PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI (March 15, 2011) – Editor’s note: This report is part of a week-long series of articles written by Stan Friedman, news editor for Covenant News Service, who spent five days accompanying a five-member medical team from the United States providing care to Haiti residents during a two-week volunteer mission.
By Stan Friedman
While the world considers the daunting long-term undertaking of vitalizing Haiti, Covenanters who recently helped open a medical clinic in the tent city of Canaan say there is a place for being near-sighted.
“It is easy to get overwhelmed and saddened by the situations in some of these countries,” says Calla Holmgren, an obstetrician/gynecologist who led the team. She has served with Medical Teams International in some of the poorest countries in the world, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.
“I feel called to go to areas with limited resources, but sometimes do need to work on being hopeful,” says Holmgren.
She tries to keep her focus on the immediate needs of the people she is treating. “I think it best to focus on individuals and care that can be provided to them and less on a global solution,” she explains. “If I was in a refugee camp or living in a tent after a major earthquake, I would want someone to help me.”
Holmgren adds, “In attempting to be like Christ, I think this is the model. He wasn’t here to change governments or to make everyone middle class. However, when presented with someone who needed to be healed, he did it.”
All of the team members struggle at times to deal with the pain they encounter. “There have been times when I have been overwhelmed by the numbers of people with huge needs and sometimes with the unfairness of life,” says Jill Johnson, a nurse who has served as a short-term Covenant missionary in Cameroon.
“I try to only look at those right in front of me, doing what I can with what I have,” Johnson adds, echoing Holmgren’s perspective. “What I cannot do, I must release back to God, and let him carry that burden. My part is just to take one step at a time. Just because I cannot see how the rest will be resolved, doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do the small part that I can.”
Christians are in a unique position to help the suffering, Johnson says. “We may learn to lower our expectations in the face of overwhelming problems and situations, but as Christians we are offered and offer to others a solid hope – something that is definitely lacking in other religions.”
Christ’s experience and his call to those who follow him also serve as an inspiration. “God is present in suffering and knows suffering firsthand,” Johnson says. “We are also his hands and feet in this world and as such have much to offer.”
Tom Spethmann, a retired doctor of internal medicine, says, “I just need to obey what God wants me to do and go where he wants me to go.”
Though the work can feel overwhelming, Spethmann reiterates the sentiments of others on the trip. “It was rewarding because we were helping get the clinic started.”
To read earlier stories, click on the links below: