Dean Smidderks doesn’t turn 78 until next month, but as far as he’s concerned he’s already received a birthday present beyond his wildest dreams.
He’ll be among 12 missionaries — 8 of them from Wichita — leaving for Mozambique later this week to assess what needs to be done to convert a medical clinic into a fully functioning hospital in a remote area of the African nation.
It’s the same area where he and his wife, Faith, spent nine years assisting in a clinic until Communist forces took power and seized control of the building in 1975. Services collapsed as a civil war raged for 16 years, with the Smidderkses working in South Africa and hoping one day to return.
“I’m really thrilled about it, to think we’ve still got a chance to do some good,” Smidderks said.
A large concrete building three times the size of their clinic was on the verge of completion when the civil war broke out, he said. By the time the war ended and the clinic was returned to the missionaries in 1992, Smidderks said, the structure was little more than a shell.
“When it came back to us, we were not in a position to post a doctor right away,” he said.
He finally visited the area in 1998 one last time before retiring the next year. But with the assistance of a Swiss couple that brought resources and funding to the effort, there is now a medical clinic run by nurses.
Hendrik Smidderks, Dean and Faith’s son, is senior pastor at Northwest Free Methodist Church, 3224 N. Tyler Road. He and his wife, Kaylene, will be part of the group of missionaries going to the clinic, which is in the Inhambane Province about 350 miles north of the capital city of Maputo.
It will take them two days to fly to Mozambique, then two days to drive to the provincial clinic.
“It is pretty remote,” Hendrik said.
The team includes four nurses and a doctor who will run the clinic for two weeks “to see what kind of medical load they’re carrying — see what kind of health care needs there are,” Hendrik said.
The clinic offers the only medical care for more than 250,000 people that live in the surrounding area, he said. The government won’t recognize the clinic as a fully functioning hospital until there is a doctor on staff.
“We’re going over to make a plan to open it as a hospital,” Hendrik said.
The missionary team includes people with experience in construction who will assess what needs to be done to complete the conversion to a hospital. It was built to hold separate wings for the maternity ward, tuberculosis patients and general medical care, Dean said.
Dean will go primarily to serve as an interpreter, though he admits his Portuguese is pretty rusty. Mozambique was a Portuguese colony for about 400 years, he said, and in a land with 26 indigenous languages the native tongue of the former ruling power is the only language everyone can speak.
The Wichita contingent leaves on Wednesday and will drive to Chicago, picking up the rest of the group along the way. The medical team will spend three weeks in Mozambique, while the Smidderkses will be there for a month.
The eight members of the Wichita group received a sendoff Sunday morning from the congregation at Northwest Free Methodist,
Hendrik is already thinking about ways to raise money to help support the clinic, and Dean talked about recruiting doctors who could rotate short-term shifts at the hospital until they can recruit and educate a doctor in Mozambique to take over.
“The time’s right to take the next steps,” Hendrik said.
A blog chronicling the mission effort has been started, and people can follow it at http://www.nhaloi.blogspot.com.