The Adventure of a Lifetime
Why did two 80-year old South Africans return to Ogbomoso?
by Joan and Hugh Philpott

August, 2008

     My wife, Joan, and I are South Africans and we have spent our professional lives in various countries in Africa.  In our teens we experienced a call from God to Christian medical work and this has been our passion for 56 years.  In 1954 we joined the Southern Baptist Mission in Nigeria and worked in the Baptist Hospitals and Leprosy Service in Ogbomoso and Eku.  My main interest was in obstetrics and later in reconstructive surgery for leprosy patients who were now being cured by recently discovered medication.  Joan taught basket making for the leprosy patients to help them become self-supporting and to prepare their hands for surgery, and devoted quality time to being a home builder for our growing family.  Two of our children were born in Ogbomoso and as a family we worked with missionaries from America and our Nigerian partners to assist in the growth of the Nigerian church.

     After we spent seven years in Nigeria our daughter, Margaret, developed a rare life-threatening tropical disease and after she recovered we were advised that it would be unwise for her to return.  We are certain that this was also God’s timing for us as a family to return to South Africa.  Joan has continued to be the perfect mother for our five children and fourteen grandchildren and I have pursued an academic career in obstetrics and gynecology in Harare and Durban.  Since my retirement I have spent 15 years supporting rural hospitals in South Africa in their maternity and HIV/AIDS services.  And now nothing could be more fitting than that Margaret has been the one who has initiated our new links with our first home in Ogbomoso.  I offered my rural hospital experience to NFW and they in turn made this offer to BMCO who regarded it as relevant to their current needs.  NFW kindly paid for my travel to Nigeria and South African Christian friends paid for Joan to travel with me.

     The NFW linked us with the Medical Director, Dr Timothy Awotunde, of the Baptist Medical Centre in Ogbomoso (BMCO) and on April 1st this year Joan and I left for a three week visit that proved to be a homecoming for us in every sense.  In the departure lounge at Johannesburg airport Joan chatted to a lady who, with her husband, had been running a mission at a church outside the city.  They had both attended Baptist High Schools and seminary in Nigeria and were returning home to Lagos.  They expressed concern at our going to Nigeria at our age and wanted to help us on our arrival.  Their caring friendship was of enormous help to us when we arrived in Lagos where the crowds were overwhelming and they were able to help us find the driver who had come to take us to Ogbomoso.  God provides for our care, even when we are not aware that we need it!

     The four-hour car journey to Ogbomoso was an interesting introduction to the country where there was now more of everything–the population was four times what it was when we had left, there were major traffic jams and lots of oil tankers, there were many signs to new churches and mosques and schools, yet most people seemed to be enjoying life and coping well.

     As we approached Ogbomoso it was apparent that the big village of long ago was now a bustling city of over a million people.  The homes built by the missionaries were now occupied by Nigerian professionals who run the Seminary and the Hospital as indigenous Nigerian institutions that have the reputation of being the best in the region.  On our first morning Timothy Awotunde came to our house to meet us and so began a friendship that will go beyond the time we spent in Ogbomoso to a partnership that will enable me to be a part of their maternal health program via the internet.

     I spent half of each day running seminars for midwives and doctors introducing methods of perinatal audit that we had used in similar circumstances at home and establishing together new interventions that will help to advance the quality of care. Timothy Awotunde had sent me the statistics for the maternity unit ahead of time. Initially I could not reconcile their high mortality rates with the high quality of leadership and care in every part of their maternity unit and an incidence of HIV/AIDS that was a tenth of that in South Africa.  This only became explicable when Timothy offered Joan and me the opportunity to visit in the town of Ogbomoso and see where the majority of women had their antenatal and intrapartum care.

     Each morning we visited different maternity units and quickly recognized the limitations that led to the maternal and perinatal deaths that arrived too late at the hospital.  We were received warmly by the midwives running these units and found that they would appreciate closer links with the hospital and shared protocols of management and patient referral.  We talked with Dr. Awotunde about the possibility of forming an Ogbomoso Committee for maternal health services that would link the services in the town with those in the hospital.

     A memorable day for Joan and me was when we visited the one time Leprosy Service.  Instead of the 3,000 patients in the settlement when we were there in the 50s there were now less than 100, the result of modern treatment and wonderful care by Christian health workers over the decades.  Read Ten Fingers for God by Paul Brand to be thrilled by this story world-wide.

     On our last morning in Ogbomoso the hospital chaplain held a farewell service for Joan and myself with the hospital workers in the chapel next to the graves of three of our colleagues who had given their lives in those earlier years.  We left having gained more than we gave to this wonderful team and are inspired to continue working with them each month via the internet.

     Before leaving, I discussed with Dr Awotunde ways in which the NFW and its supporters might wish to contribute to the work of the BMCO.  Here is his list for 2008/2009:
1. A fuel-free electricity supply to supplement their present expense to run diesel generators
2. Short term (one month) visits by specialists in bio-medical engineering (to help with equipment maintenance), orthopedics, pediatrics,internal medicine and anesthetics.  It would be ideal if visitors had experience of working in under-resourced areas.
3. Partnership with a well resourced medical school that will work with BMCO in developing its planned new teaching hospital.