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Pakistan Medical Mission:
Five Rupees to Heaven

Our Great Adventure with the Lord

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Snow-capped mountains. Silk Route. Karakoram Highway. Wool-cloaked men. Herds of goat and sheep. One would think this is a National Geographic special. And it could have very well been one. The MARCH Team Pakistan left Manila on 15th November into what we would now describe as an adventure of a lifetime.

A Night in Karachi. Shem and I, along with Drs Sam, Gerry, Josie, Evie, arrived in Karachi at half-past nine. And what a strange thing it was! The moment we went into the Arrival Area of the Karachi International Airport, literally every head turned with all eyes staring at us. We could not help but think, What did we do wrong now? There were piles and piles of men queued up at the Immigration Counter. Maybe that was their way of saying hello? ?

After almost an hour in that queue, we were surprised to get special treatment especially after they saw our passport stamped with a visa indicating relief work as our purpose for visiting. We breezed through Customs and were ushered into the Departure Area for domestic flights. Our flight to Islamabad was at five the next morning. We found ourselves a couch each, got comfortable, and rested our exhausted bodies from the long travel. Islamabad was a two-hour flight from Karachi.

Journey Into the Rubbles of Balakot. It was 7C in Islamabad when we alighted the plane. Imagine the shock our bodies got! It was 32C when we left Manila. Ashfaq, a retired Pakistani army pilot, met us outside the Arrival Area. He was the only one who responded to the churchs appeal for volunteer interpreters for this group of Christian doctors from the Philippines. Later on, Uncle Ashfaq proved to be more than a mere interpreter. He became our guardian angel.

We were later joined by Ashgar Ali (an elderly Pakistani preacher from Lahore) and his lovely daughter Dilnawaz. Crammed in an old van, all nine of us (including the driver) set off to Balakot, known as the Gateway to the Kaghan Valley. Balakot is a seven-hour drive from Islamabad.

click to view photosWe picked up Dr Iqbal, Dilnawazs contact person in Balakot, at a bus station in Rawalpindi. Dr Iqbal serves as the Liaison Officer for most foreign aid workers in that area. The guy could talk. And he talked endlessly during the entire travel from Islamabad.

It was nightfall when we finally reached the SAHARA for Life camp our home for the next two weeks. SAHARA is an acronym for Services Aimed At Health and Awakening in Remote Areas. A non-profit organization founded by popular Pakistani singer Abrar Ul-Haq.

Josie, Evie and I were in one tent. Shem, Sam and Gerry were on the next tent. Father and daughter Ashgar and Dilnawaz were on another. Within an hour of our arrival, there was a little girl that was hit by a speeding vehicle and was taken into our camp. The Pakistani doctors who attended to her said she was only badly shaken and bruised. But Drs Gerry and Sam knew better. They spoke loudly to each other in the Visayan dialect but uttered their own diagnosis in English. When the Pakistani doctors overheard them talking, they rushed the little girl to the nearest field hospital run by the UAE military. True enough, there was a fracture in the girls neck. Early on, we had a glimpse of what our next few days working with them would be.

The Ruins of Balakot. Balakot is probably the worst-affected area by the 7.6 earthquake that hit northern Pakistan on 8th October. Ninety-nine percent of the town was destroyed. Two-thirds of its population were buried under the rubbles. Balakot is known all over Pakistan as shrine to Muslim warriors Syed Ahmed Shaheed Brelvi and Shah Ismail who laid their lives fighting against Sikhs in the 18th century.

The stench of death was all over the place. Quite hard to imagine how great the wailing was soon after the earthquake hit. It was as if a bomb was dropped in the middle of that town.

Up, Up and Away. Jabra.Kanthia. Chamber.Sarer. Hangrhai. Ganila. Meekali. Madi. Patangi. Pattika. Jamoo Naka. Ganool. Dhairy. Manoor. Bonja. Jiraid. Kapi Gali. Garlat. Dandar. Banphora. Showal. Garlat. Nara. These were the villages we served. Some were a few kilometers from the base camp. Most were up in the mountains roughly twelve thousand feet above sea level. The American Chinooks were flying a little below the mountain village of Jamoo Naka this one being the most difficult trek we undertook. We had to go on foot that day because a landslide blocked the road leading up to this village. Dr Evie had to literally drag me up that mountain. Inch by inch we climbed. And fifteen minutes after we got to the top, there was a strong aftershock, which we later found out to be intensity 6 on the Richter scale.

To ward off our fears, we would sing all sort of songs during the drive through the steep, winding mountain roads. We, of course, tried not to sing When We All Get To Heaven or Nearer, My God To Thee. We were convinced we were not going to heaven yet; well, at least not in Pakistan. ?

Worshipping Amidst the Infidels. Perhaps the one thing that kept us going each day was our daily, morning and evening devotionals. Our songs and praises echoed through the Kaghan Valley and the Karakoram Range. Shortly after our Muslim co-workers first morning prayers (at five in the morning), we would gather up in the girls tent to sing songs and to share Gods words. It had become a morning routine for us especially when the temperature continued to drop down. We would be up so early to either go to the bathroom, have a cup of coffee, or to switch on our portable heater (for only fifteen minutes at a time!).

At night, after supper, we would meet at the Examining Room or Mess Hall for our evening devotionals. After a few days of doing these, our Muslim friends started asking questions about what we were doing. At times, when some of them would sit with us for supper, they would let us say grace in their presence.

Snapshots of Gods Healing Grace. Shem, the only physiotheraphist in the Team, had this male patient who severed the nerves on his wrist. He was crushed by a boulder during the earthquake. Each night that young man would show up at the Camp for his therapy session with Shem. On our last evening in Balakot, that young man could hold a pencil and write.

Dr Sam dressing the wound of an old woman who had to be carried into the camp on her bed. It almost looked like that scene in the Bible where a sick man was lowered from the roof while Jesus was inside the house teaching many people.

Dr Gerry treating a man which was pierced by a rock on his back. Shem said he could not even bear to look at the wound. It was so deep and huge.

Dr Josie rushing out to attend to a pregnant woman at one in the morning. It was a case of incomplete abortion and the patient had to be taken to a hospital which is in the city of Abbottabad, 60 kms from Balakot.

Dr Evie cleaning the gangrenous foot of an old woman. The patient could not feel anything anymore.

We could go on and on with all the amazing stories that God allowed us to experience in our two weeks in Pakistan. Besides the freezing temperature, the makeshift toilet/bath, the treacherous drive into the mountains, the filthy cups and plates, the fiery-hot Pakistani dishes, the not-so-pure bottled water, the MARCH Team Pakistan came out unharmed and immensely blessed from this trip.

We could not be more thankful for all the prayers that were lifted up to the Father. It was by His Grace that we were able to serve as His ambassadors in Pakistan. It was through His Love that we were able to show compassion to the many people that we met in this trip. And it was by His Hand that we made it safely back home. To God be all the glory and honor!

Your fellow servant,

N.B: A taxi in Islamabad charges 5 rupees per kilometer.

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