Chapter 27 – God Brings Betty Through
Betty was so sick
Our preoccupation now was the preparation for two conferences in January. Betty was also busy in the clinic. On Friday, January 9th, she finished her clinic and came home to bed with fever and chills. She gave herself malaria treatment but by Monday she was no better so I made contact with our SIM doctor by radio (by now we had now been issued a two-way radio). He instructed me to find a certain medicine and administer it by injection. This was something I had never done before. Sticking a needle into someone was far beyond my comfort level! But I did it! However, she still continued the same. The doctor then said that I should bring her to the hospital at Soddo in the south of Ethiopia. But how was I to do that? She was so sick and the road so rough and long; about 150 miles.
Finally I rigged up a lawn chair weighted down with sand bags in the back of the camp van. With a rest stop at Sheshamane, the trip took over seven hours but Betty arrived seemingly no worse for it. Dr Bob Bowers and his wife, Marion, lovingly took her into their home where she would receive better night care. I stayed with her for the night and the next morning decided to return to Langano as the conference was beginning in a few days and much preparation had yet to be made. Betty seemed reasonably well and in good hands when I left that Wednesday morning. Looking back now, I realize that even then she was beginning to slip. Although she was responsive and could carry on a conversation, she now does not remember my leaving or anything that transpired after that time.
Arriving back at Langano, the two-way radio reports from the hospital seemed somewhat encouraging. However, Friday night I was advised that I should come because Betty was slipping badly. By the time I reached her on Saturday, she was in a coma and did not know me at all. Sunday morning the doctor asked the mission family to unite in special prayer as Betty was critically ill. I went into the little hospital town to a small telephone exchange building in the hope of contacting my folks at home in Victoria and also Pastor Holmes at Central Baptist Church so he could minister to Betty’s mother. Four hours later I returned to the hospital unsuccessful in my attempt to reach home. However, the Lord laid it on the heart of a fellow SIMer, from our church, Waldy Krahn in Addis Ababa to call home to Victoria and talked to Pastor Holmes. So in addition to the many prayers from our mission family, the volume of prayer was increased by many in Victoria as well. The outpouring of love, concern and prayer manifested by fellow Christians was absolutely overwhelming. During this time, Marg Ratzliff and Lillian Meed, SIM missionaries at home in different parts of Canada, sensed the need to pray for their friend, Betty, though they knew nothing of the situation.
By Sunday evening it seemed as though no more could be done for Betty even though the doctor, in whose home we were staying, took her into the operating room with the hope of performing some procedures that would spare her life. About 9:30 that evening, as I waited in the hallway, Dr Bob came out of the operating theatre with tears running down his cheeks and being absorbed into his surgical mask. He said, “Norm, I don’t think we will have Betty with us by morning.” Taking medical responsibility for colleagues was among the hardest things mission doctors had to do. To compound the situation, there was labour unrest in the hospital, and he was the Medical Administrator.
Needless to say, I did not sleep that night. Monday morning was the darkest hour I’ve ever spent in my life. I was treading through the “deep valley of the shadow of death”. Everything that could be done medically had been done. A special air flight by MAF had been made with medicine. The medical staff had not spared themselves in loving care. Arrangements were also made to fly Betty to England as this seemed to be the only chance for her. But now, all we could do was pour out our hearts to God. This dark hour became an hour of deep testing. Was I willing for God to take from me the one I so dearly loved? I hate to admit it now and, in fact, I am rather embarrassed, but I was angry with God. We had two lovely children. We were still young. We loved each other deeply. We had a good ministry together. There was a good future before us and now this was happening.
Final1y, I was able to say, “God, if this is what You have in mind for my life and for Betty, I will accept it”.
With that sense of surrender in my heart, I was able to pull myself together and make arrangements to go back up to Addis Ababa where my children were. I was also able to make the arrangements that would be necessary for the funeral service.
A fellow missionary travelled with me back to Langano which was halfway on the trip to Addis Ababa. Back in Langano I found a large group of the local Arsi men kneeling just inside the gate, bowing over in prayer for Betty.
I began to pack, not knowing where I was really going. Would I ever be back to Langano again? I did not know. It was at this point that God ministered to my torn heart with the 23rd Psalm:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
God gave me no assurance that he would miraculously pluck me up out of this valley but that with the instruments of care and direction, His rod and His staff, He would guide me up through the valley floor, around the rocks and briars, to higher ground. No one expected Betty to continue with us much longer. My crushed heart had said goodbye; now my concern was for the children in Addis Ababa.
As I worked all night at Langano to arrange our goods and to finalize my business with the camp, the hymn that kept ringing through my heart was “Does Jesus Care?”
“Does Jesus care when I’ve said “goodbye”
To the dearest on earth to me?”
The refrain kept coming back, over and over again.
“Oh yes, He cares. I know He cares”.
Upon reaching the children, I once again was very conscious of God’s sustaining presence. A missionary family, Murray & Bea Coleman, had taken the children out of the boarding school and into their home. They had so graciously ministered to them when Betty became ill. The children, too, had to come to grips with the possibility of losing their mother. It was then, while we were together stretched out on the bed in the bedroom of the Coleman’s home and still bathed in tears that the phone rang. It was a long distance call from Soddu, the hospital, with Dr. Bowers on the other end. His message was that Betty had made a verbal response and was coming out of the coma. I was too stunned to answer!
Looking back on that dark Monday morning at Soddo, I wonder if it wasn’t at that point of my surrender that God, as it were, restrained the hand of death and began to restore Betty back to us. God had answered our prayer and the prayers of many Christians. Needless to say, Betty’s return was a source of tremendous rejoicing and thanksgiving. Dr. Bob said that he can explain her remarkable recovery spiritually but not medically. It was prayer that had upheld him in the awesome medical decisions he was called upon to make. It was prayer that enabled the mission office staff in Addis to perform the nigh impossible task of making arrangements for Betty’s pending flight to London, England. It was prayer that sustained the children and myself.
We cannot understand why God allows these things to happen because His ways are so far above ours. As His children we can fully trust his sovereignty.
It took Betty about a month before she was strong enough to travel. We stayed at the Soddo hospital compound with the gracious hospitality of the Bowers and others as she slowly recuperated. I spent that time doing what I could to repair hospital equipment that had been out of commission for a while.
Finally we were ready to travel. Betty was in a wheelchair while we, and the children, waited in the Addis Ababa airport for our flight home to Canada. The Lufthansa Airline plane was ready for takeoff but we were still in the terminal. All the other passengers seemed to be on board. The country’s communistic revolution was still in full progress; the paper work to exit was unreal! And then the airport employees told us that Jeff’s passport was missing! Finally the chief steward came off the plane to hurry the process, but to no avail. We were well aware that the airport employees knew we were not going to leave without our son and in exchange for a little “consideration” of cash, the passport would reappear. Bribes were something SIMers generally didn’t give. But the Lufthansa airline steward was irate and would have nothing to do with further delays. He raised his voice with threatening gestures. They finally produced Jeff’s passport and we were on board the Boeing 747.
We were finally in the air flying home. The flight necessitated a stopover in Frankfurt for a day. This would give Betty a chance to regain her strength for the final leg to Toronto. During the night however, her temperature rose creating significant alarm for me. What could I do stuck in a hotel room so far from home? We prayed and she took medication brought for this probability. Thankfully she felt better in the morning and we continued the trip.
No official diagnosis of Betty’s illness had been made. They thought she had encephalitis but that didn’t add up medically. Arriving back in Canada a month after her coma, the doctors agreed from the blood sample sent to SIM New York, that she had a severe case of Hepatitis A and had gone into hepatic coma.
We knew it was time for us to leave Ethiopia. The revolution had made living for missionaries very dangerous. Our children needed a more stable environment. And . . . our Cathy had been subject to a bully in her classroom and dormitory. Betty found this situation emotionally hard. So, for many reasons Betty and I sensed God wanting us to return home.
In Victoria, Cliff and Grace Padget generously gave us their basement suite while Betty recovered. We took our bed from the bedroom to the living room in the basement suite, and Betty organized life for us from there for three months. Church friends brought delicious casseroles. Also, any of the family who wanted a hug, or just to talk, knew where to find her! In three months she felt strong enough to go to church. She could finally enjoy the many friends whom she wanted to see! We eventually bought a little fix-up home and I was hired by our home church, Central Baptist Church, as the pastor of visitation. Cathy and Jeff were now young teenagers and Betty was busy at home as mother and wife.
But that was not the end of the story for Langano.