Jean Paul and the Eye Clinic

A 10-year old boy named Jean Paul was admitted to an isolation room at Bongolo Hospital with a deep chronic tropical ulcer on his lower leg. He was friendly but shy, keeping to himself most of the time. The nurses changed his dressings several times a day and had opportunities to share the gospel with him.

One day he handed a note to one of the nurses asking him to pass it on to the Hospital Chaplin requesting a meeting with the Pastor. The next day Pastor Luc went to visit Jean Paul and the young boy asked questions about the stories of Jesus. With a deeper understanding of his sinful condition and need for a Savior, Jean Paul prayed a prayer of repentance and asked Christ into his life.

During the following weeks at the Hospital, while slowly healing, he learned more and more about the Bible and the Christian life. He worked through the catechism book with the Pastor and was baptized in the nearby river, with a bandage still on his leg.

During the months of treatment that followed as an out-patient, Jean Paul was impressed by the lives of the nurses and doctors at Bongolo Hospital.

About 12 years later, after having completed primary and secondary school, Jean Paul Malola returned to the Hospital. This time he was not a patient, but a student, enrolled in the Bongolo School of Health.

During his two years of training he took basic and advanced nursing courses. He was discipled through Bible classes and eventually he got involved in ministries at the nearby local church. He also married a fine Christian woman and began a family.

Because of his godly lifestyle, stellar grades and excellent work ethic, Jean Paul was hired as a nurse at Bongolo Hospital after graduation. Over the years he worked in several departments of the Hospital but gradually developed a penchant for the Eye Clinic.

Vision impairment and blindness are caused by several factors in Gabon. Cataracts are the most important cause of blindness in sub-Saharan Africa. The number of people with cataracts will continue to increase because the population is growing and the population is aging. Other prominent eye problems include onchocerciasis (river blindness), macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. These conditions don’t get the fanfare of Ebola, malaria, or HIV AIDS. But they affect tens of thousands of Gabonese every day.

Bongolo Hospital Eye Clinic serves thousands of patients every year, with a staff of two ophthalmologists, a surgical resident, several nurses, ophthalmic technicians, and support staff.

Being the only hospital with ophthalmic services in southern Gabon, the ophthalmologists perform about 75% of the cataract surgeries in the entire country. Patients are also treated for tumors, infections, and traumatic injuries.

Jean Paul is now one of the supervisors of the clinic’s surgical suite, preparing cases for the ophthalmic surgeons and assisting in surgery. He does patient assessments and pre-operative care.

He prays with patients and their families before surgery, and afterward, especially when giving difficult news of inoperable cancer in a little child or explaining inoperable advancing macular degeneration in an elderly woman.

He teaches patients and their families proper hand hygiene and how to instill eye drops and guides nursing students through their clinical rotations, teaching them ocular anatomy and physiology as well as pre- and post-operative care.

In 2019, a new eye clinic building, partially funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Cristofel Blinden Mission (CBM), opened on the Bongolo Hospital campus.

The building houses outpatient clinic rooms, surgical suites, post-operative inpatient rooms, offices for the staff, and storage. The facilities will permit an expansion of services, once the building is completely out-fitted with more advanced equipment.

I visited Bongolo Hospital several years ago and experienced a heart of joy when I met Jean Paul and the rest of the eye clinic team. Their humble service to suffering and fearful people is one of love and grace.

When I spoke with Jean Paul and remembered how he had matured over the years, my heart could say with the Apostle John, “I have no greater joy than to hear [and see] that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4)

Today Jean Paul is a minister of the Gospel through his work in the Eye Clinic and in the local church.

Rosanna Hess