Feature

New Hope, New Experience

Even missionaries go on missions trips

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I have been serving as a nurse with The Alliance since 2006 in both Central and West Africa. Recently, one of my colleagues and dear friends, Dr. Huyen Bartholomew, asked me to join her and a medical team from Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, on a short-term trip to Cambodia.

The opportunity to work alongside Dr. Bartholomew and get a firsthand look at Alliance work outside of Africa was one I couldn’t pass up! Over the years, I’d heard about various Alliance ministries within Cambodia, but this trip was a chance to see one—New Hope—for myself.

New Hope is an Alliance outreach to the large communities of Vietnamese who have been living as refugees in Cambodia for generations. Dr. Bartholomew served with New Hope before moving to Mali, West Africa, to join the team at Koutiala Hospital for Women and Children. Although Mali is her new home, Dr. Bartholomew visits Cambodia whenever possible to encourage the people and the ministries still dear to her heart.

When I met Dr. Bartholomew and the Minnesota team in Phnom Penh, I was introduced to Pastor Khang Nguyen and his wife, Amy. The Nguyens were sent by C&MA Canada to work with New Hope Ministries in planting churches among the Vietnamese.

As I spent time with Pastor Khang and Amy, what struck me most was their humility and servant hearts. As Pastor Khang escorted me through the destitute, rundown neighborhood he now calls his home, I wondered, What keeps this couple from losing hope? Day after day, the Nguyens are bombarded by an endless array of problems facing the people in their community. I’m sure there are many days when they’re tempted to just pack up and go home, I thought.

After touring the neighborhood, Pastor Khang introduced me to a young man who had recently come to Christ through the ministry of Khang’s church. The pastor communicated his excitement at being able to mentor this young man in his faith. In that moment I could see that it is the simple joy of seeing Vietnamese brothers and sisters come to Christ that keeps the Nguyens serving in such a difficult place.

We were fortunate to have an open door for medical work through the relationships the Nguyens have built over the years with the local people. Our team began each morning with worship and prayer. Then we’d begin the difficult task of setting up a clinic in whatever shelter was provided for us that day. We would bring in the suitcases of counted pills and supplies we’d carefully packed the night before, put down floor mats and string up curtains for makeshift consultation rooms. Outside of these “rooms,” our “pop-up clinic” had stations for health education, weight, vital signs, blood sugar tests and even a mini pharmacy.

People came by the hundreds. The medical work was in no way glamorous. Each day was hot, sweaty, grimy—and extremely busy. I enjoyed seeing things from the fresh perspective of a team member who was having her first overseas experience. For her, everything was new, from where to go to the bathroom to finding ways to keep the dogs and children out of the “consultation rooms”!

Yet many others on the medical team had been to Cambodia and/or done medical outreaches outside the United States. One of the highlights was administering to more than 200 school children the first of a series of three vaccinations that will protect them against hepatitis B for the duration of their lives. This vaccine is widely available in the United States, yet it is unaffordable for many Vietnamese living in Cambodia. The team had learned about the need for the vaccine on a previous trip and came prepared.

By God’s grace we were able to treat medical problems such as typhoid, tapeworm, scabies and lice. We educated people with diabetes and hypertension about how to manage these diseases. Using funds the team had raised, we referred and assisted many needing surgery for problems such as a cleft lip/palate, a fistula, a broken arm and breast cancer. Each team member went home with stories of how God helped us meet medical needs in a resource-limited setting.

However, the team came to Cambodia realizing their medications and training could go only so far. Families came to us needing treatment for wounds or disease, but more often than not, their hearts were just as burdened as their bodies. One man came to me suffering mentally from a traumatic experience in the past, asking me to simply pray for him. Some women told of their experiences having abortions; others had lost children to illness. So many of those I treated knew grief and loss at a depth I’d never experienced.

In each of the villages we visited, there was often an obvious element of spiritual pain accompanying the physical malady. It would have been easy to focus merely on the physical. Knowing the large number of people waiting out in front of our consultation curtains each day, pushing pills as quickly as possible would have been the more practical option.

But often, as I glanced over the curtain next to me, I’d see one of the nurses or doctors leaning in close to listen to a patient’s story or praying with them through a translator. I can honestly say this short-term team really encouraged this long-term nurse by seeing the person, not just the patient, and in doing so expressing the love of Christ.

The Lord has recently moved me further west in Africa to join a dynamic team working among the Wolof people group of Senegal. And so I move forward, leaving Asia behind for now. Yet, I count it a privilege to have experienced wonderful, intriguing Cambodia and to have had a glimpse into God’s work there.

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