In 1961, after several years of preparatory work, WELS began its Medical Mission on the Sala Reserve near Lumano in Zambia. A permanent dispensary was built and opened in November, 1961. The Lumano Dispensary was later renamed "The Mwembezhi Lutheran Dispensary" to better exemplify the Christian aspect of the mission. Mzembezhi means Shepherd. It is known as the Lutheran Mission Rural Health Center to differentiate it from a nearby clinic with Mwembezhi in its name.
By 1963, 3,000 to 4,000 people were treated at the clinic each month. Special antenatal clinics started in 1965 and an under-fives clinic began in 1968. Break-ins at the nurses' and the missionaries' houses led to reevaluation of the work. To increase personal safety, night call was dropped and the nurses stopped delivering babies at the clinic. We refocused attention on the original primary health care goals of teaching and making village visits.
The extension of our mission into Malawi was the direct result of Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) members who moved from Zambia to Malawi. The government welcomed our gospel work in Malawi and they asked what we could do to help the people of Malawi with their physical needs. As a result, our medical program was begun in Malawi in 1970 with a mobile health care unit. The nurses travel to five designated bush areas to set up a clinic for the day and then return to their home in Lilongwe by night. Permanent structures built to serve as clinics during the week are used as churches on Sunday.
Special classes were initiated by the staff to train Community Health Workers. Upon completion of the classes these volunteer workers share their knowledge and skill within their villages. Workers teach positive health practices, take care of simple health problems, and help with village immunizations. The existing infra-structure will meet the health needs of the community long after the expatriate presence is gone.
Our staff readjusted the goals when the AIDS epidemic reached crisis proportion in Central Africa. We provide Christian counseling along with HIV testing at the Mwembezhi Clinic. HIV positive patients are treated with special medications provided by the national government.
The national staff:
Malawi: there are 7 nurses, 1 nutritional coordinator, a registrar and a driver.
Zambia: there is one clinical officer, 2 nurses, 1 counselor, 1 lab tech and 1 receptionist in clinic. We also employ 2 outside maintenance men for the property.
FINANCIAL AND ADMINISTRATION
The Central Africa Medical Mission in a non-budgeted mission of the WELS; no money is received from the regular synodical budget. The responsibility and support of the Central Africa Mediical Mission was given to the women's groups of the WELS. Contributions are also received from Christian day schools and high schools, Sunday schools, some circuits of the LWMS and other friends of the medical mission. The Central Africa Medical Mission reaches the heart of many WELS members and beyond.
Our Central Africa Medical Mission supplies and supports the American personnel as supervisory staff, erects and maintains dispensary buildings, and purchases necessary medical supplies. Our clinics are links in the extensive chain of clinics and dispensaries regulated or operated by the national governments. Our clinics are required to meet the regulations of the national health departments. A small amount of financial support is received from each government.
The Central Africa Medical Mission is administered stateside by the Central Africa Medical Mission Committee (CAMMC), with input from Medical Mission Councils in Malawi and Zambia. The CAMMC members are volunteers and are appointed by the Administrative Committee for Africa, a part of the Board for World Missions of the WELS. The committee consists of a chairwoman, treasurer, secretary, nurse coordinator, nurse advisor, contact women coordinator, and a public relations coordinator. The committee also has a medical advisor and pastoral advisor.
The women's organizations in the congregations are informed through a synod-wide system of contact women. It is through these contact women that the project work for CAMM is done.
With God's help, hundreds of thousands of patients have been aided and countless lives saved through the work of the Central Africa Medical Mission. Many adults and children have been baptized. The medical mission personnel have often been tested to their limits. but all agree that God sustained them and through His Word helped them grow in faith.