CHI expands with Kenny Namkoong

We are excited to announce one of the seven pre-medical students who will join us in Nashville this summer for the Community Health Immersion program.  Kenny & 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.

Namkoong, Kenny - 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.

Shocking and inhuman…

As I reflect on the tremendous impact Martin Luther King, Jr., has had on our lives – how he helped release the poor and underprivileged from oppression and helped release the privileged and wealthy from the bondage of arrogance, I am reminded of Jesus’ own mission statement:

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Luke 4: 18-19

In health care for the underserved and despite the promises of the Affordable Care Act, the work before us is heavy.   *Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.”

There remains a great deal of work to be done to release so many of our neighbors from the bondage of inadequate health care. At Siloam, we continue to explore how to care for our patients as whole persons… as part of a wholistic community.  We are guided by a faith in God that seeks to follow the guidance that Jesus gave us in Matthew 25: 40, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

*Spoken at a convention for the Medical Committee for Human Rights in 1966. Resource: Huffington Post

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.

God seeks the one

As Christians, we are commissioned to “Go” (Mark 16:15) and reach the nations. Globe hands - courtsey of Jen Tringale MinistriesSometimes this can feel overwhelming; how can we make a difference in this sea of seven billion people? Although large crowds characterized Jesus’ ministry, he focused his energy on 12 individuals: his disciples. While in our own strength we sometimes seek to add people to the Kingdom of God, Jesus focused on multiplicative growth.

We play soccer at the Highlands some nights. The field is small as it used to be a swimming pool. The management at the Highlands filled dirt in the pool and converted it to a soccer field with artificial turf. A tall fence surrounds the pool, so that when I first entered I felt as though I was entering an ultimate fighting cage! We had a lot of fun playing with the residents of the Highlands.

After the game, I found myself talking to a young man named “Luol” who is 17, stands no less than 6’6” tall, and is from Sudan. Luol has lived in the States for about five years and will be a senior in high school this fall. His mom and his four siblings lived in a Kenyan refugee camp for five years after they fled from Sudan. Luol’s greatest aspiration is to become a jet pilot like his dad was before he was killed in the Sudanese civil war in 2003.  If that does not work out, he would like to become a professional soccer player.

Luol is only 17, but his experiences have made him mature beyond his years. He carries himself with decorum and respect. He is a Christian and participates in a Bible study led by the interns from World Relief who also live in the Highlands.

Our friends are not limited to soccer players. “Samir” lives a few apartments down from where I live. He is six years old and loves piggyback rides. His family is from Iraq. He loves to give swipe-swipe-pound handshakes and ride bikes in the small, crowded apartment parking lot with his gaggle of friends. His parents are working very hard to provide for their family.

The other day, I played badminton in the apartment parking lot with “Sumi” and his three brothers. Their family just moved to the States one month ago. Sumi went to university in Darjeeling, India and studied science there. I never knew badminton could be such a serious sport!

Living at the Highlands is a singular experience. I doubt one could live in proximity to such a wide assortment of cultures in any other place. At times, these refugees can feel isolated and forgotten. But God has not forgotten them. Each of them is His son or daughter. They are His workmanship and masterpiece. They have special talents and skills and personality traits that God placed in each of them.

One individual (Jesus) investing in a few (the Twelve) resulted in the greatest spiritual revival in history. The enemies of the Gospel exclaimed, “They are turning the world upside down!” (Acts 17:6). God has a plan to reach the nations, but we must realize that He is using us to reach individuals! Investing in one person is always worthwhile.

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

Redefining “Home”

Today we saw a mouse run through our apartment.

A room with a view at the Highlands Apartments.

A room with a view at the Highlands Apartments.

Lounging on the couches while discussing evening devotionals, the freeloader whipped its rent-free little body out under the hall closet door and into the darkness of the tiny bathroom. As one may expect, a lot of time was spent dramatically gasping and speculating on how to deal with the creature, giving it ample time to run away and haunt our dreams all night.

These past few weeks have been full of challenges; dealing with unwelcome mice gnawing through the shiny bags of pasta in the pantry being only the most recent one. In many ways these challenges have been conducive to personal growth: I’ve learned to live on a food stamp budget ($1.90 a meal), to acclimate to the Nashville heat, to become comfortable around those with whom I don’t speak the same language. I could not be more thankful for the way these challenges are opening my eyes to the true world around me.

Although I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity, sometimes I find it difficult not to nostalgically long for home, for the comfort of the soft hands of loved ones, the rock-solid mattress of my childhood bed, the beauty of a Lake Michigan sunset studded with so many stars the sky never darkens. For me, this week, the mouse was just another reminder in the seemingly millions I’ve been encountering over the last few weeks telling me that this place is different. Nashville, Tennessee is not home.

I spent the month of May studying abroad in Vienna, Austria, which means it’s now going on seven weeks since I’ve been home in Michigan. Last Monday I was beginning to let homesickness overwhelm me. That morning I accompanied Rebecca Swift, Siloam’s Behavioral Health Consultant, as she spoke with incoming refugees about their transition to America. The stories that were told that morning were heartbreaking. “Abdi” told the harrowing story of his escape from Somalia, a trip that involved driving across the Sahara desert, captivity, and several gunshot wounds which adorned his chest.

Abdi’s escape also separated him from his brother, the only family member to survive the violence in Somalia. “Diego,” a refugee from Cuba, had to leave his wife and two daughters behind as he fled to American soil. He hopes they will be able to join him in this country soon. After the death of her husband, “Hagar” was continuously sexually harassed by men in her community and forced to flee her homeland of Egypt, leaving her two sons behind.

As story after story was told I found my heart constantly tried and humbled by the grit and boldness of the refugees. They were facing a reality in which they could never return home, yet an Iraqi woman told me the day she moved to America was “the best day of [her] life.” I found contagious hope in the refugees last Monday that one rarely experiences in America. The example of these wise individuals gave me new appreciation for Psalm 90, “Lord, you have been our refuge in every generation” (HCSB). Our home is in the Lord—and even when there are mice, language barriers, and family thousands of miles away, the beauty of that promise will never cease to be true. For that, I am thankful.

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

My Burmese Family

As my feet crossed the threshold of the door, I immediately Burma Map - hit with a wave of heat. The smell of fried eggs rolls and homemade broth filled my nostrils and a sense of home and happiness crept up inside me. I knew right away that this was going to be no ordinary experience.

The main room of the apartment was small with bare walls. The floor was carpet, but a large red plastic mat was spread out for people to sit on. The only thing lighting up the room was a small one-light-bulb lamp in the corner.

Nancy* and Grace*, our friends from the Burmese church, ushered us to sit as we entered the apartment. Slowly the room began to fill with Burmese people who were part of their congregation, most of whom could not speak English. Every person that walked through that doorway would shake our hand while having the most genuine smile on their face. Kids were running around everywhere, yelling, laughing, and playing with balloons and balls. I couldn’t help but sit in awe, enjoying the beautiful chaos that God allowed us to be part of.

Nancy* was born and raised in Burma but she fled with her two brothers about 7 years ago to Malaysia due to political instability and injustice in their home country. They stayed in Malaysia for about 4 years before being given the chance to relocate to the United States with the help of the UN. She remembers being very scared of the police in Malaysia because they would imprison Burmese people with no valid reason. She remembers a story about a man who was living on one of the top floors of a tall building. He heard the police coming so he hid in a box that was set next to the window. Unfortunately, the window was open and he fell to his death.

If you met Nancy* on the street and started talking to her, you probably would never guess the life she lived before coming to America because she always has a big smile on her face. I asked her if she liked being here or if she missed home. She responded by saying, ‘When I was on the plane, I looked out the window and saw all the churches that were here. I immediately knew I would be okay. This could be home. God is so good.’ Her words amazed me.

I will never be able to fully comprehend what this beautiful woman has gone through because growing up here is so different. But I do know one thing. The faith of each person in that room that night was something to be admired and a challenge to look at my own faith.

After we all ate together, Pastor John pulled out his guitar and we all began singing the familiar chorus, ‘Shout to the Lord’. Then, the congregation began praising God with a song in Burmese. There weren’t many of us in that room, but the voices singing were loud, clear, honest, and beautiful. I remember sitting there with my eyes closed and just listening, thinking how this has to be a glimpse of what heaven might be like. God is so good.Melissa Puntkattalee - CHI 2013 participant

*Names were changed for privacy.

Jane is a participant in Siloam’s six-week Community Health Immersion.