The Kijabe Hospital Centennial celebration kicked off on Monday morning with the Centennial choir’s stirring version of Amazing Grace. An apt summary of a century of history—this string of buildings clinging to the escarpment, this blustery spot between the Maasai herders of the Rift Valley and the Kikuyu farmers of the high forests, this unlikely center of excellence in medical care and education, this home to dozens of doctors and hundreds of nurses and thousands of patients.
Though we have only been here 4 ½ years, our intermittent contact with Kijabe extends for over two decades. And over those years, we have been inspired by the lives of those who have gone ahead. Dr. Dick and Millie Bransford, pioneer surgeon and kind wise woman who invited us into their Bible study when we were bewildered young missionary parents. Art and Mary Ellen Davis, whose grandfather was the original doctor here, and whose son has been our kids’ teacher and coach (the black and white photos are his). The Stovers, who are related to 98-year-old Dr. Bill Barnette the original medical director, and have always enveloped us with kindness when we traveled through Eldama Ravine. And over the last two days I’ve met Rosemary Scott, original matron, as well as Nettie the founder of the School of Nursing who was instrumental in establishing the Nurse Anesthetist program, and Justy the woman who set up the lab, the Andersons who worked here decades. The Barnette family is out in force to celebrate Dr. Bill’s birthday and attend this centennial. So many faithful people.
Today these saints sat around a table and told stories. Back in the day that a list of admissions was more likely to include lion bites than diabetes. When an early female doctor, Dr. Virginia, courageously collected a man taken out into the bush to die alone (as was the tradition) and defied the widespread rumor that the hospital stole organs but treating him and sending him back healed. Back when the Gospel meant treating girls as humans and not property, standing up against female genital mutilation which was the universal practice in Kenya. Back when opening a girls’ school met with death threats. Back when the Mau Mau (who had some pretty legitimate grievances against a colonial government, but were a threat to missionaries all the same) came to attack Kijabe where school-boys cowered with slingshots waiting for the battle that never materialized, because the Mau Mau fighters saw shining angelic warriors and fled. Back in the day when people of vision built buildings and wrote curriculum and soldiered on to get us where we are today.
These are the saints. Saints not because they are perfect. They struggled, with the culture and each other. But saints because they risked all, followed into hard places, created, served, loved.
It is an honor to follow in their footsteps, now with a 600-strong Kenyan work force of a new generation of saints. Like our missionary predecessors, our current colleagues sacrifice and inspire.
Each day of the Centennial week adds to this picture of God’s grace over a long, long haul, taking a small clinic and building it into a regional center of excellence where vulnerable people receive life-giving care.