FAYETTEVILLE — In 1974, Harold Newman’s old college roommate, Zeb Moss, wanted him to come to Africa on a medical mission trip. That one didn’t work out, but it launched a lifetime of international medical missions for a Fayetteville couple.
Moss had roomed with Newman at Wake Forest University in the 1950s and was regional coordinator for missions efforts in Africa. Newman was then a surgeon and a member at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville.
Contacts at the International Mission Board (then called the Foreign Mission Board) said there was a greater need in Gaza. Newman and his wife, Ernestine, decided to go there even though a missionary nurse had been shot and killed in the area a year earlier.
“I said, ‘I better go where the Lord needs me,’” Newman said.
So the Newmans went to Gaza for about a month. It would be the first of 21 mission trips the couple would take together.
In Gaza, Harold Newman filled in for a Baptist missionary surgeon on furlough. Ernestine helped in a nursing school built by Baptists.
The Newmans went back to Gaza in 1977 and 1981, then later went to Nigeria, Indonesia, Thailand and Ghana. Harold Newman also made a trip to Brazil without his wife.
In 1991, the couple took their first mission trip to Zimbabwe. They went back again and again, going for the 14th time in 2007. They haven’t been back due to the deteriorating conditions in the country.
The repeated trips let the Newmans know what to expect.
“I could be there and about 30 minutes later be at work if they needed me,” he said.
The couple came to love Zimbabwe, often taking long walks to watch sunsets. They visited Victoria Falls, which they describe as beautiful, especially because it is not commercialized.
“It’s just like David Livingstone saw it,” she said.
Harold Newman, who graduated from Mars Hill College, Wake Forest University and the Bowman-Gray School of Medicine, is a general and thoracic surgeon. But on the mission trips, he did all types of surgeries, from fractures to head trauma. He said he really enjoyed obstetrics and did about 300 Cesarean Section operations.
“Bringing babies into the world is a pleasant part of medical practice,” he said.
One night he was about to make the first incision on a C-Section when the electricity went out. Fortunately, Newman always carried a flashlight with spare batteries.
“One of the aides held the flashlight over my shoulder while I did the surgery,” he said.
Large cities in Zimbabwe look much like Raleigh, Newman said. “Five miles out and you’re in a different century,” he said.
The hospital in Sanyati, Zimbabwe, which is about 200 miles from the country’s capital, is fairly primitive, Newman said. The operating room has a window, unheard of in most hospitals, but the instruments are sterilized and there are seldom any secondary infections, he said.
Newman has seen patients with goiters the size of grapefruits. He amputated one man’s leg that had gangrene for six months. The leg was barely hanging on and looked like it could have been on a mummy, he said.
One patient was raped, cut with a machete and left for dead in the bushes. She was found three days later and lived, Newman said.
About 30 percent of adults in the country have the virus that causes AIDS. The doctors don’t do elective surgery on these patients, and if they do need to operate make sure they don’t prick themselves.
“You’re seeing HIV positive people every day,” he said.
Newman said there aren’t worries about lawsuits and other issues on the mission field.
“You don’t have to worry about getting paid,” he said. “You just do the work.”
Ernestine went to Meredith College for two years, before getting a bachelor of science degree in nursing from Vanderbilt University.
During the early trips she helped nursing students, who were mostly boys, learn English, concentrating on medical terms. In Nigeria, she worked as a public nurse in a well-baby clinic.
But when the couple went to Zimbabwe, Ernestine Newman hadn’t done nursing in a while so she helped teach Bible in a school and later worked in the library.
Then one day she saw some boys playing in the courtyard. She decided to start a Bible school of sorts in a thatched-roof hut. She started teaching the 23rd Psalm to about 10 boys. Later more boys came. Then the girls wanted to join what had become known as “the rainbow club,” because the Bible they used had a rainbow on the front cover.
“One of the marvelous things about teaching children is you know when they get it,” she said. “With the children you know whether they understand you. They’ll tell you.”
Word would get around when she was coming. Kids were eventually “jam packed” in the hut.
The children called Ernestine Newman “Mai Newman.” Mai means mom. People in Zimbabwe called Harold Newman “Baba Newman.” Baba means poppa.
Patient finds Jesus
He remembers a young man he met one day after he finished surgeries and went out to help medical doctors seeing regular patients. He saw the boy and his mother in line and asked what was wrong. The mother said the boy’s stomach was hurting.
Newman pulled them out of line, examined the boy and determined that he had appendicitis. Newman operated on the boy that evening. Later a hospital chaplain left him a note telling him the boy had accepted Jesus.
Service oriented efforts help people become more receptive to the gospel, Newman said.
“You meet their physical needs,” he said. “Jesus did that.”
During several of their trips to Zimbabwe, the Newmans saw an old friend. Moss, who had left Africa to work at the IMB offices in Richmond, Va., decided to return to the field. His assignment: Zimbabwe.
Moss retired about 12 years ago after serving the mission board for 38 years and now lives in Aberdeen where he has served as interim pastor for five churches.
Mars Hill College recognized Harold Newman in April as its 2009 Baptist Heritage Award recipient.