“And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.” - Matthew 14:14
No—this wonderful story isn’t about me. I’d like to tell you, in her own words, about a friend that I met several years ago at the business in which I work part time (writing for The Times Examiner seems to be my “full time” job). We had another mutual friend who would tell me about the “adventures” of a missionary/doctor friend of hers, and eventually I got a chance to meet this unique lady, a physician/surgeon/missionary to Haiti whose name is Dr. Anne Livingston, during her occasional visits back to Greenville.I’d chat with “Doc” during her time at our store, and then she’d be gone again for months to the West Indies island of Haiti, where she has served as a physician/missionary since 1987. Her friend had introduced Doctor Anne to The Time Examiner and my articles, and on one of her trips I mentioned that our readers would probably enjoy an article or two about her experiences in Haiti, and how our LORD has used her in His service on that troubled island. So, in her own words, let me introduce you to my friend, Dr. Anne Livingston, God’s “Dear and Glorious Physician” (to borrow the title of Taylor Caldwell’s great 1982 book of that name).
“I’m Dr. Anne Livingston, and I have served as a missionary in rural northern Haiti for more than thirty years. What is a missionary? According to the dictionary, it is ‘a person who is sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelism or other activities, as educational or hospital work.’ As a Christian, I like Paul’s description in Second Corinthians 5:20: ‘Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.’
“To carry out a mission like that means that I must have a relationship with the living God. That happened on Easter Sunday when I was seven years old. I heard that Christ died for my sin on the cross, was buried, rose from the dead, and now offers eternal life to all who put their trust in Him. I believed what He said and became a child of God that day.
“Our church hosted missionaries, and I was always interested in the places they served. My mother told the story of Ti-Fam (Little Woman) of Haiti in junior church, and it was exciting to see Granny Holderman, one of the missionaries in the story, in person! At the age of twelve, I dedicated my life for possible missionary service. By the time I went to college, I believed God was directing me to be a doctor as well as a missionary. That would mean a lot of preparation. The years before college were filled with school (including the French classes my mother insisted I take), learning about service from my parents, and growing in my relationship with God through the teaching of good Sunday school teachers and faithful pastors. College, and especially medical school, seemed out of reach because we were poor. My parents encouraged me, believing if this was what God wanted me to do, He would provide. And He did.
“Those provisions included scholarships and a work-study program, entry into medical school, loans, a summer in Ivory Coast between my third and fourth years of medical school, and direction to train in general surgery. Around the time I was completing my board exams, I met a missionary from northern Haiti. He had been sent to find a doctor by Christians in his area who had been praying for a doctor for twenty years. They started praying about the time I dedicated my life for service! I visited their area and believed it was where God wanted me to serve. The following months were spent raising support in local
churches, and with that in hand, I went to Haiti in 1987.
“A major concern for me soon after getting moved was to learn the language, Haitian Creole. An ambassador has to be able to communicate the message he or she has been given, and a doctor has to understand the patient’s problems before making a diagnosis. Remember those French classes? Haitian Creole is based on 1700 French, and that helped me learn the basic language fairly quickly with the aid of a local school teacher and a lot of study.
“Haiti is the poorest country in this hemisphere, and the most densely populated. When I arrived in St. Raphael, this town of 42,000 people had not had a doctor for more than fifteen years, and the government clinic had only recently been staffed with a doctor and nurse. There was some running water in town, but most people got their water from the river or irrigation canals. There was no electricity and no phone service. The nearest phone was thirty miles away down the mountain in Cap Haitien, a trip that could take three hours or more. Most Haitians were (and are) religious, but usually put their trust in a church or good works rather than the Lord Jesus Christ. It was common, and still is, for people to trust the Vodou spirits, who they believed were more personally available than God.
“I started the clinic ministry in a storage depot in 1989. We planned from the beginning to minister to both physical and spiritual needs. The patients hear a Bible message at the beginning of the clinic day, and all the staff members talk to patients during the day about their spiritual condition. Acceptance of the message is not a requirement for being seen, but we do want to be sure that each person has heard the good news that their sin can be forgiven and they can have a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
“Initially, I saw twenty patients on Monday and Friday. That didn’t last long! We now see at least forty patients on Monday and Friday, sixty return visit patients on Wednesday, and see patients and do minor surgery on Thursday and Saturday. Clinic days last from eight to ten
hours. It is hard to turn down patients when they have walked seven miles carrying a sick child. However, the last two years patients have arrived earlier and we have made every effort to get both patients and staff home before sundown because it is not safe to be out after dark.
“We take care of patients with parasites, earaches, malaria, pneumonia and many other problems. Typhoid fever used to be more common, but is much less so since Haitians became serious about treating their drinking water after the cholera epidemic of 2010. We care for patients with long term problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease and adult onset diabetes. I am grateful for the doctors who taught me physical diagnosis in medical school because I use those skills every clinic day. And I try to keep in mind that, if I succeed in treating the medical problem, but fail to address the person’s spiritual needs, I have not carried out my mission as an Ambassador of Jesus Christ.
“Some patients have unusual problems. A 72-year-old woman was brought down the mountain in a log chair because she was gradually unable to walk during the previous two weeks. She remembered stepping on a stick on the mountain path, which was shared by goats, cows and horses. It turned out she had tetanus, surprisingly uncommon years ago considering the lack of sanitation and vaccination, as well as the large numbers of animals freely roaming about. We thanked God we were able to get the medications she needed, but her situation was still serious. This woman was a believer in Jesus Christ. Her neighbors were spreading the word that her problems were due to a curse. She prayed to be healed so that people would see God was stronger than any Vodou spirit. She got worse at first, but gradually improved over the next couple of months, and praised God for her recovery.
“A boy came with a mass the size of a large orange in his belly, along with fever and pain. He had already been to the doctor in town, but without improvement. I was sure he had a walled-off ruptured appendix, and started treatment for that. He improved rapidly, and the mass finally disappeared. We were disappointed that neither he nor his family members had put their faith in Jesus Christ. Physical healing is only for a time; a relationship with God is for eternity.
“The staff called me out early one clinic day for a completely unresponsive man who had been left on a hospital cart. No one seemed to know what had happened, but there were no signs of injury. As I examined him, I asked if anyone knew if the man drank. The immediate exclamations from a number of patients let me know that the man had a reputation in town as a notorious drinker. By God’s grace, I was able to start an IV, and blood drawn at the same time showed that his blood sugar was dangerously low. As we were treating him, he suddenly woke up and wondered where he was. He had indeed been drinking heavily the night before, and it sounded like his binges were frequent. We talked to him for a long time about his spiritual needs, but he wasn’t interested. He laughed frequently at how he had cheated death, and he did not see any reason to change his ways. After all (he said), he wasn’t so bad, and he could wait awhile. We prayed with him, and he left, still laughing. Two weeks later, he was dead. He had presumed on God’s patience, trusting rather in his own ‘luck’.
“These are just a sampling of the patients I have seen. It has been my privilege during the past thirty years in Haiti to treat more that 20,000 patients and interact with their families and friends. These people have received quality medical care in their own area at a price they could afford. More importantly, I am a missionary, an Ambassador for God, sharing the Good News that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins and rose from the dead and provides reconciliation to God for all who will come by faith.
“It will be a joy some day to stand in God’s presence with people from every kindred, tongue, people and nation, and find those who are there because they responded to the invitation they received at a clinic in Haiti. To God BE THE GLORY!”
Next time, Dr. Anne will go into some detail about her problems in Haiti with lack of electricity and phone service, and the people’s superstitions, including her battles with “Vodou” and “witch doctors”; and how she coped with a broken hip.