Changing the mindsets of people who see no way out of grinding poverty and spiritual opression takes time, but it is so worth it when you see results, said East London-based medical missionary Dr Hanzelle Muller.
Muller’s life took a defining turn after she went on a mission trip to serve poor communities in Madagascar about six years ago while she was doing her medical community service. She says the experience “wrecked” her. She couldn’t stop crying for weeks and all she wanted to do was to go at once into a life of mission.
She was grateful for wise counsel she received at the time — to first complete her community service. Thereafter she enrolled at Iris Ministries’ Harvest School in Pemba, Mozambique. She worked for Iris in Robertson for two years before returning to her hometown Pretoria where she linked with Aflame Ministries.
When Aflame moved to East London she followed and today she shares her medical knowledge and love of Jesus by partnering with several ministries in serving poor city communities and in rural villages in the Transkei where Aflame is committed to long-term ministry including building a church in a stronghold of ancestral worship.
She said she has a heart for holistic medicine — catering for body, mind and spirit. She is passionate about health education. It breaks her heart to see the poor quality of life and health-related fears and anxiety that many people suffer for years because of a lack of knowledge. She aims to empower people to discover that with a little knowledge there is a lot they can do to help themselves and others.
For the past two years she has run a weekly clinic under Global Mercy Missions in Stoney Drift — an East London community of a few hundred people living in shacks on an old rubbish dump. Global Mercy Missions also reaches out to the community through a creche, a vegetable project, soccer, and much caring interaction.
Muller says that at Stoney Drift and other places where she serves it is typical for people to believe they have no influence over their lives. They feel there is nothing they can do about their unemployment, and they passively accept it when people die prematurely because they believe it is going to happen anyway.
“I am passionate about teaching people that they have value, that they have a voice, and that they can get things out of life by doing what they need to do — and that God has given them resources to take action.”
Several times she has saved the lives of people at Stoney Drift by getting them to hospital in time. One such case was an elderly woman sangoma who had previously had a stroke, that she found lying alone, in her own excrement in a dark, smelly shack, suffering from pneumonia. Another was a man suffering from TB who she found lying in his shack, struggling to breathe.
“I feel that as a doctor I get to serve with the practical aspects of healthcare. I feel that giving somebody what they need is a way of showing people that God really does care about them — that He notices you, that you’re not alone, that you’re not just no-one. He loves you and He values you.
“I think that’s my heart — to show them that they have value. My biggest desire is to see their mindsets change about who they think they are.”
She said she was seeing mindset changes at Stoney Drift — especially among women. She did not yet have an adequate platform from which to impact the men.
One of the transforming outreaches at Stoney Drift was baby washing day. Every few months women and babies attended the event at which babies were bathed and pampered, moms were given donated clothes and other gifts for babies and they were educated on topics such as hygiene, how to recognise illnesses in children, which symptoms are serious and which are not.
Another transformation was highlighted when somebody recently commented on how surprisingly clean the children at the creche looked. That was the result of two years of working on mothers to clean their children who were previously caked with accumulated dirt. The change is significant in a community which only has a single central water point with cold water.
She has also seen changes among people working with them. One of the creche teacher assistants from the community has been helping her on health outreaches. Her life was changed as a result of an outreach to the Transkei and now she wants to study nursing — an amazing shift in aspiration for somebody from that community. She was also on an amazing spiritual journey.
“Things like that give you hope. It can take a few years. But it is so worth it.”
Muller said she also liked to teach practical lifeskills, like budgetting.
“I’m all about the practical. You know God works through everything. People need to be able to cope in life and do normal things.”
She said she has an NPO called Love Africa Med which is a channel for people to give into the medical mission ministry and was linked to various ministries.
“So if people need my help then I go and do it.”
Muller said she was inspired by developments in East London where denominational and ministry walls were falling.
“Everyone helps everybody. If you have a skill set then you share it with everyone. God is so busy turning this city upside down. It’s exciting.”