Sometimes God intervenes in simple ways to keep his followers and others from making stupid mistakes. I think that is what happened when a friend and I decided to distribute medicine without a prescription.
Buenaventura is the gateway to most of the Pacific villages on the West coast of Colombia. These villages have no access by road or plane. You must enter by boat. Visitors from other cities in Colombia have to drive the 55 miles from Cali to Buenaventura. The journey from Cali goes over the western cordillera (5,200 ft.) of the Andes Mountain and then descends to the jungles. The narrow roads are treacherous because of s-curves, nearly continuous rains, and heavy truck traffic bringing port deliveries to the inland. The drive takes two hours, assuming no landslides block the road.
Buenaventura is a city inhabited by many coastal people trying to seek a grade and high school education to escape the persistent poverty due to lack of employment in the villages and thousands of river bank huts. The jungle and river people live entirely on what they can pull from the river, grow on small farms, or find in the jungles. A few people eke out a living harvesting logs or running small sugar cane plantations. Unfortunately, these remote areas are heavily involved the growing of marijuana and coca plants. And, as a result, the drug mafia, guerillas and paramilitaries control the areas. Missionaries and foreigners cannot currently travel safely to any of areas because the possibility of kidnappings.
The drug traffic didn’t exist in the 70’s and early 80’s when the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was sending evangelistic and humanitarian teams to the villages and bank huts on the San Juan River every three months. I made three of those trips during my four years in Cali, Colombia. Once in Buenaventura, it was necessary to find a guide with a boat to take you to and from your destination. We would usually spend 7 to 10 days for these trips.
Two of my companions on my first trip were Dr. Jose Fajardo and Roberto Valderrama. I awed I could be in their company and learn from their vast experience. Dr. Fajardo was one of the first people to accept Christ as Savior and Lord when missionaries arrived in Colombia in 1927. By the time I met and began to work with Jose in 1976, he was 65 years, but extremely active as a missionary. His friend, Roberto, was a strong advocate of evangelism and loved to travel where few people had heard about the Good News told in the Bible.
Our trips to the San Juan River involved visiting homes to distribute food, medicine, and clothing. Each night we found a home willing to host us and conduct a worship service for people within an hour or so by canoe wishing to attend. These service began around 7 p.m. and often ran for two or three hours. The people loved to gather for singing, preaching, and sharing their needs with outsiders that had the time and resources to help them.
While in the USA during part of 1980 a number of physicians donated sample medicines for distribution upon my return to Colombia. The doctors had written the use and dosage for each particular medication. I planned to use these medications, particularly antibiotics, during our trips to San Juan. Most of the river people had neither visited a doctor, nor taken an antibiotic. Therefore, even a small dosage was extremely effective for bacterial infections. They were almost like miracle drugs and literally brought many people near death to a complete recovery.
Dr. Fajardo and I grieved to see starving and unhealthy children, sometimes 8 to 10 in a family. One day we discussed their situation as we sorted our box of medicine and “kazaam,” I pulled a two-year supply of birth control pills out of the medicine box. One of us joked, “These will slow down things for a while for some one.” Then, Jose said, “No, really Bob, do you know how these pills work?
“Well, of course, I wasn’t born yesterday. They say one a day keeps the obstetrician away. How hard can this be?”
Jose opened one of the packages and said, “Bob, this package only has 21 pills, how will that work when there are more days than that in the month?” The packaging had no instructions for their use. I thought a few moments and said, “Man, I don’t know. Maybe you take them one daily until they are gone, and then when you finish your period you begin with another 21 pills.”
Jose replied, “Maybe since there isn’t enough for a whole month, you finish one pack and immediately start another.” Finally, we decided to prescribe a pill on the first day of every month and one every day until they were gone. The patient was then to abstain from pills until the first day of the next month. We figured that would set up a reasonable cycle.
By the grace of God, we never recruited a willing patient. They all seemed unwilling to mess with the natural course of human events. When we returned to Cali and mentioned our program for the use of birth control pills to our wives, they rejoiced that we never found a taker. They insisted that we could have caused serious trauma in the life of some family, perhaps something worse than an eighth or ninth child. Guess we will never know.