Editor’s Note: Mary Lou Fisher died earlier this month after suffering a stroke in October. She had served with Samaritan’s Purse all over the world.
In 1999, I was part of the team from Samaritan’s Purse building a refugee camp in Albania. There was a need for a 40-bed hospital. It was the first time that we ever set one up anywhere in the world. A friend of mine who worked at Johns Hopkins University recommended a nurse practitioner to help us. Her name was Mary Lou Fisher. Little did I know when I first met Mary Lou that we would spend many years as colleagues working around the world, and, in the process, we would become close friends.
Mary Lou had a sparkle in her eye, and it was obvious from the beginning that she thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of serving in some of the world’s most difficult places. She had fun with her work, often slapping her leg and clapping her hands as a new problem was put before her to solve.
She had only spent a few weeks in Albania when we drove across the mountains and entered Kosovo at the end of the conflict there. Mary Lou worked in the local hospital helping to reestablish the emergency room alongside local medical personnel. Even as she worked countless hours in nearly impossible conditions, she loved to laugh, and she pressed on through it all because of her deep compassion for hurting people that ultimately came from her love for Christ.
In early 2002, the war in Afghanistan was well underway. Samaritan’s Purse sent a team to build a 25-bed surgical hospital. Mary Lou signed up right away and stayed there for months providing medical care at the hospital and the surrounding communities.
One day in late summer, we were invited to the local Afghani commander’s house for a social gathering. About eight of us went in the early evening, only to find ourselves in a room with more than 200 mujahedin fighters. Somehow, we decided it would be appropriate for us as foreigners to sing them a song, so we serenaded them with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” We were in a mud-bowl castle with thick walls that was built in the 1800s, and the acoustics were fantastic off of the domed ceilings. We belted out a strong chorus, and when we finished, the fighters went wild with applause and cheering. Mary Lou laughed until tears ran out of her eyes.
In 2003, we started a program to feed the Beja people, who live in a remote area of desert in eastern Sudan. This was a particularly dangerous working environment because we were working across the border. We built a hospital there, and Mary Lou became a strident advocate for the Beja women who had been abused by life from all directions. A common practice among the Beja is severe female genital mutilation, and on many occasions, Mary Lou went directly to the male leaders in the community and made a convincing case that this practice had to stop because they were killing their women. She was always respectful, and she made great progress in educating people on the dangers of female genital mutilation.
Mary Lou went on to help us in more places than I can remember. One of the areas that comes to mind is Haiti, where our Samaritan’s Purse team treated more than 27,000 people who had fallen victim to the horrible cholera epidemic that hit the nation about 10 months after the devastating earthquake. Mary Lou worked tirelessly day in and day out. She was always an inspiration to the staff members around her, especially younger people searching for purpose in their life and struggling to deal with all of the suffering that was around them. Mary Lou was always willing to listen with a tender heart and humbly offer words of counsel and wisdom.
Mary Lou also was with us in the Philippines after a super typhoon killed thousands of people and destroyed the coastline of the mountain areas of Leyte island in 2013. We set up a hospital there, and while it was under construction, I asked the medical personnel to drive into the mountains to treat people and help existing clinics deal with their patient load. Mary Lou wanted to know exactly what her specific task would be as they drove through the villages. After the first day, however, she told me that after seeing the need, she easily understood what the task was. She was there to save lives and reduce suffering in the Name of Jesus.
Mary Lou was one of those unique people that always seems to have a youthfulness. Her eyes twinkled, and she had a gentle, loving smile that matched her warm heart. She loved Jesus, and she wanted other people to know her Savior. She was fearless. She was also a consummate medical professional and one of the most knowledgeable people I have ever known when it came to issues of mother-and-child nutrition and family health.
I remember in 2006 when I asked Mary Lou to come to work full-time for Samaritan’s Purse. She seemed breathless at the thought of the exciting things she would be able to accomplish in serving the sick and suffering around the world, especially women. Within minutes, her right hand slapped the top of her right thigh, and with her characteristic mischievous yet enthusiastic smile, she said, “Absolutely, I’ll do it!” That was always her attitude.