Ecuador (MNN/HCJB) – Part of successful ministry is knowing how to stay on point.
That’s true of HCJB Global as the team recently wrestled with what to do with Hospital Vozandes-Shell, or Hospital Vozandes del Oriente (HVO), a 28-bed facility on the edge of Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest.
After 55 years of outreach, the facility has basically worked itself out of a job. HCJB Global President Wayne Pederson says, “We’re finding more and more that people in the remote area are going to newly-established hospitals, getting excellent, modern care, at no cost. Our patient population has gone way down and because of that, it’s no longer feasible or sustainable for us to offer a hospital there.”
Sheila Leech, vice president of global healthcare, said one of the new government regulations mandates that injured/sick jungle residents picked up by air ambulances operated by Mission Aviation Fellowship in Shell can no longer transfer their patients to HVO. “Now they must be taken to a government hospital, so a lot of jungle patients are not coming to us.”
She also pointed to the Health Ministry’s recent ruling that expatriate doctors can no longer practice in Ecuador unless they’re fully licensed in the country. This has excluded foreign volunteers, leading to a staff shortage and overtaxing the existing staff. “In the past, foreign missionary doctors could practice in our hospitals while in the process of being licensed, and they often did their rural year of medical practice in Shell.
These changes all weighed heavily into the final decision reached by the team. Pederson explains the plan to ease into the transition. “The hospital has become a day clinic, so we’re taking care of patients during the day, but the hospital will be closing on December 31rst.”
No longer running a hospital will also free up staff to be involved in clean water projects as
well as in other areas of healthcare, adds Pederson. “We’re more focused on community health: taking medical care teams out to the remote areas, to the mountainous areas, rural areas, where there is no healthcare available.”
He’s quick to note that the decision came after two key elements were firmly established. First, there’s been a marked improvement in Ecuador’s healthcare delivery system, and second, there’s a vibrant local church. “The local church now can serve the spiritual needs of the community. That’s a good thing. We celebrate the fact the government has stepped forward to take care of their people. We celebrate the fact that the indigenous Latino church can now serve the spiritual needs of the area and reach out to those who have never heard the Gospel.”
In other words, there will be no gap in service to the residents in and around Shell because the support system is in place. Pederson says those factors help keep HCJB on mission. “Our focus is unreached territories, restricted areas with limited access to the Gospel. We’re going to focus in places like that where the name of Jesus is not known, and we can be more evangelistic and missional in taking the good news to people that have never heard in some of the hard to reach places of the world.”
It’s coming at a critical point for HCJB, because God has been opening doors in other areas. “We’re glad that the government has stepped in and is caring for their people in this way. Actually, it fits with our global strategy that we go to areas of the world where we are most needed. We’re finding critical needs for the healthcare that we offer in places like Ghana, Burkina Faso, Haiti, and Nepal and in some of the ‘Stan’ countries.”
Recent examples include helping radio partner Theovision establish a medical clinic in Accra, Ghana; assisting Radio Evangile Développement in Burkina Faso with clean water projects; helping build a birthing clinic in Nepal; and working with partners in Central Asia to launch a preventive healthcare outreach.
Shutting down HVO means the immediate dismissal of some 30 Ecuadorian employees immediately and another 30 by Dec. 31, a decision that has been accepted surprisingly well by the staff on the whole.
“God has brought us here for a purpose to know Him and to shine for Him now and when we leave for other employment. We can hold our heads up high because we worked at HVO,” said one staff member, adding that the hospital has developed a reputation for demonstrating Christ’s love to all who enter the doors.
HVO opened originally as Epp Memorial Hospital on May 10, 1958. An infusion of cash from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency enabled the mission to build a new hospital that was inaugurated on March 30, 1985. It is still unclear if the facilities will be sold, rented or transferred to the Ecuadorian government in 2014.
After at least five years of debate and soul-searching, the decision makes fiscal sense and kingdom sense. Leech says, “We look at sending these people out as light and salt in the public sector. We can be very proud of our employees. Wherever they go, they will take the aroma of Christ with them and stand for Him.”
Pederson acknowledges the bittersweet aspect of closing HVO. However, “Our focus is unreached territories, restricted areas with limited access to the Gospel. We’re going to focus in places like that where the name of Jesus is not known, and we can be more evangelistic and missional in taking the good news to people that have never heard in some of the hard to reach places of the world.”
Will you pray with them in the transition and new outreach?