Health issues specific to living abroad
I know that this is an ongoing thing with most people, but I want to address things that are uncommon. I don’t want to talk about basic hygiene or eating right or brushing your teeth. I want to address health issues that are specific to living in a foreign country. These are the things that you will battle; things which you never thought of before because you live in a great country, where most of these things are taken for granted. There is a reason why most foreign people want to come to the USA to get health services.
There are three main areas where missionaries forget to be vigilant regarding their health:
- What goes in their mouth,
- What goes in their lungs, and
- What goes on/through their skin.
Missionaries should be ever mindful of these things because any time they let down their guard, they could contract a chronic illness that they may never recover from.
Not many countries have the air emissions standards that we enjoy here in the USA. If you go to one of these countries, you will notice it immediately because your lungs will revolt. When I first went to Asia, I laid over in Hong Kong. It was one of the busiest, most beautiful, modern city I had even been in. Walking along the street was wonderful. We were looking for a 7/11 store and low and behold there was one at the end of a side street. The side street was lined on both sides with street vendors selling different foods. I cannot say that it looked good because the smell was atrocious. It smelt like the most terrible landfill I had even experienced. My entire family was holding their noses, hurrying as fast as they could and breathing shallow to get to that store. It almost made us feel like we needed to vomit. The Chinese people didn’t seem to mind, but we couldn’t fathom how any human being could endure such smells. It must be because they grew up knowing it.
Villages in foreign countries don’t mind burning tires or any kind of garbage. In fact, it seems like they don’t mind burning it up wind of your house, engulfing it in smoke for the day. It is not uncommon to see people in foreign countries walking around in public donned with hospital masks covering their faces. The good thing about this is that our lungs are pretty good at warning us when something unwanted is invading their presence.
The most common thing that can affect your health is water. Everyone needs water to live, but all water is not equal, not even bottled water. Perhaps you’ve heard of the term: Montezuma’s revenge? If you have, then you know that it is associated with drinking the water in Mexico, (one of our neighbors). Now if you can imagine multiplying that by the water which will be available several thousand miles away, then you will get a better picture of what drinking the water there can do to you. Missionaries forget to take proper steps to purify their water because it looks so innocent, everybody around them drinks it and “just a little bit won’t hurt.” Yes it will! Your immune system is not prepared to fight such bacteria; it has never faced foes like the ones found in far off foreign lands, so it loses the battle.
Every time I traveled from the USA to Asia, I knew that I would get sick for at least two weeks. Even though my wife boiled, treated and filtered the water, I would get sick. I would suffer with a fever for days before my immune system could marshal enough forces to win the fight. Likewise, when returning to the USA, I would go through the same process again because my immune system would have an old foe to take on; one that it was not prepared for.
Before you leave for any foreign land, you should make plans for how you will get drinking water. My wife would treat it with bleach and iodine, boil it for twenty minutes and filter it through a Big Berkey water filter system. I am sure that most missionaries have been warned about drinking water on their field, but the admonition here is to keep up your resolve. Don’t let down your guard. Watch out for what kind of water goes in your mouth.
Foods can also be a problem. Whether they are cooked in water or fried in grease, they can still hurt you if you are not ready for them. When walking down the street, you might be drawn to the smell of barbecue from a street vendor. It may even look succulent and tasty, but don’t forget your health. No matter how much it seems that it has been “purified by fire,” it truly has not. People can get hepatitis from the mishandling of food. Most countries don’t have any “food handlers” requirements. It might smell good and look good, but has it been handled properly. Don’t let down your guard.
Finally, when you do get sick (and you will), you have to be very careful about what kind of things are being stuck into your body. It is not uncommon for health workers in foreign lands to re-use needles, swabs and depressors. They may do this to save a little money, but you have to be careful that they don’t save money on you. It is especially hard to be vigilant when you are at the doctor trying to get some help because you don’t normally feel good. Your guard is down and you just want to feel better.
If you are careful to be vigilant in these areas of your health, you will be better off. Your health won’t be an obstacle that can take away from your ministry. Even worse, you won’t run into any situation where you must retire from the mission field because you can no longer perform your job there.