BANGALORE, India (BP)–Little Williams* had always longed for a blue toy car to play with. But his parents had no money to buy one. Dr. Anuradha* considers herself blessed for delivering the toy to the boy hours before he died.
“Williams had a twinkle in the eye before he passed away,” said Anuradha, who heads the hospice & home care team of Bangalore Baptist Hospital in India. “I’ll never forget that 13-year-old cancer patient. I’m sure he had the same feelings about us too.”
Many of the staff members at the Baptist hospital today remember similar instances as they have ministered to hundreds of people dying in pain.
When the Indian Ministry of Health invited Southern Baptists in 1973 to offer medical service to the rural poor in India, some enthusiastic Baptists here managed to find an old chicken coop to start the clinic on the outskirts of Bangalore in India’s Karnataka state. Karnataka encompasses nearly 55 million people, most of them in 33,000 villages. Spanning 300 people groups, the majority of the population worships the countless gods of Hinduism; only 1.9 percent claim Christianity in any form as their religion.
The 80-bed venture has now grown into a busy but calm hospital with a 150-bed acute care facility. Adding its modest inpatient and outpatient facilities, the hospital cares for more than 80,000 patients annually. Sharing the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ has been a priority of the hospital throughout its three decades, resulting in 900 churches across the state over the years. Experts from the Christian Medical College in Tamil Nadu guide the hospital in management and services. Dr. Santosh Benjamin, the hospital’s director and chief executive officer, said care for the underprivileged will continue to be the driving force of the institution.
“The challenge we face is to remain competitive and remain spiritually relevant to present daily health needs,” Benjamin said. Currently, the Baptist hospital is hoping to raise funds for intensive care units, a postpartum recovery facility and a central sterile supply department.
“Our hospice & home care team is emphasizing improving the quality of life and adding life to days,” Benjamin noted.
A team consisting of a doctor, two nurses, a social worker and a chaplain visits homes in the suburbs of Bangalore to look after patients facing life-limiting illnesses such as cancer and AIDS.
“Such patients prefer to be at home instead of being in a hospital,” Anuradha said. “Our home care team strives to make this possible by providing palliative care at home.” The service includes control of pain and other symptoms, psycho-social support and spiritual counseling.
Anuradha’s team visits 25 homes every week from Monday through Friday. They spend two hours in each home, providing free medicines as well as answering questions and giving counsel to relatives and patients themselves about the stage of a particular disease.
“Many of them don’t know what to do about a patient who vomits or shows symptoms of pain,” Anuradha said. “So we plan ahead the method and medication for each family. [The] chaplain either does counseling or teaches them to pray.”
The hospital began its hospice and home care service in 1995 and, after two years, the team started its house visits. Today, the outreach is funded by interest earned from a significant donor gift.
“Feedback is tremendous,” said M.P. George, the chief Baptist chaplain and coordinator of the hospice & home team, who has been at the hospital for 30 years. “Some people readily accept the message of Jesus when we impress them that death does not mean defeat,” he said. “We fill those minds with courage and hope. I’ve seen many facing death with cheer after they get inspired by the life of Jesus Christ.”
Many families have turned to Christ after their service for the dying, George recounted.
The Baptist chaplain told of one man, for example, who was diagnosed with abdominal cancer. He and his wife could not stand the news, but after the counseling by home care team, he accepted his physical state. Then he wanted to meet his three brothers with whom he had severed ties 30 years earlier. “I still remember the day when all brothers sat together in one’s home and embraced to pray for the dying brother,” George said. “Hatred simply vanished and love filled in each one’s mind. It was so lovely.
“Isn’t this what Jesus wanted us to do?” George reflected.
“Fear and confusion reign the minds of the dying,” said Nityanand*, a Baptist pastor with the home care team. “To them we show the beauty of Jesus’ message. Then they become ready to build relationship with God. Once they believe, they get a fresh lease of hope.”
While some Christian mission groups have been threatened by Hindu militants, the Baptist home care team has so far been welcomed wherever they visit. But the chaplains are well aware that the situation may change at any time.
“In Jesus we walk and we have no fears,” Nityanand said. “We believe in the beauty of our mission.” No wonder, after six years of noted service, the Baptist hospice and home care team is now being contacted by other Indian hospitals regarding such home service.
For three decades, almost every night before he sleeps, pastor George gladly hears the comment of a patient resonating in his heart. “How many lives do I need to repay your kindness?” he prays in thankfulness to God for his own faith.
People denoted by * are known by just one name in this cultural context. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: TOUCHING THE TERMINALLY ILL.