Off with a bang!

It has been quiet this week since our nine CHI participants (7 pre-meds and 2 directors) left town after spending an exciting six-weeks with us on a Community Health Immersion.  As we celebrate our nation’s independence this weekend, let’s also celebrate the ministry of presence that our freedoms allow us to carry out.  Check out this video that the students put together as a celebration of how God is moving in their lives as they prepare to be future physicians:

Commissioned to go!

The last evening of the Community Health Immersion the students were anointed with oil and commissioned with a blessing to allow their study of medicine to reflect the healing love of Jesus.

Dr. Morgan Wills anoints the CHI students for service in Jesus name.

Dr. Morgan Wills anoints the CHI students for service in Jesus name.

Chelsea Travis, Stewart Goodwin, and Will Tucker receive a blessing.

Chelsea Travis, Stewart Goodwin, and Will Tucker receive a blessing.

Frances Cobb is anointed and blessing is prayed over her.

Frances Cobb is anointed and a blessing is prayed over her.

How Deeply Can You Be Immersed?

Guest blogger Chelsea Travis, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…

Living here in the Highlands Apartments, surrounded by a community of refugees and low-income neighbors, and being a part of an immersion-promoting program – I wonder are we truly immersed? Most would say yes, and I believe that would probably only be 60% right. In some ways, we are immersed. We are living in the same environment as the residents here which include: loud honking car noises at night, a “coins only” laundry mat, new and sometimes reckless drivers riding through the neighborhood, an always occupied soccer field, beautiful rose bushes, roaches, and very active ethnically diverse neighbors and children.

Neighbor children know that fun and attention await them just on the other side of the CHI students' back door.

Neighbor children know that fun and attention await them just on the other side of the CHI students’ back door.

Although we live here, many of us have things that most of these refugees do not. These aren’t simply tangible material items like cars, laptops, smartphones, an installed washer and dryer, or nice business clothes – of which we so often take for granted – but it’s even more than that. It is intangibles like nearby family, education, the ability to speak English with an American accent, our western clothes, and an established, if not assumed, reputation.

Having family nearby, even if they are 600 miles away, is such a great asset especially when compared to family members of refugees who could be thousands of miles away. Since starting this program I have received 2 packages from close family and friends back home that have been so beneficial to me. I cannot imagine not being able to draw from that life line of support because my family is either still in my war-torn country or they are scattered in various places around the world.

We often take for granted our educational experience as well. In this country the expectation is that people, especially young adults, attend college and even some schooling beyond that. The refugees whom we come in contact with actually have an array of educational backgrounds. Some have learned in educational institutions, some were apprentices of their parents or grandparents, and some have simply learned from the school of life.

Overall, it is interesting how education affects a person’s ability to adapt to new situations. It seems that individuals who have been challenged academically or have been conditioned to exercise their intellectual skills (even if only up to the high school level) are more able to adapt and learn new languages and systems. We don’t realize how valuable our education is. If we understood that not everyone in the world is afforded the opportunity to obtain even a high school education, we would not complain and be lazy about classwork, reading assignments, papers, or skill-granting liberal arts classes because we think we “don’t need” that coursework. Foolishness.

Highlands Kids 2 (Chelsea Travis blog)

Chelsea Travis, a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina’s pre-medical program, poses with refugee children in the neighborhood.

Also the fact that we speak English fluently and with clear American accents and wear Western (American) clothing makes us less immersed when compared to the realities of our neighbors. Just the very fact that we possess these attributes causes us to obtain more respect, trust, or even assumed positive reputations. Without anyone really knowing us we probably could receive a loan, purchase a car, or get better job opportunities than our immigrant and refugee neighbors of comparable abilities. This is in part because when people do not adequately speak the dominant language of a society that person’s intellectual abilities are often assumed to be low. These judgments are too often made without even knowing the past professions and careers many of these refugees held in their former home countries – I’ve met former doctors, professors, and innovators.

One thing many of these refugees do have that I wish I could be further immersed in is their drive to survive and to thrive. They are so strong, enduring, humble, and passionate people. They want a better life for themselves, for their families, and for their home countries. I attended an English class being taught by and for Burmese people who wanted to take their U.S. citizenship exam. There were several young women present at this class – one had a baby tied on her back, another nursing a baby in her lap, and two with babies on the couch, and one child playing outside – and they were still so engaged in the class, flipping through their notes and answering questions. I was so inspired! They wanted this English lesson so badly they were not going to let anything distract them. Glory to God what a poignant lesson for my own life!

With everything that a refugee has endured throughout their lives including: wars, persecution, discrimination, and genocide, we will never be truly immersed enough to understand life in their shoes.

 

 

Helping Without Hurting

Guest blogger Lauren Roddy, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

These verses from Matthew 25 are just one example of how we, as Christians, are explicitly called to care for and minister to the poor.  The participants in this year’s CHI Program and the staff at Siloam are seeking to answer this call, but what if our best efforts to help are actually hurting those in poverty?  What if our desires to be the hands and feet of God are preventing others from doing the same?

“What if our efforts are hurting those in poverty?”

The CHI Program, in addition to providing opportunities to shadow Siloam staff and directly engage in community outreach, has several settings in which the students can begin to discern what their future service in medicine will look like.  One such forum is a 6-week small group study on the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  The book offers a framework for rethinking not only how we address the needs related to poverty but also to redefine the term completely.

Instead of thinking about poverty in terms of a lack of material wealth, When Helping Hurts challenges us to think of it as a product of broken relationships – with our own being, others, God, and the rest of Creation.  Therefore, true poverty alleviation is a process in which both the materially poor and non-poor work together to rectify each of our broken relationships.  The goal, therefore, of working with the materially poor is to reconcile these foundational relationships and in such a way that all are empowered to perform the work in God’s kingdom that they are meant to do.

What good is relief if we’ve crushed the confidence

needed for true development?

Those of you not familiar with these concepts may be shocked to hear phrases like “our poverty” and “our broken relationships”, but through this process, I’ve learned to recognize the places in my own life where relationships have been broken.  When Helping Hurts advocates for poverty alleviation that focuses on building on the God-given assets already present within individuals and communities.  In my own life, I often am afraid to “brag” about my assets, talents, and ideas, and as a result, fail to fully achieve what I am made to do.  Imagine how much more debilitating that fear must be for someone who has been made to feel as though their lack of material wealth makes them worthless.  To then tell this person that we have all of the answers to fixing their poverty strips them of the already limited power they have.  What good is relief if we’ve crushed the confidence needed for true development?

Lauren Roddy is a rising junior in the pre-medical program at Baylor University in Texas.

Lauren Roddy is a rising junior in the pre-medical program at Baylor University in Texas.

Framing poverty in terms of relationships just makes sense to me now.  Not only do we belong to a relational God, but medicine is also such a relational field.  Our primary focus should always be on the empowerment of our patients.  A piece of this certainly is restoring physical health, but helping others (and ourselves) feel empowered and purposeful is how real growth occurs.  I hope that my friends and family will consider reading the book, engaging in conversation with me about these ideas, and holding me accountable to living this out!

“Share the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”

– St. Francis of Assisi

Waterfall Refuge

Guest blogger Will Tucker, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…

Rest is what we needed whether we realized it or not. Exhaustion is a safe word to describe the general state of our group. I don’t think we understood how tiring it could be to simply live.

“I don’t think we understood…”

If you had asked me heading into the CHI project if I thought I would be worn down from waking early in the morning, spending time with refugees in our complex and in clinic, and living in company with other like-minded individuals seeking to grow in Christ I would have responded, “Absolutely not, we’ll be doing good work,” but I was wrong. I realized quickly that work, no matter how good, can still wear a person thin and that rest, perhaps more appropriately refuge, is necessary. Where do people in Tennessee go when seeking refuge? It would appear they go to water holes, so we joined in. Cummins Falls was our destination and hopefully we could find rest there.

“Suddenly I recognized my own breathing…”

We hiked the trails all together, boisterously making our way over hills and back down again…over hills and back down again. We jumped this tree root and that one, avoiding walking into too much greenery and hopefully

Will Tucker is a rising senior at Union University.

Will Tucker is a rising senior at Union University.

poison ivy simultaneously. We walked down a hill, around a sharp turn, and back up again. Space between us grew larger and quiet ensued. Beauty surrounded us. As we continued walking along the path, just past a steep incline, I heard behind me Kenny voiced what everyone else was probably thinking, “Guys, I’m tired.” Suddenly I recognized my own breathing, the tiredness in my legs as I lifted for the next step, and the relief in hearing aloud exactly what I needed to hear.

 “There is no shame in acknowledging an unavoidable truth.”

The trail had done to us, exactly what the project had done thus far. It represented fairly well our journey together since arrival. Newness and excitement, work so new to us that it didn’t seem like work at all, the newness wearing off, and then exhaustion. Admitting, not defeat, but need for refuge is so important while you do good work. There is no shame in acknowledging an unavoidable truth. We are human, we need rest, and the only place to truly find the rest we so desperately need is in Christ. Even while we do good works, we must remember to come back to our Shepherd always, because He sustains us, knows us, and loves us more than we comprehend. He even invites us in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

“Come to me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens,

and I will give you rest.”

We did make our way down through the small river, over enormous rocks, and past obstacles along our path to the falls. We climbed the ledges, finally finding ourselves underneath the largest waterfall surrounded by God’s beautiful creation and there we were overcome by relief as we stood beneath its powerful downpour.

Chelsea Travis, Frances Cobb, and Reinie Thomas pause for a selfie during their trip to Cummins Falls in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Chelsea Travis, Frances Cobb, and Reinie Thomas pause for a selfie during their trip to Cummins Falls in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Children – Pulling at my Heart Strings

Guest blogger Chelsea Travis, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…

My little neighbors are so full of life! The children of our neighborhood have taken a part of my heart. They bring me so much joy! They are always happy to see me and I, …I am truly happy to see them. I have gotten to know and befriend several of the kids. How sweet, thoughtful, sharing, and honest they are, and in such a ripe place of growing too. I know why Jesus loves the children! These encounters make me want to be a good role model for them and purposely teach them what is right, and to love God, themselves, and one another.

“I know why Jesus loves the children!”

I pray for these kids so much, especially those children for whom God has given me special discernment. Some of them I feel may be facing or have at some point in their lives faced neglect, trauma, or even abuse. These situations really do cause my heart pain. Just thinking of how ill things are shaping and affecting these young kids’ lives bothers me. Sometimes I especially hurt because I don’t know how to help them–particularly with their physical needs. At times, I feel this way because I look and think we barely have enough to take care of ourselves, yet I am determined to continue to pray earnestly for these kids and their families. This is especially important because we don’t know what things the rest of their families may be enduring –it could be anything from depression to abuse as well.

“Some…faced neglect, trauma, or even abuse.”

These kids, however, mostly just want to be around us and play games. Many of them have such big hearts. I proudly wear three colorfully beaded bracelets that were made by three of the girls here. One of them gave me a toy gift box filled with a card decorated with Minnie Mouse stickers, a purple hacky sack, and a hand full of different colored, plastic, jumping frogs. The families here are also very giving, as well. Often times, they welcome you into their homes offering a bottle of water or some juice–and this they give out of the little that they have. Our neighbors are so generous! I feel so blessed by this kindness. Lord, please help me to be able to come to a place where I can be even more generous out of a sincere heart and from Your Love.

“…they give out of the little that they have.”

I will truly miss these kids when it is time for us to leave. We have already had to experience a family moving away. Although they were moving on to better things it was still sad. Even though I will miss these kiddies dearly, I hope that I can leave them with memories and Someone who will be with them always as they continue on their life journeys.

“Then Peter said, ‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’” (Acts 3:6 NKJV)

Highlands Kids 1 (Chelsea Travis blog)

Reinie Thomas, a pre-medical student at Hope College in Michigan and CHI participant, enjoys laughter and games with kids in the neighborhood.

Highlands Kids 2 (Chelsea Travis blog)

Chelsea Travis, a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina pre-medical program, poses with neighbor children.

Empowering the Impoverished

Guest blogger Kenny Namkoong, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…

Teaching is not a forte of mine.  Public speaking in itself frightens me.  However, those were the requirements coming into the CHI program.  I had to be a teacher to lay health workers from the refugee community.  I also had to speak in front of the staff of Siloam Family Health Center.

“Thankfully, I was wrong.”

Initially, the lay health worker training seemed like a huge obstacle.

CHI participant, Chelsea Travis, works with lay health workers.

CHI participant, Chelsea Travis, works with lay health workers.

I felt like I did not have enough knowledge to teach anyone.  Training the trainer, a time where the Siloam staff taught us healthcare-related information, was informative but it included overwhelming amounts of information.  How was I supposed to teach all of this information to people who had limited English?  Would they even appreciate the training?  I approached the training with skepticism and with the mindset that belittled the trainees.  Thankfully, I was wrong.

“…the tension and worry turned into excitement.”

I was assigned to the first group that presented.  We were in charge of introducing the curriculum and conducting the first lesson.  With the total of 4 lessons, my fellow CHI participants divided up the health-related topics broadly into health navigation, oral health, insurance, and nutrition.  Since my group was first, it was difficult to know what to expect.  However, as the lesson got underway, the tension and worry turned into excitement.  These people were ready to learn. 

The individuals from 5 different countries (Burma, Bhutan, Somlia, Iraq, and Eritrea) were very prepared to learn from us in order to help their respective communities.  They were eager to absorb the information being taught by us.  I felt obliged to improve myself so that I could help the lay health workers become more educated.

The purpose of the community lay health worker training is so that we can relieve the impacts of poverty within the population represented by the lay health worker.  Siloam Family Health Center’s goal is to go beyond its four walls and provide healthcare to those outside of its building.  The lay health workers are a good way to provide preventive care measures to each of the five different communities.  Instead of prescribing medicine and diagnosing symptoms, the usage of lay health workers will benefit the overall health of the refugees and immigrants before things get out of hand.

 “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” 

After finishing all of the training for the refugees, I realized one thing: God is in control.  We planned and executed.  We did all we could in order to educate the workers.  However, if God were not in the midst of our fellowship, I think it would have been a failure.  “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  -Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV).  Its an amazing thing to see individuals from 5 different countries gathered in a small apartment living room in the middle of Tennessee.  Unbelievable.  God works when He is ready.

CHI participants teach lay health workers about nutrition and exercise.

CHI participants teach lay health workers about nutrition and exercise.

The hard part starts now.  What kind of help can we with the newly trained lay health workers give to the community?  Can we make a difference?  Will it be enough?  Although there are many questions to answer, we put our trust in God.  We approached the outreach to empower the lay health workers, not just to pat ourselves in the back.  We train to raise leaders who can help bring an end to poverty: financially, socially, and physically.