Lay health workers trained by Siloam students

“I‘m too much glad to see you because you are Nepali.” Greetings like this one from a Nepali man bring joy to 19-year old Anita Nepal who loves helping people in the Nepalese community of Nashville.  Anita, born in a refugee camp in Nepal to Bhutanese parents, was recently trained as a lay health worker by pre-medical students participating in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion program. Nashville’s Nepali community – mostly made up of refugees from Nepal and Bhutan – appreciate the cross-cultural understanding that Anita brings as she teaches within her community on the health topics she recently learned.

“Many of the Nepali people do not understand the health care system in America,” says Anita who works full-time in housekeeping at a local hospital. They struggle to know how to make appointments to see a doctor or how to get medicine from a pharmacy because as Anita says, “… in Nepal there were no appointments or prescriptions…you just show up and ask for what you need.”

“I learned many things – I can help many…”

For Siloam’s six-week Community Health Immersion program, pre-medical students were recruited from around the country to live in a refugee apartment complex in southeast Nashville where they trained nine lay health workers like Anita from the neighborhood. Training topics included preventative care like oral health, nutrition, and exercise, along with health navigation topics like how insurance works and the difference between an emergency room and a primary care clinic. Beyond learning how to teach lay health workers, the pre-medical students also explored how to see the vocation of medicine as a calling and to see how to care for patients as whole persons as Jesus did.

The pre-medical students’ work with the lay health workers is making a lasting impact.  The oral health topic alone made an immediate impact on Anita’s family of five who were resettled a year ago in Nashville after spending 21 years in a refugee camp in Nepal. “We did not know about dental floss or how many times each day to brush our teeth or for how long,” Anita says. “Now we do. I learned many things – I can help many Nepali and Bhutanese people.”

Lay Health Workers and CHI Students pose outside their apartment - 2014 - cropped

Pre-medical students and lay health workers pose outside following a training session. Lay health workers include (L-R) Samson Sarki from Bhutan (in turquoise), Paulos Ezekiel from Eritrea (in purple), and Anita Nepal from Nepal (in blue and red). Pre-medical students (L-R back row) include Will Davies, Stewart Goodwin, Kenny Namkoong, Frances Cobb, Caleb Huber, Will Tucker, along with Reinie Thomas (kneeling), and Lauren Roddy (in blue on right). Pre-medical student Chelsea Travis is behind the lens!

Waterfall Refuge

Guest blogger Will Tucker, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…

Rest is what we needed whether we realized it or not. Exhaustion is a safe word to describe the general state of our group. I don’t think we understood how tiring it could be to simply live.

“I don’t think we understood…”

If you had asked me heading into the CHI project if I thought I would be worn down from waking early in the morning, spending time with refugees in our complex and in clinic, and living in company with other like-minded individuals seeking to grow in Christ I would have responded, “Absolutely not, we’ll be doing good work,” but I was wrong. I realized quickly that work, no matter how good, can still wear a person thin and that rest, perhaps more appropriately refuge, is necessary. Where do people in Tennessee go when seeking refuge? It would appear they go to water holes, so we joined in. Cummins Falls was our destination and hopefully we could find rest there.

“Suddenly I recognized my own breathing…”

We hiked the trails all together, boisterously making our way over hills and back down again…over hills and back down again. We jumped this tree root and that one, avoiding walking into too much greenery and hopefully

Will Tucker is a rising senior at Union University.

Will Tucker is a rising senior at Union University.

poison ivy simultaneously. We walked down a hill, around a sharp turn, and back up again. Space between us grew larger and quiet ensued. Beauty surrounded us. As we continued walking along the path, just past a steep incline, I heard behind me Kenny voiced what everyone else was probably thinking, “Guys, I’m tired.” Suddenly I recognized my own breathing, the tiredness in my legs as I lifted for the next step, and the relief in hearing aloud exactly what I needed to hear.

 “There is no shame in acknowledging an unavoidable truth.”

The trail had done to us, exactly what the project had done thus far. It represented fairly well our journey together since arrival. Newness and excitement, work so new to us that it didn’t seem like work at all, the newness wearing off, and then exhaustion. Admitting, not defeat, but need for refuge is so important while you do good work. There is no shame in acknowledging an unavoidable truth. We are human, we need rest, and the only place to truly find the rest we so desperately need is in Christ. Even while we do good works, we must remember to come back to our Shepherd always, because He sustains us, knows us, and loves us more than we comprehend. He even invites us in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

“Come to me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens,

and I will give you rest.”

We did make our way down through the small river, over enormous rocks, and past obstacles along our path to the falls. We climbed the ledges, finally finding ourselves underneath the largest waterfall surrounded by God’s beautiful creation and there we were overcome by relief as we stood beneath its powerful downpour.

Chelsea Travis, Frances Cobb, and Reinie Thomas pause for a selfie during their trip to Cummins Falls in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Chelsea Travis, Frances Cobb, and Reinie Thomas pause for a selfie during their trip to Cummins Falls in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Rich in Poverty

Guest blogger Will Davies, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…

I thought it was another normal day at Siloam.  The health care providers were supplely moving about the clinic, tending to each of their patients (including any unscheduled walk in patients).  Interpreters were turning the confusing syllables of patieLoneliness - blackednts who spoke no English into relatable language for the health care providers.  And as if the administrative staff had personally learned from God, himself, when he formed the world, they too brought all sorts of chaos into order.

It’s here that our team has seen how Siloam isn’t just restoring the health of those who live in financial poverty, but they are bringing down the Kingdom of God to their patients, helping restore different types of poverty as well.  For we live in a world stricken with poverty.  Relationships with loved ones, our self-image and worth, the creation around us, and our relationship with God can all exist in poverty.

And our CHI team has been lucky enough to join with Siloam and fight against these different types of poverty.

 “…a refugee…sat hunched over from pain…”

Two weeks ago I found myself in a clinic room with two people: a refugee, and one of Siloam’s health providers whom I was shadowing.  What could have been a simple check up was made trying, for our patient, a refugee who had no insurance, has no family in the States, and to make matters worse. . . spoke no English, sat hunched over from pain caused by constipation.

Yes, medicine could help this patient, and I’m sure it did.  But he needed more.  In fact, the physician’s prescribed treatment was instructed to his case worker:  “Find some people to stop by his apartment, spend some time with him, and help cook him a healthy meal!”

You see, it wasn’t a problem of financial poverty.  This patient suffered from poverty of all sorts of other relationships!  Having been in the states less than two weeks with no family, no friends, and no one to be with, there was plenty of room for restoration.

My having grown up in a financially blessed family, society, and Church, it is easy to view poverty in one way: the lack of material possessions.  As a church, it can be easy to give materials away to the poor, pray blessings over them, and call it a day.  This method of help is easily measured and has a nice ring to it: “We went to this poor area of town, gave away certain material gifts that can help improve the resident’s lives, built a certain amount of homes for them to live better lives in, and oh ya- we also provided them food because they were hungry.”

“…he called his disciples to a life of greater financial poverty…”

Those are good and needed things. . .but only sometimes because this type of aid only helps with financial poverty.

What about the relational poverty that our neighbors are living in?  As Christians, we are called to love people relationally as well as financially.  It’s not glorious to forsake your own life, fight for other people’s lives spiritually, and equip others to do the same.  But that’s what Christ did.

When Christ called his disciples, he didn’t walk up to them, seeing that they were poor, hand them some extra change, or even build them a better house!  In fact, he called his disciples to a life of greater financial poverty!  What!? Wow.  And asking them to live life with him, he revealed to them who God was.  He fought for their lives spiritually, and because of it, the poor became rich, and followed him.

“…he happens to live in our neighborhood!”

Will Davies is a rising junior at the University of Tennessee. He is among seven pre-medical students committing their summer to a Community Health Immersion in Nashville.

Will Davies is a rising junior at the University of Tennessee. He is among seven pre-medical students committing their summer to a Community Health Immersion in Nashville.

So last week, as our group was rewinding after a day at the clinic, the same patient from the clinic happened to run into us because he happens to live in our neighborhood!  Wow, it’s amazing how the Lord sets things up.  As we invited him into our house, he looked much better than previously, but still spoke no English.  And it’s here where our CHI team was able to start to love him, know him, and bless him.  We are not great at it, but it’s a beginning.  And as we will get to know him more over our next few weeks, I pray that the spirit of God will move through him and us, and our poverty of relationships will be restored.

Living Out A Grander Story

Claire Johnson - CHI 2013 participant

I’m going to be honest: I am one of the least qualified candidates for the position of CHI intern. Perhaps it’s due to the myriad of paradoxes in my life–I’m an English major studying medicine, for example–but I don’t often feel as if I have a comfortable niche in this life. I am a storyteller, interested in the lives of those around me and how I can glorify the Lord through creating happier endings. Far from hindering me, I view this discomfort as a great blessing because it serves to keep me humble, knowing that no good thing comes to me from personal merit, but solely from above.

I applied for the CHI internship several months ago prayerfully, realizing that the pool of qualified, 4.0 GPA applicants filled a wide hoop that I did not fit into. Although I knew acceptance was a stretch, when I came across the program something deep inside my heart whispered go. The opportunity seemed to speak to the hidden part of my passion that longs to live in this worldly culture but not of it, to be a part in a grander story. In Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles In a Thousand Years, he describes story as “any character that wants something and overcomes conflict to get it”, which brings me to ask myself what kinds of conflict define my day-to-day life? Petty arguments with my friends? Stress over grades/relationships/desires? Reading Miller’s novel brought to my attention that I was created for conflicts bigger than the ones I’ve been living. I’ve been living a story focused on the mundane details of my own life, when I’m called towards a story that encompasses the breadth of humanity.

Acceptance into the CHI program caused conflict in my home: my wonderful parents could not understand what part of me felt the need to intern 9 hours away from home, to work without pay, to uproot myself the summer before my senior year at Hope College. Surely these opportunities are everywhere, they said; however, after hearing my excitement and watching the CHI video, they quickly were sold to the eternal impact of the opportunity with the Siloam Institute. My sweet mother gave me the best commendation when she mentioned that the CHI internship seemed like something my favorite author, Bob Goff, would endorse: a summer spent loving others and loving God by doing. By being present. By writing a greater story.

As I write this I’m sitting at my home in rural Michigan. My brother sits across from me watching the movie A Knight’s Tale, and I’m realizing that like the movie’s protagonist I hope that I, too, can “change the stars”; both the stars of my own monotonous existence and the stars of worldwide healthcare. With the Lord beside me I look forward to the upcoming summer to help me understand my role in that change, and to beckon me onward to adventure. Onward to a bigger story. Onward to a love that does.

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

Sabbath Science

ImageMorgan Wills writes…

Sometimes science and wisdom converge!  A  recent study published online by the journal Academic Medicine confirmed what many of you may have suspected all along: “a short, midday nap can improve alertness and cognitive functioning.”

Tired first-year resident physicians everywhere may soon be clamoring to implement the protocol of this study, where a placebo-controlled sample of their peers were instructed to take a 20 minute nap in a reclining chair after lunch—and found to have better reasoning and fewer attention failures through the rest of the day.

But the rest of us should probably take note as well.  There are well-known physiologic factors which justify some modified version of the well-established practice of “siesta” that is practiced throughout many Latin cultures.  But until I met an accomplished physician who routinely wove a mini-nap after lunch into his work schedule, I’d never dreamed that such a practice might be feasible for a practicing clinician. 

Ironically, this particular doctor learned the practice on a birding trip to the Arctic Circle with one of the most prominent theologians of the 20th c., the late Anglican leader John R. W. Stott.  After setting up camp together, the esteemed teacher curled up unannounced on the tundra and quickly fell asleep for 20 minutes!  When his physician colleague learned that the incredibly busy and productive theologian had practiced the rhythm of a daily “kip” for decades, he realized that perhaps even a practitioner in the 24/7 world of modern medicine could benefit from acknowledging his limits in such a humble, regular way.  For him it was a daily extension of the biblical concept of Sabbath—regular patterns of rest which acknowledge the simple truth that we are creatures, not mini-Gods.

So, have we set up a cot in the back room at Siloam yet?  Let’s just say that we have a committee working on a proposal!  In the meantime, we can all stand to ponder the wisdom of Sabbath.  As Wendell Berry puts it in his poem by the same name: “The mind that comes to rest is tended / in ways it cannot intend.”