Fr. Doug was my mom’s cousin. He was a missionary in Bangladesh from about 1975-2009. Every year he would write his annual Christmas letter entitled, “The Coconut Chronicles.” Fr. Doug lived in an 8×10 foot bamboo hut with a tin roof in a Muslim village named Pouli. He worked in the fields and taught women how to read and write. Back in 1999, Fr. Doug Venne, MM, invited me to “Come and See” Bangladesh. At that time, I was just finishing my first year of medical school. Fr. Doug knew a doctor in Bangladesh that was from New Zealand, named Dr. Edric Baker. Fr. Doug also knew that I was interested in mission work. He thought this would be an excellent opportunity for me to see a missionary doctor in action. Fr. Doug was right. I stayed for one month the summer of 1999 and returned for 2 months in the summer of 2000.
Dr. Baker, at that time, was running a health project called the Thanarbaid Health Care Centre, located in Thanarbaid Village. It was out in the rural areas. Thanarbaid’s mission was “Health care for the poor by the poor,” and it was inspired by Jesus’ life of immersion among the poor and self-giving. Dr. Baker had trained up the local people to do the health work. Most of the health workers had no more than a high school education. They treated all sorts of illnesses both inpatient and outpatient right there in Thanarbaid Village. They also had a TB program, diabetic program, and outreach to the surrounding villages for maternal and well child care.
In 2006, the project at Thanarbaid moved to the nearby village of Kailakuri. The project was growing, and they had purchased some land in Kailakuri Village. Today, the Kailakuri Health Care Project has over 100 staff, they see about 100 outpatients a day, 35 to 40 inpatients each day, manage 5 diabetic outreach clinics, and continue maternal and child health outreach in 19 surrounding villages. Many of the staff that were there back in 1999 are still there today. The overall feeling of staff and people in the villages is that the work Dr. Baker has done has saved many lives. The health education, especially, has taught them how to take care of themselves and to improve the health of their families.
Back in 1999, Dr. Baker encouraged me to do mission work and to consider returning to Thanarbaid (now Kailakuri) after I was done with my medical training. In 2003, I entered Family Practice Residency in Salinas, California, and met my future wife, Merindy. In 2005, we were married, and in 2006 we visited Bangladesh for 3 weeks. Merindy got to meet Fr. Doug, and she was quite impressed with the work that Dr. Baker had done. Merindy was also interested in doing medical mission work and had been many places in the world on short term missions previously.
After finishing residency in 2006, we moved to La Junta, Colorado, and started working at both the community health center and the small rural hospital located in La Junta. We do most everything the traditional Family Doctor would: we see kids, adults, pregnant women, elderly, anyone who comes through the door. We also do deliveries, Cesarean sections, and take care of premature babies. We speak Spanish. All of our skills were needed in La Junta. Merindy and I were still paying off our school loans as well. In the midst of our working in La Junta, Fr. Doug passed away suddenly in 2009. We went to visit his grave in Bangladesh in 2011. We also spent some time at Kailakuri visiting friends.
Later in 2011, our school loans were mostly paid off, and we started praying about where to do mission work together. Bangladesh had the most need, and Dr. Baker could definitely use the help in Kailakuri. It felt like God was leading us to Bangladesh and Kailakuri for medical missions.
In 2012, we found a mission agency called Interserve USA that was working in Bangladesh. They visited Kailkauri and were very interested in our plans to do missions there. In 2013, we officially became part of Interserve USA and started our fundraising to do mission work in Bangladesh.
Shortly after starting fundraising, Merindy became very sick and was in the Emergency Room in 2013. This was due to a chronic women’s health problem that suddenly got worse. We decided we should probably take care of Merindy before heading over to Bangladesh.
One of the treatments for Merindy’s health problem was pregnancy. We had tried for 9 years to have children and did have one miscarriage. We decided one to try one last time. In June 2014, Merindy gave birth to triplets at 32 weeks. Merindy was in the hospital for 2 months before they were born, and the triplets were in the hospital for almost 2 months after they were born. What a blessing!
After the triplets were about 6 months old and doing well, we started our fundraising again for Bangladesh. In January and February of 2015, Jason went to Bangladesh to learn all the administrative details of the Kailakuri Health Care Project (26 topics with morning and afternoon sessions for 2 weeks arranged by Dr. Baker). Dr. Baker’s health was not doing well, and he wanted us to be prepared for when we come to Kailakuri. Merindy took care of the triplets at home while Jason was gone. After returning from Bangladesh, we found out Merindy was pregnant again (which wasn’t supposed to be possible). The doctors said she needed to deliver in the USA, due to complications with the delivery of the triplets. In September 2015, Dr. Baker passed away suddenly from pneumonia. The shock was great for the staff at Kailakuri, and people from all over came to Dr. Baker’s funeral. Dr. Baker was buried on the veranda of his small house in the Kailakuri Health Care Project, which was his wish.
Jesus taught us to love one another and showed us that healing and caring for each other is a powerful way to love. The staff at Kailakuri are continuing to do just that. Despite Dr. Baker’s passing, the staff are carrying on with the work at Kailakuri. Little by little, it has become apparent that Dr. Baker’s model of “Health care for the poor by the poor” is working.
Even though Dr. Baker was a follower of Jesus and Kailakuri’s inspiration is from Jesus’ life, the staff are not all Christians. They are a mix of tribal Christian, Muslim, and Hindu. Dr. Baker taught them how to pray together, talk about their differences, and work together. Together they serve the patients at Kailakuri and the surrounding communities, which are also a mix of tribal Christian, Muslim, and Hindu. They are communities of people that traditionally don’t get along and often have been very violent toward each other in the past. Dr. Baker showed them the love that he knew in Jesus, and today they continue to show that love toward each other. What an amazing thing!
Back in the USA, the new little one was still growing inside Merindy. In February 2016, little Isabella was born.
In the last 5 months, little Isabella has been doing well. We are continuing our fundraising efforts as we move toward doing medical missions at Kailakuri. Yes, with 4 little ones tagging along, we are still planning on doing mission work in Bangladesh. Yes, we are planning on taking them with us. The staff at Kailakuri are anxiously waiting for us to arrive, and we hope to arrive by the end of 2016. God has blessed us with 4 little ones. Bangladesh has a rich culture, the people you meet there everyday are very nice. Sr. Joan, who was a good friend of Fr. Doug, wrote to us shortly after the triplets were born:
“I rejoice to know you still plan to go to Bangladesh when the babies get a little older and stronger. In Bangladesh you will be able to raise the babies very well. The people love children and will take good care of them under your loving and careful direction.”
Please pray for us. We hope to follow in Fr. Doug’s and Dr. Baker’s footsteps as best we can. We hope to follow Jesus, live among the people at Kailakuri, and serve them the best we can. Thanks for taking the time to read our story.