Pamil Ellis is the nurse-missionary who works with Shalom House Maternity Center for the desperately poor of Manila. She is part of the wildest small world story I’ve every been a part of, which she told on today’s show, during a home visit for Pami, a Biola grad and a Faith Academy alum in the Philippines. She’s as wonderful in person as she sounds on the radio, so consider supporting this amazing ministry as a great way to end 2015 and begin 2016:
HH: I like to add a little good news in this week between Christmas and New Year’s, amidst all the bad news. Pami Ellis is sitting in studio with me. She is a nurse in the Philippines. She is also the star of the best small world story I have ever known. But before I tell you that story, I want you to know Pami’s story. Pami, you were born in the Philippines?
PE: I sure was.
HH: But you’re an American citizen?
PE: I am.
HH: Why were you born in the Philippines?
PE: My parents are missionaries.
HH: And so you are now a missionary in the Philippines?
PE: Regretfully, yes. No, just kidding.
HH: And how many years did you spend in the States to get your training as a nurse?
PE: Ten years.
HH: And where was that done mostly?
PE: I went to BIOLA for my first degree, and then I did my nursing course at Cal State Fullerton.
HH: Okay, and so tell people what you do in the Philippines.
PE: Well, I run a maternity center. I’m a co-director. We see about 400 ladies a week. We work in the slums. As you know, the Philippines is, Manila, is the most-densely populated city in the world.
HH: I did not know that.
PE: It is, and just to get an idea, it’s half the size of Oahu, and Oahu has about a million people on it. And Manila, greater Manila, has 11 million people. Of the 30 most densely-populated cities in the world, eight are in greater Manila.
HH: I had no idea.
PE: 111,000 people per square mile.
HH: And so the birthing center that you operate, obviously, you’re a maternity nurse.
HH: How long has it been in operation?
PE: Over 25 years. We were founded by a little, old British nurse midwife.
HH: And why did she start it?
PE: She noticed that there was an awfully high maternal and neonatal mortality rate.
HH: And so?
PE: And so she decided to open up her home, her little, old living room, and she, her first month, delivered eight babies in her living room by herself. And now, 25 years later, we deliver over a 100 babies every month in our facility.
HH: And you also do Christian outreach?
PE: Yes, that is, we are first and foremost an Evangelistic discipleship ministry. The fact that we deliver babies is secondary. So we have eight Bible studies on site. We have Bible studies in the community. We have satellite prenatal outreaches. We are very much a holistic ministry.
HH: Other than the care that you deliver to expectant moms and their babies, what’s the medical system of the Philippines like? Is it hit or miss?
PE: The medical system in the Philippines, as you can imagine with a density like that, they’re doing their best, but it is woefully under-cared for. I mean, you have three to four ladies to a bed recovering after giving birth.
HH: Oh, my gosh. All right, now I want people to get this website down. www.actioninternational.org/pami.
HH: And so I’m going to give that to you a few times. www.actioninternational.org/pami. You can always use help. I’m sure that Action International always needs help. How big is Action International?
PE: We have over 250 missionaries, and we’re in over 30 countries.
HH: Oh, and what is its genesis? Where did it come from?
PE: It started in the Philippines by a few missionaries that just saw an enormous amount of street children, and so our specialty is working with the urban poor.
HH: Okay, and where did you get the instinct to become a missionary? When did this, was it your mom and dad?
PE: Right, I was born and raised in the culture, the missionary culture, but the day I graduated from high school, from Faith Academy, which is the largest school for missionary kids in the world, I decided, Lord, I’ll do whatever, be whatever, go wherever, but please, if I have a say in my future, not a missionary, not a midwife, and not back to the Philippines. So God has a unique sense of humor, for sure.
HH: So you are a missionary midwife. But you’re also a nurse.
HH: Now you say midwife, but that, in the Philippines, are there many obstetricians? Or do most births occur with midwifes?
PE: Actually, 75% of births of the lowest socioeconomic level, which is the level we work with, are unattended, meaning there is no skilled birth attendant at the birth, 75%, three out of four. And get this, the Philippines is one of 42 countries in the world accounting for 90% of child mortality under age 5 globally.
HH: Wow, and so why isn’t every Christian mission in the world working there?
PE: There are actually quite a few, but the need is so great around the world.
HH: Okay, so let’s try a little, first part of this story, a typhoon hits. Now typhoons hit Philippines occasionally, right?
PE: Yeah, we’re typhoon alley.
HH: Okay, and which one was this one that we are talking about?
PE: This is Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Typhoon Yolanda.
HH: And how bad was it?
PE: The worst ever hit land in recorded history.
HH: And that is a big, big typhoon.
HH: And so what did you think of the devastation that is wreaked?
PE: Well, I was actually in the States on home assignment when it hit, and I left early to go back. And I had never seen anything like it. It looked like a movie set.
HH: Just completely destroyed?
PE: It would have been easier to just scrap the whole thing and try and rebuild lives on an uninhabited island.
HH: And so you thought to yourself, I have to go and try and help, though?
PE: I do. I speak the language, I have the skills, it just made sense.
HH: And so how long did it take you to get back to the Philippines after you saw it approaching?
PE: Less than 24 hours.
HH: Wow, so where do you fly into, directly to Manila from LAX?
PE: Yes, yes.
HH: Okay. So 24 hours after that, you land in Manila, but that’s not where the typhoon did its worst damage?
PE: No, no, in fact, I sat in Manila for several days trying to get a team together, and calling ever aid organization I could think of, because you have to go about it strategically. You can’t just land in and suddenly be another mouth to feed?
HH: Okay, we’ll come back after the break and explain why that is, and tell the rest of the story. Don’t go anywhere. I’m coming right back with Pami Ellis. Her website, again, is www.actionalinternational.org/pami, and you will be helping out the Shalom Christian Birthing Home, www.actioninternational.org/pami. Stay tuned.
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HH: So what we were talking about during the break is Pami was on home leave when the Typhoon, the huge Typhoon of two years ago hit the Philippines and destroyed so much of, which island did it really devastate?
PE: Leyte and Samar.
HH: Okay, Leyte and Samar. The United States Navy rushed help there in the form of the carrier, the USS George Washington. I know a lieutenant commander on that carrier who was on home leave at Christmas time a year ago, and I picked him up at the airport, and he was staying with us, and I took him to Church the next day, and I asked him how his trip was. And he said well, he’s an F-18 pilot, and nevertheless, they’re of no use to you when you’re doing relief missions, so he was assigned mayor of Reliefville where all of the strategic supplies and helicopters locate, and where you found yourself, Pami. Why did you go there?
PE: Well, I had to. The only airport that was functioning was Tacloban, and it had just been reopened to commercial flights. So I was finally able to work with Compassion International and received intelligence that they had a project up on Eastern Samar that desperately needed help. But knowing that there was significant looting that was happening on the road between Tacloban and this little community, I went to find the command center to see if we could get military escort to make sure they’d already received basic relief and food and bedding and that sort of thing, shelter, and to make sure they hadn’t received any medical relief. So we were just a little team of two doctors and two nurses, and we were doing our best to help where we could.
HH: And they had you seated in a tent waiting for an assignment when my friend, Lt. Commander, gets a helicopters, lands, the CO of the helicopter squadron says hey, Commander, I need a doctor, and just a doctor, right now for Leyte City, right?
HH: Because they had been cut off, and they had adequate food and supplies, but they badly needed a doctor. So my friend, the Lt. Commander, runs into the tent and says is there a doctor there, and Pami, what happens next?
PE: Well, first of all, it was pouring buckets outside, and so this guy walks in, and he’s dripping wet. And he says I need a doctor. I look at my friend, who happens to be a missionary doctor in the same neighborhood I am in, and I look at him, he raises his eyebrows, and I say hey, I’m a nurse, he’s a doctor, can you use us?
HH: And so what does he do with you?
PE: He says can you come right now? I can leave you there for two hours or overnight, and I said uh, just two hours, please.
HH: And so onto the helicopter you go. They run off and get your medical supplies.
HH: He gets a team of sailors with him, they run double through the rain. They add it up, but by the time they reach the helicopter, it’s going so fast, he can’t hear anything, so he’s using a whiteboard with you. He does not know your name, my friend, the Commander…
PE: No, no.
HH: …does not know your name.
PE: I don’t know his name.
HH: You don’t know his name. So off you go.
PE: Off, we go.
HH: You don’t stay one day. You don’t stay two hours.
PE: Well, we stayed two hours in that community, and those two hours ended up being the most powerful of our two hours. I was there for two weeks providing aid through Compassion, Salvation Army, and through Christian Medical and Dental Association.
HH: And why were those two hours powerful?
PE: We were able to find out, sit down with the town mayor, and find out exactly what it had been like going into the storm, find out what the rural government units were expected to do, and that they would not get any relief unless they went to Tacloban themselves and picked it up. There was no one bringing relief out to these hard-hit communities. So then after we did the Compassion International site, we then strategically focused on these out of town little communities, and were able to provide help to those who had not received any.
HH: And so how did you finally get back, because my friend left the next day. The GW pulled out, in came a Marine Corps Amphib, so the carrier left. The Lt. Commander that I know, who put you on the helicopter who did not know you, how did you get back from the village?
PE: We were able to get a vehicle.
HH: A vehicle?
PE: So we had a vehicle at our use for the duration of our time there.
HH: And so, now the end of the small world story is I’m on my Church patio the next day with my Lt. Commander friend, and I see a guy named Jon Dietz, and I say Dietz, come over here, meet Commander, he just got back from the Philippines. And he had a great story, he met some wonderful missionaries there, and Jon Dietz, my buddy, he’s been on the show a few times, grew up in the Philippines, also a missionary kid, and he says oh, I know that nurse. That’s Pami Ellis. And our jaws kinda dropped, because we did not know the name. You did now know the name of the Commander, he did not know your name.
HH: And Jon Dietz brought you two together for lunch last week. And how do you know Jon Dietz?
PE: I don’t know if I can share that without violating some HIPAA regulations.
HH: Okay, then don’t violate HIPAA, but you met him in a medical setting at some point?
PE: Yes, I did.
HH: And Jon Dietz is an amazing guy who does things around the world for all sorts of missionary activities, and I said well, we’ve got to complete the circle. We have to tell people obviously this means Pami Ellis has got to be on the radio. What is the biggest need for Action International Ministries?
PE: Well, I’m going to focus on Shalom, which is the birthing home that I run. Of course, we have an enormous need, and the more finances we have, the more help we can provide. We’re unique in that we do charge the patients. We charge them about $15 dollars, and that covers all their prenatal care, it covers the birth, it covers the recovery. All of that is $15 dollars, and that also gives dignity to the mother and to the family so that they know it’s not just a handout, and they pay a little bit every time they come, and that’s a savings account for them. But that only covers about two-thirds of our overhead expenses. So we have a staff of about 15 full-time employees and five volunteers. And so any help that we can get goes a very long way in helping us provide quality care.
HH: So this is a tax-deductible contribution. Go to www.actioninternational.org/pami, and that will go directly to this birthing center. Now tell me about the babies that are born there? What do you do with babies with serious medical problems?
PE: Well, we have to try and get them to a hospital that will accept them. Some hospitals will refuse babies that aren’t born there, just because they don’t have any room. So we try to manage it on our own if it’s ethical for us to be able to do that, and legal, and then we transfer them to the hospital. But these families have no money, so that’s a way that donating to Shalom, we are abel, then, to pass that onto these families to get medical care.
HH: And so of what percentage of the hundred babies a month that you’re delivering are healthy-born newborn babies?
PE: Over 90.
HH: Oh, that is terrific.
HH: And so how do you follow up with care for them, like vaccinations and things like that, to keep them healthy?
PE: Well, there are organizations in the Philippines that support the local government in their attempts to vaccinate the population. Of course, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. So we encourage our families to go to these organizations that will provide the free vaccination. We see them for about six weeks after the baby is born, and then they are passed onto the local government for follow up.
HH: Now Pami, you’ve lived in the Philippines, then, for how many years?
HH: Okay, so 22 years. How is it changing? Is it getting better? I mean, this is a strategic ally of the United States, and not a lot of people pay much attention to the Philippines.
PE: The Philippines is getting a lot better, slowly. It’s getting more and more crowded, which in its own way, can make it worse. But they have major political elections just like we do coming right around the corner next year, and that will determine a lot.
HH: One more session with Pami Ellis. Don’t go anywhere, America.
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HH: I have in my hand the Shalom Christian Birthing Home pamphlet, and it says partner with Shalom’s ministry – pray, our ministry would not happen without the prayers of many, give, financial gifts are welcome, but so are tangible gifts like baby items, clothes for new moms, equipment and more, come, see Shalom’s ministry firsthand, come for a tour, a chance to serve, or an internship. Contact with more information and they can do that at www.actioninternational.org/pami.
HH: And it’s P-A-M-I, www.actioninternational.org/pami. So Pami, a minute and a half, what do you want people to know about Shalom?
PE: I think Shalom is just a really beautiful ministry, mostly because it is holistic. We meet the physical needs of the moms, but we also meet the emotional and the spiritual needs as well through our community outreach, through our Bible studies. We also have a health education program, including topics like nutrition, well baby care, family planning. We have a Bundles of Hope program, where Churches and organizations around the world can prepare layette sets that we give away as gifts for those who complete our health education program.
HH: Oh, how wonderful.
PE: It’s just such a unique ministry. We also have nursing students from all over the two top nursing schools in the Philippines come for their O.B. rotation so that they can see holistic maternal care being given. We also have nursing students from the States that come and observe. One of those students said you know, Pami, this experience in the Philippines, seeing what’s happening at Shalom, that’s what evidence-based practice is really about. This is what we’re reading about in our textbooks, is what we’re seeing happening here. So…
HH: And how many babies have you delivered?
PE: Over a hundred?
HH: Oh, my gosh. And so in terms of a Christian college that has a nursing program, do you partner with them in the States?
PE: We do. We do. So we partner with BIOLA, with Cedarville in Northwestern University. We’ve had nursing students come from some other small ones as well.
HH: And so anyone who wants to help in any way, they can just drop you a note?
PE: Well, we actually screen our visitors very, very closely.
HH: That’s what I mean, but if they want to try…
HH: They can drop you a note.
HH: And that’s a good place to start?
HH: And that’s very important that you screen your visitors very, very closely.
HH: I want them to come from accredited places and want to really be nurses and really be maternal help.
HH: Congratulations, Pami, I’m so glad that you met the Commander, and I’m so glad that Jon Dietz was at Church that day, and that you were on home leave. How long are you on home leave for?
PE: I head back in a couple of weeks.
HH: In a couple of weeks. And is it winter time or summertime in Philippines right now?
PE: It’s hot time. It’s always hot.
HH: And is it raining time
PE: Well, we have a drought now, thanks to the El Nino.
HH: And did the rebuilding from the typhoon do a lot? Or are they still…
PE: There are still tent cities.
HH: Your mom and your dad moved down to Cebu.
PE: They did.
HH: Why did they move there at the age of 60-plus?
PE: To be able to provide counseling. That’s their ministry, is teaching counseling to pastors and lay leaders in the Church. So that was their desire.
HH: Well, prayers for them as well.
PE: Thank you.
HH: What are their names?
PE: Paul and Pat Ellis.
HH: So Paul and Pat Ellis, and Pami Ellis, thank you for all that you do, www.actioninternational.org/pami. Go and do and help. That’s what Americans do abroad. Great, wonderful ministry. Thank you, Pami.
End of interview.