Do you know this American Hero?

A hero is someone who demonstrates exceptional bravery and service on behalf of others. Dr. Gretchen Berggren is an AMERICAN HERO in my book because she has bravely and sacrificially served God and his children in the Congo, Haiti and other places where people desperately needed medical and spiritual help.

Internationally recognized physician

This Harvard trained physician and professor witnessed faith-healings and believes in the healing power of God. When internationally-recognized physician told me about some of her experiences with faith-healing in the Congo, I asked her write about them so I could share them with you. Her stories are encouraging and God-honoring. Enjoy-

Dr. Bill Nichols

 

“Stretch Forth Thine Hand”

          by Gretchen Berggren, MD

Biblical scholars tell us this phrase was used 32 times in the New Testament. At the feet of a Congolese pastor, I was given these words, “Stretch forth thine hand.” Rev. Pelendo wanted my husband and me to continue our medical mission wherever God would lead us.

Faithful in the face of personal suffering

I was not ready to “stretch forth” my hand at that time, with a baby barely beginning to walk in a most remote area of Congo, and with my husband, Dr. Warren Berggren, only beginning to recover from febrile illness, and with a medical evacuation plan for him in order. “Your hands must help his!” he said quietly, bowing his head in prayer.

God answered his prayer for healing

My mind went back to the legends about this pastor—how he had miraculously been given the gift of reading Lingala, almost overnight. How the missionary who received her first letter from him had been astonished, not believing at first that he could have written it! And then stories of how God answered his prayer for healing those to whom he “stretched forth his hand”.

Crawling in the dirt with withered limbs

One story, in particular, was how he had come upon two children unable to walk in one of the villages where he preached. Seeing them crawling in the dirt with withered limbs was not unusual: polio was rampant in the Congo. But Rev. Pelendo prayed over them, insisted that the family bring them to his next service. “Get to the forest and find walking sticks!”

God has healed them

Rev. Pelendo told the father, “On the day of our next meeting at the chapel, they will walk. Help them to stand upright and lean on the sticks at first. Then guide them! God has healed them; they will walk! In a few days, people began to gather for evening chapel meeting. In the distance, people could see the two boys, slowly walking, leaning on their sticks, then faster and faster. A crowd grew round them. By the time they got to the chapel, the whole village welcomed them with surprise and delight. Villagers from the next village arrived too.”

He heals today

Rev. Pelendo, more than six feet tall leaned over to open his arms to greet them all. No one missed a word of what he read from the New Testament. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever!” He went on to say, “And He heals today.”

This baby would likely die

Years later, at the Tandala Hospital, I was seeing pediatric patients. One case saddened me greatly: a fat, healthy breast-fed baby breathing with great difficulty, suffering from fever, and becoming cyanotic. What I heard with my stethoscope discouraged me. This baby would likely die of pneumonia by sundown, despite treatment. I sent my Congolese helper to find a chaplain. It was Rev. Pelendo.

Sadly I urged him to comfort the family, warning him about the probable outcome. Then I left to go home for lunch. After lunch there was a knock at my door. It was Rev. Pelendo, urging me to come back to the hospital to see the baby again. His long legs made it hard for me to keep up; he seemed more than eager to get me to the bedside of the dying baby.

The baby, fever-free, nursing his mother’s breast

The scene before me was astonishing when we arrived in the pediatric ward. There was the baby, fever-free, nursing his mother’s breast. His father reached out to welcome me and Rev. Pelendo. Tears ran down my cheeks as I put my stethoscope on the little chest to hear only clean, clear breath sounds. “Remember always,” Rev Pelendo told me, “You may be a doctor. Perhaps you bring gifts. But in the end, it is God who heals!”

Thank God for healing

And so, on the eve of our second departure from the Congo; this time with my husband was too weak to walk, and with our baby in my arms, we were moved to thank God for healing that had already begun. And for me there came the memory of the words I had promised Rev Pelendo: a lifelong commitment to “stretch forth” my hands.

Gretchen Berggren, MD

 

Dr. Berggren’s Background

Dr. Berggren is a graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Medicine and the Harvard School of Public Health where she served on the faculty from 1963-83, teaching in international health and population sciences. She received the International Health Award from the Global Health Council, which was presented to her in person by Mother Teresa.

 

A strong proponent of census based, community oriented primary health care, Gretchen developed curricula for training multidisciplinary community health workers (CHWs) that brought equity in services and reached significant reductions in age specific mortality rates following interventions with CHWs and “care groups.”

 

Her work has focused on the “positive deviance” method of identifying and transferring nutrition skills to poor mothers, taught by trained local women who act as resident home visitors and who organize temporary itinerant workshops, known as “hearth” in the kitchens of volunteer mothers.

 

During long term assignments in Haiti (’67-’72 and ’93-’98) at the Hospital Albert Schweitzer, the Berggren’s shepherded more than 200 medical and public health students in projects that were approved by the faculties of Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.

 

Dr. Berggren has been associated with the Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti for more than twelve years. She is a former Board Member and presently serves on the CNP Advisory Council.

 

Gretchen Berggren is a graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Medicine and the Harvard School of Public Health where she served on the faculty from 1968-83, teaching in international health and population sciences.

 

A strong proponent of census based, community oriented primary health care, Gretchen developed curricula for training multidisciplinary community health workers (CHWs) that brought equity in services and reached significant reductions in age specific mortality rates following interventions with CHWs and “care groups.”

Her work has focused on the “positive deviance” method of indentifying and transferring nutrition skills to poor mothers, taught by trained local women who act as resident home visitors and who organize temporary itinerant workshops know as “hearth” in the kitchens of volunteer mothers.

During long term assignments in Haiti (67-72 and 93-98) at the Hopital Albert Schweitzer, the Berggrens shepherded more than 200 medical and public health students in projects that were approved by the faculties of Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.

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Bill Nichols

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