“He’s Jesus Christ.” That was the title of a recent article by Nicholas Kristof and it captured my attention. In the Nuba Mountains of Sudan resides Dr. Tom Catena. He is a Catholic missionary from Amsterdam, New York and happens to be the only doctor at the 435-bed Mother of Mercy Hospital nestled in those mountains. For that matter, he is the only doctor in the entire region of some half a million people.
If you or someone you know subscribes to the caricature of devout religious believers as nothing more than sanctimonious hypocrites—the kind that rake in the cash and care about human life only when it is unborn, you might want to take a look at Tom Catena.
Nearly every day, the Sudanese government drops bombs on civilians in the Nuba Mountains. It is part of a “scorched earth” strategy intended to quell a rebellion. The U.S. government has largely turned away so as not to see this tragedy. So it is up to Dr. Tom to pry the shrapnel from bodies and to amputate the limbs of children—even as he delivers babies and performs other routine medical procedures.
He does this off the electrical grid—no running water, no telephone, no X-Ray machine—all while under the constant threat of bombing. To date, 11 bombs have hit the hospital or surrounding grounds. Foxholes have now been dug all around the hospital in order to give patients and staff a “more safe place” than inside the hospital. Dr. Tom says, “We are in a place where the government is not trying to help us. It’s trying to kill us.”
As the rest of the world has largely ignored Sudan and the carnage unfolding in the Nuba Mountains, Dr. Tom works quietly on—for the past 8 years. Kristof adds that Dr. Tom works in the hospital and is on call 24/7—the only exception being when he is unconscious from Malaria once a year or so.
For all of this, Dr. Tom earns $350 a month with no retirement plan or health insurance of his own. He is driven by his faith. Kristof says, “There are many, many secular aid workers doing heroic things. But the people I’ve encountered over the years in the most impossible of places—like Nuba where anyone reasonable has fled—are disproportionately unreasonable because of their faith."
One Muslim chief offered a simple tribute: “He’s Jesus Christ.”
The chief explained that Jesus healed the sick, made the blind to see and helped the lame to walk. “That’s what Dr. Tom does every day,” he said.
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.