The Doctor is In…house calls on the CHI

Finally, after tromping around the largely-refugee complex in sweltering summer heat, we had found it: the residence of Siloam patient “Subba,” our first home-visit of the day.

Doctor Bag

Dr. Kristin Martel had briefed Caleb and me with some basic information about the patient, a 40 year-old Nepalese female with serious, debilitating depression that was beginning to manifest in bodily (specifically joint) pain. As we approached that unremarkable apartment building, though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was woefully unprepared for this – my first home-visit. I was excited to observe an aspect of medicine largely lost to the American healthcare system, but what would it be like, I wondered, to enter the home of someone suffering from severe depression? How could I hope to do or say anything even remotely helpful?

When Subba didn’t answer Kristin’s persistent knocking, I began silently hoping that she wasn’t home so we could skip this whole affair. We waited for a few minutes, and eventually, a Nepalese man named “Poorba” came down the outdoor stairway. Kristin asked Poorba if he knew Subba, and he quickly went back upstairs and returned with Subba’s mother-in-law. She opened the apartment door for us, retrieved Subba from a back room, and invited us to sit with them indoors. Poorba accompanied us as an interpreter.

At first, our interactions with Subba didn’t seem to suggest that anything too out-of-the-ordinary was happening in her life. She didn’t smile and didn’t make eye contact with us, but then again, we had just barged into her house.

After a few minutes, Kristin asked about the medications she was taking. Subba continued staring at the floor, softly rubbing her elbows and knees. She told us that they hadn’t done anything for her pain, which was getting to be so severe that she couldn’t even leave the house anymore. We tried a few other avenues of conversation and eventually came to the topic of her husband.

“How is your husband doing?” Kristin had asked. “Does he work a lot?” My heart fell as I saw tears begin streaming down her face. Kristin moved next to her, put a hand on her back, and gently prompted further. Subba told us that he – her only source of income and support – was in the hospital, undergoing some sort of heart surgery. She felt alone, isolated and unsupported, in her pain.

The sorrowed stillness stretched for what seemed to be an eternity. The silence was broken by Caleb, who lightly inquired about a doll he saw propped up on a nearby table. Her face lifted slightly as she answered, “It’s mine.” She took us back to her bedroom and showed us a few other dolls and stuffed animals, of which she seemed proud. Any happiness they might have elicited sadly fled, though, when we asked about the great view her window afforded her of a children’s playground. The view only deepened her pain, for it reminded her of her longing to be outside.

It seemed that our time at her home would soon be wrapping up, so we prepared to finish with a brief prayer. Before we circled up for the final prayer, though, Kristin inquired about a piece of paper taped to the wall next to Subba’s bed. One of the pictures on the sheet of paper triggered memories of an Eastern Religions class I had taken in college, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the mother-in-law tell us that it was a Hindu prayer. And in that moment, God made His presence known by sealing me with a question I knew I had to ask: “Do those gods answer your prayers?” She said no, they don’t; she prays, but she still feels alone. And there it was, as simple as that – a door to hope. God’s Spirit moved, and we told her why we hope and pray in the name of Jesus.

Afterward, we asked if we could pray for her in Jesus’ name, and she invited us to do so. God demonstrated His wisdom and faithfulness when Poorba – this random guy we bumped into while waiting at Subba’s door – told us that he was actually a pastor and would be happy to translate our prayer. We prayed over her, for the alleviation of her pain, for the health of her husband, and against the spiritual darkness that might seek dominion over her house. Her mother-in-law led us into a second room, and we prayed again for the household.

Leaving her apartment was one of the most saddening yet hopeful experiences I’ve ever had. My heart went out to this poor woman who longed for love, support, and alleviation from her emotional and physical pain. Yet as we left, I knew that God was present and that He would finish the work we had seen Him begin. I may never know the end of her story – whether or not she experiences physical healing and spiritual liberation – but of this I am certain: He heard our prayers that day, and He will continue to relentlessly pursue the heart of His beloved child.

Doezal, James- CHI 2013James is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.

Week 1 – First Impressions

What a whirlwind of a week! It’s been exhausting in many ways, but it has also been one of the most concentrated periods of learning I have had in a long while. The clinicians at Siloam have been immensely helpful in expanding my understanding of American healthcare, both with regard to how the system logistically functions and how Christian medical providers can (and should) strive to provide holistic, whole-person care for people of both physical and spiritual poverty. I am grateful for their wise counsel, generous spirit, and eagerness to teach; we CHI students are immensely blessed to have another five weeks with these men and women of God.

One of the highlights of the week was serving with Siloam at a health fair on Friday afternoon organized to educate and equip the largely-refugee community for healthy living. At the event, people could have their vision, blood pressure, and bone density checked, receive free first aid kits, and learn some basics about nutrition (e.g. how to maintain a balanced diet). Many who came brought children, the management of whom became the task of us CHI students. Inundated with a screaming hoard of hyperactive children, I quickly felt overwhelmed and under-prepared to entertain (or, at the very least, retain a semblance of management or control over) these children. The kids played ball and ran around for a decent amount of time, but a few grew bored and wanted to climb on me for piggy-back rides. Eventually, I relented and as I ran around with a giggling kid of my back screaming, “Faster! Faster!” I couldn’t help but feel like I was Luke Skywalker under Yoda’s training to become a Jedi.

Though it was certainly physically taxing, it felt good to relax and have fun with those persistent, relentless bundles of energy. Needless to say, it’s been a lot of fun working in the community with Siloam; I’m greatly looking forward to continue doing so over the next few weeks.Doezal, James- CHI 2013

James is one of six students participating in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion this summer.

Following Jesus

This week, we Taylor University students had the pleasure of having Carl Medearis come to campus and share about his life as a follower of Jesus. In chapel, he briefly spoke about his time as a “missionary” in the Middle East, whichDoezal, James- CHI 2013 began some 20 years ago; with an amused smirk, he remarked that, to his surprise, the Muslims he had initially gone to witness to didn’t have any interest in signing up for a new religion. After a month of failing to “Christianize the Muslims,” he came to the conclusion that he simply wasn’t communicating what he intended to; when he identified as “Christian,” his Muslim neighbors assumed he also meant American, Westernized, and sadly enough, immoral. One person actually responded to Carl’s invitation to become a Christian with shocking refusal: “I couldn’t do that,” he had said, “I love my family too much.” Sadly, in some parts of the world, the label “Christian” has become unassailably associated with hypocrisy and immorality.

Carl continued by telling us how he eventually learned to let go of the title “Christian” (while not, by any means, dissociating from ekklesia, which is central to an identity in Christ). Rather than focusing on religious identity, he discovered that as long as he focused on the person and work of Jesus, people were much more receptive to hearing the Gospel; incredibly more so, in fact. In a quick-and-dirty survey done in Boulder Creek, CO, Carl’s team discovered that when fifty people were asked about how they felt about “Christianity,” fifty responded negatively. Another fifty were asked how they felt about “Jesus of Nazareth,” and this time, all fifty responded positively. Over the next few months, as he shifted his outward identity from “Christian” to “Follower of Jesus,” he found that he was able to more easily able to share about what was at the heart of Christianity anyway: Jesus of Nazareth.

As I reflect on what Carl learned from his engagement with Muslims, I am realizing that the same must be true of my life.  It is not my desire to merely be a “Christian” in some nebulously, perhaps nominally, religious sense; rather, my aim is to follow Jesus. But what does that look like? How do I follow a man who reigns in heaven? In his book Speaking of Jesus, Carl describes the typically Christian lifestyle many people find themselves trapped in as a soccer match. We’re in it to win – to worship God well, to score some converts, and to beat Team Atheism or Team Islam. But if Jesus were to walk in his dusty sandals across the grassy field right in the middle of our game, would I recognize Him? If he looked straight at me and said “Follow me,” would I have the courage to drop what I’m doing and follow Him?

It is my prayer that this summer, the CHI program will help me discover how Jesus is calling me to do precisely this: drop everything to follow Him. I anxiously await the good things He has in store for this team. Please join us in praying for the courage and faith to follow Him in whatever contexts He calls us.

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