The CHI Team grows with Chelsea Travis

We are excited to announce another one of the seven pre-medical students who will join us in Nashville this summer for the Community Health Immersion program. Chelsea & the others will live in and serve a local refugee community along with shadow providers at Siloam and reflect on God’s call to them through a career in medicine.  Click here to see the profiles of the other students joining us this summer.

Travis, Chelsea - Profile for WEBSITE

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Reinie Thomas joins CHI

We are excited to announce another one of the seven pre-medical students who will join us in Nashville this summer for the Community Health Immersion program. Reinie & the others will live in and serve a local refugee community along with shadow providers at Siloam and reflect on God’s call to them through a career in medicine.  Click here to see the profiles of the other students joining us this summer.

Thomas, Reinie - Profile

Consider financially supporting this ministry as we plant seeds to share the love of Christ by serving those in need through health care.

Click the Donate button below to make a gift by credit card or Paypal.

“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.

Forever changed…

Anointing hands

As followers of Jesus, Pastor Doug Mann prays a blessing for the students in preparation to anoint them with oil for service.

It is Monday morning (July 15)…the clinic seems relatively quiet this morning.  It is missing seven amazing young people.  Caleb, Claire, Elias, James, Jane, Madison, and Olivia as their fearless leader wrapped up Siloam’s Community Health Immersion (CHI) this past Friday.

Monday mornings on the CHI were spent observing and assisting in a medical screening for 20-40 refugees who recently arrived to the U.S. and are being resettled in Nashville.  The refugees are here…but, we do miss the students!

A beautiful commissioning service was held last Thursday night where they were blessed and anointed with oil to be sent out to continue their faithful walks of service to God.

Anointed with oil

For the past six weeks, the students lived in an apartment complex among refugee families, engaged a local Hispanic church and Burmese church, observed multiple faith-based clinical settings and studied whole-person care from a Christian perspective.

As one student remarked, “My life and my outlook have forever been changed by those I have encountered…”

My hope is that they have left with a greater understanding of God’s call on their lives…and particularly how they can faithfully allow the Holy Spirit to use them to demonstrate God’s love and compassion through service.

Students - Caleb, Jane, Elias, Olivia, Madison, James, Claire

CHI Students (L to R): Caleb Huber, Jane Puntkattalee, Elias Manzella, Olivia Rolando (Project Director), Madison Brown, James Dolezal, and Claire Johnson


“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36

Glory is going to be her name. She has and will bring glory to God.

‘Elaine’ is the wife of the pastor of the Burmese church we have been attending. I first noticed her soft-spoken nature and the elegance she naturally presents, but after talking to her I realized that the quality she possesses that stands out the most is her reverence of God.

Bethel Burmese congregation poses with CHI students: Jane, Madison and Elias.

Members of the Bethel Burmese congregation pose with CHI students: Jane, Madison and Elias.

Elaine grew up in a Christian home in Burma, where only 3% of the population followed the same faith as her family. Like most of the other congregation members she had to escape to Malaysia as a young refugee woman in hopes of one day coming to the United States.

She kept her faith strong even as refugee in a foreign country through fellowship with other believers. In Malaysia, she met her husband who would later convert from Buddhism to Christianity. As she told me this story, her husband showed me a photo of himself when he was a monk. Yet here in front of me, he sits as a pastor of a church who is spreading the good news. It is truly amazing to see the way that God works, sometimes in the most unexpected but powerful ways.

The couple has had one daughter together since arriving to the United States and Elaine is now pregnant with their second child. I asked her if she knew what she wanted to name her second child. She proceeded to tell me the story of how she decided to name her future daughter.

A while back when Elaine was a couple of months pregnant, she fell down the steps in front of the church. She was rushed to the hospital where the doctor told her she had a 50% chance of her baby living. A couple of days later, her prayers were answered when they found out that their baby was going to live and be perfectly fine. A few more months later into her pregnancy, she went in for a regular check-up and came out with some bad news. The doctor told her that her baby may be born with Down syndrome.

Elaine and her husband were in shock and she told me about how they prayed to God fervently and that they trusted in His will for them and their family. As more time progressed in her pregnancy, she went in for another check-up and both Elaine and her doctor were surprised to find out that the baby would be born healthy and normal.

She believed that everything that happened was to glorify God and thus she wanted to name her daughter Glory. For me, it was beautiful to sit and listen to Elaine’s story because through her I am able to see a bit more of God’s love for His children. Her faith and walk with Christ is what sustains her and should be what sustains all of us. She gave Him the control and had faith in Him in every struggle of her life. The life she lives is a light for the world and it’s absolutely beautiful, just like her.

Melissa Puntkattalee - CHI 2013 participant  Jane is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.

Food stamps, friendship, and fun

It’s amazing how God provides a new kind of family when your biological family is so far away.  It’s an honor and privilege to not only call the six amazing people God placed in my life, friends but family.  We are all different but add so much to the group.  Students making breakfast in their aptWe laugh, cry, and share our hearts with one another.  Like all families we have our arguments but always pull together whether it is to plan meals, go grocery shopping, and live on our food stamp allowance.  Let’s just say that we have all learned quickly what a blessing food can be.

True happiness does not come from worldly things or possessions but from time spent together.  Whether we are relaxing at a coffee shop, going on a hike at Radnor Lake, braving downtown, or hanging out in apartment E3, we always seem to have a great time.  There is never a dull moment. Dinner is filled with laughter, devotions provide insightful discussions, and down time includes learning to count in Thai, guitar playing, and occasionally a movie.

Most recently we started our new endeavor, the thirty-day squat challenge with Olivia and Claire as our fearless leaders.  I have never had so much fun exercising.  From 50 squats at a time to 250 squats over a course of thirty days.

I knew before coming to Nashville that I was going to establish some lifetime friends but I never realized how amazing they were going to be.  I can only thank God for placing us all here this summer.  As the last week and a half winds down it’s going to be bittersweet to our go separate ways and return to our families.  We joke about how we need to use Google hangout to catch up once a month but part of me hopes that we do.

The staff and volunteers at Siloam are another kind of family.  Edwin Warner Park picnic - Caleb, Lindsay, Claire, Olivia - 2013There is such a loving and supportive environment there that it is infectious.  These wonderful people have welcomed us into their work place and have gone out of their way to make us feel included and needed in and out of the clinic.  For the last several Fridays many of the staff went above and beyond by graciously inviting us to dinner.  Which, for us, is a huge blessing to not only fellowship with them but to have a yummy meal that consists more than our typical entrée and veggie.

These lovely people also pooled together to lend us an assortment of different sized water shoes for us to borrow for our adventure to Cummins Falls.  Inside the clinic, they taught us how to first love God and to love each and every patient that walks through the door.  Whether it is by blowing bubbles to make an unhappy child smile, or praying with a patient that needs comforting.  The focus they have for whole-person care is incredible and how they rely on each other to accomplish this.Cummins Falls is visited by the CHI students

To show the heart of these people, they took the time to reflect on a patient whose wife had just recently passed at a staff meeting.  As they shared their stories it was incredible to see how much an impact a patient could make on a room filled with the clinic’s staff.  Who else has a staff meeting that starts and ends with prayer and reflects on the impact of a patient?  One of the stories shared on this patient was that he and his wife considered Siloam as their church.  What a blessing and a wonderful demonstration of how a health center can share God’s love.

While here, I have also gained another church family among the Burmese Bethel congregation.  These people have been such a blessing.  I can’t wait to share more in a later post of how this small group has touched my heart!

Madison Brown - CHI 2013 participant  Madison is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.

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: 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.


An Invitation

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at a pool party.

It may seem unremarkable; Nashville summer is eat-your-ice-cream-quick hot and this is the weekend of fireworks and barbeques, too-pink skin and Chaco tan lines. Yes, this party may have fit the American mold in that there was food, laughter, and the sun shone bright, but that is where the similarities end. This was the first pool party I had ever attended in which I did not speak the primary language, or know what most of the food I was consuming was called.

This was the first pool party I’d ever been to that was thrown especially for me.Jesus welcoming us

Let me just say this: the people of El Shaddai know how to throw a surprise party. Although Caleb, James and I were shocked to discover that the small gathering we’d been expecting from a casual invitation the week prior was in reality a full-blown party, we felt comfortable. In the midst of the jokes and homemade coconut ice cream of this Spanish-speaking congregation I found myself at home, a welcome addition to this beautiful community, simply because through love I was invited to be.

As I peruse the Holy Word I’m struck by the fact that God has forever known the importance of an invitation. I’ve often puzzled over the seemingly simple queries of the Lord, from the “Where are you?” of Garden of Eden fame (Genesis 3:9) to the seemingly flippant “Would you like to get well?” to the lame man at the pool of Bethesda. (John 5:6). Doesn’t God already know the answers? This week I realized that God uses questions as an invitation towards engagement with Him. Through questions God invites me to be found and be healed, to grasp tightly to His bloodied hand. Through Jesus, God reaches out an invitation to engage with me.

This week I met “Biruh”, a beautiful young refugee woman. Biruh is three months young to America, the beloved younger sister of her older brother “Myo”, a new employee of Tyson® working 60 hours a week. Biruh is severely anemic and very weak. Biruh is also deaf and mute. Along with James Dolezal, I accompanied Michael Daniel, Siloam’s Physician’s Assistant, to visit Biruh at home. When we arrived, we were shocked at what we found—Biruh, sitting despondent in a corner of the small living room, head hanging low. She was in the company of a neighbor, a man who (when prompted) attempted to communicate with her by speaking loudly. “That means she has to use the bathroom,” he said confidently as Biruh almost imperceptibly moved her left hand. When asked about her family (Biruh was unresponsive) the neighbor promptly disappeared to locate them, leaving us alone with Biruh for almost ten minutes.

She didn’t lift her head the entire time.

Eventually her family returned and confirmed what I feared: Biruh spent the majority of each day in the tiny apartment, alone. Her mother commented that, although she asks Biruh to clean for her, she is “lazy and slow”.

As I looked at Biruh I felt that I had never seen a more vulnerable person. Here was a person begging with her whole being to be invited to engage; and as we prayed for her before departing I hoped she realized that Jesus was extending that bloodied palm towards her. As we prayed for healing for Biruh, body and mind, I prayed the truth of Scripture, “My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine…He who did not spare even His own Son, how will He not also freely and graciously give all things?” (Isaiah 55:8, Romans 8:32).

I cannot understand Biruh’s pain, her loneliness, or God’s purpose in her debilitating disability. But I remain confident that God invites her to be His, to rest and be healed, and so I hope. I hope in the invitation that will allow her to feel at home with a family of strangers. I hope in the promise of “how will He not also…?”. I place my hope in that bloody cross, and I pray for Biruh, because through His love I am invited to do so.

Claire Johnson - CHI 2013 participant Claire is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.

Tear down that wall!

God’s plan was always multi-national and cross-cultural (Isaiah 56:7, …a house of prayer for the nations). Wall - break down - www.newlandchase.comThere is no barrier too great or difference too significant to keep Him from reaching His children. To be present at Siloam is to see barriers of every kind be broken down by the love and light of Jesus Christ.

This week during the Monday Refugee clinic, I met a volunteer, a member of the Pastoral Care team at Siloam. He moved to America a few years ago from a middle eastern country. While working as a Civil Engineer, he invited Jesus into his heart and found his life was changed forever.

He attended an underground seminary in the middle east alongside several others including those imprisoned for their Christian faith. While the pastor was there, he received a call to go to America as a missionary. I thank God for his boldness and his love for God and His children. A missionary from a Muslim country to America: God’s love is truly unconditional and great! The pastor encouraged me, “Ask for the Holy Spirit and pursue Him. He is God’s gift to His people. He is there to help you every day”.

Three of us on the Community Health Immersion project are attending a local Spanish-speaking church. Even though the sermon can be difficult for us gringos to understand, we are always encouraged by their faith! Their families are tightly knit and  it was so encouraging to see them celebrate el dia del padre (Father’s Day!). We are learning a great deal from them about thankfulness, faith, and how important it is to invest in people! They communicate God’s love clearly to us despite the language-barrier that is present.

So often on this CHI journey I have realized that even though I signed up for this program in order to serve others, I spent the entire day being encouraged and built-up by they very same people I came to aid! I am sure this was God’s plan all along. He does not make plans for us to become spent and worn down. Instead, he lays us down in green pastures and leads us beside quiet waters (Psalm 23)! God is so good, He arranges His call to you so that when you go to serve others, you leave stronger than you were before!

Caleb Huber - CHI 2013 participant  Caleb is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.