After seeing the market, Dr. Ousmane Soh was convinced that Dahra was the right place to begin his medical ministry. He was eager to provide services to his native people, the Fulani, although as a nomadic herding group, they are difficult to track. But with the market, Dr. Soh discovered a place where the Fulani consistently gather.
The clinic where Dr. Soh works and lives is painted bright yellow and red. It has an exam room and a place for inpatient care. Bags of saline solution hang from nails on the wall, and are attached with IV lines to two patients suffering from malaria and dehydration. The hallway’s benches are crowded, and the guard, Alarba, knows who is next in line to see the doctor. Fatimata, the assistant nurse, attends to patients.
It has only been a year since Dr. Soh decided to start his medical work in Dahra. In that short amount of time, he has gained valuable friendships. One friend, Lelle, has allowed Dr. Soh to set up the clinic on his property and asked him to set his own price. Dr. Soh has also gained the trust of the assistant mayor, who requested that the local government give Dr. Soh a piece of land somewhere in Dahra for free.
When asked how many Christians Dr. Soh is aware of in the Dahra area, he says, "I think maybe seven or eight." There is no church in Dahra, so he travels to nearby Linguere to worship at the home of one of the few Christians. The place of worship is a cement slab with thick sticks supporting a thatched roof. Most of the worshippers sit on woven mats and sing out of thin song books. The pastor comes from a distant city and does not speak the local language. Dr. Soh listens intently to the pastor, and then translates for the rest of the believers.
Islam is the dominant religion of Senegal. Among the Fulani and other tribes it is so deeply rooted historically and tied so integrally to the family that conversion is extremely difficult. Converting to Christianity from Islam means risking the entire loss of family. If converted, men risk losing their status in the family, as well as their herd or inheritance. Women risk being divorced, cutting all ties with both families.
Even though the conversions are slow in coming, there are doors opening for Dr. Soh to share the Gospel. Recently, he was called out of the clinic to visit a sick elderly woman. She was lying in a dark hut on a mat on the floor. Her breathing was labored and she groaned with every breath. After examining the woman, Dr. Soh realized that she was near death. The family asked, "Is there nothing you can do?" Dr. Soh realized the Holy Spirit was working among them, and he asked the sick woman to pray out loud that Jesus would come into her heart. When the woman continued with her labored breathing, a family member urgently repeated the phrase, saying the name of Jesus as if it was familiar to her. Although Dr. Soh could not help the dying woman, he walked away from the situation encouraged by the family’s openness to Jesus.
In Islam, the words ‘church’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ are very threatening," Dr. Soh says. "They see these Christian words as an influence of the West. But when they see me every day, the way I act, I become less threatening to them." Dr. Soh realizes this process takes a significant amount of time, so he has learned to be patient in sharing the Good News. He knows he needs to gain the trust of the Muslim people before he asks them outright to accept Jesus as their Savior. In no way is he quiet about his faith, however. Those that enter the clinic know it is run by a Christian physician and that Dr. Soh may ask to pray with them after their consultation.
After just one year in Dahra, Dr. Soh has not only earned the trust of many Muslims, he has also gained their respect as a quality physician. People are frustrated with the quality of care in the government hospitals. "There is a real lack of doctors in the hospitals," Dr. Soh explains. "For a surgery that would take two days, many people have to wait two years. They will change your appointment date or the doctor will be gone. There are many excuses. An ultrasound could take a month. The only other option is the private clinics, but they are very expensive."
Although Dr. Soh does not have access to the equipment needed to perform in-depth consultations, many patients who previously traveled to the larger cities for medical care are now coming to him. "We have had patients come from over 80 kilometers (50 miles) away," Dr. Soh says.
Because the Dahra market takes place on Sunday and Monday, the clinic is open Saturday through Wednesday. "Our peak days are Sunday and Monday," Dr. Soh explains. "On these days, cars from very far away are all coming to Dahra." When there is an illness in a rural village, they will send people to the roads to stop a car. Since the traffic is heaviest on Saturdays and Sundays to get to the market, most of the rural sick people come into Dahra on these days.
Dr. Soh became a Christian and felt called to provide medical care to the underserved in his country when he was finishing his medical studies in Libya. He says, "When I received my calling to go back to Senegal, I felt weak and I kept asking God how I could do it. He gave me Matthew 28:18-20, which says, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ The joy is in the last part of those verses, that He is with me always. It is my job to be here, to be with these people and help them. God will do the rest."