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Small Baptist hospital offers strong Christian witness in Muslim region

KIGOMA, Tanzania (BP)–Whether she’s diagnosing a case of malaria, performing surgery on a gunshot victim or playing her violin in a hospital chapel service, Susan Smith is determined to be an active witness for Christ.

As a missionary physician in Kigoma, Tanzania, Smith is the mission team leader for missionaries serving at the 35-bed Kigoma Baptist Hospital. A native of Russellville, Ky., and a former military surgeon, she has been working in Tanzania since 1995.

“When I was in third grade, I started thinking in this direction. I felt like the Lord wanted me to come to the mission field,” she recalled.

Fulfilling that call as an adult, Smith noted, “What I love most in the world is to help people get well and be able to tell them it’s because Jesus loves them and they can have eternal life.”

Beyond that, Smith and the rest of the staff never know what a “typical” day might bring at Kigoma Baptist Hospital.

“I didn’t realize how much she was doing with so little,” said Glenn Ruppert, a recent Kentucky Baptist medical mission team volunteer. “She’s accomplishing miracles with what she has to work with.”

Smith said the goal of the hospital is eventually to be self-supporting but that is a challenging task in a remote, heavily Muslim region of one of Africa’s poorest nations. In the meantime, Southern Baptist medical missionaries are determined to provide “the best possible care for the lowest possible cost.”

“The people here are dirt poor,” Smith noted. “A lot of times they don’t have money so that’s why they’re here. We try to let them pay what they can pay.”

Smith said the hospital’s reputation as a quality medical facility gives staff members the opportunity “to get people to listen to us about medical care and nutrition and how to follow Jesus.” The hospital admits about 100 to 120 patients a month and provides outpatient care for up to 1,400 people a month through the hospital clinic.

Among the hospital’s ongoing ministry efforts are chapel services held each day in the clinic waiting area as dozens of Muslims wait to receive medical care. The hospital chaplain also shows Swahili versions of the “Jesus” video and other Christian programs throughout the day.

“We gain a hearing for the gospel by the way we treat our patients here,” Smith explained. “The people are really open here. The African Muslims do not get insulted if you talk to them about Jesus because they accept that you love them. You can gain an entry into their hearts by talking about Jesus as the Great Physician.”

Smith said the hospital averages about one or two Christian conversions a week as staff members share with patients one-on-one. “When the assistant chaplain comes to me on the ward and says, ‘I’ve just talked with a Muslim woman who accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior,’ that makes me feel like, ‘Yes, we’re accomplishing something.'”

Even amid the spiritual victories, Smith acknowledged that Kigoma is a difficult ministry setting. “Sometimes I wish things would go smoother on the ward or that we wouldn’t have a shortage of supplies,” she said. In the States, “you never think about whether you’re going to have electricity or not. Here, life goes on.”

Hospital administrator Patrick Brunson, who also is the hospital pharmacist, emphasized the importance of patience and flexibility in adapting to missions service in Kigoma.

“It’s slow work,” he said. “This is definitely Satan’s stronghold.” Noting that legendary missionary David Livingstone worked in the region 130 years ago, he reiterated, “It’s definitely slow.”

He and other Baptist workers remain committed to the task despite the hardships. “The hospital is a great tool in a Muslim area,” he affirmed. “Where else can Muslims go and hear the gospel?”

Sadok Mlishi, the hospital’s chief medical assistant, said the staff’s Christian witness is a vital ministry tool in a region filled with spiritual needs.

“A significant thing about this hospital is that they are working under the name of Jesus,” Mlishi said. Citing the hospital’s widespread ministry impact, he added, “We are not only serving the people of Kigoma and Tanzania, but Congo, Burundi and Rwanda.

“In government hospitals, they are just interested in making money,” he said. “We give patients drugs and they can be healed but the big treatment we depend on is God. The Muslims appreciate the way we are treating them.

“Muslims who get service from the Baptist hospital are believing Jesus is the One who healed them,” he added. “When we teach about Jesus and the Bible, they stay there and listen.”

And that’s all the motivation Susan Smith and the hospital staff need to keep sharing the good news of the gospel one patient at a time.
Editor’s Note: The Kentucky Baptist Convention currently is involved in a three-year missions partnership with Tanzanian Baptists. The preceding article by Western Recorder editor Trennis Henderson highlights the work Southern Baptist international missionaries serving throughout Tanzania. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: KIGOMA BAPTIST HOSPITAL.

    About the Author

  • Trennis Henderson

    Trennis Henderson is the national correspondent for WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union). A Baptist journalist for more than 35 years, Henderson is a former editor of the Western Recorder of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Arkansas Baptist News state convention newsjournal.

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