Shannon family memories from the Dominican Republic
April, 1997, to Ralph (in South Carolina) from Barbara (visiting with Shannons in Vancouver, BC):
I asked John and Sheila what it was like to live in the DR during Trujillo's rule. I had not realized that Anne had been born during those years, but they went home for her birth. Otherwise, Trujillo might not have allowed the baby to leave the country as he had total control over Dominican citizens.
John had a close scrape though didn't even know it at the time. Trujillo had it in for the three Mirabal sisters. One of them had insulted Trujillo – had slapped him when he'd made unwelcome advances toward her at a dance. So he prevented her from getting her law degree.
The sisters were imprisoned at one point and one of them was tortured. When they were released, they were living in Salcedo (near Tenares). Once a week, they'd travel over a country mountain road to go visit their husbands, all of whom were in prison. One night, on their way home, they were done away with though it was made to look like an accident. John came by on the road just after that accident. Later, when he found out what happened, he realized that if he'd been there just a few minutes earlier, if he'd actually seen the accident, they'd have killed him too.
Sheila said some missionaries saw the police killing someone far up the road and just hid. They knew if they'd been seen, they'd be killed too. She said every month or so, the "mosquito crew" would come in and spray the house, looking in all the nooks and crannies to check up on everyone. That's about the time that the U.S. withdrew aid. It was during Kennedy's presidency.
It was interesting too to talk to John about his retirement from MGM. He said that when they started the program back in 1968, they could go to little villages out in the countryside where most of the people had never seen a medical doctor before. But by the time you and I left, most of these little places had their own doctors. The country was full of doctors. There wasn't the same need for the clinical work they'd always done, though there was still great value in the surgery, especially eye care.
So they started training young people how to do refractions, and trained local optometrists to carry on a program throughout the year. They purchased the warehouse where the eye clinic is now located.
John resigned because he was burned out. He never got over that illness he suffered in Africa. He just couldn't keep up the same pace after that. Also, his feelings about the work changed. He was no longer attempting to make it the biggest and best medical mission outfit. No longer into "empire building." It was already too big, and losing its personal touch.
So they came out here to Vancouver, and found an influx of refugees which they've been involved with ever since. He said there are about 35 Spanish speaking churches in Vancouver, and they've been able to do a good bit of teaching. Also, here they are able to have one-on-one relationships with people, and the medical program had just gotten too big for those relationships.
John told me about that project in Liberia. I had known about it nearly killing him, but I had not known that it was a pivotal experience emotionally for him, that would have happened even if he had not gotten sick.
The newness of the work had worn off. He is like you in some ways, Ralph – like the way you like the challenge of reaching beyond your comfort zone all the time. John too likes new things. He enjoyed trying to figure out how to make the system more efficient, which he did the whole time we were on staff. The efficiency of clinics improved with each one. And that's what he most enjoyed – working those things out. The mechanics, logistics, and economics – that aspect of the work was what challenged him.
But once all of that was worked out and those things became routine, all that was left was dealing with the problems of people, and that's not his strength. Of course, I think he did pretty well with us. We had our problems, sure, but we could talk to John. In fact, he says that I talked with him more than anyone else did, sharing my problems and difficulties. Yet, he says he never really knew me well. He didn't know what was going on in my life. But he had too much on him at that time, to be able to focus on the problems and difficulties of his employees. He said he was the leader of this program that was way out in front of him and he was running like mad to keep up with it.
I remember how sorry I'd feel for him during projects, because I know he seldom slept a full night. I remember one night I couldn't sleep and went up to the Posada for something, and saw him making the rounds – checking the dorms, making sure everything was OK. I wondered how he got through projects. He said doctors would come down there, just soaking up the tropical atmosphere, bemoaning that they didn't live that peaceful life that John got to live and he'd think – they had no idea.
And at the project in Liberia – everything came to a head. The project was going well, but one afternoon he went to the hospital. The director of the hospital made him get into bed. His temperature was about 106, and stayed up there for almost two weeks. They gave him IV's which ended up causing bacterial infections. He had no resistance – all kinds of bacterial and viral infections. He'd weighed about 165, and in one week went down to 123.
Sheila said that when she was with him at the hospital in New York, the fever effected his mind. They'd bring him drinks and he'd stash the bottles under his mattress, thinking they were trying to poison him. He'd hide the pills they brought him.
But he had an awful lot of people praying for him. He says, "The Lord's been good to us, through it all." What a lovely benediction.
|Wake Up Barbara!
And Help Me Find This Snake!