Very early on my mission partner contracted malaria. Years later with overseas mission experience a plenty, malaria was just “one of those things” you were careful to avoid, but dealt with when needed. But the first time…the sage wisdom of experience was not available.
While in mission training, we had a course based on the book “Where there are no doctors” (or so similarly titled). As the book title indicates it was how to deal with all manner of illness and injury in distant and tropical settings. Beyond the binding wounds, bracing broken limbs, and soothing fevered brows, the book when into treatment of parasitic infections, worm invasions, and a whole host of incidents which had the effect of causing one to think twice about mission. But in the here and now, we were in the field far from a hospital, but not too far from a clinic run by Italian religious sisters. It seemed like an oasis in the midst of our worries and concerns.
Last week I read that Oxford University’s Jenner Institute had completed Phase II trials for a malaria vaccine that demonstrated a 77% efficacy. Malaria affects 500 million people on the globe; annual deaths due to malaria are as high as 1 million per year. Most are among young children. Previous attempts to develop a vaccine have been hindered by the complexity of the malaria parasite—any of several species in the genus Plasmodium—which invades host cells and whose genome contains thousands of genes.
“As the Father has sent me…”
Like all experiences, mission has its own stages and cycles, its liminal moments when we are truly betwixt and between worlds, between what we think and how we see the world. Perhaps there are no more potent moments of being “between” than in the beginning of mission, the first moments away from all you knew (or thought you knew), people you cared for and held dear, and all that gave sure anchor to the way in which you engaged the world.