I first met Dr. Hugo Gomez in 2010 when he trained our local Mexican staff in the principles of Community Health Evangelism (CHE). A few years later, I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week with him in Nicaragua visiting some CHE communities. While in Nicaragua, we traveled a lot which meant a lot of time in a car together. Personally, I was infinitely blessed by getting to know Hugo. One story he told while we were driving was how he started doing development work. Not many medical doctors make the leap from curative to preventative, so I was curious how it happened for him. The following are Hugo’s words paraphrased by me as best as I can remember:
I was first called to serve in 1981 to in the highlands of Guatemala. I started as the director of a clinic that mostly served the Mam indigenous peoples.
One day I had finished the morning seeing patients, I was back at the house getting ready to eat lunch and a nurse knocked on our back door. She told me, “there is another patient, can you see her?”
As I walked into the clinic I saw a young, tiny, Mam woman carrying her baby on her back in bedsheets. I thought the mother was the patient, but when I picked up the form I realized it was her son who was sick.
I read his age; a three year old boy. When I read his weight I thought there had to be some confusion here because it said that he only weighed 15 pounds. I knew I had to correct this before continuing so I asked her to place her son on the scale. I was in shock, I only saw skin and bones.
The kid was in the terminal stage of malnutrition.
So I started getting patient history. I asked about his birth, his medical history, and if he had been breast fead. The boy had been breast fed for a year and a half so the story wasn’t making much sense. I asked if she had given him more milk, and she said yes. I couldn’t understand how an apparently well-fed boy could be presenting with such a severe case of malnutrition.
I told her that we needed to take the child to the nearest hospital. She said she couldn’t go for all kinds of reasons: her husband didn’t know his son was sick, she didn’t have the money, and it would take days to travel by foot. I offered the suggestion knowing it was already too late, medically, to do anything for her son. He was going to die no matter what I did.
We gave her some nutritional supplements and let her go back to her village, which was a full day’s journey away. I was sure that the child would die before she even returned home.
To my surprise, five days later she returned and the kid was still alive. He was so weak he could barely sip water. I wondered why he hadn’t died yet so I went back over their history and I asked her all the same questions again. I asked, “do you feed him milk?” She replied with a yes so I finally asked (more out of frustration than anything else), “What kind of milk do you give him?”
She was a tiny lady, less than 18 years old and she said in her tiny lady voice, “Philips, milk of magnesia.”
My heart almost stopped. This tiny, innocent, sweet, child of God had been living on a diet of mostly laxatives for who knows how long.
It felt like a knife in my chest. It felt like I heard a voice say, “Wake up, what my people need is education, not just doctors and hospitals.”
This changed everything. My life, my medical career, my ministry, my mindset, my words, and my very purpose changed.
I had to begin educating people, not just treating them. We had to focus on prevention more than cure.
So I began going out to the villages to educate them on basic health and sanitation practices. I did this with the hope that I could prevent more than I could cure.
That’s what changed everything about the way I served. Instead of focusing exclusively on curative practices, I realized that God wanted me to teach prevention as well. Later, I learned that Jesus did the same thing throughout the New Testament. He would go into villages to teach, preach, and heal people.
Ever since, I’ve been doing Community Health Evangelism (CHE).
I believe in development and transformation through education; promoting good health and teaching evangelism and discipleship. These things cannot be separated.