The DeKoninck Family: Tim, Stacey, Seth and Leah
Founded in 1937, Tenwek hospital has been a beacon of light within the healthcare community in Kenya. As the country faces a national doctor's strike and severe drought, this past year has been no exception. For Tim DeKoninck, a fourth-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, his wife Stacey, and their two children, four-year-old Seth and two-year-old Leah, the opportunity to serve for two months within the Tenwek community, and learn about the ministry of the hospital, was an incredible blessing and dream come true.
Tim and Stacey first found out about the hospital through the Dr. Ernie Steury scholarship fund, through the Christian Medical and Dental Association, which helps relieve some of the financial burden of medical training for physicians planning a career in medical missions. As Tenwek’s first physician, Dr. Steury was pivotal in bringing the hospital to where it is today.
Having served together in China for five years prior to medical school, Tim and Stacey looked forward to once again living within the international community - this time with their children.
The trip began with several very long and exhausting flights and a 4-hour van ride to Tenwek. Once at the hospital, Tim joined up with the Orthopedic Surgery team to learn about the trauma services that Tenwek offers. Since Tenwek is located within a rural agrarian based community, many of the people living in the surrounding villages depend on motor cycles, or as Kenyans call them, boda-boda’s, as their main source of transportation. This, combined with multiple riders, (sometimes a whole family will ride on one boda-boda) and very treacherous rural roads, means that Tenwek sees a steady flow of patients with very serious traumatic injuries.
The hospital also provides care for people who experienced major injuries from mishaps with farm equipment, or due to large animals. “It has been refreshing,” Tim says, “to work alongside physicians who genuinely welcome the healing presence of the Holy Spirit in every interaction that they have with patients and submit to his authority even at the peak of their ability.”
Due to the doctor's strike in Kenya, the hospital saw an increasing number of patients. Some traveled for days to seek care. Despite the extra burden of caring for the increased patient load, the general feeling from many of the hospital staff was that the strike provided the opportunity to pray for and share the gospel with more people.
While Tim worked at the hospital, Stacey, Seth, and Leah provided encouragement to the team of full-time missionaries working at the hospital, by hosting several “play-dates” and parties for families with small children. Stacey, who is an elementary teacher, was also able to assist the preschool staff homeschool group by leading the teaching time and giving some of the moms a break.
After the first couple of weeks, Tim switched from Orthopedic Surgery to Adult Inpatient Medicine to work with Dr. Jim Richards - a fellow Michigan State University graduate and physician from northern Michigan.
The following weeks were incredibly beneficial from an educational perspective, but the acuity of the patients changed significantly from surgery to medicine, and there was an increased emotional burden of seeing four to five patients die every week. Tim experienced the reality of Tenwek’s motto, “We treat, Jesus heals” when he writes, “I was reminded too of the false sense of hope that I often hold onto so dearly as I practice medicine in The United States, "says Tim. "The hope that I can personally erase the effects of Sin if I just give the right meds or order the right test.”
During this time, Seth and Leah developed some lasting relationships with some of the staff's children. Their days often began around 8 am with a knock on the door from one of the children, and ended with evenings of flashlight tag.
The last three weeks of rotation were spent in Pediatrics with Dr. Tom Dillard and his staff. Again, faced with the stark challenge of a high patient death rate, Tim had the opportunity to see the power of prayer in caring for patients on the wards. Many of the patients had issues commonly seen in The United States, but often presented much later into their illness, and included other compounding issues - like malnutrition or tuberculosis. This translated into seeing one to two pediatric patients die daily, which again reinforced the need to address not only the physical needs, but also the spiritual needs of every patient that walked through the hospital doors.
Stacey, Seth and Leah were also joined by Dr. Emily Goodwin, a Pediatric Oncologist from South Carolina. They had the opportunity to help with some outreach with the kids from the Pediatric and Ophthalmology wards. Two-year-old Leah was particularly impacted by some of the kids, and continues to pray for one patient whose leg was severely injured by a Cape buffalo.
Tim and Stacey look back on the two months in Kenya as a blessing, and confirmation of God’s calling in their lives to pursue full-time ministry. The biggest blessing, however, was to hear Seth ask several weeks after returning “When are we going to go back to Kenya?”
If you'd like to help support mission work like the DeKoninck Family's, click on our "Donate Now" button below and contribute.