Personally I have never called 999.
Perhaps this is because I’ve never been in a real ‘emergency’. I haven’t needed to call for the help of police, fire or ambulance, and for that I am very grateful.What I began to realise, however, was that not many of the people I talked to were in emergency situations either! They had lost their dog, had a dispute over a takeaway or called the number by mistake.
When a real ‘emergency’ came through it was obvious because the call taker would sit bolt upright, speak more firmly and have a look of intense concentration – this was the one that really counted.
But why such a broad spectrum of calls? How can one person call because their heating’s broken and the next because they’ve been stabbed? I think the answer lies in what 999 represents.
To a call taker, 999 equates to looking at certain criteria and dangers, assessing the risks or lack thereof. To the caller, 999 equates simply to ‘help me’. ‘Help me because I’ve been beaten, I’ve locked myself out, I’ve missed my train, I’ve taken an overdose!’
When a person calls 999 they have no criteria to assess whether they have an emergency or not – they only have their perspective, their emotion, their desperation and a phone number.
999 enables you to be heard, helped and connected to another at a time when you need it most.
So what if there is no 999?
What if there is no phone, police or hospital within a 12-hour walk of where you are? In your moment of deepest need rather than dialling those three numbers in an instant, there’s nothing, no one and no hope for at least a day’s travel. There are 55 countries in Africa. Only 17 of these have an emergency number. So how are people helped?
Nine-year-old Diana had been tending the family vegetable patch when she was badly bitten by a boar. Because she was severely bleeding from bites to her legs and chest, her father and uncle took it in turns to carry Diana from their home to the airstrip and then call for medical assistance. It took over a day.
MAF pilot Mike was in the air just minutes after the emergency call came in, picking up Diana and her family. On the return flight she stopped bleeding as a result of severe dehydration. This was the call that really counted, this was a real emergency.
Upon landing, an ambulance transported Diana to hospital where she was stabilised before having an extensive operation two days later. Thankfully she survived.
Not all of MAF’s flying is like this. We have schedules to keep to, cargo to haul and large distances to cover, but when a call comes in like this I can just imagine the pilot sitting bolt upright in his seat, eager to do the best he can for this one desperate soul.
Answering the call...
A cry for help is not limited to culture, colour or creed – it’s just the outworking that’s different. In the UK we can pick up the phone at any time, with any need, and know we’ll be connected to someone who can help. In the developing world, things work a little differently. MAF exists to provide that vital connection when it counts, be it food, water, healthcare or Jesus.
The biggest lesson I learned working for the police? That ‘Help me’ is not enough. I would speak to the same people about the same problems, offering the same solutions time after time, but sadly saw little change. That’s why MAF seeks to help people physically and spiritually. When ‘help me’ becomes ‘save me’, that’s when real transformation begins.