Doctor brings wife, seven kids to serve in Africa

| February 15, 2012 | 0 Comments

Dr. Mark Druffner treats a member of the Masai tribe during a mission trip to Tanzania. In the foreground are his sons Jacob, right, and Francis. Photo courtesy of Dr. Mark and Molly Druffner

When Dr. Mark Druffner of St. Michael in Stillwater proposed to Molly Delaney in July 1989, he got a response he wasn’t expecting.

It wasn’t a no, but it wasn’t quite a yes. It was actually a qualified yes.

“I’ve always wanted to work in Africa,” she said. “So, I said [to Mark], ‘I will marry you if you come to Africa with me. . . .’ And, he said, ‘Sure.’ That’s how Mark is. He’ll try anything.”

So, shortly after getting married, they went to Kenya in 1991 and spent a year there.

Then, 18 years — and seven kids — later, they went back to the continent again, this time to Tanzania, where they spent 10 weeks serving at a small hospital. Mark worked up to 14 hours a day seeing patients and providing what medicine he could, and Molly stayed nearby with their seven children.

Unlike most other mission medical organizations, the one that sponsored them, Los Angeles-based Mission Doctors Association, allows entire families — even large families — to make mission trips.

MDA is a Catholic organization that sends families on both short-term (one to six months) and long-term (three years) trips to countries in Africa and Latin America. The Druffners, who live in Hudson, Wis., went to Tanzania for six weeks in 2009 and 2010 and are planning another trip there this summer. They just completed a fundraiser to buy an X-ray machine in Tanzania that they will bring to the clinic.

“Basically, there is no lab or lab facilities,”?said Mark, of the hospital in the city of Bwambo in the Diocese of Same. “So, we practice what’s called empiric medicine. Basically, you look at their history, examine them and treat them. You have no CAT scan, no X-ray.

“I would describe it by saying, ‘Imagine camping in the Boundary Waters [Canoe Area in northern Minnesota] and running a hospital or clinic.’ When you run out of stuff [medicine and supplies], you run out of stuff.”

Clockwise from left, Molly, Rose, Cecilia, Charlie, Julian, Dr. Mark, Jacob, Mary-Therese and Francis Druffner pose together during their mission trip to Tanzania in 2009.

Making connections

Helping to prevent running out of “stuff” are parishioners at St. Michael, St. Mary (also in Stillwater) and St. Charles in Bayport who donate medicine and supplies for the Druffners’ trips. Mark and Molly are hoping to continue to build support for their work and the work of MDA in this archdiocese, where they, so far, are the only MDA family.

“We want to introduce Mission Doctors Association to the Midwest,”?Mark said. “So, we’re making connections with the Catholic community — doctors who are Catholic, who are in the [arch]diocese who want to do mission work. A lot of doctors want to do it, but they don’t know how or where to turn. Here’s an organization that supports them in their faith . . . and their family.”

When the Druffners took their first trip in 2009, Mark was the first doctor to work at the clinic in six years. That’s a fact of life in the country, along with overcrowded hospitals where doctors do serve.

“In Tanzania, there are 200 doctors for 40 million people,”?said Molly, noting that half of those doctors serve at a large, urban hospital in the city of Moshi. “There’s a thousand beds there and they all have three [patients] to a bed. So, you’ll get somebody with AIDS, somebody with tuberculosis, and somebody with a broken leg all sleeping in the same bed.”

Mark and Molly especially wanted their children to see what life is like in a developing country. It didn’t take long for the effects to be known. While unpacking after a trip, one of their children started piling up toys and other possessions in the hallway outside of his bedroom, saying he did not need so much stuff.

In fact, the children are more than just spectators during a mission trip. They roll up their sleeves and do plenty of manual labor, like gathering wood and building fires for cooking, and doing much-needed repairs at the hospital. They also help with the Catholic part of the mission, which involves catechesis for the people of the city.

“Every Saturday, we had a catechesis class, and my Cecilia and Mary-Therese and I would go over and pray with the kids and teach them things about Jesus,” Molly said. “Seeing the kids interacting and being so free with the African kids and being of service to others was just cool.”

For more information about Mission Doctors Association or to donate, visit To direct a donation to the Druffners, type “Druffner Mission” on the online form.

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