Surgery and back to Africa for Beach native
After a visit back on the farm and what is hopefully a final surgery, Christian missionary with Children's Cup and Beach native Mitch Hildebrant can't wait to return home to Africa to continue the work he and his wife, Charlotte, began more than two years ago.
"Southern Africa is definitely our home," he said. "We oversee projects in Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and we just started -- when I got out of the hospital -- we started a couple of feeding projects in South Africa kind of along the edge of the other countries."
Mitch needs the surgery to repair damage done this spring by a botched operation and infection.
The surgery is to reattach his intestine, fix the tube that goes from his kidney to his bladder, remove and repair his nephrostomy and reattach his abdominal muscles.
He fell ill with appendicitis in March and went to a Swaziland hospital, which is similar to a U.S. hospital from the 1970s, for what was supposed to be a routine appendectomy. The doctor performing the surgery also removed a tumor from his intestines without Mitch's consent while he was under anesthesia.
After that first surgery he fell extremely ill and in less than a week he was admitted to a more modern facility in Nelspruit, South Africa.
He spent the next five months there slowly recovering.
"At the time I think it's safe to say we were a bit disappointed," Mitch said. "You sell everything and you move to Africa because you think that that's God's plan and you believe in what he's asked you to do, and then this happens."
But looking back, he and Charlotte can see how God was watching out for them, Mitch said.
"Because of this whole experience we're more blessed now than we were prior to this happening," he said.
Mitch's illness was the most extreme case that a Prairieville, La.-based Children's Cup missionary has been stricken with, President Ben Rodgers said.
"The challenge for us was the urgency in which he had the appendicitis," he said. "Otherwise we would have probably been able to avoid some of that by getting him to South Africa."
The organization is reviewing some of its medical care policies, but generally those traveling are at no greater risk in Africa than they are elsewhere in the world, Rodgers said.
After being released from the hospital, Mitch found it difficult to work at the pace to which he was accustomed.
"I came out of the hospital 45 pounds lighter and just didn't have the strength I had prior," he said. "So trying to go out to minister to children or to pick up a child -- I couldn't do it because I have no core muscles."
After taking time to heal, Mitch is hoping to start over in South Africa.
"Our staff in Swaziland stepped up and have taken over the responsibilities that Charlotte and I once had and essentially negated the necessity of us to return to those same roles, which is really every missionary's goal and dream," he said. "That frees us up so when we move back we will start Children's Cup South Africa just across the border from Swaziland."
The Jan. 4 surgery will repair and reattach the damage done during the first surgery and following illness, Mitch said. It will also fix a 9-by-13-inch hole in his stomach that is covered by a skin graft.
In the interim he has had to adapt to his injuries and to his "extra plumbing," a nephrostomy, or a tube in an opening between his kidney and skin.
While he's excited to be back in North Dakota, especially at Christmas time, traveling has been a bit of a challenge.
"I'm 6-foot-4 so to fit in an airplane on a 17-hour flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta is never enjoyable, much less when you have extra plumbing and attachments on," he said. "It's been an interesting adventure, for sure."
His mom, Bobbi, is especially excited to have her son and daughter-in-law home for Christmas for the first time in about three years.
"It makes the holiday," she said.
Bobbi did get to visit Mitch and Charlotte when he was in the hospital, as well as a couple of times previous.
"We're so thankful for the Lord for what he's done," she said. "It's just a wonderful miracle. We're very thankful; it's great to see him."
Mitch and Charlotte are enjoying some down time on the farm from the time they arrived Tuesday evening until they leave for his surgery in Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C., with the exception of visiting area churches on Sundays and Wednesdays and a few sporadic appointments.
They have been traveling in the U.S. since late October.
"There's no place like the farm for Christmas," Mitch said.
In southern Africa, the Hildebrants work mostly with children.
"These kids are really wondering where their next meal is coming from," Mitch said. "And not thinking about or dreaming about what their future is."
Mitch and Charlotte help feed and give basic medical care to about 10,000 children each day at Care Points, and also teach them Christian principles and about the opportunities out there for them. As they get older the missionaries help match the Africans with the prospects, as well as teach them to give unto others.
"One thing we do know is that no matter how poor or whatever your circumstances are you can still give of yourself to help somebody else," he said. "That's really helped us to expand the ministry and it helps them to feel valued."
To learn more about their work and to support the Hildebrant's mission, visit www.childrenscup.org.