It is a testament to the working of the Holy Spirit that there are second-generation Christians coming out of rural tribes in Africa. Many of these tribes are steeped in Islam or ancestral religions like animism. So it is unusual that the Luke Society was able to partner with Dr. Martin Luther Osse, who was raised in a Christian home.
Dr. Osse is from the Yoruba tribe, and his father was the first in his family to convert to Christianity. Martin Luther grew up watching his father serve as a minister in the local church and preach in prisons. "Since I was three years old, I have been learning Bible verses and my father rewarded me," Dr. Osse remembers. "We would have prayer time every evening at our home and the neighbors would join us. My father played a very important role in my life to serve Jesus."
Not only did his father give him the name Martin Luther, named after the leader of the Reformation, but he also gave him the last name, Djiche (pronounced jee-chay), which translates from Yoruba as "go and tell." Perhaps this name has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of what his father had always wished for his son.
Even before his partnership with the Luke Society, Dr. Martin Luther Osse was drawn to the N'Dali area of Benin. He was attracted by the good road access to N'Dali and yet no hospitals were close to the area. He also saw the area as spiritually needy with Islam and animism as the dominate religions of people living there. Finally, Dr. Osse wrote "I have been deeply touched by the situation of those patients coming from afar and those leaving the hospital without anyone for follow-up."
During his initial evaluation of the area and government health care, Dr. Osse recognized there were large gaps where the majority of the population was not getting quality care. And now that his medical ministry is a year old, he has become even more frustrated with the system. For example, he states, "We have to have special authorization to have medicines in the clinic, but even though we have that, many places don't have the medicines we need. We have spent the last two months without dextrose IV fluids." The clinic is also without the some of the injectable medications for infectious diseases. "Those are more available, but the price is too high," he says.
As another example, Dr. Osse cites that the government has a treated mosquito net program for pregnant women. These women can buy the nets for $1 at government clinics. Dr. Osse has asked several times to be able to distribute the nets in the N'Dali region, but since the nets usually sell for $10, they believe he only wants to sell them.
Because quality health care is not readily available in rural Benin, Dr. Osse has a rigorous community health schedule. He and his staff visit seven rural villages a week, sometimes two villages in a day. Many of the "roads" to these villages are simple foot paths, so motorbikes are the common means of transportation for the staff. Most of the villages he visits have government health centers in them. "But they are very ineffective," Dr. Osse says. "They do not have strict administration, so no one works very hard. The community gets very discouraged."
In an effort to work together, Dr. Osse has approached the government clinics to start a partnership in these villages. "I told them I was a doctor and that I could help them provide better care, but they got very angry with me."
The struggling government health care programs have also made it difficult for Dr. Osse to find quality staff. "It's very difficult to have confidence in people because there is a lot of corruption," Dr. Osse says. "Nurses sell medicines or write receipts for more than what was charged. It is very important to have employees you can trust."
Thankfully, as an answer to prayer, Dr. Osse has been able to put together a staff with integrity. "It was a big struggle to find staff that shared my vision," he says. "But now for two years, we have been together, and the vision is shared by all of us."
Every morning, the staff gathers for prayer and meditation on a Bible passage. If there are patients waiting to be seen, they are invited to have devotions with them. They have had a few occasions where the patient has joined them.
Even though the Christian population in Benin is small, the clinic is very busy with Muslims and animists. "People know it's a Christian clinic, and they know they will get good care because it's a Christian clinic," Dr. Osse says. "Some have even said we prescribe different medications here because they always feel better after having been to our clinic!"
Dr. Osse has realized that it is very important to get the people accustomed to modern medicine. They must be careful to provide the best care and to keep the staff from becoming corrupt. If people are not treated well, they turn to fetishes for healing. Fetishes are objects or idols that are believed to have special powers. "Fetish priests will tell them that if they take medicine and it doesn't work, then the problem is mystic," Dr. Osse explains. "Then they must go to these priests, go through a ceremony, sacrifice animals and say certain words."
Dr. Osse tells the story of a child that was suffering from anemia and malaria. The father insisted the child was suffering from mystic problems and that the child should die. The mother instead brought child to the Luc Center for treatment. After two days in the clinic, the father sent someone to get the child, but he was already feeling better. "This case will be an example for others," Dr. Osse said. "In Africa, we are storytellers, so this one experience may change the minds of many."
Another story tells of a boy who stuck a stone up his nose. The father went to the two large regional hospitals and was told there was nothing they could do. On his way home, someone mentioned the Luc Center, so he came to see Dr. Osse. Dr. Osse saw the stone, gave the child anesthesia and pulled out the stone. "It was very easy," he said. "That man told everyone in his village that the Luc Center provides excellent care. He tells everyone he knows about our clinic."
In and around the town of N'Dali, there are three main tribes: the Fulani, the Bariba and the Gando. The majority of Bariba believe in animism, which claims that spiritual beings reside in everyday objects. The Fulani are a nomadic people, most of them following Islam. The Gando people are an interesting mixture of the two. The Gando people were originally Baribas, but they were cast out of the tribe either because they were born premature or had some type of birth defect. These outcasts were adopted by the Fulani, but were considered slaves. The majority of the Gandos is animist, but is open to Christianity.
There are seven villages that Dr. Osse visits on a regular basis for outreach ministry. Each of these tribes are represented in these villages. Dr. Osse is thankful that there are a few pastors in N'Dali that will coordinate a spiritual message along with his medical talks. "Most of the villages do not have a Christian church," Dr. Osse says. "If they do, there are less than 15 people that attend."
A frustrating aspect of the outreach ministries is what happens after they leave. Sometimes they feel they have made some headway in reaching villagers for Christ. "But when we leave the outreach, they will talk together and build back the walls against Jesus," Dr. Osse said.
In the village of Sinisson, Dr. Osse was encouraged at how open the people were on the initial visit. After several more visits, the people were open to building a Christian church in their village! However, before any talks could ensue, a Muslim group came to the village, and dug a much-needed well. Now a mosque is being built in the village, and Dr. Osse finds the group more closed to the Gospel message.
However, the Holy Spirit is still working in several villages where Dr. Osse visits. In Gouretekpa, the village chief asked Dr. Osse to come after hearing of his community health work. "They are animist, but open to the Gospel," Dr. Osse says. There are many needs in this community. The only water available to this community is what is collected from the seasonal rains. Even a small bowlful of this water is so cloudy that one cannot see the bottom of the bowl. When the storage of water runs out, the women must walk for miles to find water. Dr. Osse is currently in the process of having a well dug in this community.
Also in the small village of Teme, a group of Christians meets every Sunday morning under the central mango tree. It is a lively bunch that sings and dances to drum beats. The worship leader sings a responsive song, where the people shout the name of Jesus.
It is evident that the Luc Center and Dr. Osse's heart for the underserved is a testament to the Christian upbringing of his father. His partnership with the Luke Society not only allows him to bring his vision to fruition, but also to tell what Jesus is doing in Benin. Looking back, one can definitely see God's hand in the life of the little boy named Martin Luther Djiche (go and tell), who was raised by a first generation Christian pastor for the purpose to fulfill that name.