Rachel sat on top of her suitcase, unsuccessfully trying to hold the top down while she twisted and stretched her arms to zip it closed. It just was not going to work. She sighed and scooted down from her throne onto the wooden floorboards. She was really looking forward to being back in Melbourne—and in only two short days she would be there.
She was trying to figure out what she had missed the most whilst in Papua New Guinea. Real chai latté, or maybe one of those iced coffees mounded with ice cream and lashings of whipped cream? Her first night back was already organized; Rachel’s folks insisted that they had first claim on her, so they were going out to her favorite Thai restaurant for dinner. She could almost smell the spices.
Oh my goodness, I’m drooling! Rachel hurriedly wiped away the evidence. She was in a bad way! After six months, though, who could really blame her?
Rachel shook herself out of her reverie. I am not going anywhere with a suitcase that won’t close! Maybe I need to find a box to help with the excess. It was good that she was packing early instead of finding this out at the last minute. She looked at her watch and groaned; she really needed to head off to the hospital. Today was her last official day of work in PNG. The repacking and daydreaming must wait.
An hour later, as Rachel strolled past the hospital offices, Dr. Francie came rushing out of her office, almost bumping into her.
“Oh, Rachel, I am so sorry! Have you seen John anywhere?” Dr. Francie’s voice trembled as she spoke. “He’s not answering his radio, and I urgently need to speak with him.”
Rachel was instantly concerned. Dr. Francie looked very flustered, and her eyes were red and puffy from crying; she obviously needed to speak with her husband straight away.
“I am not sure where he is at the moment—um, I think he went to the maternity ward for rounds.” Rachel tried to remember exactly where she last saw the doctor. “Shall I go find him for you?”
“Thank you, that would be better; I will be in my office,” Dr. Francie replied, relieved at not having to search out her husband in the busy hospital. “Would you be able to hurry, please?” she added.
“Of course,” Rachel assured her and hastened away.
Two hours later, after a rushed meeting, Rachel was still trying to wrap her head around the massive changes taking place. Doctors Francie and John had received a phone call about their son, who was studying in Australia. They had to leave right away—they had not given any of the details, but it was some kind of emergency. An airplane was coming to pick them up in a few hours’ time, and they had both dashed home to pack.
So what now? Rachel thought frantically to herself. How are we going to cope? That means Dr. Charlene will be the only doctor available for the hospital for the next two weeks! How is one doctor going to cope with 60 patients, being on call every day for fourteen days, having to deal with emergency operations, and of course delivering babies—which always seems to be at night? Rachel tried to slow her steamrolling thoughts.
Charlene had only just returned from leave in the last month and was still settling in to her second term. Rachel and Charlene had formed a special friendship; they were both young, single, and from Melbourne, and they had clicked right away.
I cannot just leave her in two days. Maybe I should extend my stay. Rachel thought anxiously, trying to figure out how to fix the seemingly impossible situation. How can I go, knowing that Charlene is going to be struggling on her own? However, she knew it was not going to be that simple. She could not just change her dates. The hospital in Melbourne was expecting her back, and her sister’s engagement party was next weekend. The timing of it all did not make sense to Rachel. I thought God was supposed to be in control….
That afternoon Rachel and Charlene waved off Doctors Francie and John as they boarded the six-seater aircraft to begin their journey to Australia. As the plane sped down the runway and lifted into the air, Rachel’s heart sank. She could not imagine what Charlene was feeling—she looked like a lost orphan. Rachel tried to give her a reassuring smile, but that died quickly as they heard the whine of an airplane approaching.
“Oh no,” Charlene groaned.
In all the chaos of the morning’s events they had completely forgotten about the medivac coming in. Rachel watched while Charlene grappled for her hand radio, urgently needing the ambulance to come to the airstrip. The plane held a woman who was having difficulty delivering her baby, which could mean anything.
They both stared in dismay as the plane landed with a bump, sped past, braked, and swung around about halfway down the strip before heading back in their direction. Charlene pulled gloves out of her pocket, and Rachel berated herself for not being prepared. Charlene handed her the radio.
“Keep trying the hospital, please. Who knows what will happen when the plane stops?”
The plane taxied into the parking bay and shuddered to a halt. The pilot jumped out as soon as the engine had shut down and waved them over frantically. They raced over to the plane just in time for the young woman inside to give one final push and an incredible holler as the baby emerged. Luckily the woman’s guardian was ready to catch the infant before it hit the canvas-covered metal floor! Charlene scrambled into the plane to help.
“Do you have a knife on you?” Charlene shouted from the inside the plane. Rachel shook her head helplessly, but the next second a pocketknife was pressed into her hand.
She smiled gratefully at the pilot, but thought she should add, “You do realize that this is going to be used to cut the cord, right?”
“It will make a good story to tell my supporters,” he quipped.
“Where is your first-aid kit?” Rachel asked. “We will need something to sterilize this knife, and more supplies.”
The pilot looked a bit uncomfortable and pointed to the back of the airplane behind the new mother and Charlene.
“It’s back there.”
“Right,” Rachel said decisively and hopped into the plane. She was small and was certain she could squeeze in and get the kit without disturbing Charlene too much.
“How is it going?” she asked Charlene as she contorted her body into an uncomfortable position to reach the first-aid kit.
“We are going okay. Have you gotten hold of the hospital yet?”
“No one is answering their radio. I am surprised they didn’t hear the plane land.”
Charlene made a frustrated sound and turned back to the women. They were all jammed together with blood and fluid squishing around their feet, but no one seemed too distressed by it. The baby was already feeding contentedly, wrapped up in a t-shirt of questionable cleanliness.
“Got it,” Rachel grunted as her fingertips wrapped around the handle of the first-aid box. She pulled it out and began unpacking it, almost letting out a whoop at seeing all the sterilized supplies. Rachel thanked God that all the planes were equipped with a well-stocked first-aid kit as she handed Charlene what she needed.
Rachel still could not reach anyone at the hospital.
What are we going to do? She looked again at the pilot, who was standing a little way off looking a bit frazzled.
“Can I do anything to help?” he asked, seeing Rachel watching him. Rachel was about to shake her head in a negative reply, but an idea popped into her mind.
“Can you run over to the hospital and tell them what is going on and that we need an ambulance right away? It is just straight down that road,” she said, pointing toward the community’s only gravel road. “Should take you about fifteen minutes.”
“No worries,” came the reply, and off he set, his long legs eating up the distance. He seemed relieved to be away from the scene. Half an hour later, the ambulance finally arrived to transport the mother and baby to the hospital. Charlene accompanied them, and Rachel stayed to help clean up the plane.
“Man, I could not believe how loudly that lady was yelling!” the pilot said, shaking his head. “I thought for sure she would have that baby as soon as we took off.” Rachel smiled at him as he continued excitedly, obviously still pumped from the adrenaline-filled flight and all the action at the airstrip.
“I tell you, I did some hard praying, and boy, was I glad to see you ladies standing there waiting for the plane when I landed.”
Rachel chuckled. “It must have been a pretty exciting trip for you.”
“Yes, one that I hope I will never have to do again!” He gave her a weary smile.
That night Rachel and Charlene ate together and debriefed over the day’s events.
“I am really nervous about being here by myself, especially after what happened today with the staff not responding to the radio calls,” Charlene confided. Rachel struggled with her reply. She was having serious doubts about leaving, but she did not see how it was possible for her to change her plans.
The thoughts that kept coming to her mind were, Nice one, Rachel, just abandon the sinking ship, why don’t you?!
“I am nervous about making decisions on my own—with no other doctors to bounce ideas off, it is going to be really tough,” Charlene continued.
“Shall we pray together?” Rachel suggested.
As she spoke, she realized how much she had changed. She would never have suggested this before she came here. Previously her thinking had all been about what was physically practical. Now she was realizing that praying was the most physically practical thing she could do.
Rachel recalled what Dr. John had shared during their meeting that morning. He had quoted a verse Rachel had heard many times but had never before so keenly realized her need of it: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.
They remembered the prayer letters that each doctor had sent out to their supporters; now hundreds of people were praying for Charlene and the hospital. After an hour of talking to God and each other, Rachel was challenged by Charlene’s final comments as she walked out the door.
“It’s funny,” Charlene stated. “Even though I am really nervous about being here by myself, I also have a sort of excited anticipation to see how God will answer our prayers.”
The next afternoon, after a day of packing and tearful goodbyes to the hospital staff, Rachel reflected again on this new aspect of trust into which she had been thrust. Maybe I am going to have to exercise some trust of my own, Rachel thought, as she picked her way carefully over the log bridge which led toward the swimming hole. Trust that, even though I am leaving when it feels like I am needed here the most, God has all things under His control.
Several of the single nurses were also down for a wash, already in the water and splashing around.
“Hello, Dr. Rachel,” one yelled out to her. Rachel waved back to them; she would join them in a minute. She slipped out of her sandals and made her way over to the giant guava tree where a thick rope swing dangled.
God knows best. He does not need me here. He took care of the hospital before I came, and He will do it again after I leave, Rachel thought decisively to herself. She was starting to feel a lot more relaxed about leaving in the morning. She grasped the rough rope with both her hands and pushed out over the water. She felt the rope tighten and pause for a second before beginning to swing back to the shore. Should she hold on and swing back to what she knew?
She let go and felt the weightlessness of falling and the cold rush as she hit the water, her momentum carrying her deep below the surface. She felt like she was diving into something new and exciting. Whatever it was God had for her when she reached Melbourne, she would trust God when she was at the end of her own understanding and fall into His arms, rather than be tempted to swing back to the safety of her comfort zone.
The trouble with trust, thought Rachel, is finding the courage to let go.