COLUMBIA, Tenn. --- Rick Sykes needs a few dozen “MacGyver guys" for a life-changing “extreme makeover” adventure that will make an eternal difference for hundreds of thousands of people.
The project Sykes has in his sights is rehabbing Sanyati Baptist Hospital in Zimbabwe, a 60-year-old icon of Southern Baptist overseas work that has fallen into serious disrepair as that country’s economy has collapsed.
When Sykes first visited Sanyati in 2009, he was distressed at what he saw: a completely broken water system, leaking roofs, rotting fascia, termite damage, electrical malfunctions -- and a set of auto headlights hanging from the ceiling of an operating room.
The hospital’s electrical supply was so unreliable that staff had installed auto headlights and a battery in an operating room to be sure doctors weren’t plunged into the dark in the middle of surgery.
The situation was intolerable for Sykes, a retired maintenance project leader for General Motors and member of Pleasant Heights Baptist Church in Columbia, Tenn.
Sykes was at Sanyati to help with the hospital's water problem -- the compounds wells and pumps weren't working, but he quickly saw a host of other maintenance issues.
"In the two weeks I spent there, the electricity was on maybe 30 percent of the time," Sykes said. "When you go in the operating room and they have two car headlights mounted in the ceiling and battery over in the corner, you know there's a problem."
A couple of days into Sykes' two-week stay at Sanyati, a lightning storm knocked out power in half the compound.
My son is an electrician and we are fixers, so we started digging around and found the problem. Since you couldn't cut the power off, he rewired it hot and got the lights on for the whole rest of the compound," Sykes said. "After that, we had people from all over coming and saying to us, "This is broken. Can you look at this?
"When Dr. Byler showed us through the hospital, it just started breaking our hearts -- all these people there and the dilapidated condition of the hospital," Sykes said. "The hospital is so remote, and it's the only real medical care these people can get in a very large radius.
"That was when the wheels started turning. We did some brainstorming and talked with Mark Hatfield and Dr. Byler," Sykes said. "Somewhere in the midst of all that, this concept was birthed of an extreme makeover for Sanyati Baptist Hospital."
Sanyati Baptist Hospital, under the leadership of Dr. Mark Byler, treats an average of 35,000 outpatients and 1,800 inpatients a year, said Mark Hatfield, who with his wife, Susan, directs work in Sub-Sahara Africa for Baptist Global Response. The staff performs about 1,000 surgeries and delivers more than 2,000 babies each year.
"The five-year plan for the 'extreme makeover' project intends to restore the hospital facilities to a state where they can be locally maintained," Hatfield said. "God has used Sanyati Baptist Hospital to meet both physical and spiritual needs for 60 years. Its ministry extends far beyond the 100,000 or so residents who look to the hospital for medical care. Sanyati is a symbol for the whole country of Christ's loving compassion for the sick and hurting and I don't think God is finished with Sanyati Baptist Hospital yet.
In 1981, the government assumed control of the facility, but economic issues have prevented it being properly maintained.
“Even if the hospital is owned by the government now, the sign out front says ‘Baptist,’” Sykes said. “What kind of impression is that creating?”
A dozen teams a year will be needed over the course of the project, Sykes said.
"There's something here for everybody to do. It's way bigger than one church," Sykes said. "The biggest challenge and prayer concern is that we really need a project coordinator on site. I'm heartbroken we don't have someone there.
The Sanyati extreme makeover would be an ideal place for a wide range of individuals and organizations to plug in and do something great that none could alone, Hatfield added.
"I believe this project is a perfect place for Sunday school classes, churches, associations or state convention groups like Baptist Builders and the disaster relief network to become involved in something much bigger than they could take on alone,” Hatfield said. “But together with other churches and groups, they can be part of something very significant in Kingdom ministry.
“It will take a united effort by groups who don't even know each other -- and may never see each other face to face -- in order to complete the five-year project,” Hatfield said. “We are trusting God to provide the volunteer teams and the financial resources needed to complete this project. We have stepped out in faith that God will call out those who he desires to work on this project, both those who will come and those who will give.”
The Sanyati project offers men like the MacGyver TV character -- who could rig up practically anything with whatever he found at hand -- a great opportunity to get involved in a major overseas project, Sykes said.
“All over the world, we’ve got ‘MacGyver’ guys sitting in pews, who want to make a difference but don’t know what they can do,” Sykes said. “They’re saying, ‘Some day, somewhere, I want get involved,’ but red lights down the road keep them from volunteering.
“Guys, we need your skill and want you to charge up this mountain with us,” Sykes said. “This is your ‘somewhere,’ right now. You can’t wait until all the traffic lights are green before you leave the house.”
For more information about the Sanyati Extreme Makeover project, please visit www.sanyatimakeover.com. Individuals or groups interested in participating may e-mail Peter Sierson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Sanyati Baptist Hospital extreme makeover is on Facebook.