Saving Conjoined Twins

By Jaclyn Reierson, an MAF missionary in the DRC

“Wanna come flying with me tomorrow?” Brett asked me casually on Friday evening. “Nick and Jocelyn offered to watch the kids, and there’s room for an extra person on both legs of the flight to Vanga.”

I didn’t even have to think about my answer! After living in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC for a year as missionaries with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), this was the first time it had worked out logistically for me to tag along on a flight. I was pumped.

Vanga is a remote village in the heart of the DRC. Its large missionary hospital serves the entire surrounding region, providing medical care to thousands of people in need each year. We often transport doctors, patients, and supplies to Vanga, and occasionally do medevacs for emergencies that come up. In many of these cases, those who need the flight cannot afford to pay the usual minimal “missionary rate.” We have a special fund that helps subsidize the cost so that those who need our help the most can receive it. The love of Jesus in action. I learned, however, that the project funds were nearly depleted. The flight we were about to do was the last subsidized flight that MAF would be able to offer until more funds came in.

“I’m thankful for this flight … but what about the next one?” I thought, heading to bed.

We picked up one of the passengers on the way to the airport the next morning. Brother Gustuv is a 73-year-old brother (similar to a monk) from Switzerland who comes out to help at the hospital. Our other two passengers were a husband and wife, returning to Vanga after receiving medical care in Kinshasa. With the help of our patient and capable national staff who are fabulous at what they do— we got all weighed and checked in, and headed out to the hangar in a 12-passenger van.

Brett flies a Cessna 206. I’d never realized how small it actually is until our van pulled up next to it. “I hope we all fit in there!” I thought hesitantly, as we piled out of the van. But apparently, Brett is pretty good at what he does, and he soon had us all tucked in and ready for the hour and a half flight. The couple spoke only their tribal language, and the airplane was noisy, so Brett’s occasional “thumb’s up” to the passengers was the best he could do. It worked. They smiled!

Landing in Vanga, the passengers got off, assisted by our smiling MAF national staff stationed there. They were thrilled that “Pilot Brett’s Wife!” was along for the ride. Brother Gustuv was greeted enthusiastically by the hospital staff, and the other couple was led to the small building where the customs officials did their thing.

“Wow! There’s a lot more people out here than usual,” murmured Brett as he started unloading cargo and overseeing fueling.

At that moment, there was a big commotion in the crowd. People began pressing in and surging around a doctor from the hospital who was attempting to lead a woman towards the airplane. Despite his best efforts to shield her from the throng, the woman was being swarmed by over 200 people, touching her, taking pictures, calling out, shouting questions, and staring. Think Hollywood paparazzi but with no security.

As they approached the plane, I could see she was clutching a small bundle in her arms. We whisked her into the plane and the surgeon turned to me. “I know it’ll be a little while yet before takeoff, but I had to get her out of that crowd!”

“No kidding,” I thought.

The man proceeded to tell me her incredible story. “That bundle in her arms is twin girls. Conjoined twins. Attached at the navel. They were born in a remote village so far away that no one around here even knows where it is. And they were born naturally!” He said incredulously.

“Thirty-seven-week-old, conjoined twins born naturally! It’s unheard of! The family traveled to a nearby health center, then 250km farther, squished on the back of a moto (small motorcycle), through the jungle to reach the hospital here in Vanga. They are now nine days old. We can’t perform the surgery here, but we’ve contacted a team of volunteer surgeons in Kinshasa who operate free of charge on children born with malformations. They are going to assess them and can hopefully separate them. We began the preparations for another long and difficult journey through the jungle, but were concerned for the safety of the fragile newborn babies. When I was told that MAF would help and could subsidize this flight, it was great news for us!” he said enthusiastically.

We got the father of the twins buckled in. The MAF workers shooed the crowd away from around the airplane multiple times-it’s amazing how fast they can sneak up to climb on the plane-and Brett finished loading cargo and readying the airplane. I watched as he briefed the passengers in French, prayed, and taxied to the end of the runway. Hundreds of people lined up to see us off.

Hazy skies and the drone of the airplane created a sense of solitude on the flight back. It was a welcome change from the unrelenting curiosity of the crowd. Enjoying the chance to ponder the events of the day, I glanced back at the family. The shared looks between them told me that they were enjoying these few quiet moments to be together as a family before re-entering the world of doctors, hospitals, and curious crowds. Brett’s now trademark “thumb’s up” brought corresponding nods and smiles. They were content.

Landing in Kinshasa, we contacted the surgeon coming to pick them up at the airport and gave him directions to their whereabouts. Now what? Wait. Pray. Trust that our God who had orchestrated this story still had it firmly in His control. And yet, it was so hard to leave that day with the story unfinished!

Two weeks later, I received a short text from the surgeon in Vanga. “I just got the call! The twins have been separated! Now for the recovery…”  Thank you, Jesus! What sweet news! In this country where there is so much pain, so much struggle and uncertainty for everyday life, and so little hope for help, we were filled with gratitude.

Brett Reierson with mother of the twins

Please pray for this family, and many others like them, whose locations are remote and their needs and hurts are real. And pray for us. For the MAF teams and other missionaries working in these places. Pray that people’s lives would be transformed by the tangible love of Jesus shown to them in their times of greatest need. THANK YOU!

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