The Last Mile: A Story of First Lutheran member Martin Thuo and the Lutheran Malaria Initiative
by Martha Mitkos
In the rural village of Nyacaba, 40 kilometers north of Nairobi, Kenya, lived a boy named Martin. Martin’s mother worked in the fields from early morning to late at night to provide for her family. One particular morning, Martin was not feeling well but continued on to school. As the day progressed, Martin’s teacher recognized that he was very ill. She asked two of his classmates to walk him home, fearing Martin will be unable to make the 3-mile journey on his own.
The boy’s entire body ached. The nausea was overwhelming. He was so weak that his legs felt as if they were dragging through quicksand. His worried friends picked him up, carrying Martin the remainder of the way and staying with him until darkness fell and they had to go home.
FACT: A child dies every 60 seconds from malaria, a completely preventable and treatable disease.
Martin was laying in the dark when his mother returned from the fields. The moment she saw him she realized he was too sick for overnight travel to a hospital. Beside him on his pallet, she began to pray: “Lord, You have given me this child as a gift; why would You take him from me in this manner?” As sleep came over him, Martin heard his mother’s prayers. He later would recall: “That night in my room it was just me, my mother . . . and God.”
FACT: There is a 24– to 36-hour window to recognize the signs and symptoms of malaria and begin treatment before a child dies.
Martin survived the night. The next morning, his mother picked up the eight-year-old boy, tied him to her back and walked seven miles to the hospital where Martin received the life-saving medication needed to treat malaria. Unfortunately, not everyone receives this medication in time.
Such is the tragic case in many of the “last-mile communities” in Africa, the distant populations that cannot access the medication, prevention and education efforts needed to protect them from the deadly disease. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod currently has partner churches actively reaching out to spread the Gospel; this is our opportunity to reach out with Christ’s mercy as well.
Martin is now a healthy 36-year-old man with a wife and child of his own. He still worries about the African children that suffer and die from malaria on a daily basis, but he’s not standing idly by. In 2009, Martin Thuo, Ph.D., was awarded the Post-Doctoral Mary-Fieser Fellowship in Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University in Boston. He is currently researching paper-based devices for rapid diagnosis of malaria and other diseases in rural African communities.
When he arrived in Boston, Martin was seeking a confessional congregation in the area. He found First Lutheran Church of Boston, an LCMS congregation who is leading the way in raising funds and awareness for the Lutheran Malaria Initiative. The Rev. Ingo Dutzman, pastor at First Lutheran, said, “We encourage our members to make special gifts, over and above the tithe to ministries that God lays on their hearts. The members of FLC are determined to not only hear the Gospel but to live it.”
Martha Mitkos (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative.
Go to www.lutheranmalaria.org to learn more.