In 2005, after several trips to Africa for business, Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom founded CompassioNow, then called Care Now Foundation. Their goal was to provide medical care to the “world’s least served” now instead of waiting for bureaucracy and government to step in. AIDS, malaria, typhoid, parasites, tuberculosis, and infection could all be controlled or cured with the proper medication and care. But in the bush, in the hard to reach villages, in the impoverished rural places, medicines and care other than a witch doctor’s potion are hard to come by. So, CompassioNow began partnering with small, rural, Christian clinics already in place in these impoverished areas. Over the years, we have watched these clinics grow and flourish in their abilities to reach out and care for the local peoples.

1000 Hills in South Africa, for example, began as a simple feeding center. When CompassioNow helped them build a medical clinic, they were able to transform an entire valley. Today, 1000 Hills sends trained volunteers out from the clinic into the neighboring areas to provide in-home care, to check on those who are home-bound, and to troubleshoot minor medical cases before they become major life-threatening problems. Villagers who need more urgent or aggressive medical care are then brought to the clinic for help. Many turn to the clinic for AIDS testing, family planning, and diabetes help.

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During the April to June quarterly reporting period, 1000 Hills saw 19,446 patients in their clinic and were able to treat them for $1 or less each. Dawn Leppan, founder and CEO of 1000 Hills, shared this case with us: On May 24, a 29 year old female was attacked by four males who wanted her cell phone. When she refused to give it to them, they struck her on the head. “She sustained a very deep cut on the head,” Leppan reports. “Fortunately it did not involve the bone but the wound was already septic within 24 hours. Since we always get a number of injured patients who prefer to come to us rather than going to hospital, we are now doing the suturing of minor wounds and we have the Antitetenus Toxiod to prevent the notifiable diseases e.g. tetanus. We managed to care for this patient without sending her to hospital and she has healed successfully. The patient is very thankful.”

In 2011, Ed and Wendy, along with CompassioNow board members Jack and Chris Faherty and Lee and Anne Kennedy, founded Compassion Tea Company with the express purpose of selling a high-quality tea product in an effort to boost the fund-raising efforts of CompassioNow. Today, through the help of funds raised through the sale of tea and the support of the 20 cafes in 12 states who sell Compassion Tea products, CompassioNow supports the medical work of Tanzania Christian Clinic, 1000 Hills Community Helpers, Passion Center for Children in Malawi, Village of Hope in Uganda, and Mission Medic Air in Zambia.

The Passion Center for Children in Zomba, Malawi, is the newest clinic to receive our support. In June, Ed and Wendy visited the clinic and learned more about their operations.

Ed reports, “Originally, the main complex of buildings at the Passion Center were supposed to be for administrative offices and staff apartments. However, the need to house children who had no-where else to live became apparent and the buildings were converted into dorms/residences for the rescued children. Currently, there are 32 boys and 25 girls in these buildings…. It is interesting to note that when the Passion Center was built in 2005, it was remote with nothing much in the immediate area nearby. The construction of Passion Center brought in electricity and water. As a result, the property immediately around the Passion Center became much more desirable. There was a land grab and people bought up the surrounding parcels of land, including speculators. Nearby is a primary school, which has over 1100 students. Approximately 180 kids are Passion Center kids, rescued or supported by the Passion Center, about 50 are resident in the dorms and 130 live in the village. The Passion Center feeds these children 2 meals a day and ensures they are in school.”

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Back in February, heavy rains and subsequent flooding left thousands of families displaced. In an area that is largely agricultural and impoverished, the floods threatened the livelihoods of most of the local peoples.

CompassioNow has been actively involved in supporting the relief efforts managed by the Passion Center for Children and the local Community Health Network. In June, Ed and Wendy carried over 90 lbs of medical supplies including CompassioNow drawstring backpacks filled with stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and other supplies the CHN volunteers will need during their daily visits to patients in nearby villages. CompassioNow also donated the funds for the CHN to purchase another bicycle ambulance to help carry patients from the villages to better medical care.

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CompassioNow also donated funds to rebuild pit latrines at Mungunzi Primary School where many Passion Center children attend. During the February flooding, the pit latrines at the school were destroyed. Due to the lack of private and sanitary bathrooms, many children, especially girls, were staying home and not attending school.

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Said Wendy about their trip, “The trip to Malawi was an amazing experience. We are always encouraged by all the wonderful work being done by the people on the ground. And we find such joy in meeting with and working with the women and children and families being helped. There is HOPE for Africa!”

There are many child-headed households on the Zomba Plateau. One handicapped young man heads his household, which includes his 7 siblings. The home of 14 and 16 year sisters, another child-headed household, was badly damaged during the February floods and CompassioNow is helping to fund repairs to the home.

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Ed reflects, “The sobering fact is that once the poor are able to be taken to a government hospital, the usual wait to see a doctor is 4 days!!! In the meantime, there are usually no pain medicines, malaria medicines, IV’s or anything to be given them by the nurses. The government hospital rarely even has Tylenol in stock. This is a fact that we have not been able to begin to comprehend. We are so blessed here in the USA.”

CompassioNow and Mission Medic Air, Zambia

Our support of Mission Medic Air, Zambia is unique. There isn’t just one clinic, but a steady offering of doctors, nurses, surgeons, dentists, and even orthopedic specialists who are flown or driven into the bush for open air, 2-3 day clinics and are often the only western-style medical care available to the villagers for miles around. Mission Medic Air also offers relief and supplies to poorly funded clinics in rural parts of Zambia and transport of patients who need immediate and complicated surgery or care.

Recently, Mission Medic Air came to us and presented a problem — the instruments on the airplane were old, corroded, and unsafe. CompassioNow was happy to raise the funds to replace the instrument panel. Several years ago, we also provided the funds for a new airplane engine.

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Recently, we learned that the new instrument panel had been installed, the plane had passed all necessary inspections, and the first clinic had been held. Wrote Iqbal Malik of MMA, “I… wish to thank you for making it possible for the upgrade of the avionics suite on our aircraft. It has definitely given it a new lease of life! It now also helps, in that we can begin to use the aircraft during the rainy season (first we need to get trained on how to use all the new equipment!). May all the donors remain blessed.”

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Mr. Malik went on to explain, “We will soon require a replacement vehicle for Zambulance, as it has just had an engine overhaul, but it does not sound that good. This vehicle generally goes into areas where there is no airstrip (or where the local populace have not cleared the airstrip) & we are now concerned about its reliability – generally it carries medical personnel who do not really have much of a clue on mechanics. Before the engine overhaul, we had to send a mechanic to go rescue Nellie & team in Luapula province!… Zambulance truly has helped us work during the rains & when the aircraft was not operational (it has probably done close to 200,000 km whilst with MMA). We used both Zambulance & a borrowed vehicle last week, to ferry all the supplies to Mambilima Mission, when a team of 16 American doctors/nurses/helpers spent 3 days there. I flew them in, Geoff, Mr Chonde & Nellie brought in all the supplies by road – over 300 people got treated.”

A little bit about Mambilima Mission. It is both a small hospital and a school for children with disabilities in the rural town of Manba, Zambia. In significant portions of Africa, having a child with a disability is considered a curse on the family. Because subsistence is so difficult in the rural parts of the country, those who can’t add to the farming or other procurement of food are a burden to a family. They are often sent off to school or abandoned. Mambilima strives to provide schooling, love, and medical care for these “cast aways.”


Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom joined the Mission Medic Air team in 2009 for a trip to Mambilima.

Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom joined the Mission Medic Air team in 2009 for a trip to Mambilima.

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During a recent trip to the school through Mission Medic Air for an orthopedic clinic, Dr. Shadrick Lungu and Dr. Martha Lungu treated 31 patients. Drs. Lungu shared that 9 children from the school will need “various forms of surgery” and 4 children will need artificial limbs to be replaced as they have outgrown theirs. Plaster of Paris, they report, is needed immediately to help set castings. They are also seeking orthopedic instruments in order to carry out more of the necessary surgeries there at the hospital, rather than send the children to a government hospital.

In June of this year, another trip was made – this time to the Falawi Mission and the Mulungwe Rural Health Centre. Both clinics are remote and are providing the best medical care possible with very little funds and few staff. The doctors who made the trip split into two groups to maximize their time and efforts. The group who went to Falawi Mission treated 49 patients and provided dental care and eye exams. The group who went to Mulungwe treated 35 patients; they felt attendance was low because most of the villagers were at church that day.

The new post at Mulungwe Rural Health Clinic

The new post at Mulungwe Rural Health Clinic

Sister Biemba, left, presents items donated by Mission Medic Air to Sister Katembo, the head nurse at Mulungwe.

Sister Biemba, left, presents items donated by Mission Medic Air to Sister Katembo, the head nurse at Mulungwe.

Sister Biemba holds a mattress in the maternity ward of the clinic. Mulungwe could use some new mattresses and bedding.

Sister Biemba holds a mattress in the maternity ward of the clinic. Mulungwe could use some new mattresses and bedding.

Sister Biemba attends to a patient at Mulungwe Rural Health Centre.

Sister Biemba attends to a patient at Mulungwe Rural Health Centre.

Your support of Compassion Tea and CompassioNow will enable us to continue to help Mission Medic Air to provide medical care and supplies to remote parts of Zambia, including places like Mambilima, Falawi, and Mulungwe.

God Knows

I stood on the red rock, transfixed. Before me was a puzzle I couldn’t solve. Some prehistoric creature, three-toed and massive, had left footprints there in the rock some 200 million years ago. Roughly.ry=400-56 ry=400-55 ry=400-57 ry=400-58

Had the rock been mud at the time? Was I standing in an old riverbed? What creature had passed here? Where was it going and why? Was it in a hurry, trying to escape or to catch something? And the smaller tracks nearby? Were they the marks of a baby? Or another creature?ry=400-61 ry=400-62

I came to Africa looking for answers. I was hopeful, prayerful, that this trip would provide concrete answers.

Instead, I was asking more and more. I traced the print with my finger. A little further down the slope, more tracks lined up. Going a different direction? A different time? Or were all of these creations moving at the same time, fleeing some major catastrophic event? And was that the print of a large cat-like creature?ry=400-60 ry=400-51

Naphtali, our guide, paused, fingering his chin. He squatted and scratched his head. I wandered closer to see. A heel? And toes? Earlier that morning he had pointed to tracks in the dust and asked us to identify them. Little feet, like a child’s, but oddly non-human at the same time – I was stymied. Baboon. Now, we squatted together over the markings in the rock. Was this the print of an early human?ry=400-54

“I just don’t know,” Naphtali broke into my musings, his words echoing my thoughts. And then suddenly something slipped into place.ry=400-52 ry=400-53 ry=400-59

“We think we know so much, but we don’t,” I responded. Yes. This place and this time and these people and these events and these opinions in the here and now. The accumulation of knowledge, of facts and data and talking points and stories… we think we know. But what we know is so fragmented, so incremental, so small.

“God knows,” Naphtali smiled. My fingers went to the cross around my neck. “Amen.”

And the striving ceased. These questions… God knows. Our questions… God knows. So when Hubby asked me to define our trip to Africa, the word “peace” was the first definition. God knows.

Four years ago this month, a group of friends opened an online store to begin selling tea to provide medical care for people in rural parts of Africa. CompassioNow had been around for 6 years working with clinics in South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya. But this group of friends wanted a steadier stream of donations, a more reliable funding option to ensure the continuance of this support, to make it easier for the clinics to know what they could rely on from CompassioNow. So, Compassion Tea was born as an online company focusing on gathering members and sharing tea to save lives through cups of tea shared with friends, through stories and a common cause and a common enjoyment – tea.

It turns out that a cup of tea with a friend on the back patio or around the coffee table wasn’t big enough! God knew! And through His leadership, Compassion Tea has evolved over the years.

As of this month, as we celebrate our four years as a company, we are closing down the retail side of the business and fully devoting ourselves to the wholesale business. God wasn’t content with the small; He had visions of large groups of people sipping Compassion Tea and learning the stories of people in rural parts of Africa. So, He led us to Valley Community Church in Pleasanton, CA, and then across the country to Ebenezzer’s Coffee House on Capitol Hill. Our wholesale business has expanded to over 20 different coffee shops, tea shops, church cafes, and gelato shops in a dozen different states.

We are beyond words over the possibilities this is going to open for CompassioNow to serve more and more clinics, to provide more and better care for people in rural parts of Africa, to expand our support of current clinics and to explore new clinic options in other parts of Africa.

And while we see the today, the here and the now, the fragmented, incremental bits of this time and this place and this space, God knows infinitely more how a small band of friends took tea and used it to share stories and to provide “life-saving medical care to the world’s least served” and how that will echo down the stretches of time.