A year ago today, I was going up and down hundreds of stairs at Hospital Escuala in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I was there on a medical mission trip, serving as part of the Prayer Team. The group I went with is called Operation New Life. They are a Christian medical, surgical, and teaching ministry partnering with Honduran surgical and dental teams.
Or course, there are doctors, nurses, and scrub techs that go on these trips to provide the medical skills needed to facilitate the exams and surgeries – but there is also a prayer team that goes to help tend to the deep spiritual needs that are sometimes more critical than the hip and knee replacements. The prayer team is often called “the Heart of the Team”. That is the team that I was honored to be a part of.
We made daily rounds visiting all of the pediatric floors, which included orthopedic, general surgery, neurological, outpatient oncology, labor and delivery, teen pregnancy center, as well as the adult orthopedic patients our doctors had actually worked on. We gave out all kinds of goodies to the kids, of which the most popular is a Beanie Baby. We also had crayons and coloring sheets, Spanish Bibles, and candy. We made ‘Mom packs’ which held personal hygiene items, and we handed them out to the moms and dads who had been at the hospital for several days and had no way to freshen up. We also had ‘Newborn packs’ that we made and gave to the teen moms of which many of them had NOTHING to help them take care of their babies. But most importantly, we prayed with the patients and their families. I remember one of the pediatric orthopedic surgeons there called me a ‘soul doctor’!
Hospital Escuala is located in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. It is an 1800-bed teaching hospital run by the Medical School and Honduran government. Because it’s a public hospital as well as the teaching hospital, it is overcrowded, underfunded, and extremely dirty. I remember one day, I was with one other prayer team partner, Amy, and our interpreter, Jose. We were waiting to go up to the pediatric floors, and all the sudden, in the lobby, a ceiling tile just fell to the ground in the midst of a wicked water leak! Water just started pouring from the ceiling! Of course, Amy and I are freaking out, but the people at the hospital were not fazed a bit. Hospital staff and patients just kept on doing their normal, everyday routine, as if a big waterfall wasn’t pouring down in the middle of the hospital lobby! Can you imagine if that had happened here in the States? My, how blessed we are.
The first time I went with Operation New Life was in May 2012. This was my first time to have ever gone on a global mission trip. And boy, did it change my life. I have many stories and God moments I could talk about for days and days, but for today’s blog post, I’m going to share one that has absolutely changed the way I view the world.
It was Wednesday of the trip, which many times can be the hardest day, and we were making our daily rounds to all the pediatric floors. On the pediatric orthopedic floor, I met a little guy named Gustavo, who was 12 years old. He was a patient who had just been discharged. He had been hit by a car and suffered a broken arm and a severe case of road rash.
His dad was with him, and he proceeded to tell us through the interpreter the story of how Gustavo got to the hospital. Gustavo and his family lived in a village in the mountains about 10 hours away from the hospital. Gustavo had been hit by a car. When the lady realized she had hit him, she picked him up and drove him all the way to Hospital Escuala, and didn’t even tell his parents! Remember, the hospital is 10 hours away! Gustavo’s family finally got wind of what happened, the dad took a bus to Tegucigalpa to be with his son. The bus ride was expensive, and this family was very poor. When the dad met the woman at the hospital, she said she was going to get money to pay for the medical costs, but she left and never came back.
And basically this was the point we entered the story. The hospital was discharging Gustavo because they had no money to pay the bill. They had put a cast on his broken arm, but they were sending him home with a heinous road rash. They had not even cleaned the original dressing! They were sending him home with a bandage that was actually growing back into the wound. It was AWFUL.
Gustavo and his dad were just waiting there in the hospital until they could figure out a plan to get some money for the bus ride back home to their village. I knew that the Sorrell’s, the couple who started this ministry, sometimes gave money to people when the need called for it. So I went back up to our holding room to ask Mrs. Lynda about providing bus money for this family. I think it cost around $40 American dollars for the bus ride. Mrs. Lynda gave me the money to take back to Gustavo’s dad.
In the meantime, a nurse named Christine who happened to take this day to work with the prayer team instead of being in surgery, was taking Gustavo’s care into her own hands! That dressing was absolutely unacceptable, and she said he could NOT go home with his leg like that. She was truly concerned that infection could actually cause him to lose his leg. There’s no way that he could make a 10 hour bus ride with his leg in that condition.
When I got back to the pediatric ortho floor, what I saw was truly the body of Christ in action. Christine was delicately trying to take off the old dressing that had grown into his wound. Mark, the guy who supplies our doctors with the equipment needed for the hip and knee replacements, was there talking peacefully to Gustavo, trying to keep his mind off of the pain. Another person was pouring water over the wound to help loosen it up from the bandage. Others were just praying quietly over the entire situation. Jose, our interpreter, continued to speak for us words of encouragement while trying to make Gustavo laugh. So I jumped in and became the candy girl. I just kept feeding Dum Dum lollipops to Gustavo, as if sugar could cure anything! That’s all I knew to do – that, and pray.
That day, in that moment, we all had one purpose, one goal. To help this young boy feel the healing touch of God. We all knew our roles and assumed the position of humility and love. We all came from different states, backgrounds, and denominations – but we were one – we were the body of Christ. And in the most tangible way I had ever seen or been a part of.
After several dramatic minutes, the bandage came loose from Gustavo’s leg. We cheered like we had just won the Iron Bowl! I gave the father the money for the bus ride, and he appeared to be very grateful. But there was one last thing to take care of.
The only clothes Gustavo had with him to wear home was the pair of blue jeans he had on when he came to the hospital. After Christine had put new, clean dressing on his leg, she instructed the dad how to clean it every few hours on the way home. But when he tried to put the jeans on, it was just too painful. So Christine, dear Christine, who is quite a character I had learned on this trip, did the most logical thing she could think of. She took off her scrub pants right in the middle of that hospital floor, and gave them to Gustavo to wear. She wrapped a hospital paper blanket around her lower half and didn’t think twice about. She just laughed as though this was a normal thing 🙂 We used the shoe strings from my tennis shoes to help keep the bandage around Gustavo’s tiny leg.
As I was walking back to our ‘holding room’ with this precious group of people, making note that one had no pants on :), God spoke directly to my heart. He said, “I love the untouchables.” Gustavo was an ‘untouchable’. The lady hit him and just left him at the hospital. The hospital discharged him. He had this gosh-awful rotting flesh wound. Nobody wanted Gustavo. Nobody wanted to even touch him. But sweet Christine did. Did I mention that as she was tending to his leg, she had no gloves on. She was all over his wound – touching him – sacrificing her own self. Just like Jesus.
He touched the lepers.
He touched the woman with the 12 year hemorrhage of blood.
He touched you and me.
We are all untouchable. We are all unclean. We are all loved and touched by God.
And where I thought I had done such a good thing by running back to the room and getting money for the bus ticket, Christine saw the bigger need, the most urgent need. Sometimes, actually many times, money isn’t enough. Money may not be the need at all. God needs us to get our hands dirty. To love this most disgusting, untouchable world like He first loved us. So quit throwing money at something (unless God is telling you to), quit searching for gloves or whatever else you think you need before you take action, and get in the game! Love people and get your hands dirty. It’ll be okay – I’m fairly positive that God’s grace covers man’s germs 🙂