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First Aid with no 911 and no Ambulance on the Way

Back in 2017 when we were still pretty new here in our town in Papua, Indonesia, we went to a baptism service with our church. As the adults were gathered on the sand for a worship service, the kids played in the water behind them. It was stunningly beautiful, and the sun was scorching. A yell from a man who began running down to the water got everyone’s attention. A boy floating face down in the water amid a splashing crowd of children was pulled out, gray and limp and unbreathing. It was the pastor’s three-year-old son. They shook him upside down, panicking, praying. My husband, certified in CPR from years of working with kids, took the boy from them and started CPR. They tried to pull him away but the assistant pastor, from elsewhere in Indonesia, realized that Isaac knew what he was doing and told everyone to clear away.


He lived. None of us remember how long it took, but eventually he started breathing, threw up a massive amount of water, and lived. He has no lasting damage. They took him to the hospital and my husband told them as they left to make sure to have the doctor check his ribs. We all ate lunch on the beach in silence. People watched us while pretending to not watch us. One woman came up and asked, was he blowing into the boy’s nose or sucking out? Later, all gathered at the hospital, the doctor told the crowd that it was CPR that saved the boy’s life. They did not know what it was. “We should learn how to do that,” one woman said.


We struggled with swimming events for a few years after that, the image of the lifeless boy making the beautiful water that surrounds us here feel like a dangerous threat, and yet also one that made us feel responsible. If only Isaac knew CPR, what if someone drowned and he was not there? And indeed, in the following years my helper (young, strong, educated) drowned in a pool with her family there, and we took another nearly drowned boy to the hospital from another pool.


In early 2021, still in the thick of COVID, our neighbor’s one year old daughter was brought to us in the early morning to take to the hospital. She’d been sick with fever and vomiting for two days. She died there in the following hours, and the images of weeping and wailing women will stay with us forever. Our other neighbor preached the sermon at the funeral, talking about how we grapple with suffering in life, working for life and justice (in the face of the injustice of poor medical services here) while also hoping in the resurrection and God holding our lives in His hand.


One week after preaching that sermon, our neighbor had what seems to have been a heart attack. Again, they came to our gate in the early morning and called for Isaac, who administered CPR while our friend’s body grew cold in our hands and we realized that it is different here, where no ambulance will arrive and take over.


I could go on, there are more stories. We are not medical missionaries; we came to do theological education. And yet because Isaac is CPR certified for a part-time tutoring job during grad school, and because we are exposed to the general medical education of rich nations, and because we have a car that can take people to the hospital, we are the medical resource. We feel so responsible. We feel the weight of lives lost before us, deaths that are preventable.


Somewhere in there, after Isaac giving CPR twice, seeing a life saved and working through the impact of our friend dying under his hands, I started to pray for someone to come and train people here in CPR. I’ve prayed for years now. I contacted doctors in the West, put calls out in our newsletter, asked medical teammates in other countries, talked to doctors and nurses elsewhere in this country. I got furthest down the road with an org in the US that does exactly this, training people around the world via short-term trips. But they wanted to track all participants for a year or so afterwards, requiring regular reports on the number of times they’d converted people or baptized them, and the amount of churches they’d planted. I was uncomfortable with that, given that we partner with an active group of local churches, feeling that it is a bit patronizing and controlling to take reports of their work to the West as if it was the result of Western work. We pulled back, and I kept praying.


Lord, would You bring someone here that can train others in CPR? Or a doctor or nurse that will work here in the empty clinic two doors down from our house?


This week, guys, I watched those prayers be answered. A friend in Java told me about an American in Jakarta who was putting on First Aid and CPR trainings. We got connected and had a zoom call. She said she had been praying about how to introduce these things in Papua. We started planning.


We had three trainings. One for Americans in town, where 9 of us were trained and certified. Two for groups of Indonesians, 17 per group. I had prayed for participants from a wide variety of areas so that many areas could have someone trained. In the end we had students that will return to the Hatam, Sougb, Meyah, Moskona, Biak, Dani, Auyu, and Citak. Those are people groups from across Papua (remember, that’s scattered across an area the size of California). We had participants that were young singles, mothers, preschool teachers, elementary teachers, pastors, heads of Sunday schools, college students, farmers, tour guides.


The team included a doctor from the US who is now fluent in Indonesian, an Indonesian nurse, and an Indonesian lawyer. Their combination of skills and expertise is astounding to me, and the two Indonesians happened to both be from Eastern Indonesia. That meant that they had understanding our area’s pattern of speech and slang and earned credibility with our students. They were able to talk about Indonesian laws and medical system. They had taken American First Aid training and modified it to Indonesia. Calling 911 does no good here, and if you call for emergency help, you’ll wait for hours. How do you do wound care if you’re in the jungle and it’ll be hours or days before you could possibly get to a hospital? Triple antibiotic ointment is great but what do you use when it’s not available in our entire province? They addressed local myths, like hanging someone upside down after drowning, and putting gasoline on wounds. The modified material was so amazing, I can’t imagine a better experience. Anyone I could have recruited from America would have required a translator and a ton of the material would not have been applicable here.


The participants were so engaged, and the material was hands-on: physically practicing rescue positions, chest compressions, breaths, the Heimlich maneuver, and properly bandaging a wound. For students with a wide variety of educational backgrounds, this hands-on practice was ideal.


We had a big seminar on general health for our entire campus as well, exposing them to CPR and first aid, wound care, nutrition (with a food pyramid and My Plate diagram modified to Papuan food staples!), care for fevers, and an introduction to leprosy. How precious is that, that we were able to talk about leprosy, early signs, and avoiding stigma, just three months after our daughter was diagnosed with leprosy.


The trainer’s faith was interwoven into all of it, addressing trusting that God holds all our lives in His hands when we come to the end of our ability to help, the way we imitate Jesus as we are the first to run to help someone in need, and the way we respond to the weight of suffering around us with hope because of the finished work of Christ.


The older sister of the boy that my husband gave CPR to was certified in our first group. She and the head of our Sunday school came up and asked me, “When Isaac did CPR that day at the baptism service, had he been to this kind of training? Is that how he knew what to do?” Yes. This is how. The son of our neighbor who died in front of us was certified as well. Watching him do compressions on a mannequin was quite surreal.


It was amazing. We had prayed. I got to see the direct, beyond my expectation answer to my prayers. They were long, hot, and sometimes chaotic days that had to happen when Isaac was out of the country for his dad’s wedding, but they happened and I loved the team, being with the participants, and just seeing it unfold. Before we didn’t know if anyone else around was CPR certified, and now we know 43 people that are. And you know what? If we hadn’t experienced such tragedy and felt the need so keenly, we never would never have gone and found this team. Sometimes we don’t get to see the way the stories weave together. But this month we got to see some of what God is doing, and it was such a privilege.

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