Missionary Nurse Recalls Days of ‘Catching Babies’ and Saving Lives

Lois Belsey doesn’t know how many babies she helped deliver, how many lives she helped save working in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia; but she would start again

One of the first things you notice about Lois Belsey is the joy she finds in everything. She always laughs.

She has a disarming way about her that is fitting when you learn that she is a nurse, a midwife and has lived and worked all over the world as an international worker.

“I went overseas as a nurse missionary, now we’re called international workers,” Belsey explains.

She shares stories of her work with the indigenous people of Papua, Indonesia with the love of a mother.

Belsey has spent more than 45 years teaching Indigenous medical skills and passing on enough of her knowledge of midwifery that she couldn’t count the number of babies she caught or the number of lives. that she helped save through her life’s work.

She is quick to point out that she trained others to bring a child into the world.

“I personally didn’t deliver a lot of babies,” she clarifies, “I was teaching others to do it.

“Previously, women gave birth to 10 babies and lost five. [in rural Papua, Indonesia]. That’s half of their children.

“Since working there, I can say that the relationship between those who live and those who die has changed. Many of them can now say that all their children are alive.

Having lived and worked in the jungles of Papua, 400 kilometers from the coast, Belsey is not easily phased by a challenge.

“You haven’t seen the track until you’re almost there,” laughs the eternal optimist. “Looks like you’re going to land in water or on a mountain.”

She also says she knew she was close to the place she’s called home for most of her life by the red poinsettias that grew wild all over the mountainside.

Being immersed in the beauty of the jungle must have helped Belsey find the humor in impossible situations.

“We joked that we had to plan our medical emergencies before 9:30 a.m. because that’s when the wind was picking up and planes couldn’t land,” she laughs wistfully. rugged setting in which she worked for so long.

Belsey can’t say for sure how many people she trained and guesses it’s probably over a hundred.

“It started with basic medical training,” she says, which she wrote in simplified medical manuals in Moni, the rural dialect spoken by the villagers. The teaching of midwifery practice came at the end of the training.

Working primarily with women, she says she was teaching them something “that they always had to do, but didn’t know how to do”.

“They were doing things like pushing on a mother’s belly” during labor, she explains, demonstrating that they didn’t understand some basic things about labor and birth that seem obvious to someone with a history of labor. an education in a developed country.

“I taught them how to make the baby breathe. To remove the liquid and everything that was in his mouth and nose.

“They lost a lot of babies because they didn’t know what to do.”

Patting babies on the buttocks or back to help them take their first breath – an outdated practice now – was a novel idea for tribal people living in the Indonesian jungles of Papua.

A woman gave birth to twins under a banana tree, and one of them was raped. She laughs saying the conditions weren’t sterile. The mother and twins all survived with her help.

When she started working there in 1977, Belsey said, “We didn’t turn babies in the womb in Canada, but you do things there to save lives.

Belsey says many mothers have died of hemorrhage, because people didn’t know how to massage the uterus to harden it and reduce blood loss.

She darkens while recounting a birth.

“The mother was bleeding quite heavily before she was ready to push. It was seven o’clock in the evening. The only thing left to do was to pray.

The mother survived until morning so she could be airlifted to hospital, but the baby did not. Belsey says it was the power of prayer that saved this woman’s life.

Many teams from Canada have visited Belsey over the past 15 years in the area where she worked, which spanned a radius of about 50 miles and was home to around 25,000 people.

“Many visitors would say it was very obvious from what they could see of people that there was a difference. When people are well, it shows in their faces.

Belsey, who calls herself a risk taker, says that when you come to the end of your knowledge, you turn to God.

God is also why she looks back on her stay in Vietnam in 1974 without remembering the sound of bombs or gunshots.

“I knew I was going to a war-torn country. I prayed to God to help me not to hear the bombs and gunshots,” Belsey explains.

“I know it was, but I have no recollection of hearing or seeing guns or bombs.”

When she arrived, she was working in a leper colony in Dalat and studying the language so that she could teach rural communities basic medicine and midwifery.

“Personally, it was peaceful for me,” the 72-year-old said determinedly.

It was her first stop in Asia, in the midst of the Vietnam War, and she found peace in her work and in people.

“We were evacuated overnight and we couldn’t say goodbye to our friends,” Belsey said. “That was the hardest part for me, when I knew the people I loved had to stay.”

His family and their church eventually sponsored a family that came to Canada in 1979 when the Canadian government sponsored one refugee for every privately sponsored refugee.

She has remained in close contact with some of her Vietnamese friends over the years. Some were evacuated and others with whom she lost contact.

Belsey also lived and worked in Thailand for a time after being evacuated from Vietnam and still has friends there.

She lived through one of the worst wars in modern history, worked in places so remote that lives were at stake, and she did it all with love and grace. It’s easy to see how she had friends all over the world.

“There’s nothing better you can do in life,” she says overflowing with gratitude, “Who would want to stay in Canada if you can live almost anywhere else. I would do it again.”

“For me, it was following the call of God in my life. I’ve heard people say “Don’t send me to the darkest and deepest jungle”. For me, that was the best thing. Life was tough at times, and I had to trust God all the time, grow and learn.

“You learn as much from them as you give them. The main thing for me was to give them abundant life, the best life here on Earth.

Lois Belsey taught people how to give birth in Indonesia until she retired three years ago.

She lives in Midland and is still active in the Midland Alliance Church. You will find her almost every day taking walks with her dog Azu, whose name means my boy in Moni.

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