Doing some good: Peru report by Catharine Stansel
Over the past week I have been trying to digest my recent trip to Peru. It’s difficult to do so sometimes because of the pace at which we live. A week in Peru, then right back to life and work and busyness. That is actually one of the things that I enjoy most about Peru while I am there; life slows down! But I quickly digress…
Since our return last Saturday, I have had a number of people ask me about the trip. And one of the questions that keeps recurring is, "Well, do you feel like you did some good while you were there?" Isn’t that what we want to know? Isn’t that the reason that we go on mission trips, to "do some good"? Maybe. But I am starting to think that "doing some good" is not really the point, at least not in the way that we imagine it to be.
There were six of us from All Saints who made the trip to Trujillo,
Peru last week to work in a medical clinic and help with construction.
The medical clinic is part of the work being done by Peru Mission, an
organization that All Saints supports and has many relationships with.
Through Peru Mission, we were set up at their clinic in Wichanzao, a
poor neighborhood in an already poor city. For a few of us, this was a
return trip, not only to Trujillo, but also to this particular clinic
(Whitney and Craig Morgan and I spent a week in Trujillo last
February); and it was exciting to see how much growth and change has
occurred since we were last there. The Wichanzao clinic has moved to a
new building; and instead of the one nurse and one lab tech who staffed
the clinic last year, there is a staff of almost ten as well as a
Peruvian doctor and dentist five days a week! What a joy to see one of
the many ways that the Lord is blessing his people in Trujillo!
But in a strange twist of circumstances, the blessing of Peru Mission’s
newly increased clinic staff meant that I, as the nurse on the trip,
was not really "needed". Don’t get me wrong, there are still many
needs in the Wichanzao clinic; but I didn’t seem to fit any of them.
First of all, I don’t speak Spanish (a fact that I am more than a
little embarrassed about, but it’s true). But more than that, the kind
of medicine that I am familiar with and participate in here in the
States was not necessarily useful in this circumstance. Here in
Austin, I work on a cardiology floor at Seton, where we take care of a
very specific and specialized kind of patient. We do heart
catheterizations, EP studies and ablations, open heart surgeries, and
even heart transplants (which we are very proud of!). And my medical
knowledge is specific to these types of situations; it is even specific
to caring for these types of patients in the hospital setting. So you
can imagine that in a primary care clinic in a culture which has very
basic medical needs, my medical knowledge doesn’t come in very handy.
And for someone who went to nursing school for this very reason, it was
easy to get frustrated. I actually became a nurse because I wanted to
have a very practical and basic skill that I could contribute in these
types of places and circumstances. But instead of being useful, I
found myself not being much good to them at all. I wanted to make
things better for these people. I wanted to fix a very small part of
what I saw was wrong in their lives. But I couldn’t. I was so
"useless" in the clinic that I even spent two of our five working days
doing construction. And I promise that I was even less useful wielding
a sledge hammer than sitting in on medical visits!
But something very interesting happened the last day that we were in
Trujillo. As we were preparing to leave, saying our goodbyes, one of
the nurse techs from the clinic, a beautiful, gracious woman named
Nila, came over to say thank you. Nila and I had spent the week merely
smiling and giggling at each other because neither of us spoke the
other’s language. Our very limited communication occurred either
through an interpreter or through our own "Spanglish" version of
charades. And true to form, when Nila said her goodbye to me it was
not only in words spoken through an interpreter, but also in tears that
welled up in her eyes. She said, "I don’t know why all of you came
here to Peru, why you came to Trujillo, but thank you. Thank you."
For Nila it wasn’t so much what I or anyone else did (or didn’t do),
but simply that we were there.
And as Nila’s sweet farewell took me aback, I realized that this was
not the first time that I had been thanked in a similar way. This trip
was actually my third mission trip with All Saints; and I realized that
I was starting to recognize a pattern in Nila’s response to us. The
people whom we have visited on our mission trips, whether close friends
like Karena Weichman and the McReynolds or "strangers" like Nila, don’t
really seem to care what it is that we do while we’re with them.
Indeed, in many instances (like my "work" with the sledge hammer),
there are others who can do the same work much faster and with much
more skill. What they do all seem to care about is that we came. It
is our very presence that "does some good".
In fact, isn’t this one of the basic elements of our Christian story,
that Christ left the comfort and bounty of heaven to dwell in our
impoverished and broken world? It is good to be reminded of this. And
it’s even good to be reminded that the Lord could do His work much
faster and more skillfully without me, but in His grace He allows me to
participate! It’s good to be reminded that God’s love for me is not
dependent upon my usefulness. And it’s good to be reminded that God is
at work in the world not only through us, but sometimes in spite of
us. Ultimately, it was good for me to be reminded that the "good" that
I do for others is not really about me at all, but about God making
Himself known through me. That is the "good" we can do on short term
mission trips. And that is the "good" we can do in the Christian life.