hospitals, how cool is God that many helping hands have already reached out to others in need with this labor of love through White Cross. Please also pray that God’s divine protection cover these providers as they serve their patients during this pandemic.