‘Go ye into all the world’

Published 3:59 pm Saturday, April 7, 2012

Dr. Jon Yoder holds new born Jon Edward, a Ugandan baby named after the Atmore physician who recently spent two weeks in Africa with a group from Atmore doing construction and providing medical care for people of the Ik tribe.

There is a new addition to the Ik tribe in the African country of Uganda – a little boy with a name probably familiar to many Atmore residents — Jon Edward. His namesake is Dr.  Jon Edward Yoder, who recently spent two weeks in the country and was present for the boy’s birth.

“They are very warm to the people coming in,” Yoder said of the Ik tribe. “They like to name their babies after visitors, and we were there, so that’s how it happened.”

Yoder traveled to Africa with a five-person team from Grace Fellowship church to help another Atmore couple, Terril and Amber Schrock, who have spent the last five years in northern Uganda providing medical care and translating the Bible into the language of the Ik tribe.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Yoder said he traveled to Uganda as a missionary but was also able to provide for the locals through his medical training.

“The trip was primarily for construction, although I did do some medical things while we there,” he said.

During the group’s two-week stay in the largely impoverished, rural village, Yoder said they were able to provide the local people with a working medical clinic and translation center.

“We did construction on an abandoned clinic the government gave them permission to spruce up so they could use it as a medical clinic and also a translation center, so it worked out quite well,” he said. “We had a lot of scraping, cleaning and patching to do.  We painted the whole thing inside and out and put some doors in. By the time we left they were up and running. There was quite a bit of change with just adding some paint and patching some holes.”

Yoder said his group was happy to do what they could to help improve the quality of life of the Ugandan people, many of whom, he said, are so used to their meager lifestyles they are not completely aware of their own level of need.  “The people are hunter-gatherers and farmers,” he said. “They kill animals that they can eat out of the forest and they farm when it is raining. Right now food is kind of scarce, and a lot of people only eat one meal a day. They’ve always been like that, so I guess from their stand point they’re no worse off then they’ve been before.” With no electricity or modern plumbing, and very limited cell phone service for visiting workers, Yoder said the people of the Ik tribe face many challenges, including a government occupation and raids from neighboring tribes.

“They live in these wood houses with thatch roofs and they make mud walls to keep the rain out,” he said.

As for medical care, Yoder said missionaries are doing what they can with the few resources at their disposal.

“The wife of the translator, Amber, is a nurse, so she holds the medical clinic three times a week and I was there to help her with that. She usually sees about 15 to 30 people in a half-day. That’s really their only access to medical care there. The tribe would be about 10,000 people so she sees people from a good ways away.”

While the Ik population has managed to avoid, for the most part, epidemics like AIDS, the threat has now reached their village through the introduction of government troops, Yoder said.

“The Ik population is relatively monogamous so they have not had as many problems with AIDS. Unfortunately, because of the unrest in the area, they have put an army encampment there to kind of keep control of the area and the soldiers have brought in a lot of sexually transmitted disease, including AIDS.”

Despite the turmoil, Yoder said both troops and villagers are generally welcoming to foreign missionaries.

“(The troops) respect us. They are pretty protective of us. They don’t want anything bad to happen because of the relationship with America. I never felt unsafe, but there was a raid while we were there where the neighboring tribe came over and stole some animals, but it’s better now than it was.”

Yoder said it was a boost to be able to minister to people with the Easter season approaching, but he added that many of the Ik tribe are still a long way from completely accepting the message the missionaries bring.

“I don’t think Easter was big thing for them,” he said. “There is a Christian church there in the village, but as far as the people themselves, I doubt they celebrate. The church has probably 30 or 40 people, however the people there don’t have a Bible in their language yet and most of them can’t read anyway.”

Progress, both spiritual and otherwise, is typically slow in third world countries, Yoder said, but that will not keep him from continuing his overseas efforts.

“I try to go somewhere once a year,” he said. “I’ve been to Peru this year, then the last two years I’ve gone to Nicaragua. I’ve been to Bolivia and Mexico, but this was my first year to Africa.”

Yoder said, for now, he will continue his efforts as he is able, but he has hopes for lengthier trips in the future.

“Short term missions can only accomplish so much in a couple of weeks,” he said. “I have a goal, at some point, to do long term missions but we’ll see how that works out over the next couple of years.”