“Peanutbutter sandwiches or soup?” I ask Matt Bilello on a Monday afternoon, thinking ahead to Thursdays hospital feeding visit.
“Peanutbutter, I ain’t making soup, too much hassle.” This is the answer I get every week from Matt when our master chef Helen Morse (UK) isn’t in South Africa to help.
The health care system for the very poor in South Africa leaves much to desire. Prescriptions are given to patients in either 1 week or 1 month doses, forcing patients to come back weekly or monthly for their next round of meds. This is necessary in South Africa because HIV & TB drugs are often sold on the black market to make potent illicit drugs. The downside is patients have to take days off work to get in line at the hospital to get a new prescription almost on a weekly basis. In order to cope with the massive lines at the hospital, the rules are:
- Get into line early
- Don’t get out of line or you lose your spot
- Plan on being in line all day.
It’s a crazy system, but one we’ve grown accustomed to, and now after a few years we’ve come to accept it. The volunteers that came before us had found a gap in the system that we’re happy to exploit. Because the patients are required to stay in line all day, they are frequently hungry and bored. Our feeding scheme offers a solution to both: food to eat and Bible lessons to read.
Along with the food, we offer a free Bible course. This is where we pull the old “bait and switch” and offer not only physical bread but spiritual food as well. On an average week we provide food to 120 patients and maybe sign up 8 for the free Bible course.
The Peanutbutter vs. Soup debate has been going on for years…..what should we serve to the people in line? Peanutbutter and Jelly sandwiches are easy to make and take only 30 minutes to prepare, where as soup is the healthier option but takes a whole afternoon to prepare. If left up to the guys to cook, Matt and I will choose Peanutbutter and jelly every time. But thank goodness a woman shows up once in a while to cook a healthier alternative. Helen Morse from the UK has made it a point to cook up soup every time she’s in town which will be more often than not as she’s coming for a 6-month stay starting in January.
Grandma Vivian in the Mission Field
For the past 10 years my grandma Vivian Drabenstott has been giving me index cards with Bible verses written on them. As part of her daily Bible reading routine, she’ll write down 1 verse per chapter from the readings onto these index cards. She then collects the cards from throughout the year and gives them away to friends & family. When we came over to Africa a two years ago I brought a box of maybe 5,000 of these index cards, not knowing what I’d do with them, but knew that they would come in handy. About a year ago I had the idea to start handing them out at the hospital with the sandwiches (or soup). I didn’t know how the Zulu speaking Africans would react when I hand them an index card with a Bible verse written in very fancy (old school) cursive, but when we hand them to people they study them for a while and often look up and smile and thank us. The Bible verses were an instant hit and have become a weekly staple of our feeding scheme. I got all emotional when I skyped Grandma Vivian and told her what we were doing with her cards. Her reaction was priceless as she started to cry and told me that she always wanted to be in the Mission Field and now at the age of 89 she finally made it. How precious!