Playing soccer with friends on a soft, grassy knoll, trampling over dusty dirt roads to examine exotic flowers and wildlife might be the stuff of an ordinary summer for most young boys, but for Andre Bauer his summer vacation was anything but ordinary.
At 7, the second grader from St. Sebastian School in Milwaukee has more adventure notched under his belt than most individuals 10 times his age. In July 2009, Andre traveled to Nyakibale, Rukungiri District, Uganda where his parents, Drs. Terese and Paul Bauer, served on a medical mission trip to Karoli Lwanga Hospital.
While his parents served the understaffed hospital, lectured and taught classes on patient care, Andre explored under sunny skies and the gentle guidance of his Ugandan babysitter, Grace.
“She showed me where my best friend, Prize, lived and shared with us a little fruit with seeds in it – it tasted so good,” he explained to your Catholic Herald during his parents’ presentation on their trip to the Milwaukee Guild of the Catholic Medical Association Sept. 19 at St. Robert Parish, Shorewood. “My favorite thing when I was there though was playing soccer and meeting the other kids.”
To outsiders, the differences between the light skinned, American boy with brown curly hair and the dark skinned Ugandans speaking various dialects were noticeable, but for Andre, the most striking contrast were the feet of his new friends.
Footloose in Uganda
“They go barefooted everywhere,” he exclaimed. “I tried to go barefooted sometimes, but there were rocks all over and they hurt my feet, so sometimes I wore shoes. But, they played the same as me and think the same as me, and that is a fact about how we are all the same. One thing I do know is that I have never seen anyone in Uganda with curly hair like me. Sometimes the kids looked at me and were surprised at how I looked different from them.”
Through Mission Doctors Association and Lay Mission Helpers, Paul, a pediatric critical care physician at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and Terese, a family practice physician at Aurora St. Luke’s Hospital, made plans for the six-week trip after feeling a passion to improve the lives of thousands around the world. Previous medical mission destinations were Ecuador and Peru.
The Rukungiri District, located south of Sudan between Congo, Kenya and just north of Rwanda, is home to approximately 302,000 people. Four doctors, 48 nurses and 12 midwives staff the Catholic hospital run by nuns from three religious orders. The team handles 2,000 vaginal births, 500 cesarean sections and 250 operations per year.
Rest of family remained home
Andre’s two weeks in Uganda required the coordinated efforts of Paul and Terese who knew that six weeks might be too much for him. Additionally, the couple, who are in their early 30s, were expecting their daughter Mayra, now a year old, and have two boys, Aiden, 4, and Luc, 3, who were too small at the time to make the journey. With the help of Terese’s parents who watched the younger children, Terese flew to Uganda alone to begin the first two weeks of the medical mission.
“I went first so Paul could stay home with the children,” said Terese. “I worked on developing personal and professional relationships, learning about what foods Andre would like and what he wouldn’t like, the customs, health care and developing a family routine.”
When Paul arrived two weeks later with Andre, the family base was prepared to make their transition easier. He relied on Terese’s discoveries for his new practice, family unity and spiritual life.
“When I got there, I knew about the operations of the health care and navigation of patients, and when to eat, pray, have time alone together as a family and when to be available as physicians for the hospital,” said Paul. “It was a little different going as a family because you don’t know how to stay safe and you feel vulnerable, but there is a grace that comes with going with kids. Andre was our reminder of being able to let go and let God do his work. His complete abandoned trust in me reminded me that the Lord was with us and we put our trust in him.”
Early apprehensions faded away
With lingering Ugandan violence foremost in their minds, Paul and Terese were apprehensive the first day they brought Andre to their home in Nyakibale, but those fears quickly faded.
“We watched every move he made the first day and wouldn’t let him out of our sight,” admitted Terese. “But by the end of the day, we realized he was in a very safe environment and allowed him the freedom to play with the children in the community. They didn’t understand each other very well, but they played soccer all afternoon and quickly became good friends.”
While bringing a child to the mission field challenged the Bauers to juggle service to the hospital with bridging family relationships, the couple believes that bringing Andre along brought them into a fraternity with families that would not have occurred otherwise.
“There were so many blessings and we were given exposure to evangelization, encountering the Lord with others, and the innocence and peace of the child’s view that probably wouldn’t have happened had we gone alone,” said Paul. “Andre also learned about community through daily life of the routine of work and rest, reflection, sleep and doing laundry by hand and hanging it to dry. This experience really brought us together as a family.”
When the couple was not trying to save the lives of critically ill children dealing with malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, treating patients with meningitis, malnutrition and trauma from motor vehicle accidents, or teaching modern techniques to nursing staff, they were able to explore the lush mountainous region of Uganda.
Lessons in Ugandan countryside
“Andre was able to see elephants, gazelles, farm animals, giraffes, hippos and the birth of a baby hippo,” said Terese. “One day we took a ferry ride and saw some very large crocodiles – it was a wonderful experience for all of us and something we may not have done had we not brought Andre with us.”
Although the residents were warm and friendly, the Ugandan children, for the most part, were quiet and followed the American adage, “Children should be seen and not heard,” unlike the conversational and outgoing Andre.
“Andre was talking all the time and adults didn’t know how to take him,” said Terese. “Often they would either ignore him or become very amused and almost egg him on because he was so culturally different than what they are accustomed to. Even at the lengthy Sunday Masses, the children were quiet for hours; it was so amazing to me.”
Terese not only traveled while pregnant, but she traveled during her third trimester. As a missionary, Terese put aside her own comfort to embrace the chance to serve a busy hospital in a Third World country where every drop of water is sacred.
Pregnant in Third World country
“It was a really good thing that I had already had my yellow fever vaccine done before I became pregnant, but there were quite a few e-mails going back and forth between the infectious disease department and my doctor regarding the appropriate malaria medication that was safe for me to take,” said Teresa. “Also, the lack of water really made things difficult as far as keeping our hands cleaned and our medical instruments sanitized. By the time Paul left, they had not seen water in six weeks.”
It was rare that anyone mentioned Terese’s expanding belly, unless she discussed it first. For the two who bravely crossed cultural lines and mentioned her pregnancy, their reactions were nothing short of amusing.
“I was surprised that no one said anything except these two people, and that was just because the shirts that I wore had a tightness in the front,” she said. “One grandma in the pediatric ward and an ortho tech, who was the most western person there, were both concerned that I was suffocating the baby with the types of shirts I was wearing. In fact, one day when I was balancing a heavy book on top of my belly, the tech shouted across the room, ‘Don’t put your book there, you are killing your baby.’
“By the time I was to leave to come back home though, my new friends all wanted me to stay and ‘produce’ in Africa. I thought it was pretty funny, that they called delivering a baby, ‘producing a baby,’” she added.
Shared faith unites cultures
Paul and Terese attended Mass at the hospital chapel or Sunday Mass in the community, illustrating for them the universality of the Catholic faith. Despite worship differences, such as the lack of lines when receiving holy Communion, and the charismatic style of prayer, they said they learned what it means to share the faith.
“In the midst of a culture so different was in that shared prayer of community in Mass and during the evenings,” explained Paul. “We have the same Jesus and he is found in the common prayers and knowing that we share something that is absolutely universal. This sameness and truth was an enormous comfort and sense of encouragement to us.”
When Terese and Andre returned to Wisconsin, Paul remained at the hospital for two weeks. He cared for patients in the emergency room, and taught and assisted with curriculum development for the Global Emergency Care Collaborative, a non-profit group of emergency room physicians that offers a nine-month nurses training course.
“We worked with improving treatment for pediatric emergencies, malnutrition care, suturing, lumbar punctures, sedations, trauma care, physician consultations and a symptom-based approach to treatment,” explained Paul. “We also performed major surgery and worked with the critically ill and what to do for those not responding to treatment. There were days that we were frustrated with a lack of resources and stretched beyond our abilities, but the Lord was with us and that gave us strength to continue.”
Family plans to return
Eventually, after the children grow a little and student loans are repaid, Paul and Terese hope to pack up the family for a three-year commitment with Missionary Doctors Association in Uganda. For now, Paul plans a return trip in February and March with one or two of the children.
“I want to do this for practical purposes so I can continue the relationship with the community,” he said. “But our goal is long-term with the entire family; we really have a heart for Uganda.”
Wanting to help those who have so little continues to tug at the heart of the Bauers, who went to medical school with the knowledge that missionary work would be their way of following God’s call.
“It was the solidarity of working together for God’s kingdom and bringing it with the dignity of the healing profession in the context of teaching and then seeing the nurses care for people that brings spark to the work we do,” said Paul. “It is the beauty of life. We did take care of a number of patients who died, but life goes on and the sun comes up in the morning and the kids play on dirt streets. We gained such an appreciation for this life and the sharing of food and table, nature’s splendor and knowing Jesus. We have not seen life this way before and really experienced Jesus in the shared work he has called us to – we wouldn’t have imagined this before.”