(reprinted from The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet, April 21, 2004)
Imagine a region where accessible basic medical assistance is nonexistent. Imagine a city of such poor sanitary conditions that children play near sewer water running through the streets. What if your children had lice infestation, but you did not have proper medical aid to treat the infestation. Suppose you had a nagging toothache, but had absolutely no money to cover dental treatment. This is what life is like for residents in the city of Usulutan, El Salvador, where approximately 30 members of the Mt. Juliet Church of Christ conducted a medical mission campaign during April 3-10, 2004.
The medical mission was conducted within a walled school, which is also where the team lived for six days of the trip. Locals were able to receive free medical aid including medications from a fully stocked pharmacy. Throughout several days, doctors saw 2,701 patients, while over ten thousand prescriptions were written. Two team dentists also extracted 308 teeth during the medical mission. During the evenings the local church was strengthened through worship services and a Vacation Bible School for the children. These worship services were well attended by several hundred people throughout the week.
Team member Eric Pirtle served as a registration coordinator and remembers a particular local child who spent much of the time at the registration area. At the beginning of the week the boy was like many locals, some of whom were concerned about getting items for themselves, rather than by serving others.
Pirtle said “By the end of the week [the boy] was part of our team rendering aid to those who needed it. He was helping to maintain order, he distributed water to those locals in need. He learned to work for the good of others. He definitely touched many of us. We changed his life hopefully.”
Mavis Schorn worked as a nurse for the mission. She remembers an elderly woman who collapsed from heat exhaustion after waiting 7 hours in a long line to see the team’s doctor. Her condition required two liters of IV fluid. However once she had recovered, she remembered the basic problems which she had originally came to the mission. Schorn comments: “This will always bring a smile as I remember it. It was worth going through all she had done just to get what we take for granted � Tylenol, vitamins, cortisone cream.”
Mt. Juliet resident, Sissy Pickler, served as a health aid distributor during the trip. She commented that she will remember “the gratefulness of the people there especially when receiving the bags of toiletries I was handing out, things we don’t think twice about having everyday of our life.”
Timothy Thompson stated that the trip provided for some culture shock. Thompson stated that he “learned to appreciate indoor plumbing and air conditioning.” At age 14, Thompson was one of the youngest members of the team. Team member Phil Waggoner echoed Timothy’s comments by saying “It reminds us how truly God has blessed us and that we should not take anything for granted.” Waggoner serves as the Mt. Juliet Church’s youth minister and served as a Bible teacher for the teen class in El Salvador. He states the most interesting part of this particular trip was that “no one turned us down for a Bible study. Every house we went to, invited us in.”
Another comment made by one in the group was “I also was struck by the packed room of teenagers [in Bible class] in the evening. They were squeezed into a small classroom (of course w/o AC), others standing outside the classroom looking in, and they were all listening intently to the North American man and Honduran teenager translating a Bible class. Seeing adults studying or young children going to class for the fun and goodies they may get is not as surprising. Seeing teenagers voluntarily listening intently to a Bible class is quite impressive.”
Katie Whiteaker, who is a teacher with Wilson County schools, was in charge of children’s activities on the trip. She spent many hours painting the faces of children. She commented that the most exciting part of the trip was to “see the excitement on the faces of young and old when we gave them such a small token. They appreciate the things that we would think no big deal. Dirty little faces and hands, that wanted to be painted would wait in a long line and be thrilled at the attention given to them.”
During the evenings Katie helped with the children’s Bible classes. She remembers one particular child who would not sit still:
“There were children, who would pull at your heart. One little boy I called “PigPen” really got to me. He needed so much care! At the first of the week he had no concept of sitting still. If he sat, he’d be kicking and poking. By the end of the week, he could do it! It broke my heart when after being there all week he wasn’t there the last night. I so wanted to give him a [stuffed] Bear. I hope he gets one from the local congregation. It was one of those things left hanging. I wish I could have told him good-bye.”
The Mt. Juliet Church of Christ has been conducting annual campaigns in the Central American region since the early 90s. The country of Panama had been the focus of past campaigns. This changed in 2001 when a devastating earthquake in El Salvador crippled the area. The church has been sending a team to El Salvador for the past 4 years and plans on doing similar mission efforts for the next several years.