Christopher Mertens is a junior at Notre Dame University in pre-med. [In the interest of full disclosure, his older sister Maria is our new WebMaster at the Diocese of St. Petersburg and assists with the mounting and presentation of these blog entries after I have finished writing them.] The Mertens family attends Light of Christ Catholic Church in Clearwater. Christopher, through the kindness and support of Catholic Relief Services, had an opportunity this past summer to work at a clinic in Tamale, Ghana (northern section of the country) with a man whom, if I were on the nominating committee for the Nobel Peace Prize, would be my nominee and remain such until he received it.
Doctor David Abdulai has now founded two clinics in Tamale which treat the indigent, the mentally challenged, and lepers. The last is little wonder since the doctor’s own parents had Hanson’s disease (leprosy). After medical school, Dr. Abdulai practiced medicine in the government hospitals of Ghana and created a comfortable living for himself and his family. Born a Muslim, the doctor became a Roman Catholic as an adult, but his practice of medicine is open to and extremely sensitive to all the major religions of his area. At some point, feeling that his family had enough to live on, he left the more lucrative practice of medicine (understanding that in Ghana “lucrative” probably means a lot less than in the United States) and decided to devote his life to treating the poor.
His first clinic he named the Shekhinah Clinic and opened its doors to those so poor they were refused treatment in the government hospitals of the Tamale region. Using ground he procured for the purpose, he opened examining rooms and an operating theatre. Then he built small huts since most of his patients came long distances and needed a place to stay before and after seeing the doctor and following surgery. He charges them nothing, either for his medical services or room and board while at the clinic. Because he treats the mentally ill, he is sometimes referred to as “the crazy doctor,” but to his nation and to his region, he is the male Mother Theresa of Calcutta who sees the face of God in every poor person in need of his help.
The whole operation is run on the principle of Deus Providebit or “God will provide.” He now has two of these clinics in different parts of Tamale among which he splits his time and receives sufficient food gifts and medicine to care for the indigent yet hope-filled people he sees. There are obvious human and professional limitations on how many he can see. At the Shekhinah Clinic where Christopher spent the summer, three days a week, sixty people are scheduled for examination. Dr. Abdulai readily admits that he could take more, but they would not then receive the careful, personal attention from him which they need. Patient beyond belief with his patients, there is no more concerned person in Ghana than this doctor sitting opposite his patient.
Not fully satisfied that the two clinics were doing enough for the region’s poor, Dr. Abdulai also started a nutrition and feeding program for the mentally ill on the streets who are completely alone and have no one else to care for them. For many years, Catholic Relief Services was able to assist in providing food from US-AID and the UN World Food Program to the clinics and to the poor but our government in its wisdom has largely dried up that source. It matters not to Dr. Abdulai because God will provide and God still does. God even now provides doctors from Germany, Canada, Scotland and England and occasionally from the United States who come to the clinics and assist the doctor for a few weeks each year precisely because they admire him, his mission and his work. God help the visiting doctors if they do not give each poor patient in front of them the same time, care and attention as does the clinic’s founder but word is spreading through the world medical community that this man is for real, a genuine article interested only in helping humanity. Very shy by nature, the doctor does not seek the limelight and will only attend things which will benefit the clinics and the food outreach program, not to glorify himself.
Recently the doctor was singled out in his own country and given an award which was followed up by a piece on his work on the national television network of Ghana. If you have taken the time to read this blog entry to this point, then I ask you to take fifteen more minutes and watch this television footage of the doctor and his mission. You may watch the two parts below. Please listen carefully, because although in English, you need a good ear for the accents.
(If the videos are not appearing, please try refreshing your Internet browser.)
Christopher Mertens himself became a patient of Dr. Abdulai and the Shekhinah Clinic when one Sunday morning he became violently ill. The doctor rushed from his home, took a quick blood test and confirmed that he had malaria. It was short-lived and Chris continued his work of assisting the volunteers at the Clinic in many ways, feeding the patients, dispensing medicine as prescribed, occasionally going into the operating theatre to watch the doctor in surgery. He went out of the city into the countryside to deliver food to the leper colonies and in ten weeks lost thirty-five pounds due to the malaria and the change in diet. On the morning he left on the six a.m. bus for Accra and his return to the United States, his colleagues and co-workers came to the bus station to see him off. There are reported to have been many tears for this young white man from the United States quickly known for his smile, kindness, and witness to faith. Dr. Abdulai wrote to me about Christopher and I quote him here: “Yes, Chris has told us that he hopes to become a medical doctor. He will surely make a fine physician of both body and soul, seeing his spiritual approach to everything in the clinic. He does not talk much. He teaches by example, and I am personally touched by his love for God and neighbor. It will certainly be well demonstrated in his medical practice. And through this he may draw many of his patients to a closer relationship with Christ.” This quote tells you and I more about the good doctor than about Christopher.
I hope to meet Dr. David Abdulai before I meet the Lord to thank him for the witness of his life, faith and medical profession. Having spent a number of occasions with Blessed Mother Theresa, I see many of the same qualities of love for the poor and forgotten and while the doctor, as I too would personally claim to be no saint, he would easily like her in 1979 deserve the Nobel Peace Prize precisely for the witness of his life.
The website for the clinic is: http://www.shekhinah-clinic.com/Shekhinah_Clinic/shekhinah_clinic.html. The website is run and monitored by a group of Germans who previously volunteered at the clinic.