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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Hidden shame

An ELCA missionary helps Tanzanian women recover health and hope after suffering

Like the one healed leper who returned to thank Jesus, two years ago Sarah returned to Selian Lutheran Hospital in Arusha, Tanzania. She wanted to thank the medical team that had cared for her.

She had spent seven years as an outcast from her home and village. Sarah (last name withheld for her privacy) didn't have a disfiguring skin disease but rather a common affliction of impoverished women in rural Africa — a urinary fistula.

Seven years ago, as a teenage bride, she went into labor with her first child in a village far away from medical facilities. The baby was large. The young mother labored six hours, then 12 hours, then a day, then two days. Finally the baby died trying to be born.

Sarah was left with the devastating loss of her child and a complication — a tear into her bladder that left her permanently incontinent.

Like thousands of women who develop fistulae after unattended childbirth, Sarah was cast out by her husband, kept distant from her family and shunned by her village as one who was unclean. For seven years she made her way by foot or bus to several of the biggest hospitals in Tanzania, growing despondent when no one could or would help her.


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