When a fire destroyed thousands of dollars of medicine at a Christian hospital in Africa in 2009, an American couple set out on a quest to send them a used fire truck.
But finding the truck was just the beginning. How would they get it to Africa?
The Bongolo Call
Putting out fires in Tropical Gabon is not easy. At the Christian and Missionary Alliance Hospital in Bongolo, a series of fires several years ago set the ministry's work back for months.
"The third one almost burned down our entire warehouse, $100,000 worth of medicines and supplies," the Christian and Missionary Alliance's Dr. David Thompson said.
The devastating loss moved Diann and Dave Conquest, the parents-in-law of one of the one missionary doctors, to take action.
"He didn't hear God audibly, but he just had a sense, he just felt called, that Bongolo needed a fire truck and that we were meant to be a part of it," Diann Conquest recalled.
In Pittsford, N.Y., the couple turned to eBay where they found a 1975 Mack fire truck. They bought it for $3,000 and then raised the funds to have it repaired and outfitted with the necessary equipment and professional signage.
"And God has blessed us with friends and family and associates, people we don't even know, who've given over $20,000 to repair this," Diann said.
Journey to Africa
The truck that once sped to fires in New York City was on its way to a new career in Africa, arriving at the port of Libreville, capital of Gabon.
That's where the Christian Broadcasting Network's West Africa Director Jon Cassel took over, using his credentials as a volunteer fireman to drive the truck 320 miles across the equator and down to Bongolo.
Pressing through the tropical heat, Cassel passed the village of Lambarene, where Nobel Prize-winning missionary doctor Albert Schweitzer built his hospital in the early 1900s.
At the damaged Komo River Bridge, he had to wait for a barge to carry the truck across the river. Finally, after an eventful trip, Cassel and his companions neared the hospital and an excited crowd.
There the townspeople welcomed the area's very first fire fighting machine. For local officials, the refurbished fire truck represents saved buildings, businesses, and even lives.
"They've had several fires among storekeepers in town and those buildings have burned to the ground," Thompson said. "People just stood there and watched them burn to the ground. There was no way to put out those fires."
"So what we're hoping is that we'll be able to get the fire truck there quickly enough and with the trained people put some of those fires out and save the businesses of some of these, particularly Muslim storekeepers," he added.
Cassel set about training select hospital staff and townspeople in fire-fighting techniques, the truck's equipment, and how to use, drain, and pack hoses.
Today, Bongolo's Christian and Missionary Alliance Hospital, one of the best medical facilities in this part of Africa, has found one more way to serve their community.
"I think there are great opportunities to share Christ and to show the love of Christ and really to demonstrate to the community that we're there for them," Thompson said.
*Originally published Aug. 2, 2012.