During spring break, I have journeyed to El Salvador as part of a medical mission team each of the last three years. Words cannot adequately describe how much of a blessing these experiences have been in my life, but I will try to give a glimpse of some aspects of the mission journey that are very special to me. I will provide details of my experiences by responding to a series of questions.
· How did you have the opportunity to go?
I was granted the opportunity to be a part of a mission team to El Salvador through my involvement with the Richmond area Christian Medical & Dental Associations. They offer a Bible study/discussion session and dinner each week. One of the leaders of this group who is a doctor in the area, in partnership with My Father’s House International, has been taking students to El Salvador for a number of years to participate in medical missions. My Father’s House International is a Roanoke, Va.- based nonprofit organization that serves as the financial backbone for a children’s home in El Salvador called La Casa de Mi Padre.
· What did you do while you were there?
Over the course of our time there this year, we spent four days providing medical care to Salvadorians in rural settings that lack adequate access to health care. We even partner with Salvadorian doctors and dentists who join us in our efforts to help the medically underserved in their country. Every patient at least receives multi-vitamins, and some patients receive upward of five or six different medications. More importantly, each patient is prayed for, if they so desire, and we together acknowledge that God is in control of their health and is truly the Great Physician. We also spend time with the children of La Casa de Mi Padre each year, which is truly a blessing. In addition, on nonclinic days, we have gotten to travel to various places over the course of my three trips, including Suchitoto, which is home to a beautiful church built in 1853; the Pacific Ocean; an artisans market where you can barter for local trinkets; and a phenomenal dormant volcano.
· What did you learn?
Once again, words cannot describe what all I have learned during my experiences in El Salvador, but I will share some things that stand out the most to me. From my experiences in the makeshift pharmacy setting, I was able to strengthen my medication therapy knowledge while also learning valuable life lessons. During our clinic days, I was provided the opportunity to spend time with individuals who are truly impoverished according to American standards. However, these individuals seem to be far more satisfied than most of us. They are actually content with life and take life as it comes, in comparison to many of us, who are on the go all the time, striving to obtain more worldly possessions and financial gains. It is quite evident that such material possessions cannot provide true happiness. Accordingly, while they may be poor in a material sense, they are rich in the sense of community and relationships, which are eternal in nature.
In addition, I witnessed firsthand a vast amount of broken relationships during my experiences in El Salvador. I learned about how many of the children of La Casa de Mi Padre were removed from their natural home environments by the government because of abuse, mainly sexual abuse. In addition, there is an extensive amount of gang activity in El Salvador. Last year alone, two fathers of children at La Casa lost their lives due to gang-related incidences. While these are obvious incidences of broken relationships, there are others that are not so evident and warrant careful consideration on behalf of everyone.
According to the book “When Helping Hurts,” we all suffer from broken relationships in four fundamental areas, whether it be with God, self, others or the rest of creation. The importance of this brokenness has really become evident in my life as a result of my experiences in El Salvador. While the examples described above are obvious cases of broken relationships between the individuals themselves and others, I have challenged myself, and would like to challenge all readers, to consider all the relationships in our lives. When relationships go haywire in one area, it will negatively impact other areas of our life as well. I hope that we can help each other to make right the relationships in all four fundamental areas of our lives.
I also learned about the significance of looking outward instead of inward. What does this mean? Well, society teaches us to look out for number one, ourselves, as we strive for worldly success. However, no matter what material things we gain here on earth, we cannot take them with us when we leave. However, the relationships we build through helping others are potentially everlasting and far outweigh any material gain.
Finally, life is a journey, just as I would like to describe my trip to El Salvador as instead a journey. I have learned valuable lessons during my experiences in El Salvador, and these lessons are part of an evolving process of me becoming a better human being. The lessons I learned come up daily as I walk along the journey of life. I hope that I will embrace these experiences as opportunities to mold me into the person God would have me to be instead of viewing each day as a discombobulated trip without connections to previous or future days.
· What is the most special moment you can remember?
During the third clinic day, our first patient in line was a 17-year-old boy who came for a dental visit, a simple tooth extraction, to be exact. As the triage nurses began obtaining a medication history on this boy, it became evident that he had some serious health conditions. He had suffered from a heart defect from birth that made him unable to run or play as normal kids do. In fact, he actually looked to be more like 12 or 13 instead of 17 years old. Upon much physical exertion, his lips would turn blue from lack of adequate oxygenation. He had been told by Salvadorian physicians that there was nothing they could do for him; his life was destined to be cut short. Yet, I believe that God sent him to us that day to get him access to the necessary treatments for his condition.
The medical doctor he saw had previously worked with an international organization called Samaritan’s Purse that helps to coordinate visas and other requirements to get individuals to the United States for medical procedures. In addition, Samaritan’s Purse actually has an ongoing relationship with La Casa de Mi Padre because it constructed a chapel on the land that is the future home site of La Casa. Once these existing relationships were realized, the coordination efforts commenced to get the young man the help he needs. As of right now, contact has been made between the organization and the boy’s family, and he is scheduled to undergo testing that would qualify him to come to the States for surgery. Please pray for Juan and the outcomes of this ongoing process.
In addition to third-year School of Pharmacy student Will Coleman, Kristin Bell (P2), Jessica Libuit (P2), Mi Jung Lim (P1) and Rebecca Saunders (P1) participated in the 2012 medical mission to El Salvador.