Tuesday, July 30, 2013

UPDATED AUG 1 - A Call for a Change in the Leadership Methods

It has been said that there are two sides to every story. In most cases, there are more than two sides. For the past several days, we have been covering the tragic events of the last year at The Salvation Army Howard Hospital. The information presented was drawn from a number of sources; the Zimbabwean press, the Canadian press, broadcasted podcast and YouTube video interviews, online blogs authored by supporters of Dr. Paul Thistle and Howard Hospital listing first-hand accounts of patients, visitors and volunteers at Howard Hospital, email exchanges from those with first-hand knowledge, and from press releases issued by The Salvation Army International HQ and Canada HQ.

We freely note that we have not had any direct input from either Dr. Thistle or any one in Salvation Army leadership. It is understandable that Dr. Thistle would refrain from speaking out directly. Zimbabwe is a country that faces many difficulties and challenges, and for Dr. Thistle to speak out directly could likely have serious, if not dangerous, repercussions from certain people within Zimbabwe. However, Dr. Thistle does not speak out mainly because he sees no reason to defend himself, nor does he speak out because he doesn’t want to give the impression that he is speaking badly of anyone.

We also recognize that there are certain aspects of this issue that The Salvation Army must withhold comment on in order to maintain good relationships with the government of Zimbabwe, in order to be able to continue the work of the Army and to maintain a positive environment for the tens of thousands of its soldiers in Zimbabwe. Additionally, we recognize that there are personnel issues that remain to be settled between Dr. Thistle and The Salvation Army.

However, The Salvation Army has shown a disturbing lack of transparency, accountability and truthfulness about this issue. We find these actions to be wholly unacceptable, as there are several points that should have been addressed that would not have compromised the relationship between The Salvation Army and the government of Zimbabwe. Not only has The Salvation Army been haughtily silent, they have also issued the equivalent of gag orders to officers involved in and aware of this issue.

The dishonesty displayed by The Salvation Army is unacceptable, period. There is never a reason for dishonesty. It is no secret that there are difficulties working in countries where there is wide-spread corruption. The Salvation Army should never deny that problems have arisen, nor should they deny that solutions take time. Such denials lead to a lack of trust.

Our intentions have been and will continue to be those of holding The Salvation Army accountable for their actions, or lack thereof, and a call for a change in the leadership methods so that such tragedies never occur again.

 So, what do we actually know?

Let’s begin with some background information about the places and people.

Howard Hospital

The Salvation Army Howard Hospital is located in the rural Chiweshe communal lands, approximately 80km (50 miles) north of Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. It serves a population of over 270,000 residents of all ages and health conditions.

Howard Hospital was established in 1923, and from its inception provided some types of medical care. The Howard Hospital roots started in 1918, when Major Bradley was providing medicines and medical care in the bush. The facility grew into a hospital slowly as the need for a regional health care provider became apparent. The early Howard facility of a clinic with four wards was built in 1928, and the core of the present facility was constructed in 1958.  The Howard's full-fledged expansion into a semi-modern hospital in the 1960s was started by Captain (Dr.) Jock Cook, who arrived at the Howard in 1967. Captain Cook added X-ray capabilities, an operating suite, and TB and isolation wards. Although surgeries were performed prior to Cook’s arrival, Cook began to do quite complex surgeries. Assistance for Cook came in the persons of Dr. Pedersen in 1969, and Major (Dr.) James Watt (Retired) in 1970.

With a 144-bed capacity, Howard Hospital provided a vast number of services to the community; in-patient and out-patient, newborn to elderly, primary care and advanced surgical procedures. In addition to the on-site health care practice, a mobile clinic supported an area ranging up to 100km from the Howard, providing immunization programs, pediatric & obstetric care, and family planning.
On-site at Howard Hospital, other associated programs were running with a nurses’ training school and a school for training midwifes.  The epidemic of AIDS in Africa was being addressed with a comprehensive counseling and treatment center, including antiretroviral therapy. The children left orphaned when their parents died from AIDS could receive a sponsorship at the The Salvation Army’s Chinyaradzo Children's Home. Chinyaradzo is an orphanage in Highfields, a suburb of Harare.
After the fight for Independence, Zimbabwe struggled with staggering inflation. Inflation has been under control since the introduction of the US dollar and the Rand as currency. However, the overwhelming increases in the cost of health care often puts needed medical care out of the ability to pay of many Zimbabweans. To provide a comparison, farmers in the areas surrounding Howard Hospital live on an average of $1 per day.

A recent account was shared about the X-ray machine which had broken down at Howard Hospital. A young man came in with pneumonia and was sent to Harare to obtain an X-ray. This cost the patient US$250, which represents over 4 months of salary.

Minor operations performed in Harare costs US$3,000, and that does not include tests or hospital admission costs.

In contrast, the fees charged by Howard Hospital under Dr. Thistle’s administration were small when compared to what private doctors and hospitals charge. Howard Hospital charged $2 for a consultation, between $1 and $5 for medication and between $5 and $100 for surgery. Children and seniors receive free health care. The hospital has a serve first, pay later policy. It asks families to pay for surgeries in installments after the fact. Most families do their best to repay the debt, but non-payment is not a barrier to future treatment.

Before Dr. Thistle was transferred from Howard Hospital, the hospital was seeing an average of 300 people a day and reached 75,000 people through its in-patient and out-patient departments a year. About 2,700 babies were born at the hospital each year and thou­sands of patients relied on it for life-saving HIV treatment in a country with stag­gering infection rates.

The reputation of Howard Hospital was well known and well respected. In fact, on many occasions, the private and government-run hospitals referred their patients to Howard Hospital.

Dr. Paul Thistle

A Canadian, Dr. Paul Thistle graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree Medicine in 1989, and completed further training as an obstetrician and gynecologist.  He acquired extra training in general surgery, oncology surgery, urology surgery and complex wound management. He has spent time in Indonesia, Pakistan, and in the mid-1980s, in Afghan refugee camps, working with the Salvation Army.
In 1995, Dr. Thistle came to Howard Hospital, where he served under Major (Dr.) Watt, who passed the title of Chief Medical Officer to Thistle in 1999.
During his first years in Zimbabwe, Dr. Thistle met his wife Pedrinah, a Zimbabwean-born nurse and midwife, who served as an educator at the hospital.  They married in 1998.  They have two sons, James, born in 2001, and Alexander, born in 2004.
In 2005, The Salvation Army invited the Thistles to become Salvation Army officers. They attended the Booth University College and the officer training facility. They were commissioned in 2007, with the ranks of Captain.
On June 11, 2008, the Chancellor of the University of Windsor conferred on Dr. Paul Thistle the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

The Salvation Army issued marching orders to the Thistles the beginning of August, 2012, ordering them back to Canada.  The community which depends on the Howard Hospital protested and the Territorial Commander, Commissioner Venice Chigariro,  responded by giving the Thistles a 24-hour notice to leave the Howard Hospital and a 48-hour notice to leave the country of Zimbabwe.

The Thistles were stripped of their officership in November 2012 for refusing to leave Zimbabwe.

Dr. Paul Thistle began working in his new position in Karanda Hospital in July, 2013.

Donors and supporters

Interfaith Friends of Howard Hospital (IFFH) – A group of concerned doctors and other professionals formed this group, worked as volunteers on-site at Howard Hospital, and facilitated millions of dollars' worth of medical equipment, medicine and funds, including grants from international aid agencies, Canadian registered charities, and faith-based groups. Dr. Michael Silverman and Sarah Zelcer met with Salvation Army leadership and wrote articles published in the press and conducted interviews broadcast on the Internet about the situation at Howard Hospital. (Dr. Michael Silverman, MD, FRCP, FACP. Global Scholar, PAS Center for International Health, Mount Sinai Hospital; Sarah Zelcer, Director of International Programs, Ve'ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee)
Doug MacLellan – Friend of the Thistles and professional photographer. MacLellan previously photographed Howard Hospital in 2001, 2006, 2008 and 2010. These photographs raised thousands of dollars for Howard Hospital and inspired many doctors to volunteer. Additionally, The Salvation Army has published his photos in their magazines and books in four countries.

Brian Nichols – Psychotherapist/Specialist in Grief and Trauma Counseling. He worked with a fund-raising group who contributed over $210,000 for Howard Hospital, and who visited and worked at Howard Hospital a number of times.
Dr. Norman Fenton – A frequent donor and volunteer at Howard Hospital. A member/volunteer with the SHUMBA Foundation.


The remaining pages of this report are available by request only, and only to those persons who share their name and reason for their interest. Send your request to: Dr. Sven Ljungholm  selmoscow@aol.com  marked HH REPORT

The report is a compilation of reports, private and public, written by former SA officers.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Victory for me, victory for me.

‘The privilege of all believers’

‘We believe it is the privilege of all believers to be wholly sanctified and that their whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (the Army’s Tenth Doctrine).

Note some working definitions of  ‘sanctified’:
-       given to God absolutely and filled with his Spirit;
-       holy and belonging to God;
-       a life of victory over sin;
-       a life free to live for God and not enslaved by sin.

Take the image of a rock in a stormy sea. The saved person has clung on to the rock or is sitting on its edge, half in and half out of the water. The sanctified person is firmly established on the rock and will not be dislodged.

Let me pinpoint three words from the Tenth Doctrine: ‘privilege’, ‘all’, and ‘wholly’.

A privileged person is favoured, advantaged, honoured in some unusual way. A privilege is something to be enjoyed, and that is why our former Song Book rightly had a section entitled ‘Holiness Enjoyed’ (now replaced by one headed ‘Praise and Thanksgiving’ for reasons not immediately clear). Recently I heard a TV presenter talking about a special appeal for charitable funds. She said, ‘The only ingredient we haven’t got yet is fun!’ Now sometimes our view of the holy life is like that. The Bible passage this morning from 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-24 was about being joyful and giving thanks.

In secular society privileges are for the few. In the holy life, and in the great possibility of belonging to God, all are invited and counted precious. This means that holiness can be lived out in the everyday life and in a secular setting, not only in a convent or monastery. It is not only for the General or the Archbishop or the Pope, but for the corps officer and the Home League Tea Server too. It is for the nine-year-old and the ninety-year-old. It is for the highly educated and also for the educationally challenged person with learning difficulties. It is for the literate and the illiterate.

Time and again in speaking or reading of the holy life we come across absolutist words and phrases, like ‘altogether’, ‘entirely’, totally’, ‘thoroughly’, ‘completely’, ‘every inch’, ‘unequivocally’, ‘undividedly’. The same tone comes through the words of the holiness songs in our Song Book. They deserve to be read and re-read as the testimonies of the writers. We cannot truly worship and honour Jesus Christ if it is a matter of giving half to him and holding back the rest for ourselves. We must recognise, and resist by grace, the pull of the world which tells us to safeguard our status, hold on to our power, and protect our own interests. Instead we go all out for Christ, for victorious living. I recall the testimony of an aircraft pilot who said, ‘It is too dangerous to fly low, hedge-hopping, for eventually you will crash. Fly higher, in free air, and if ever you do dip down, Christ will at once lift you up again.’

I exhort all here tonight, officers and soldiers alike, to give again your lives entirely and without reserve to Christ, asking him for complete victory over the things that would drag you down and despoil your relationship with him.

We will sing Song 543 with its repeated ‘Victory for me’. See especially verse 2 where the sacred matters spoken of tonight are expressed:

Here, Lord, I yield thee the whole of my heart,
Victory for me, victory for me;
From all that hinders at last I will part,
Victory for me, victory for me.
Called to thy service, I gladly obey,
Humbly my all at thy feet now I lay,
Trusting and fighting till life’s latest day;
Victory for me, victory for me.

A prayer like this, made sincerely from the heart, cannot leave you unchanged, for all the blessings described in verses 3 and 4 (‘cleansed’, ‘held’, ‘filled’, etc.) belong to you.

Commissioner Helen Clifton

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Things happen when institutions listen...

Something amazing happened this week. The Bank of England, one of the country's oldest institutions, listened to the voices of 35,000 people when it changed its plans not to feature any women on banknotes and announced Jane Austen will appear on the next £10 note.

Things happen when institutions listen to the voices of the people, or as in our case, its share-holders…


The issues that face The Salvation Army today are unlike any others that previous High Councils have faced. The world is a far far different place from the one that existed when General William Booth started the Christian Mission. It is markedly different from the world in which Evangeline Booth wrapped herself in the flag in front of a hissing crowd.  It differs even from what it was when Generals Gowans and Larsson were in office.  And the rate of change is only accelerating.

The world today expects a level of behaviour from leadership that is markedly different to expectations in days past; expectations in the workplace, the marketplace, the government and in the church. And if the behaviours do not meet the expectations, the repercussions are inevitable.  These expectations all condense down into one simple but deep concept:  accountability.

Accountability is necessary. It is fundamental. And it has gone missing from the leadership of The Salvation Army.

It is one thing to maintain confidentiality about certain matters. Everyone understands and respects the need for privacy in certain personal matters.  But the secrecy and lack of transparency that has developed amongst the leadership of The Salvation Army at all levels is troubling. Platitudes no longer work. Blindly saluting the flag and marching forward no longer work. Silence is unacceptable.  Our officers, our soldiers, our adherents, and our donors – they expect our leadership to be upfront and forthright about issues. Honest answers are needed. Explanations are expected. Where transparency lacks, distrust grows.

I want Salvationists to have far greater involvement in the running of The Salvation Army. The present system, in which key decisions are made in secret by a small number of people, is unsustainable in the modern world. Most Salvationists do not understand the administrative running of their own organisation. They know not who makes what decisions nor the reasons why these decisions are made.  We must find ways of opening up the decision-making process if we are to develop an informed and involved membership capable of helping The Salvation Army to address the challenges of an information-literate world in which the qualities of inclusion, accountability and transparency are held to be more precious with virtually every passing day.

I will make Transparent Governance the key target of my Generalship.  I will make the following information freely and easily available via the internet:
The Salvation Army Act 1980
The constitution of The Salvation Army
The process by which officers are promoted to higher ranks
The workings of the High Council
The trusteeship of The Salvation Army – members, election, responsibilities
The “cabinet” model of leadership – both internationally and in territories.

Consistency is another area where the leadership of The Salvation Army has not led well. Yes, we are a church, but we must also operate with a fair and consistent set of standards for all. The policies and procedures for one must apply to all, and where there are exceptions, they must have documentation for the exceptions also. We all understand that there are differing legal requirements specific to the locations where The Salvation Army operates which may cause variations in the content and application of the policies and procedures, but the underlying principle must be maintained. For too long, capricious leaders have denied benefits, support and proper procedures to those that have displeased them personally. And the underlying reason, again, is that the accountability has not been there to keep the leadership in line.  I will initiate a review of all our policies and procedures, to ensure that they are robust enough to provide consistent guidance and protection for operating in the modern world.

The Salvation Army consists not only of those who would wear the red on their shoulders. It would be a mistake indeed to think that it is only the officers who make The Salvation Army what it is. The lack of respect shown to the soldiers, adherents, employees, volunteers and advisory board members is becoming epidemic. No officer should mistreat, demean, dismiss, degrade or otherwise debase any non-officer. The leadership is accountable to take action when reports of such abuses are received. Sadly, too many times, the leadership locks step and huddles into the red-epaulet club.  A deafening silence from Territorial and international leaders has been the response to several recent appalling abuses, even when those abuses have been detailed to them personally.

Accountability means that when there is an issue that must be addressed, then the leadership steps up and addresses it – not with platitudes or well-crafted press releases that use many words to say nothing – but with well-reasoned, scripturally-sound responses. Will all of the stands be popular? No. In fact, many may be quite unpopular. But Christ did not call us to be popular – He called us to be salt and light.

In order to create a culture of accountability for the future we need forums that check power at all levels.  We will introduce empowered committees of soldiers of all ages and officers of all ranks who can provide a broader range of views to decision makers, and show a respect for the principles of checks and balances.  The evidence is clear that this kind of transparency leads to improvements.  We will move from a culture of control to a culture of empowerment.

To address past concerns, I will establish an internal enquiry into standards of pastoral care within the organisation, particularly focusing on appropriateness of pastoral response to issues of historical abuse and other matters raised at Territorial level.  We know that improvements result from being honest and open about failures in the system, and by confronting them.  I will also re-open the discussion about introducing an Ombudsman for officers who feel they have a grievance that is not being adequately addressed by our leadership. 

And we will not be afraid to apologise.  We must sadly accept the reality that The Salvation Army has been the instrument of hurt to many many people.  In recent times some Territorial Commanders have been brave enough to apologise on behalf of The Salvation Army to those that have been hurt.  In the wider world, other churches have apologised, even governments have apologised.  This General of The Salvation Army will not be afraid to apologise where abuses come to light.

We must have a change to our leadership structure;  it can't continue being based essentially on age and length of service.  As many a past Commissioner and even General has commented - if they had been given the job when they were twenty years younger they would have had the energy and the drive to see it through.  There is also a real danger that the current system is inherently designed to self-replicate:  the only candidates who are likely to have survived the system long enough to reach high office are those who are suited to precisely that system, and therefore they cannot see the need to change or to modernise or to become more accountable.

We must see a change in the style of leadership too.  We find ourselves inheriting a situation where gradual change will no longer get the job done - a series of dynamically led step changes is required.  That will require bravery.

Financially, the leadership must become accountable to the soldiers and to those who donate monies and materials. This accountability must be provided by means of external accounting and auditing firms. No longer is our internal accounting and auditing sufficient to answer questions. We must bring in external auditing to address our financial accountability.  It is not enough to do the right thing, we must be seen to do the right thing.

The world is changing, and while Christ calls us to be in the world but not of the world, we are accountable to reach the world. And to reach the world, The Salvation Army needs to be culturally relevant. In some areas there have been forays into relevance – most often on the technological side of things. This is good, but it is not enough. We must learn again that, like Jesus, we need to sit with the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the riff-raff and the downtrodden. Not many of those people were found in the temple. I will allow the vision to expand. We should not hold on to the icons of our past so tightly that we cannot grasp the new.

The Salvation Army is one of the most heavily centrally-influenced churches in the world, but it is to our detriment that people all over the world feel the need to imitate what are essentially English Victorian musical styles.  Music is one of the key media we utilise, both in our worship and our evangelism, but it should not be the only one, and it should be set free from the shackles of the past.  Mission should come before music.  The Music Ministries Unit at UK THQ is no longer fit for purpose, they have failed to provide a lead in engaging with modern musicians and musical styles, and have effectively strangled most other art forms.  As it appears that many Territories around the world take a lead from UK music, I will abolish the Music Ministries Unit and replace it with a Creative Arts Dept, as already exists in Australia, with a clear mandate to embrace and support all arts in the service of the Gospel.  Furthermore, these arts should embrace local diversity and culture wherever possible, to empower our soldiery to communicate with their peers in the manner Frederick Booth-Tucker adopted when he landed in India.

We must regain our "whosoever" identity.  At the moment we sing it but we don't enact it.  We have managed to make ourselves so exclusive, over so many decades, that we don't even notice we're doing it.  We have found all kinds of ways of making it impossible for people to "belong".  We discriminate against people on the basis of membership, gender, sexuality, clothing (uniform), the type of music they prefer, and all manner of other unimportant issues.  We've even developed our own language (terminology) to help us exclude the uninitiated.  John Gowans wrote "You've got to conform to belong, we've all got to sing the same song" to illustrate the conflict in the musical Hosea, but we seem to have made it become reality.  We must return immediately to being the church that truly welcomes all and can find a place for everyone.  And yes that does mean addressing the LGBT issue directly.  We must once again become the inclusive church.

As you seek God’s guidance and direction, you are individually accountable to ask the hard questions, those that get to the true character of the next General. We need a leader who has the utmost integrity and who has the bravery to take on these massive challenges.  We will only be as good as our leadership. And if our leadership fails us, then The Salvation Army will soon cease to exist as the powerful force for God and for good that it once was.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Pride is Our Greatest Enemy

Phillippians 2: 3  
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,  each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus...

John H.W. Stott said when speaking on the importance of others; “…at every stage of our Christian development, and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.”

I had occasion to meet and speak with John Stott on two occasions with a great many people present, both times, waiting their turn to greet the twentieth century’s most influential theologian. 

On our 2nd meeting some three years later and on the other side of the Atlantic, he greeted me by name. Admittedly my SA uniform and our few letter exchanges no doubt quickened his memory, but I recall that on both occasions he gave me his full and rapt attention. He knew me! Who was I to deserve such focused consideration?

We’ve all been there haven’t we; a crowded conference or seminar where when speaking to someone their furtive glances bounce past us as though we’re a mere obstruction as they seek whom there might be just beyond us in the room that’s more important, more influential, more attractive… But not John Stott. With a large number huddled within just a few feet waiting to catch his attention John Stott’s attitude was by my account a man who humbled himself, seeing me as better, worthy.

In this series we’ve met Captain Paul Thistle, a world-renowned surgeon who’d be welcomed and comfortable in most any operating theatre. Yet, he elects to humble himself, having Christ’s mind, and taking on the role of the servant.  It is difficult to underestimate the impact he has had on the  communities and the impoverished Chiweshe district where he lives and serves.
C.S. Lewis helpfully said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” Humility is not thinking that others are more intelligent, more deserving or simply better at living life than you. They may be. But Paul Thistle’s humility is one that considers other people’s interests before his own.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” - Dr. Paul Thistle, left family, friends, a surgeon's high-income salary and comfort behind, and thought nothing of lowering himself year after year after year….

Howard Hospital meets not only the medical needs of the community but is a 
haven of ‘hope and comfort’. As Dr. Thistle says, "cure sometimes, care always'  (rapa dzimwenguva gara) seeing others as more worthy, and doing so ministering in Shona, his adopted native language.

“He doth much who loveth much; he doth much who doth well; and he doth much and well who constantly prefereth the good of the community to the gratification of his own will." [Thomas A Kempis, 1380--1477]

Dr. Paul sees the hundreds of thousands suffering native African Zimbabwean as worthy, better and more important than himself; his fellow villagers in need of healing and Christ's message of hope. A servant indeed! God bless Dr. Thistle and his servant ministry. 

Dr. Sven Ljungholm

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Zimbabwe Howard Hospital donations from UK stolen

Our series on the Howard Hospital tragedy is the longest running series focusing on a unique topic in our 6 six year period. In 3 days we will conclude the series with a two-part review sharing the highlights of this 11 month-old story.Yet, I believe that we've only heard half the story. The SA has remained haughtily silent.

The number of weekly visitors has more than tripled, and readers' comments too are at an all time high. Is that because the truths revealed in this series are the antithesis of what we believe our Army to be? Is it even plausible that SA leaders of high rank would act out, motivated by the power and arrogance of high rank? Would SA Commissioners throw ethics to the wind in favor of solidarity while abandoning the vulnerable, the very persons they are called to champion?

The FSAOF will revisit this issue whenever we determine that an update is warranted.

Dr. Sven Ljungholm


Amid protests, arrests and the eviction of Canadian Dr. Paul Thistle from the Salvation Army’s Howard Hospital in Zimbabwe over the weekend, nearly $20,000 worth of building materials purchased by Peterborough donors has been stolen, The Examiner has learned.

The forced dismissal of the Toronto-born doctor came to a violent climax late last week when protesters calling for his reinstatement clashed with police at the hospital grounds, situated in a rural area 80 kilometres northeast of Harare.
Twelve people were arrested and eight nurses were held for questioning on allegations of incitement to violence, the Associated Press reported.

In response, the Salvation Army gave Thistle 24 hours to leave the hospital and 48 hours to leave the country. He was originally informed in early August he would have until Sept. 1 to return to Canada after 16 years as the hospital’s chief medical officer.

But worried about the safety of his arrested co-workers, Thistle defied the order to return to Canada and remains in Zimbabwe, said Warren Viegas, a long-time friend of Thistle who has been in frequent contact with him.

“He left the hospital within 24 hours but he’s still in Zimbabwe,” Viegas said in a phone interview from Toronto Monday.
“What I can tell you is the nurses have now been released.” Viegas added that the nurses were released on bail with a court date next month. In the past two years, Peterborough supporters of Howard Hospital have raised more than $50,000, with about half of that money earmarked to build a new facility for visiting health professionals.

About $18,000 worth of building material had been purchased and was sitting on the grounds waiting for construction to begin. That material has since been looted, Viegas said.

“The building materials that were purchased have been stolen,” he said. “That is eating Paul alive. He is just absolutely devastated by that.”

Peterborough’s Larry Gillman, a friend of Thistle and long-time Howard fundraiser, said the Zimbabwean branch of the Salvation Army expelled Thistle because he questioned leaders about the management of international aid to the hospital.

“We are disappointed, but given Paul’s circumstances, not surprised that these materials have gone missing. It is part and parcel of the same issue that Paul has been raising and the reason he has been dismissed in the first place,” said Gillman, who spoke to Thistle Sunday evening. “He is questioning the money that he has raised, arguing that it has not come to the hospital and their response has been to dismiss him, which means the health care at the hospital and the people are going to suffer.”

Vinece Chigariro, head of the church group in Zimbabwe, told the Associated Press that Thistle had challenged church leaders and he was being reassigned “for the good of the church,” calling into question Thistle’s loyalty to the church and its leaders.

Local fundraisers are less concerned about the loss of the building materials, focussing more on the 270,000 Zimbabweans who rely on the hospital for affordable health care.

The hospital is currently treating emergencies only and is turning away hundreds of patients in the meantime.

“We are very sad for the people of Zimbabwe, the people that Paul has spent more than 16 years serving,” Gillman said. “So many people will die and be denied the health care that Paul was instrumental, along with the Salvation Army, in providing.”

Thistle’s work to raise the bar of maternal health and combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in one of the world’s poorest communities has earned him international accolades and the respect of the impoverished Chiweshe district he serves.
Local media reports suggest 5,000 to 10,000 locals joined protests at the hospital grounds urging his reinstatement.

Viegas said Thistle plans to remain in Zimbabwe until Sept. 1 while he faces the daunting challenge of leaving his life’s work behind and moving his Zimbabwean wife and children to Canada.

“In some ways, I think Paul is clinging to the notion that possibly the Salvation Army will reverse their decision,” he said. “I think he’s coming to grips with the fact that they are not.”

By Galen Eagle, Peterborough Examiner

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The village doctor who loves Zim


The village doctor who loves Zim

CHIWESHE - Working as a medical doctor is not something easy in a country like Zimbabwe. 

Despite the high regard with which the job is held in other parts of the world, here it is treated just like any other thankless profession characterised by low pay, long working hours and above all poor working conditions.

 And it is no surprise that some of the country’s best medical brains have left for greener pastures, while those remaining have either spent much of their time on strike or engaged in private practice where the fortunes are much better than at State hospitals.

But for Paul Thistle — a little known village doctor who became “famous” for being a rebel with a good cause — the local medical profession has been his true calling and one that came while he was in his native Canada. 

And it has so far kept him in a couple of Zimbabwean rural areas for the past 20 years.

He has made friends — during the good and best times — in the remotest of areas in the country through his stethoscope. 

It was no surprise when thousands of villagers last year braved teargas for the first time in their lives defending his right to remain part of the Chiweshe rural community and as one of them.

Dr Thistle was kicked out of Howard Hospital last year after he raised concern over funds donated to the hospital which in 2008 was one of the last such facilities that remained open at the height of political and economic problems.

For that he got a summary order to leave the country in just 24 hours and that raised the ire of the restive villagers who until now remain livid at the way their “friend” was treated.

He had the option to return to native Canada. But he has resurfaced at another rural outpost.

The Daily News travelled to Mt Darwin to meet him and find out why the village will always be his home for as long as he remains working in Zimbabwe. The welcoming remarks are in fluent Shona.

“Titambire, tinokuchingamidzai kuno kwedu kwevanhu verudzi rweKorekore  (Welcome to our place of the Korekore)” he said in perfect Shona as he ushered us into his home at Karanda Mission Hospital, some 200 kilometres from Harare.

It is at this 100-bed hospital where Thistle, who is married to a Zimbabwean nurse, has found a new home.
After 20 (17) years of service at Howard Mission Hospital, Thistle was asked to go back to his native Canada by his Salvation Army church but he has refused to bow to threats. 

Remarkably at Karanda Mission Hospital where he is still working as a volunteer but now tipped to take over as the Chief Medical Officer, he discharges his duties in his trademark Salvation Army church attire of a white shirt and khaki pair of trousers though the hospital is run by the Evangelical Fellowship Church in Zimbabwe.

“I am a Salvationist and my job is to help the sick and I can do that from anywhere I can, this mission hospital included,” said Thistle.

As he took the Daily News crew for a walk around the hospital, one could not mistake his love for humanity.

He occasionally stopped to speak to locals bringing their sick relatives to the hospital.

“Hesi vakomana, ko rwizi rwakamira sei mazuvano? (Hi guys. How is the river these days?),” he asked a bemused group of locals.

While he seems to have put his troubles at Howard Mission Hospital behind him, many people from the area cannot forget him easily and some are trekking him to Karanda.

“I came here yesterday from Howard Mission Hospital because I have a problem with my intestines. I am due for an operation and I have heard how good Dr Thistle is with operations so I have come to make a booking with him,” Laura Nhidza from Chiweshe told the Daily News at Karanda Mission Hospital.

The hospital is not easily accessible because of bad roads and damaged bridges, which have been swept by the rains but never repaired in this Zanu PF stronghold. 

Cephas Cheda from Chakari in Kadoma was one of the people we met. 

He was returning to the hospital for a review of a hernia operation conducted late last year.

We ask him why he had travelled hundreds of kilometres from Kadoma to Mt Darwin for an operation which he could have had in his hometown or let alone in the capital Harare.

“I was in pain when I went to Parirenyatwa Hospital and I was told I needed an urgent hernia operation but they wanted $4 000 so I offered my herd of cattle as payment because I didn’t have that kind of money but everyone at the hospital thought I was crazy,” he said.

“One of the nurses there advised me to come here at Karanda Mission Hospital because it was a bit cheaper,” said Cheda.

“When I came here I was only asked to pay $300 and I was operated on and now I am fit again. Today I am here to see Dr Thistle for a review.”

Thistle’s popularity is not only among his patients.

As we were about to leave Karanda Mission Hospital we asked Thistle one of those questions that he had hoped we had not asked him. 

It was about how he coped with the influx of suspected MDC supporters who were attacked during the June 2008 electoral violence to his Howard Mission Hospital seeking medical attention.

“You guys (journalists) got us into trouble. You used to come to the hospital and take pictures without our permission. I will tell the real story at the right moment but for now I would like to concentrate on treating the korekore people,” he said.

It was at Howard Mission Hospital where many victims of torture in June 2008 were treated and pictures of burnt backs and broken limps taken from the hospital beds shocked the world.

As we left Karanda Mission Hospital, Thistle had one more for us for the road.

“Ko moenda here tisina kusvusvura, chiregai tiite chisvusvuro (“You cannot go without eating, please let us prepare some food for you”),” he said. - Own Correspondent

So another white Zimbabwean is being kicked out of the country

August 22, 2012 , published in In the Churches Blog , reprinted with additions from New Zimbabwe by Dr Tinashe Gede

What a graduate of the UZ medical school thinks of the ‘salvation’ from the white Howard Hospital doctor

Unless you have been living in a cave the past month or so, you most likely have come across news that Salvation Army‘s Dr. Paul Thistle who through his dedicated service for the past 16 years has endeared himself to the community of Chiweshe (Mashonaland Central) in particular, will be leaving Howard Hospital in a few days.

The exact circumstances surrounding his pending departure are unclear, and depending on who you choose to believe, he is either being re-deployed by the Salvation Army, or being transferred against his will to Canada, or as the people of Chiweshe choose to believe he is being kicked out for being such an honest guy trying hard to stop some good-for-nothing church leaders from dipping their filthy hands into the cookie jar (which incidentally he personally begged for from his native Canada).

And as with most things in Zimbabwe, it appears some are viewing this through a political prism with a theory which seems to have gained some traction in some quarters alleging that Vice President Joice Mujuru, who is a senior member of the church and incidentally also wields a lot of power politically, has something against Thistle.

Whether there is any truth to this is anyone’s guess, but Mujuru is a senior member of the Salvation Army and she happens to hail from the province in which Howard Hospital is located, the health institution which employed Dr Thistle.

We have seen her parade in the Salvation military uniform on TV for much less causes, and in this instance her silence on an issue so dear to so many in her province lends credence to the speculation that she didn’t like Thistle very much and probably couldn’t care less if he were to leave.

The Salvation Army, for its part, whatever salvation it represents, in all likelihood does not include the salvation of the people of Chiweshe and thousands of poor Zimbabweans who had come to rely on Thistle for care.

So another white Zimbabwean is being kicked out of the country unceremoniously, why should it be news?

The contribution of Paul Thistle to the nation of Zimbabwe can never be adequately captured in words. For 16 whole years, he served with honour and total dedication at Howard Hospital, providing high quality medical care to the nation’s poorest. He left the comfort of Canada where he was assured of a six figure annual salary and all the benefits of a developed society to settle in rural Chiweshe to offer his service to a people who needed it.

For 16 years, he lived among them sharing their pains; when everyone saw desolation, he chose to be a symbol of hope. He married among them; when our store shelves were empty, he got no bread; when bungling NOCZIM (National Oil Company of Zimbabwe) made sure the nation had no fuel, he learnt to park his vehicle and hope for better days.

I will mention three instances to illustrate why he was a man apart. Sometime in 2004, a set of conjoined twins was delivered at Howard Hospital. Their parents named them Tinotenda and Tinashe, names conveying their appreciation and belief in a God who provides ways even where we see none.
Such an occurrence in our public hospitals would attract a flood of visitors to see this rarity but in the end with no expertise for the complex operation needed to separate them, they would be condemned to a sorry death. Not under the watch of Thistle though. He got on the phone, mobilized, begged and badgered until the twins were flown to one of the world’s best children’s hospitals – Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and ultimately got life-saving surgery. To this day, Tinotenda and Tinashe are alive and will never forget how hard Thistle fought to save their lives.

When Zimbabweans, myself included, decided Chiweshe was too rural, too slow to spend the youthful days of our lives, he lived there, somehow managing to convince hundreds of fellow Canadians to devote months of service there as well. And when the government and the church told him they had no money for supplies, he independently begged for money from all who cared to listen.

Miraculously, even in the darkest of years when even the government could not keep its own hospitals like KuGomo open, Howard remained an oasis of hope. I distinctly remember working as a junior doctor at one of the nation’s largest referral hospitals in 2008.
That year, when all that could go wrong did go wrong, we learnt that when we had patients we could not look after we would refer them to Howard and Karanda Mission Hospitals. It sounds unbelievable, but hospitals with hundreds of doctors ended up referring patients to a rural village in Chiweshe. And as patients would report back, it did not matter how far you came, or that they had not a dime to pay, Thistle and his team welcomed you and gave you the best of Howard’s renowned hospitality and clinical excellence.

When political violence engulfed our land in 2008, with militias marauding villages wielding pangas and machetes, Thistle would clean the wounds of the victims and nurse them back to health.

Just this past year in 2011, Paul Thistle and his Howard team got a pitiful USD 7,000 from government to cater for a community of 270,000. That’s right, our government in all its wisdom decided to allocate each of these people THREE cents for health care for the whole year.

They could have easily thrown a tantrum and done nothing like a lot of ministers I will not name, but Thistle being who he is made sure they saw 125,000 people and delivered 3,000 babies. How about that for a miracle? Jesus fed five thousand with two loaves and five fish but after 2000 years of inflation, Thistle fed, housed and offered modern medical care to 125,000 at five cents each!!

Howard was a leader in showing the world that it was possible to provide ARVs to rural villagers and that with dedication, even palliative care could be provided in villages. To this day, thousands still trek from far and wide to receive care at Howard. Hundreds drive from Harare to Howard for care and Thistle has welcomed them and provided them the excellent care Howard has become synonymous with.

The goal of Paul and the other staff at Howard Hospital is that all who desire can access treatment, be restored to full health and be returned to their communities as productive members of society. And he would have gladly continued to offer himself in this service; his wife would have loved to continue teaching midwifery to a generation of cadres who will impact millions until on August 4, for reasons we shall never fully understand, the Salvation Army decided it was time he left.

Understandably, he was pained and worried about the sustainability of the many projects he had started in Chiweshe. But ever the gentleman, he refuses to wash dirty linen in public and has chosen to keep quiet when asked why he is being kicked out. Angered beyond belief, the people of Chiweshe appealed to the powers that be to spare him. As the deadline approached, they sent emissaries to the Provincial Governor hoping perhaps government could save them and Thistle from this most evil of decisions….
For unclear reasons, the church and government have chosen to ignore the wishes of the population. For those who have the means to seek care in lands afar, Thistle’s leaving is nothing, but for the poor who have been reduced to relying on the benevolence of dedicated men like Paul Thistle or seeking divination from latter day prophets, this is a big deal. After all, in one swoop, whoever is behind this is wiping away 50% of their choices.

And as someone who has grown to admire Paul Thistle, and knowing how peaceful and honest a man he is, I am pained he had to leave in such a manner.

When people as dedicated as Thistle have to endure the ignominy of being kicked out like common criminals for asking for transparency in the handling of donor funds he went to extreme lengths to seek; when the government does not have the common decency to say thank you to a man who sacrificed so much to give hope to so many of our citizens; when even the ministry of health does not see the importance of honoring the service of such giants as Thistle, they are communicating a message to the hundreds of young doctors the nation asks to serve in our districts, for a salary you pray your haters never find out, living in conditions you would not wish upon your enemies that commitment will never be cherished.

For as long as we allow this insensitive treatment of those who have served the nation so well, the young and educated will continue to vote with their feet and the nation will be poorer for it. Whatever the reasons, the manner we have allowed Dr. Thistle to be treated after all he gave us compels us to reflect and deliberate on how as a society we should treat those who choose to serve our nation.

Thistle is a humanitarian whose work speaks loudly for social justice. For the many of us who have been nurtured by Paul as a teacher, mentor, and distinguished physician they may kick him out but he will always remain in the deepest corners of our hearts.

Go with God Dr. Thistle. May the dear Lord you served and continue to trust for providence continue to watch over your life in your next assignment. In thousands of homes in Zimbabwe, you will always be welcome and loved.

Having known Paul Thistle for many years, he taught me two very valuable lessons: first as a Christian you can minister through your works and second although we are all called to serve in different capacities, ultimately even the contributions of one man can leave the world a better place. There is no honor in how we treated him, but Paul Thistle will graduate from life with honour.