International Ministries

Passing the Baton

October 21, 2013 Journal
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The pistol shoots.....the runners are off running the 4x400 relay.  As the first runner finishes his lap, the next team member begins to run alongside just long enough for the baton to be passed.  As the second runner continues to race around the track, the first runner slows and pulls to the sidelines to watch his team members continue the race.   As a newly endorsed missionary to Vanga, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), I feel I have just received the baton from veteran missionary Dan Fountain who served in Vanga for 35 years.

Looking back, I can see how Coach has been orchestrating things all along.  Back in 1990 as a young physician completing his residency training, my wife and I attended medical missions conferences in St. Simon's, Georgia, where Dan Fountain and others spoke.  Dr. Fountain emphasized the importance of training indigenous medical providers  rather than simply giving direct care, especially for nurses who provide the majority of health care in low-resource areas around the world.

Although we thought we would be going overseas as soon as I finished my Internal Medicine and Pediatric residency, that was not what “The Coach” had for me.   For the next 23 years, He had work for me to do in the inner city of Saint Louis teaching medical students and residents at St. Louis University, caring for the immigrant, refugee and poor in a church-based health connection ministry, and moving into the urban core of St. Louis. 

During this time many Congolese immigrants and refugees began coming to our church.  Through their connections to friends and churches back in the DRC, our church began developing relationships with Congolese churches.  Short term missions teams helped to forge new partnerships in mercy ministries.  Knowing that Dr. Fountain had since retired, I contacted him to see if he could direct me to medical resource people in the DRC. Naturally, he connected me to his daughter, Katherine Niles, and Dr. Bill Clemmer (both IM missionary families).  

I have made 10 short term missions trips to the DRC and gleaned much from the experience of Katherine Niles and Dr. Clemmer.  I had it in my heart to visit the work Dr. Fountain invested himself in at Vanga, but the opportunity didn't open up until 2012.  The year before, in 2011, Dr. Fountain returned to Vanga to plan for the future of the work there and on how to best utilize the funds donated in memory of his wife, Miriam Fountain.  Dr. Fountain worked with architects and engineers to draft plans for additional nursing school space, a nursing clinical skills lab, and a center so that visiting Congolese health professionals, health students from the West, and visiting faculty could learn together and have a place to stay.

The following year in 2012 I visited Vanga and could clearly see how God wanted to use my wife and my skills and experiences to help the educational work at Vanga Hospital.  Our passion is to teach nurses, medical students and residents, especially with hands on methodology (can we say, “nursing clinical skills lab”!), and bring visiting teams of faculty and health students to Vanga (Education Center!), matching the educational needs in Congo with the resources from the West.  Perfect match! 

Dr. Fountain and I were able to exchange notes and ideas a bit...running along together, getting up to speed....and then the baton was passed.  Dr. Fountain slowed down as his health began to falter and then he passed away February 2013.  His lap of the race well run.....and now we pick up where he left off.  We cannot “fill” his shoes....we must run the race Coach has set before us and faithfully complete our lap, preparing the next generation of runners to get ready to receive the baton.