Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

What God gives: Prayers from Africa

Marcia Whitney-Schenck
Chicago, Illinois, United States

Rev. David Ambola from Mbingo, Cameroon, has remarked that Africans are incurably religious. Indeed, for many in Africa, religion permeates every aspect of their lives, from Christian messages on the rear windows of taxis to hand-crafted signs in hospital waiting rooms.

Hand surgeon Dr. Robert Schenck and his wife, photographer Marcia Whitney-Schenck, heard many compelling Christian voices while they volunteered in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda between 2008–2009. While Dr. Schenck was teaching hand surgery to national physicians, Marcia taught English as a second language to elementary school children and healthcare professionals. But it was the African people who taught them about praising God.

During their service at Mbingo Baptist Hospital in Cameroon and at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Hospital in the Congo, Marcia collected prayers and took photographs of the Protestants and Catholics whom she met there. The following photographs are from her recently published book, What God Gives.

Unless otherwise noted, all the photographs were taken by Marcia Whitney-Schenck.

Dr. Robert Schenck and Dr. Chris Nana (from Cameroon), pray before an operation.

A healer’s prayer
Guide us in our surgery, for we sew, but You are the great healer.
We were constantly amazed at the strength and integrity of nurses at both the hospitals in Cameroon and Congo. Many of their prayers were heartfelt: “Give me the power and strength to serve your people.”

Others were amusing: “Oh Lord, give this doctor more knowledge than the little bit he has.”

A nurse’s prayer
Thank you, God, for helping me see this day.
I pray, Father, that you may bless this work
and strengthen the patients who come to me for help.
Help me not to discriminate and to do just what is right,
and to lead me in Jesus’ name.

Prayer by Helen Tobah, a nurse at Mbingo Baptist Hospital, Cameroon
Photo by Maiser, a Congolese photographer

A prayer for Congolese mothers
Our most Gracious and Loving God,
Please stay close to the mothers of Congo.
Give them strength to work the fields
And pound the manioc
And bear their children.
Let them suffer rarely, rejoice greatly
And dance eternally.

Prayer by Nancy Haninger
Photo by Maiser, a Congolese photographer

Nancy Haninger, a Presbyterian missionary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, encouraged me to take more pictures of women. Many were so shy, it was difficult to learn about the spiritual thoughts closest to their hearts, but their faces revealed everything—their troubles and hopes.
“Mozart” Mukenge (center) said these words before giving a village concert in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Prayer of a magician
Jehovah God, You created the heavens and earth,
You created everything in the world,
You created the highest mountains,
And you created the great oceans.
Before you there is no other.
You are God of the whole earth
You are father of our King, Jesus Christ,
And our father as well.
All glory and honor to you
Because you have kept us safe.
Begin and end with us.
May fighting, quarrels, and worldly thoughts descend
with the waters.
May all this be done in the name of Jesus.

Translated from Tshiluba by John Metzel
A family in Cameroon offers their prayers to people suffering with AIDS
Jacob Tock’s hands

I asked him, “What are your favorite prayers?” His answer was not specific. I started to pack up my camera when he said, “What God gives, take with both hands.” This simple statement struck me as having enormous meaning. I got out my camera and took a picture of his curled, stubbed fingers.
Jacob Tock was living in New Hope Village, Cameroon, a compound established in 1954 to treat patients with Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy. In addition to suffering from the effects of the disease, he was nearly blind from a hunting accident.
A congregation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo sings hymns in their language, Tshiluba:

Count your many blessings
Pawanyingalala mu dikenga be
Pakukuata malu adi makole
Uvuluke kupa kuonso kua Nzambi,
Ukeme bikole bua luse luandi
The children at Mbingo Baptist School pray every morning before class. They were like children anywhere—squirming, squealing, peaking—and praying, too.

A student’s prayer
I pray for the land of Boyo, the green hills that He has made us to see, the rain that He has made to fall, the sun that He has made to shine and for the moon in the night sky …. I pray for all those who are sleeping in sin, that they should wake up to see the light that God has given them.

Prayer by Raissia Vigah, 10

We first noticed Mr. Confidence at the Baptist Church, where he would often break out into an enthusiastic display of song and dance. I was later invited to a Sunday afternoon prayer service at a community hall. There, Mr. Confidence danced with exuberant praise. I became a fan.
When we learned that he was going to entertain the patients at Mbingo Baptist Hospital where he worked, I showed up and watched as he managed to amuse even the gloomiest of patients.
He dedicated this following song and dance to the Lord:

If the Lord is for you, you don’t need to worry, anything,
Who can be against you, nobody, nobody, if the Lord is for you,

You needn’t fear anything, not anything, if the Lord is
for you, Nobody can be against you. The Lord is Emmanuel,
You don’t need to fear anything, anything …

kannun, ta, ta, kannun, tunn, tunn, kannun, ta, ta, tatinga …

MARCIA WHITNEY-SCHENCK was a former reporter for the Tacoma News Tribune and publisher of Christianity and the Arts. She currently teaches English as a Second Language in Chicago. She is affiliated with Global LT, a company that matches business executives with tutors. She has taught in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where her husband volunteered his services as a hand surgeon. Visit her website at http://www.notjustgrammar.com. Her book What God Gives: Prayers from Africa may be purchased at http://www.amazon.com or http://www.lulu.com.

To learn more about Dr. Robert Schenck’s work in developing nations, visit http://www.handsurgeryworld.net.

Highlighted in Frontispiece Volume 3, Issue 1 – Winter 2011

Winter 2011



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