Today in OPC History

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August 3

Arlena Mahaffy

A year after Orthodox Presbyterian missionaries Francis and Arlena Mahaffy arrived in Eritrea, Mrs. Mahaffy gave birth on April 29, 1946 to the first OP missionary child born in Africa. Shortly after John Mahaffy was born in a hospital in Assab, his mother developed a breast abscess, probably due to a lack of cleanliness at the primitive medical facilities. The road to recovery was long. She was still recuperating on this date more than three months after birth.

To treat the infections and fever, Mrs. Mahaffy was given sulfa drugs, which only temporarily worked. Mr. Mahaffy then took his wife and son to a larger hospital in Massawa. On the journey to Massawa on the open deck of a small ship, newborn John was severely burned from the sun’s reflection on the water. While John’s burn cleared up in a week, Mrs. Mahaffy didn’t improve so they returned to their home base in Ghinda. When her infection worsened, Mr. Mahaffy contacted a U.S. doctor in Asmara. Under sterile conditions and using anesthesia, he lanced one abscess, then sent Mrs. Mahaffy to the Asmara hospital where she stayed for 17 days. Added to the stress, baby John hadn’t gained any weight during this time. The American doctor gave the hospital penicillin for Mrs. Mahaffy, which helped. However she still needed to have another abscess lanced, which a different doctor did without anesthesia. Mr. Mahaffy said the operation was “brutally painful.”

Mrs. Mahaffy improved, but rumors spread in the Massawa hospital that she took a piece of hospital equipment. They charged Mrs. Mahaffy because she left the equipment in the hospital room rather than handing it to a nun personally, they felt she should be held responsible for its loss.

Mrs. Mahaffy recuperated in their apartment in Ghinda. John, now the OP pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Newberg, Oregon, remembered his mother speak with a smile about an aide who mopped her hospital floor, then dropped the mop to pick up baby John or stir the formula with her finger without washing her hands. John has said, “I stand in awe of what my mom went through.” The Mahaffys had six more children, all of whom were born in better facilities in Asmara.

Picture: Francis, Arlena, John and James Mahaffy

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