“Before God, We Are All Poor”

Run with the Nations - sorting homelands

The homelands of some of Nashville’s refugee populations are cued up for the Run with the Nations 5K.

It has already been a week of being home from the project and I am not totally sure I have realized that it is over. Seeing everyone at home has been an enormous blessing and it has done more than enough to quell the homesickness I felt the last few days before leaving. I am very glad to be able to once again spend time with my family and to share all of my experiences but something about being here just doesn’t seem right.

There is something in the way that I don’t have to budget, pay for, and prepare my meals; something about the television being on (having lacked one for six weeks); something about the safety from mice and cockroaches; something about not having a daily opportunity to see the smiling faces of people from all around the world; and something about having more than $10 in my wallet that seems too…normal.

My entire summer so far has been spent “reframing” my point of view and looking at things from a different perspective by experiencing it myself. We learned how to survive and how to live without a life of plenty and now that I have left that experience and the intentionality of the program I am fully starting to grasp how much I have changed throughout those six weeks.

Burmese friends enjoy a meal with CHI students - 2013

CHI students, Madison, Jane, and Elias enjoy the presence of friends within the local Burmese community.

The simplicity of living and the absence from distractions gave me a better focus and was actually quite enjoyable! Because I had never willingly chosen to sacrifice or reduce my standard of living, it was a freeing experience. Any constraint placed on the experience due to monetary limitations was quickly forgotten as a result of the joy I found in the relationships that I was building in the group, in the congregation, and in the clinic.

Since being back, many people have asked me what it was like living with little to nothing. Honestly, it was not bad at all. I forgot about what I did not have and instead focused on the blessings that I did have. Fulfillment was not coming from material possessions but in satisfaction with where I was and who I was with: those we were serving and learning from. After this experience I have experienced that while it is possible to be physically “poor” and in need, it may be easily overcome and defeated with love and through hope.

The Community Health Immersion instilled in me a fresher and greater passion for service and a clearer direction for my aspirations as a Physician Assistant as well as a follower of Christ. By removing myself from worldly distractions and abundance, I now see distinctly where I would like to end up – whether that is what God has in mind is another story!

Nonetheless, I am very thankful for Siloam and the adventures they took me on this summer. It was a wonderful blessing to learn from and watch them work in the clinic as well as the opportunities they gave me outside of their walls in the community and in the congregation. As I continue to evaluate what I have seen and begin to apply it to my life I am thankful for the experience and for relationships that I have made.

Manzella, Elias - nearing the finish line at Run with the Nations - 2013

Elias Manzella, a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion, makes a strong finish as he completes the Run with the Nations 5-K supporting work with refugees being resettled in Nashville, Tennessee.

Curry and Questioning – Part 2 of 2

My Burmese family, the refugees and immigrants who are my neighbors, and of course, the staff at Siloam have stretched me, pushed me, and challenged me from all different directions.

Students have enjoyed the heartfelt worship of a local Burmese congregation.

Students have enjoyed the heartfelt worship of a local Burmese congregation.

I can only hope that the result is a transformed individual, armed with the means to enter the healthcare field to both serve my patients and my Lord. I have been exposed to so much this past month I don’t believe I can make a sound judgment yet on how I will be able to live out all I have learned or exactly how much I have changed – I may never truly know.

Right now, however, I am at a crisis stage.

Four weeks into the project, I have gotten too comfortable. Most of the “newness,” adventure, and uniqueness of Siloam has worn off. I am still excited to wake up every morning but it isn’t the same. In two weeks my life will be turned back upside down and I don’t know how to approach it. I am scared of leaving and going back to my old way of life.

After witnessing so many people invite God into the workplace as well as their heart and mind, how can I let go of myself and allow Him to work through me? And why is it that even though they were forced to flee the homes that they love, the faith of the Burmese has been unwavering and full of thanksgiving, while my life of blessings only yields further questions for the God I love?

Perhaps these questions – while frustrating in the moment – will produce a stronger faith. For now, there are many thoughts I have had which will influence how I intentionally approach not only my career but my life in a more humble and Christ-driven manner.

In her book, No Greater Love, Mother Teresa speaks of humility and how it is a way of drawing closer to God. After laying down most of my luxuries so far this summer and experiencing several aspects of poverty I have been able to reflect a lot on myself and what it means – as Jesus said – to “sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor and then follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)

Mother Teresa says in her book, “Needs increase because one thing calls for another. This results in uncontrollable dissatisfaction. Let us remain as empty as possible so that God can fill us up.”

For me, this summer has severed the desire for more needs and placed me in a better position to empty myself and allow God to fill me up. So far He has filled me with a greater desire to pursue Him and to look for the presence of Jesus in other people. Witnessing this happen in the interactions between practitioners and patients at Siloam gives me an even greater desire to pursue medicine as a career.

Despite all of the questions I have accrued, I know that I will continue to gather more as my walk continues. Hopefully, these last few weeks will answer many of them. But in the likely case that they aren’t answered, I can find peace in the fact that searching for them will produce even greater knowledge and that my faith will be made stronger by surrendering it all to God.

Manzella, Elias - 2013  Elias is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.

Curry and Questionings – Part 1 of 2

There have been very few frustrations in this immersion program so far.

CHI participant, Jane, enjoys both food and friends in a Burmese house church.

CHI participant, Jane, enjoys both food and friends in a Burmese house church.

In fact, the only one that I can think of right now is my total incompetence when it comes to learning words in a different language. We have spent three weeks with a Burmese congregation and the only word that I know is Jesu-be or “thank you.” Fortunately for me, I have plenty of opportunities to express my gratitude using this simple expression.

My time with the Burmese has been an amazing adventure and a wonderful experience. We attend the Sunday service every week, located in the Bethel World Outreach church. Here, the 2-3 dozen or so attendees worship, pray, read scripture, and share stories of God working in their daily lives – all of which is conducted in the Burmese language. Needless to say, I cannot understand anything that is being said, sung, or shared. What I can understand, however, are the smiles on their faces, the passion in their words, the tears in their eyes, and the love on their hearts. I find this to be true not only on Sundays but also Saturday nights at the house church. Actually, the relaxed setting makes the experience even more powerful because it is a much more informal and personal interaction.

Spending Saturday evenings at a church member’s apartment is what I look forward to most about the weekend. As Jane highlighted in her previous blog, (found here: http://siloaminstitute.org/2013/06/11/my-burmese-family/) the house church is “no ordinary experience.”

The large mat covering a majority of the floor serves as the only “furniture” in the room; we all sit around it and I am reminded of kindergarten during show and tell – except we are asked to share testimonies of the presence of God in our lives the past week. Listening to these stories is very encouraging; even the smallest blessings are spoken of with excitement and exhilaration. I am always taken aback when I look around the room and witness the pure, raw, unbridled emotion in their words and actions while sharing, praying, and singing. This is what true gratitude toward our Father is: always acknowledging His presence, seeking Him with our thoughts, mimicking Him through our actions, and allowing the Holy Spirit to flow from our being.

After we are done worshiping and sharing, we are met with a wave of food – noodle soup, egg-rolls, and curry to name a few. Simply put, it is delicious. Not only are we fed these cuisines, they find great delight in continually giving us more and more until I feel as if I am going to burst!

In addition to their generosity, we are showered with excellent conversation and stories about their lives and where they have come from. The more I hear the more intrigued I become and the more my own faith is challenged.

Many stories include fleeing their native state in Myanmar (Burma) to a refugee camp in Thailand or Malaysia. From these camps, they have been able to travel to America, finally ending up in Nashville. This pattern repeats itself from one person to another but each individual has a different take and a different experience through the process.

One constant that I have found in every story is their faith. Throughout all of their trials, turmoil, travel woes, and tribulation their faith remains. Everyone is so grateful not only for the blessings, new beginnings, and friends accumulated but for the hardships as well. Their faith hasn’t been shaken but strengthened; I long to experience this same abandonment of personal feelings in order to focus on our Heavenly Father.

With the opportunities and blessings I have been given why do I not always feel this confident in my faith? In my next blog, I will write about how this summer is affecting the way I approach my own “hardships” and personal wrestlings dealing with my faith in action.

Manzella, Elias - 2013  Elias is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.


Compassion is a Universal Language

Entering the room I expected to see “Mrs. Garcia” sitting awkwardly due to some pain in her right leg. compassionate-touch - courtesy of boldgain blogHowever, she had also listed “depression” among her complaints,  I did not know what to expect. I did notice the vacant expression on her face and assumed that the leg pain was not the only thing on her mind.

While Dr.Wills conducted the physical examination I wasn’t interested in the content of the questions he was asking but rather the manner in which he asked them. Contending with the language barrier and aided by the use of a phone interpreter we learned that her pain renders her almost useless at home and doesn’t allow her to get more than four hours of sleep a night. Obviously, these are factors which contributed to her feelings of depression. Right here the questioning could have ended, pain medication, anti-depressants, and sleep medication could have been prescribed, as well as a referral to see a physical therapist and she could have been on her way. However, Dr. Wills chose to delve deeper and involve the other resources available at Siloam.

I accompanied Mrs. Garcia to Rebecca Swift’s office (she is the staff behavioral health consultant) where we learned that when Mrs. Garcia had left Cuba, both of her sons and their family’s application to relocate with her had been denied by the Cuban government. Just listening to her talk about both of her sons and grandchildren – I could see that she was missing a huge part of her life and her heart. While explaining this, she began to cry and I found myself reaching out to pat her back as an assertion of what Rebecca was saying – that she was a good mother and she raised fine young men. When Rebecca had finished, Mrs. Garcia was offered and agreed to prayer from the Siloam Pastor, Doug Mann.

I have had the pleasure of speaking with Doug on occasion and his sense of humor is unmatched, but to see him in this context: praying with a woman who felt alone and worthless, was a true blessing. Through his beautiful words, Doug was able to illustrate to Mrs. Garcia the love that God has for her and the great lengths that He is willing to go to in order to pursue her. As tears continued to stream down her face all she could say was, “gracias,” over and over again. When she was on her way to leave she turned to me, hugged me, and kissed me on the cheek. It was right then I realized that I had witnessed something special in this woman’s life.

I have always understood the term “whole-person care” as not only seeking the physical well-being of a patient but also ministering to their mental, emotional, and spiritual health. In theory this sounds like an excellent way to go – especially when considering that all aspects of health have an impact on one another. However, actually caring for the “whole person” can be a very daunting task for any individual. While I do believe that it can be done, there is definitely a better outcome if a team approach is taken. Siloam has mastered this;  not because they try to “fix the problem” but because they truly care and love the people they serve. While there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from a clinical perspective at Siloam, what I am finding most beneficial from my time here is the way they show love and bring hope to their patients.

Manzella, Elias - 2013Elias is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.

The World Is Our Classroom

It is hard to believe that a week has already gone by here in Nashville as a member of the Community Health Immersion. We have been a part of so many diverse opportunities it makes me wonder what else there could possibly be to see! Yet, I know that there is a great deal left to experience and I cannot help but crave more. Please let me just share with you several moments that have stuck out to me this past week:  Bhutan map - www.edweek.org

The first thing I noticed when I initially walked into the Siloam clinic was the enthusiasm the staff had when greeting us. Everybody who was there shared a smile and the friendly atmosphere quickly took away any nerves or anxiety I have accrued the past several months – especially in the car ride over that morning. It was not hard to see that the same anticipation I had for Siloam, they had for me. This theme continued throughout the week as we encountered new staff and volunteers, members in the community, and the liaisons from our respective churches. Even as the week wore on and exhaustion began to set in, the happiness and joy I found in those I encountered kept the fire inside of me burning and made getting up in the morning worth it even more.

Another moment that I cannot shake from my mind happened on the first day. In the morning we had all been placed with an incoming refugee family for their first examination in America. Each family had an interpreter assigned to allow for the best care to be provided; it was amazing to hear that many of them were volunteering their time for this. I had the wonderful opportunity of spending the morning with a Bhutanese family moving here from their refugee camp in Nepal. As I sat in the main room listening to instructions being read and conversing with them through the interpreter I allowed for my ears to take in the sounds from around the room…or rather from around the world. It felt as if I had stepped into an international radio station as I heard words being spoken from all across the globe. It was very powerful to experience the clash of cultures in one small room, to know that through the chaos in the room they were being cared for through the love of Christ, and also to feel the sense of hope both in that main room and in the individual exam rooms.

In addition to following the refugees on Monday morning, there were plenty of opportunities to spend time with the providers in the clinic, and numerous orientations which helped us better understand what to look for and what to expect these next few weeks. Any excitement for this immersion I felt before can now be increased tremendously as I prepare to see how I will be used in the future and during this summer.

Manzella, Elias - 2013Elias is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.

Is it summer yet?

For the past year I have become increasingly interestedManzella, Elias - 2013 in serving the underprivileged through some sort of medically based mission; however, it is extremely difficult to find a program providing adequate experience for undergraduate students. After praying for doors to be opened, I stumbled upon the Community Health Immersion. Immediately, I knew this was where I wanted to be.

I cannot wait to get started this summer; there is so much that I want to do! It has always been a desire of mine to give as much as I possibly can and working in close community with all of these wonderful people will provide ample opportunities to do so. There is also so much that I hope to learn – not only in the healthcare field but also in the relationships I will build.

This summer will allow me to pour into people the same love that Christ shows me. I never want to stop learning about life and sharing my joy of it with others. I view a person as a whole – body, mind, and spirit – and I want to minister to all those aspects.

The CHI will provide opportunities for this on a daily basis and it will allow me to not only gain experience and an appreciation for healthcare in a diverse context but will cultivate spiritual growth as well. As a Christian, I have a strong urge to be in community with those whom I am serving and a desire to know people on a personal level. How can there be sacrifice without a relationship?

This summer I hope to gain a lot of knowledge but more importantly I want to love on other people (John 12:34-35).

Editor’s note: Elias is one of six pre-medical students from across the country who will spend the summer in Nashville in a Community Health Immersion.