Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Solo Christo

January 7th, 2018

There are some times when I am so overcome by emotion that it quite literally feels as if my heart is the source of this powerful and overwhelming feeling coursing through my body. It’s almost like an ache in my chest. It overtakes my mind; it consumes me.

This happens on either end of the spectrum – incredible, uncontainable joy, or deep despair and sorrow. I’m not sure if it’s because of genetics, or life experiences, or divine intervention, but it’s the way I’m programmed. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I experience life abundantly in both the highs and the lows. There is a small margin for the in between.

Maybe that all sounds a little extreme, but I wish sometimes that others could experience this just to understand the feeling.

We left El Salvador yesterday morning, and being back in the States, I find myself oscillating between two extremes: looking back on the week filled to the brim with gratitude and joy, and then feeling sort of dejected and maybe even a little lost. Even reading the words, the latter to me seems odd, considering we just got back from a week long medical mission trip. I mean, the people were amazing all around! It was hardly a few hours before I already started to miss the team. How in the world did I come to love these people so much in seven days?

And the church members there felt like long lost family members by the end of the week. Jimmy was practically our guardian angel. He always expressed his amazement at our work, but wow, this trip would be nothing without his dedication. Our team loves him and his family more than we could ever express in words.

But that’s only the half of it. Each day we interacted with hundreds of strangers (1,452 total patients seen this week!) who came to us looking for healing and answers to why they were hurting. And we did help a lot of people!

A ten year old boy with Cerebral Palsy walked for what I believe to be the first time thanks to his sweet new dinosaur AFOs and rolling walker. There’s nothing like the joy of a child. We traded out old, damaged canes for new, properly fitted ones. We treated lots and lots of neck/shoulder pain. People tend to carry their stress there, and the El Salvadorians had some of the most tense necks I’ve ever felt.

Their stories are burdened with destruction and difficulty that I can’t even imagine. Yesterday I met a woman with diabetes who didn’t have the money to get food, which led to dizzy spells and pain. She couldn’t provide for herself and she was getting kicked out of her living situation. The same day there was a husband and wife that came hoping for a miracle, only to find that their four-month-old baby had a hole in her heart that can only be fixed with surgery (which is not available in El Salvador). I imagine the helplessness I felt in those situations doesn’t even tip the scale in comparison to what they feel.

I think throughout the week it was easy for me to lose sight of the individual, and the story, behind each patient. I’m realizing the importance of “patient first language.” Using “the patient who had a stroke” instead of saying “the stroke patient.” There are souls underneath the movement dysfunction we see! My only regret is not being more aware of that earlier on.

After the first day of clinic on Monday we actually had some down time and a few of us were sitting around and got to sharing parts of our stories. Connecting with people by blowing past the surface level is what I live for. I was designed for deep conversations and meaningful relationships with people, and honestly, that night getting to hear the “everyone is surprised when I tell them so and so about my life” from our team members was probably the highlight of the trip for me.

Everyone wants to know that they’re cared for. They want to know that their story matters and that there is purpose even in their broken and messy lives. Why do we ignore this and only scratch the surface in our interactions with others? We were meant for so much more! We’re missing out! Jesus didn’t come to this disastrous world to suffer and die for our sake, only to have us experience life on a superficial level.

It’s always amazing to me when I get to step back and take a look at the bigger picture (masterpiece, really) that the Lord has carefully, and very purposefully pieced together. I’m not even sure if this person remembers this, but on our bus ride from First Baptist Church to the airport in Springfield when we were heading out, one of our team members asked me what my necklace said. It’s one I got more than two years ago and I never take it off, so ironically, sometimes I forget about it. I told him that is said “chosen” in Hebrew, but that was all really that was said about it.

Fast forward to 6 days later as we’re sitting in the Friday night service at the church in El Salvador and the message has me feeling like the Lord is holding my face and looking me straight in the eyes as He’s telling me something. I’m having a hard time remembering exactly what it was (it started with a passage somewhere in Romans), but I think it was pretty clear that the Lord wanted me to know that no matter what emotions I feel or how strongly they come on, I am still one of His chosen people and His promises still hold true. I think He knows I tend to forget this when my emotions overtake me. Jesus experienced emotions deeply, but our relationship with Him is not built solely upon that.

Another one of my favorite things that happened was getting to sing in front of the church as a team. We chose the song “None But Jesus” and I think it so beautifully sums up why we went to El Salvador. Whether we know it or not, Jesus, in some way or another, has called to us so we can find Him and serve Him. I don’t want to live any other way and there is no one else for me. None but Jesus. Solo Cristo.

At the end of the day, I think I’m glad to have been able to experience highs and lows so deeply (even though sometimes in the moment it doesn’t feel like it). Through all of it, and by the grace of God, I live an abundant life.

-Nicole









Por la gente.

January 3rd, 2018

Oh guys, I’m tired. I heard we saw about 600 patients today. Finding our groove was stressful, but the patients were so…patient. So many hugs and smiles today! I think today was my favorite day so far for no particular reason other than we’re really getting to tangibly see how medical care and Jesus changes people’s lives. The team is growing closer and closer each day and I’m so thankful for them all. I’m also thankful for the Lord’s provision! The meds are in! Tonight after dinner we will be sorting meds for all the people we’ve seen the last three days and we’ll be at it for however long it takes. Thankfully, our rest day is tomorrow. Bring on some exploring and seeing what the people do when we’re not treating them! It’s all about the people. We’re here for the people. Por la gente.
-Nicole


Comfort in the uncomfortable

January 2nd, 2018
Same people and same clinic, different day.
Day 2 was a little bit busier and we might have seen more patients, but the days still fly by. Us PT students are getting more comfortable treating patients on our own, but our lead therapists, Hannah and Lorenzo are always in arms reach to guide us and think through things with us. They’ve been awesome to work with! We learn a lot and have so much fun at the same time.
I saw another lady with an amputation today. She was having shoulder pain because her crutches were too tall and not adjustable. We prescribed her crutches and told her to come back to the church on Friday to pick them up. And luckily all of our crutches and walkers got to us today so we’ll be able to start fitting them to people!
The medications still unfortunately are not in our hands. Someone contacted Jimmy and we’re reallllly hoping we get them tomorrow. We promised people they could pick up their meds that we prescribed them on Thursday or Friday, so getting them tomorrow is our last chance so we can sort them out for each patient. Please pray!
Nothing super extraordinary has necessarily happened on the trip so far, but I don’t think that’s for lack of God being present. If anything, I think the Lord has proven faithful in His promises – you just have to keep your eyes open to see that.
Obviously with a medical team we treat a lot of people that have some sort of discomfort. We try to ease their discomfort and either provide them with something to relieve that, or simply comfort them in their suffering. I think this is a huge part of our lives as believers as well.
I read this today: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:2-5)
I love that it uses the word abundantly, and that, in Christ, we will live abundantly – but that includes both the highs and the lows. Jesus suffered immensely so He could be in relationship with us again, and He was blessed abundantly for it. God came through with His promise to raise Jesus from the grave.
I hope how we handle suffering can paint of picture of what Jesus’ sacrifice meant. Through some hurt, my life has been filled with compassion for those hurting, and even though it may be different it still can allow me to be able to stand by their side through the pain. The Lord has given me His perfect comfort through times of trouble. His promises may not be fulfilled instantaneously, but His promises are still true. Through PT and other relationships in my life, I hope to spread that comfort He’s given me to those I come in contact with. Seeing the smiling faces of patients leaving the clinic and hearing them say they feel better is a pretty good start.
-Nicole
(PS you might see some of our awesome interpreters in pictures! We couldn’t do it without them and we love spending time with them!)




Un día nuevo

January 1st, 2018
A new day, and a new year!
Today kept us busy, but I think it’s only a warm up to what the rest of the week is going to look like. We saw about 300 patients today between the doctors, physical therapists, and optometrist (and gynecologist from the church we’re partnered with here who volunteered with us!), but come Friday we’re expecting to see around 700.
Us PT students tag teamed triage and the PT treatment area. Half of our time was taking vitals and seeing why they were here so we could send them to see the right people. The other half of the time we evaluated patients in PT and put our hands on them to get them moving and ease their pain. It’s hard because we know what we’ve done is only temporary, but we hope with the education that they can continue to improve, and really, that having someone that is willing to put their hands on them and who wants to help with their pain, gives them hope to endure.
Probably the sweetest moment today was teaching a woman with an amputation how to use stairs with her crutches. Building confidence in herself was huge. She did so well – she just needed someone to push her to her potential and remind her what her body can overcome.
I don’t know that we all understood the significance of the dates of our trip to El Salvador before coming here. Our first clinic day, today, being the very first day of a brand new year.
New Years in El Salvador is sort of similar to how we celebrate Christmas in the States. People get together with their families to celebrate the blessings that are to come in the new year. Then there are fireworks. Lots and lots of fireworks.
Jimmy can’t tell us enough how much it means to them that we leave our country and our families during this time in order to come serve them. Imagine not being with your family on Christmas – that’s how it is for them being away from family when the new year starts.
I know it doesn’t quite translate to our culture, but I still found myself thinking that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I hope I can always make myself available to be in a place to serve my purpose, no matter if that’s in the States or elsewhere. I hope that nothing else matters to me more than being where the Lord has told me to serve Him. I think all of my love for my family and friends stems from that anyway.
We saw a lot of broken and messy lives here today. Houses made from sheet metal and makeshift pillars, with sheets hanging for doors. In one of those houses was a woman and her 4 year old daughter who were on their own after the husband had left a year ago. Jimmy’s church is working to rebuild these people’s houses because this promise still hasn’t been fulfilled by the government here.
There’s a lot of political unrest here and destruction from the civil war 30 years ago. Restoration is a slow process, and definitely not a perfect process. I pray that we can all see the promise of restoration of all of our brokenness through Jesus’ sacrifice. I’ll keep sacrificing myself for His work until we do.
Keep praying. Our PT equipment should be available tomorrow, and Jimmy is going to customs in the morning to fight for our medications.
-Nicole












Estamos en El Salvador

December 31st, 2017
We made it!
We finally got into our hotel in San Salvador around 4:30 this morning. Getting through customs at 1 am was a bit of a hassle, and some of luggage hasn’t made it here from the States yet unfortunately. Our whole team is here safe and sound though! We’re hoping to get our bundles of walkers, crutches, and canes by Tuesday. For now, we’ve got our hands and some suitcases full of other equipment to use for our first clinic day tomorrow.
Our physicians and pharmacist aren’t so lucky…all of our medications for the clinic were sequestered at customs and we’re just praying we can get them by Tuesday. Our pharmacist who’s been on this trip before says this happens sometimes and the best we can do is still evaluate patients and prescribe them meds for them to come pick up later.
First Baptist Bolivar has been connected with a church here for a while and the pastor, Jimmy, was so excited to see everyone and has been very hospitable to us. We attended their service this evening and it was so full of joy and love for the Lord. We haven’t even been here for a day and I’m already getting a taste for how big our God is. Dr. Hamann last night when we got in pointed out the full moon, and told us how he loves to think about how, even far away at home, we’re all looking at the same moon, and all worshipping the same God.
That was definitely a realization for me tonight as well when a congregation of 1,000 or so people at the church sang songs to the Lord in Spanish. I can only catch maybe half (if that) of what the words mean, but by watching the El Salvadorians worship, I could tell they were praising the same Jesus I know.
Jimmy translated the sermon for us, given by another pastor and I think the message is so fitting for this time of us being here. 2 Corinthians 3:18 talks about how the Lord transforms our lives. If we truly encounter Jesus, and not just religion, our lives are going to look different and we are going to be different. This is so much different than just claiming religion and showing up to a building on Sundays. God’s grace isn’t about changing where we are (maybe like even going to El Salvador from Bolivar, MO). His grace tells a story about sacrificing for those you love and keeping a steadfast hope in times of suffering. Experiencing Jesus leads to real life change that will persist no matter your location.
I hope to convey that to people here as we treat them and lay our hands on them. They may not have medical care like this, but Someone cares about their health and so much more about them.
Please keep us in your prayers as we go into our first clinic day tomorrow! I appreciate each and every one of you who reads this and I’m forever grateful for all of your support! Thanks from our team and happy new year!
-Nicole

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Healing Available for Everyone

Saturday morning, it was still raining. Despite 3 days of solid rain, Sarah boldly declared, "The rain is going to stop so we can get out and experience Cap Haitien on our last morning here." Sure enough, it did. So, we were treated to a beautiful morning to tour downtown Cap Haitien, its streets flooded with rainwater and residents going to the Saturday market. It was loud and busy and full of life. It was also so very different than life in the US, with live chickens, piles of shoes, dried fish with the heads still intact, and piles of various grains, vegetables, and spices all for sale and exposed to the elements in the open air market. This is life in Haiti. 

As we depart from Haiti this time, our hearts are full, and inspired, and at peace. We got to be a part of supporting the creation of a therapists network in Northern Haiti being launched through the attendees of our continuing ed conference this week. It is being spearheaded by the local clinicians themselves, to support each other, to share information and resources, and to plan and sponsor continuing education in the future for all of them. It's a chance to start growing the profession in Haiti. That's huge, and humbling.


We also had the special chance to come alongside the longstanding and respected ministry of Bethesda Clinic to support the addition of therapy services to their already excellent care. It will be one more way to reach people with the truth that Christ alone is the only true healer of the heart. And as Jesus taught in John chapter 5, the healing at this Bethesda is not just for the few, but it's available to everyone who calls upon His name.


He frees and rescues all who belong to Him. To God be all praise and glory!
Ephesians 1:14 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Wrapping up

We woke up to another rainy day for our last full day in Haiti. Once again we weren’t sure how the rain would affect who came to the clinic but we had a busy morning treating patients. I was overwhelmed as I helped treat an 8 month old boy who looked not a day over 4 months. He was malnourished and was in need of better nutrition so that he could grow and become stronger. It was neat to be able to educate on something that seemed so small to me but something that would make a huge difference for him. We also saw several low back pain, general pain, stroke, and arthritis patients. After lunch, Dr. Rodney, the head physician who also is in charge of all the Bethesda clinics, gave us a tour and told us his story of how he became a doctor. His story was very inspiring as it brought this week full circle for me. He said the one thing I know I can do for patients that come in is share my faith and that is the thing that matters most. So my feelings of inadequacy as a therapist at that moment were wiped away knowing that God is in control and I don’t have to have everything put together. The rest of the afternoon we taught a group of local physicians and mid-level nurses the scientific basis and benefit of rehabilitation and how to screen children. We also organized the equipment in the clinic that was donated for the patients in Haiti. Overall, it was a very bittersweet day as we said our goodbyes to some people and left the clinic for the last time. As we leave, I have hope that we have left Julie and the other medical staff with supplies and resources to provide services to the people of Haiti. My prayer is that as patients are treated in the new PT clinic, that they also hear about God’s love and his sovereignty. It is so evident that God’s hand is at work here and I feel eternally grateful to have been a small part of it this week. 
Kristin