St James's Church, Hampton Hill

More than just a Hospital - 2010 February

More than just a Hospital

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St Luke’s Hospital, Milo, in Tanzania, is a 50-bed hospital serving a population of 40,000. It has a ten-year-old vehicle, no mains electricity, no telephone, no public transport and it is a journey of 80 miles to collect or send mail.

St James’s Church has long supported the hospital and Ann Peterken has now achieved a long-held ambition to visit there.

Benaiah Kilwale is a well known name to parishioners at St James’s. Born in Milo in 1941, he has worked as a clinical officer at St Luke’s hospital since 1980. He was befriended by Hannah Stanton on his only visit to England in 1987, and I have continued our contact by writing since her death.

Staff shortages have long been a problem at the hospital because of Milo’s remote, rural location. Lutherans established a mission station there in 1910, which passed to the Anglicans after World War I. Today, Milo has a population of about 4000 and is home to a 50-bed hospital and a Bible School, both run by the Diocese of South West Tanganyika.
The diocese very much wants to sponsor local people to study for medical qualifications, on condition that they then work at Milo for five years. It is looking for donors to assist with these training costs.

St James’s supports general running costs of the hospital via the mission agency USPG: Anglicans in World Mission, making a donation each year from the charities budget. When Benaiah asked if St James’s could help with student sponsorships, I knew this was very important and quickly sought permission to go ahead with a targeted appeal to parishioners. I didn’t know that I would be meeting him a few months later.

I and others at St James’s had thought about visiting Milo, but its location in the south west comer of the country involves many hours of road travel – at least ten hours from Dar Es Salaam to the town of Njombe and then a three-hour drive from Njombe to Milo. The catalyst came at Easter last year when I heard of a friend’s wedding in Malawi. If I was going to visit that part of Africa, I knew I had to visit Milo too.

By the time I left for Tanzania in August I was travelling with a huge amount of support and excitement – from Lesley’s friend Angela Mullens, from Ven Christopher Wagstaff (a very special friend to Milo), from Bishop John and Benaiah in Tanzania, from staff in the USPG office, from a church in Cheshunt that supports Milo, and from dear friends at St James’s. And to top it all, I had my friend Jenny as a travel companion. This trip was meant to be.

As our coach approached Njombe, I was very excited. I knew that Benaiah was excited too. After so many years of writing to each other, it was truly joyous finally to meet. Benaiah and Bishop John Simalenga ate supper with us in our hotel and made us feel so welcome. Up in Milo the following day, we were taken on a tour of St Luke’s hospital. The three men in the photo above are the doctors who sustain its work – from left to right, Benaiah at 68 is the youngest, Simeon is 71 and Emmanuel is in his mid seventies and lovingly referred to as ‘old man’. Only Dr Simeon can conduct surgery, but between them they cover a whole range of medical and dental problems – backed up by dedicated nursing and support staff. These lovely men and all the staff are a marvellous witness of faith in action. The hospital serves a catchment area with a population of about 40,000 and greatly enhances the health and lives of many. Seeing the work in progress leaves no doubt as to why the diocese places such importance on staff training and recruitment – the sponsorship money so kindly given by many of you is being very well used.

Throughout our stay in Tanzania, Jenny and I were humbled by the kindness of our hosts. A highlight was being invited to supper at Benaiah’s home, where we met his wife, several of his children and many grandchildren. We were delighted that Benaiah and Bishop John both contacted us the evening we arrived back in Dar Es Salaam - to make sure all was well. We were dependent on and ministered to by others, thanks to being part of the Body of Christ that crosses any cultural or geographical boundaries.

There have been many wonderful moments since returning home – sharing news and photos, using the basket gift at Harvest Festival, letters and emails received, and friendship with two young ladies at USPG who visited Milo themselves last November.

In all of this I am again reminded that moving outside one’s comfort zone can deliver blessings beyond imagination. I want others to share that experience, but am very aware that our carbon footprints cannot be ignored. By the way, for those of you in the know, Benaiah still rides a motorbike!

Source: Ann Peterken, The Spire Magazine - 2010 February

St James's Church
The Parish Church of St James, Hampton Hill, TW12 1DQ
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