Dr. Deborah Eisenhut, MD, FACS
In God’s kingdom, many servants are faithfully toiling away without much recognition, praise or earthly support. Surgeons Dr. Jacques Ebhele and Dr. Samy Nigo working at a mission hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), are two such unsung heroes. Their separate journeys to their current place of service are long and filled with many examples of God’s guiding hand.
Both doctors were raised in devout, Christian homes and were involved in their local churches from childhood. Dr. Nigo had a personal encounter with Christ in medical school during a message from Mark chapter 5 about the woman healed by Jesus after bleeding for 12 years. Dr. Ebhele had his medical school fees paid by an uncle, but after his uncle died, he fell on very hard times and almost had to quit school. In desperation, he turned to the Lord in fervent prayer. He saw the Lord providentially meet his needs, allowing him to graduate.
Dr. Samy Nigo was born at the Centre Médical Évangélique de Nyankunde/Bunia in the DRC, the same hospital where he now serves. His parents still work there, his father as a laboratory technician and lecturer and his mother as a gardener. He first heard of the five-year surgical residency training provided by the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS) from a missionary who had taught his father. Dr. Ebhele wanted to go to the US to continue his own medical training but found out about PAACS through his father-in-law who was studying at Wheaton College. He was especially impressed that PAACS is a discipleship program, not just a surgical residency. PAACS is a partner of Synergie Francophone.
After graduation from his PAACS residency in Gabon in 2015, Dr. Jacques Ebhele tried to go back to serve at a hospital in his hometown in eastern DRC. The hospital could not afford to pay him, however. So, instead, he served several years as surgical faculty at the PAACS program at Mbingo Baptist Hospital in Cameroon. Unfortunately, he had to move his family to Malawi when the civil war closed all the schools in western Cameroon.
Dr. Nigo graduated from his PAACS residency at Mbingo Baptist Hospital in Cameroon in 2018 and has worked at Centre Médical Évangélique de Nyankunde/Bunia in the DRC ever since. Dr. Ebhele recently joined him part time.
Serving in hard places with huge surgical needs
Working at a mission hospital in the DRC presents many challenges. Civil unrest surrounds Bunia. The hospital is poorly equipped for surgery. The two operating rooms lack surgical lighting and anesthesia machines. They struggle to get basic supplies such as sutures and bandages. Sometimes they must cancel surgeries due to the lack of equipment. In addition, the hospital workers need more training. Drs. Nigo and Ebhele teach skills as they can, on top of their tremendous workload.
There are only four surgeons in their area serving a population of about 1 million, a 1: 250,000 ratio. This compares to a 1:1,800 ratio in the US. They are overwhelmed by cases and chronically overworked.
Accepting hardships to be missionaries of Jesus Christ
Finances are a chronic problem. Dr. Samy is paid a very modest salary by the hospital and he can only arrange occasional financial compensation for Dr. Ebhele. Right now, the Ebhele family in Kampala is living on savings from his work in Cameroon and Malawi. When those funds run out, Dr. Ebhele says that he looks to the Lord to provide.
A special challenge for them is the education of their children. Dr. Nigo and his wife, Faida Rose, have three boys— Eliézar (7), Allan (4) and Jason (16 months). The local schools are poor, and he is concerned for his future at the hospital because of this problem. Dr. Ebhele and his wife, Dinah, have four children—Samuel (10), Jean-Luc (8), Joël (6) and Rita-Joy (5). His family lives in a rented house in Kampala, Uganda so that the children can attend a Christian English-medium school. Dr. Ebhele visits them every one to two months for a week at a time. This situation is not sustainable but is necessary right now in order to provide an adequate education for his children while he serves the people of the DRC.
In spite of these many obstacles, both men are committed to stay in the DRC to provide good surgical care for their own people. They see their work as a mission field and every encounter with a patient as an opportunity to share the Gospel. Their patients come because of their medical needs but bring their spiritual needs too.
The two surgeons provide examples to their co-workers by their Christ-like behavior and service. They are often approached for spiritual advice. The hospital holds a daily chapel service and both men frequently give the devotional message. Dr. Ebhele preaches one to two times per month in his local church. Dr. Nigo serves as administrator of his church’s choir. Both give lectures at a local Christian medical school and are involved in discipling students.
SF wants to provide tools that African surgeons cannot afford
Both Dr. Nigo and Dr. Ebhele speak multiple languages—French, English and their African tribal tongues. While they look for ways to improve their English, reading in French, especially on spiritual topics, is easier. Books are very difficult to find in the DRC, and those that are available are very expensive. Internet access in their region is scarce and too expensive for most people. The doctors would find having books in French helpful for their own spiritual enrichment and their discipleship activities. Right now, when they read something in English, they must then relay the contents to their students in French. Having Christian Bible study and discipleship books in French would not only allow them to do their own studies but would benefit others around them.
The provision of French-language Christian books would greatly enhance the ministry of these two surgeons. They request prayer for the many challenges in their place of service: their children’s education, adequate finances to take care of their families, enough medical equipment and supplies, and peace and security in their region. They look forward with gratitude to what God will do in their own ministries and through the new initiative of Synergie Francophone to provide to each French-speaking surgeon or surgical resident a set of Christian books. We call this project More Than Surgery to reflect the spiritual dimension of how they approach their work, patients, students and communities, a vital aspect of their work described by Dr. Nigo in his testimony below.
DR. NIGO’S TESTIMONY
I was born in a Christian family in Nyankunde in the eastern DRC. Because of my upbringing, being a Christian was no big deal. My parents made sure that I followed Christian principles as a child. I joined Sunday school and enjoyed singing Christian songs. This exercise made me a good singer and I soon joined a choir in the Brethren church in Nyankunde. I got baptized and continued to live without a personal commitment to Jesus. I heard many sermons urging me to believe in Jesus, but I thought I was already a Christian. I finally completed high school and began university studies as a good Christian but without a personal relationship with Jesus.
It was a Sunday morning. The sermon was on Mark 5:28: “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” I was almost at the end of my medical course work. I was proud to become a doctor who would serve many people and was excited about my achievements. But that Sunday, I was shocked to discover that even doctors are limited in their profession. The preacher pointed out clearly how much the woman in Mark 5:28 suffered for twelve years without healing. However, her faith was more meaningful than medical treatment when she said: “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” I was confused because the outcome of this short statement was beyond my understanding. I was touched and decided to experience this faith by receiving Jesus in my life as my personal Savior and Lord. Since then, I pray for every patient that I touch because I realize that healing comes from God and we are mere tools that He uses. This way of thinking is just the opposite of what I had thought about my academic and professional achievements.
Since I gave my life to Jesus, I have experienced a lot of change. My daily prayer is, “Lord, help me to grow in my faith.” I have come to love personal devotions. As the Bible says, “faith comes from what is heard.” I enrolled in Bible courses to have opportunities for spiritual growth.
God has taught me integrity and humility and has provided many spiritual and material blessings. God has also been faithful in my studies. There was a time, however, when I faced material constraints when I was at university. With a family of eight boys, all in school, there were times that my parents were not able to provide promptly for our needs. This could bring discouragement, but God has been faithful.
Before, I could not easily see suffering as a part of life. But since I placed my hope in Jesus Christ, I have come to realize that suffering can produce character. This gives me an opportunity to look more on Jesus and see life experiences in the light of the will of God. When I am disappointed, I always share the burden with brothers and sisters in Christ and spend time in prayer. This brings me comfort.
Dr. Deborah Eisenhut, MD, FACS, serves as a Faculty Surgeon at Mbingo Baptist Hospital with the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery at Loma Linda University and has practiced surgery in hospitals in Oregon, Pakistan, Liberia, Cameroon, and other countries.