NALERIGU, Ghana (BP)–George Faile III was just 8 years old when he started tagging along as his father treated patients at Ghana’s Baptist Medical Centre 50 years ago.
Young Faile saw countless patients with malaria or snake bites. But instead of seeking professional medical help, many villagers in Nalerigu visited spirit doctors who treated ailments with herbal remedies, libations and skin-cutting rituals.
Today, Faile — who serves as medical superintendent of the hospital his father helped start with the International Mission Board — has seen things change not only medically but spiritually. People are more willing to seek access to modern medicine. Through the years medical missionaries have started more than 70 churches and continue to bring news of the true Healer.
That ministry is why Ghanaians turned out to celebrate the hospital’s 50th anniversary this fall. Villagers from all over northern Ghana converged for a weeklong celebration, which culminated in a grand outdoor event that drew 3,000 people.
“I have seen Baptist medical facilities all over the world,” said IMB executive vice president Clyde Meador, who spoke at the event. “I don’t know of another that has served in a more challenging place and yet has made such an impact on the community. I give thanks to God who has made it all possible.”
And that impact runs deep in an area where there’s only one paved road and most people live in mud huts.
Medically, infant mortality rates in northern Ghana continue to decline as mothers receive prenatal and postnatal care. Public health education prevents measles and meningitis epidemics. About 85 percent of tuberculosis patients recover fully, thanks to a secluded village on hospital grounds where patients stay with their families to complete their six-month treatments. That tuberculosis recovery rate is at least 10 percent higher than the average for Ghana and higher than nearly every other country in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.
Spiritually, missionaries and medical staff have brought countless people to faith and paved the way for other Christian groups to start working in the area. To continue the medical center’s spiritual impact, U.S. churches have made long term commitments to return regularly to areas around the hospital that are still unreached with the Gospel.
Economically, Nalerigu has flourished. Faile witnessed the arrival of electricity, telephones, cars and motorcycles. He’s watched the town swell from 3,000 to more than 10,000 people, evidence of development he doesn’t see in other villages nearby.
And government officials praise the hospital for employing more than 200 Ghanaians.
“This hospital has made a huge contribution to the human resource base of this region,” said a Ghana government official who spoke at the anniversary ceremony. “[Baptist Medical Centre] is regarded as a trailblazer that has set the pace for other health care providers in the region.”
Public health nurse Florence Wuni has been a staff member for nearly 35 years. But that’s not the only connection she has to the hospital. As a child, she received treatment for eye infections. As an adult, she gave birth to five children at the hospital. She also gave her life to Jesus at a church started by hospital staff.
“[The hospital] is a part of all of us,” she said. “It has enlightened people to health. It has brought the Word of God. It has changed so much here.”
The staff works under the leadership of the hospital’s only two doctors, Faile and Earl Hewitt. Together, they see about 2,000 patients per week with ailments from hypertension to typhoid. Malaria season often fills all 123 beds. IMB pharmacist Jane Paysinger prescribes nearly 80,000 Tylenol tablets each month.
Faile also performs around 1,200 major surgeries every year. In fact, Faile had to miss some of the anniversary festivities to treat a man attacked by a hippopotamus.
Someone is always on call to treat such emergencies. “There has never not been a doctor on duty in 50 years,” Faile said.
A handful of current and former missionaries who have helped keep that record intact came back to celebrate the hospital’s anniversary. Among them was IMB worker Cherry Faile, daughter of the hospital’s founder and sister of George Faile. She spent 16 years developing Jesus-centered public health programs in Nalerigu before moving to serve in Niger.
The missionaries pray more doctors will come because George Faile plans to retire soon. The work is not yet finished.
That’s evident when patients arrive wearing leather fetishes and stone charms to invoke healthy spirits.
But as they wait in line, they hear of another Healer. Ghanaian hospital chaplains and volunteers host devotionals where some people hear about Jesus for the first time. The chaplains, who are from the area, also visit wards to pray with patients and seek opportunities to share the Gospel.
“People don’t just come here from far away because they know they will have their needs met,” said John Koffi Boateng, who works in indigent patient administration at the hospital. “They come because they know we pray here. They know we have a different kind of love. It’s the love of Christ that has changed our lives.”
Emily Peters is a regional writer covering West Africa for the International Mission Board.