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Training Missionary Midwives

Mercy in Action: Training Missionary Midwives to Serve the Poor

by Vicki Penwell Published in Midwifery Today -- Winter 2001--#60

Christian foreign missions have a long history, some noble, some ignoble. The best has always been an expression of Christ's love in action, as was the case with Mother Teresa and her Sisters of Charity. Caring for the poor, the widows and orphans, the sick, the needy, and the hungry, has always been a hallmark of the true and faithful followers of Jesus. Caring for pregnant women and their families is a natural extension of the Christian mandate to serve, and is even more so in parts of the world where the maternal and infant mortality and morbidity is high.

We had a still birth this morning. It's hard to understand why the Lord lets things like that happen and it's hard for the team too, but it's bringing us closer also... even those of us who were not there at the birth have heavy hearts and feel the grief. We're learning now how to trust in the will of the father when things don't happen like we think they should. Life here is just so real everyday is just another day that you never know if you're going to see life or death and that's how it is for the people here too. Their life is just trying to make it through the day and survive to the next. Sometimes it just seems too real, sometimes it seems as though there are only high points and low points and no points in between for these poor people.

  Hilary, student midwife [1]

The object of Mercy In Action's College of Midwifery and Primary Health Care training is to show the love of Jesus in practical ways to the poorest of the poor, and to train others to do the same. With that as a goal, the midwives and midwifery students of Mercy In Action have to date delivered over 6,000 babies free of charge for the poorest of the poor in Asia. We have delivered another 900 babies on a sliding fee scale for women across all socio-economic lines in the arctic interior of Alaska. We have helped thousands of women in Mexico with free prenatal care and free well child and sick child clinics.

Can you believe I've been here in the Philippines now a whole month?  Time has gone so fast! I have learned so much and seen so much and grown so much!  I've given like 40 injections, and even sucessfully started an IV on my first try!  That was very cool for me!  Every birth that I've been to is just amazing and unique and I am so excited to be a midwife!  God just never ceases to amaze me!  His power is so real and His love is so contagious.  I have fallen in love with every mom at our clinic, as well as about 200 kids All of the kids here are very malnourished and we provide breakfast and lunch for them every day.

Anna, student midwife [2]

Mercy In Action's midwifery school teaches health and wholeness from a Biblical Christian perspective. The main focus of the training is on practical skills and concepts in midwifery and family health for use in poor, developing countries. One very practical goal is to reduce the high rate of maternal and child death in the third world.

According to a recent report, the smallest and most vulnerable of the world's children are being left behind in the global effort to improve child health.   Save the Children's ''State of the World's Newborns 2001'' report says the death rate in children younger than 5 has dropped 14% since 1990, but the death rate for babies in the first month of life is unchanged, estimated at 34 of every 1,000 newborn babies in developing countries -- about 4 million infants a year. [3]

Mothers are in grave danger too, in much of the developing world. The World Health Organization has set up the Sate Motherhood Initiative, which is a global effort to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity, and improve the status of women. Currently one woman dies in childbirth every minute of every day 6,000 women each year and 98% of these preventable deaths occur in the third world. WHO is calling attention to the need for effective training initiatives to combat the increasing global shortage of trained midwives. [4]

In September we had 74 births...It was a busy month... One day another midwife Lyn and I were with one of our moms who was in labor...while she was in labor still, we had another woman come in labor... so Lyn stayed with the one mother and I went to be with the other one in the next room. The mother I was with delivered her baby at 1:05pm. It was beautiful... It was so refreshing to see a father help his wife in the birth of their child! We prayed and thanked the Lord together afterward.... There was so much joy and gladness in the room.  Then Lyn's laboring mom delivered at 2:11pm. One of my favorite things in birth is to hear the first cries of the baby...once the baby cries I feel like I can breathe again...birth is truly a miracle every time.

Vangie, student midwife [5]

Graduates of Mercy In Action's College of Midwifery and Primary Health Care are equipped to meet the challenge of bringing hope and healing through Jesus Christ to suffering peoples of the world, starting with the birth of a new baby, and sometimes extending into end of life issues as well.

I just found out my favourite patient in Davao has advanced TB ...a hole in her lungs & is 4th degree malnourished...Anyway she was always skinny & she had a small fundal height when she was pregnant with her fifth. Whenever I prayed for her after her prenatal she would like to pray with me...& Jesus was just there...she broke my heart.... Just having to push on with her way too brutal life... I can't even put into words how much I love this lady.... She is the poorest woman I ever met...ever.... who never really ever asked for my help... & it was always such a privilege to help her ...& now she is weak & tired & dying in an awful lot of pain... there in her rickety house over the water in Ipil  Beach. . If I was there right now.... I would go & hold her skinny bones &cry to see her in such a state...just imagine a weather-beaten life-shaken sun worn woman...frail...skinny...with no teeth....31 yrs old.... with 5 demanding kids and a new baby...& no one but Jesus who has ever really loved her... & that's my little Gina....She is soooooooooo beautiful...... Rags for riches...She knows Jesus.... That's my comfort.

Carolina, student midwife [6]

The School of Midwifery and Primary Health Care is a two-year Associate Degree program. The curriculum addresses the total academic and clinical requirements set forth by the National College of Midwifery, whose curriculum we use. Students start and finish the training in the main branch in New Mexico. Academic sessions are concurrent with on-going clinical rotations locally as well as across the border in Mexico. After the first semester, students go to a birth center site in the Philippines or Alaska, where they will be involved in birth and a wide variety of situations surrounding prenatal, postpartum, newborn, and under-five child care. Students are involved in deliveries at homes and in home-like birth centers. Students work to understand the unique problems faced in cultures other than their own, and gain valuable experience providing maternal/child health care cross-culturally among the poor.

The things of this time will haunt me for the rest of my life, and for that

I am grateful. I am only 24 years I have fought to save the life of a newborn and lost. I have held a dead infant in my arms and sobbed over the loss of her life. I will never forget the feel of her silky hair, or the sound of her mother's anguished cries as we handed her a tiny bundle, dressed in Winnie-the-Pooh. I have slidden down a wall, pulled my knees to my chest, and wished that I was dead. I have fought to save the life of a newborn and won. I have forced air into tiny lungs- seeing her skin turn pink, and her limbs flex. I have rejoiced at seeing her lower lip quiver as she gathers her strength to scream in protest. I have wrapped her up and given her to her mother who reached out for her child, crying with relief. I have fallen to my knees in gratitude, knowing that this life could have easily been taken. I have only seen a fraction of the poverty and suffering that is endured here daily, and it wrecks me I have felt God's heart for the poor and I know with all that is in me that the love He holds for them is strong, tangible and unwavering. It is a constant presence here, amidst the poverty, abuse and neglect. It is only because of this love that I have found such joy here.

Amy, student midwife [7]

Through this program the graduate will be equipped to be a competent practitioner of midwifery anywhere in the world, and to be an effective witness to the redemptive love of Jesus Christ.

In the Old Book, it says this: Whoever is kind to the needy honors God. [8]

The midwives and midwifery students of Mercy in Action are humbly seeking to honor God with hearts and hands of love, extended to the moms and babies around our world.



[1] Excerpt of e-mail student midwife wrote to family and friends

[2] Excerpt of e-mail student midwife wrote to family and friends

[3] USA TODAY Sept 10, 2001 Simple measures could save world's newborns By Anita Manning

[4] Safe Motherhood newsletter March-June 1990 Third MIP calls for more midwives

[5] Excerpt of e-mail student midwife wrote to family and friends

[6] Excerpt of e-mail student midwife wrote to family and friends

[7] Excerpt of e-mail student midwife wrote to family and friends

[8] Proverbs 14:31 The Holy Bible, New International Version