Tuesday – Today is even more challenging. The drive was beautiful on the way to the village; mountainous with white calla-lilies growing wild along the hills, sheep being herded, and piles of wooden logs stacked by the homes.
Barefoot children twelve to eighteen months old walk up the slopes much better than we could with hiking boots. They all stare at us as we drive into the village on rough, rocky roads. Many did not know that we were coming. Lia shouts out the window “Doctors.” And we wave out the window. Then they wave back!
Our clinic is in an old wood shed-like building which serves as their church with a small altar and wooden pews. It has a dirt floor which is covered with pine needles. I sit outside for intake so that there will be enough room inside for the providers and pharmacy workers. It is a beautiful day. I am wearing scrub pants and a short sleeved shirt. The villagers are wearing wool skirts, shawls, sweaters and have bare feet or sandals. Padre (a priest who drove out with us from San Cristobal) has a winter coat on with his hood up. He can’t believe that I am not freezing and shakes his head. Obviously he does not know Minnesota – or me!
This village is even poorer than the last. Mothers nurse their children whenever the child fusses and have them wrapped in a sling on their side. As long as we keep our distance, it’s OK. But when I check their temperature they look fearful.
Like yesterday, we wonder what they think of us. I have sunglasses on and that is something they all need but we never see any of them wear. Most of the children are under 18 months. The others are in school. The older ones are working.
It is so peaceful. I don’t think they go by time like we do, only by the sun. Do they just eat when they are hungry? They work hard but are not on the clock like we always are – the almighty dollar being the priority in America. I wonder how I will feel when I return home…
Bob and Lia saw a pregnant girl who was about 8 months along. I checked her baby’s fetal heart tones which she could hear. She looked amazed when she found out that it was the baby’s heartbeat. This is something that we do at work every day. It is always exciting to hear it. But in this remote village it is nothing short of a miracle!
Wednesday – We returned to Los Llanos, the place we were on Monday. The village people must have been talking because the people look less threatened and more at ease today. Some were happy to have me get my camera and smiled once again after seeing the images captured on the digital display.
Our providers and interpreters continue to work hard and stay devoted to the patient they are with at the time. We can see the emotion and concern in their faces.
The people are cold since it is a windy day. They stay wrapped up and remain patient.
Our prayer devotion this morning by Luke, Curtis and Nancy was appropriate. It told of our team working as one body. We need each other to get the job done. Curtis described each of us; our strengths and what we bring to our team. We have surpassed goals and expectations. This only increases our willingness to provide for the needy.
Helen works so hard to post our blog. She is caring and brings out the best in us. She can see the “whole picture.” What she adds to our story will be another reminder in days to come; not that we will ever forget some of the faces.
A lesson that continues to be confirmed no matter where you are in the world is that a smile opens up the heart. It validates others and lets them feel acknowledged. After all it might be the only smile they see all day. Your face may be remembered and give someone hope; hope that they may not have had before.
We will be posting more photos from those at Shutterfly Online soon. Here are a few others for now...
With our mission complete, we began our journey back to Minnesota EARLY this morning. We are a little tired, but I feel a sense of “Mission well done” and “there is so much more needed here” by the entire group.
As I sit here on the plane, I wonder how one sums up a journey like this- the places we’ve seen, the quiet faces of the people we helped, and the joy of serving others with the incredible team we have. As I reflect on all of this, three words come to mind: Faith, Hope, and Love. Yes just three little words that each mean so much, yet reflect our story and sum up our mission here in Chiapas.
FAITH, HOPE and LOVE
F is for the faith we have that our Father in heaven will guide us on every step of this mission, and as Susan frequently says: "Lord put the people in front of us that you want us to serve today." F is for the Faith the people of Chiapas have is us as a health care team. F is for the Faces of the people we served-so quiet, so deep in thought. F is for our generous Families we left behind so that we may serve the people of Chiapas.
A is for the Anticipation we felt as we began this journey eight days ago-some us knew a few people on the team, some of us strangers as we began, but all of us now friends for life! A is for Answering Gods call to serve the poor, the forgotten, and the people here with little or no access to health care and medicines. A is for the Appreciation we feel for having the opportunity to participate in this MDP mission and for the Appreciation we have for each of the different talents that make us a team!
I is for the Indigenous people-especially the children who did not choose to be born into poverty. I is for the Independent spirit and pride we see in some of the people we served. I is for our Intake team members: Luke who was our patient’s first contact at the clinic as he compassionately checked in our patients and our nurses Jodi and Susan who with tender care took their vital signs and did other nursing duties. I is for the Interpreters Lia, Thalia and Curtis who worked proficiently interpreting long hours at the clinic and during our off hours to help those of us with little or no Spanish skills.
Tis for the Trust we have in each member of this team and for the Trust the people of Chiapas have in these strange people who have come to help them: the MDP medical team. T is for Traveling long distances in hopes of seeing a doctor from the United States. T is for the Tears we shed after hearing about a patients suffering or while listening to devotion read during our morning reflections. T is for our outstanding Team leaders Susan and Lia who worked so hard prior to our trip and during our trip to insure everything was ready for the team prior to our arrival and who lovingly cared for the team to be sure things went smoothly while we were there.
H is for Healing the sick and the under privileged. H is for the Hope we have that we as a team may relieve their suffering from many of the treatable illness we’ve seen. H is for the Humor of a good team that reminds us all that sometimes laughter is the best medicine. H is for the Hands God gave us to carry out his work. H is for the Hugs of appreciation from the Chiapas people as they leave the clinic and the Hugs of a fellow team member when we are overcome with emotions.
O is for the Oppression so visible on the faces of many of the people we served. O is for the optimism of a MDP team ready to serve.
P is for the People in the villages who so desperately need our help and support. P is for the Patience of the people who wait in long lines out in the sun hoping we can help them. P is for the Pride in a mother’s eyes as we compliment her on her beautiful children. P is for our hard working team Pharmacists Karen, Jake and Helen who so efficiently help organize and set up the medications. P is for the Providers: Dr. Bob, Dr. Aaron and Nancy FNP who with compassion and dignity provided the direct intimate medical care to the many patients seen at clinic and who went out of their way to make house calls.
E is for the Eagerness of our team to serve Gods people. E is for the Enthusiasm of this team to work hard. E is for the Exhaustion we sometimes feel after a long day of clinic, though no one complains, for we see how far they people of Chiapas have traveled to see us, how long they wait in line to see us and how hard they work daily just to survive. So no matter how exhausted we are, we know we can still work a little longer.
L is for the Love of the work we do daily here. L is for the Long lines of people patiently waiting our arrival to clinic, and awaiting their turn to see a doctor. L is for the Laughter of the children playing with members of our team while their parents wait in line.
O is for the Others back home who are praying for our team. O is for the Others back home who so generously financially support our team and the work we do. O is for the Others back home-spouses, children and co-workers who make many sacrifices so that each member of the team could be here these past 8 days.
V is for Vulnerability we sometimes feel in a new surrounding or a new country. V is for how Vulnerable the people we serve must feel as strangers assess and treat their health problems. V is for the Values of each member of this team that unites us together as one.
E is for the Energy we have to keep going no matter how fatigued we are or overwhelmed we are by the poverty and the health problems we see. E is for the Enthusiasm of each member of this team, all eager to work and eager to serve and care for the people of Chiapas. And now today, as we travel home, E is for the Eagerness we have to return to our families and loved ones after a very successful medical mission in Chiapas!!!
Yes, I think those three little words: Faith, Hope and Love, pretty well sum it up and tell our story of our eight days in Chiapas. New friendships formed, old friendships strengthened, and a feeling of satisfaction that we did our very best. Our lives have been changed… new memories made… and a sense of satisfaction that we were able to touch many lives in several remote villages during our short stay in Chiapas. Peace to all of our team! And thanks to all who were supporting our team, praying for us and reading our daily blogs!
- Nancy Linder
LOVE OF FAMILY
From the day we arrive at the airport in Tuxtla, to the day we leave Chiapas, there are many times when I had to fight tears, tears of anxiety about things not working out the way we planned them, tears of fear when we go through customs (although we have never had any problems in México) tears of joy to be back in Mexico, tears of sadness during the two home visits I got to interpret for, especially tears of fear and powerlessness when I have to face a crowd of more than 50 people and tell them we cannot see them any more because we have to leave; and sometimes, tears of a combination of emotions I cannot even describe… So I was caught by surprise when we arrived at the airport in Minneapolis, on Thursday afternoon, and I just could not hold back the tears any more. As we walked into the baggage claim area, the first (now familiar) sight was that of Aaron Johnson’s (this is his second trip with MDP) beautiful seven children and wife waiting to meet him at the airport. Aaron is only 40 years old and his seven children are ages 6 to 19, so you can get the picture of just how tender and almost movie like ---like the old Disney movies-- the experience is. This sight just hits me with the realization of the amazing generosity and trust that each one of our volunteers and their families has invested in our project to serve the poor. The scene moves me with tears of gratitude, of joy to be back, of humbleness to see their faith and love for Aaron, and more happiness to see that love of family.
Love of family is probably one of the happiest sights I get from Chiapas and those images remain in my mind like little pills of joy and pure tenderness. During this trip, we witnessed the love of two sisters during our first home visit, the very first night we arrived. A lady came to our clinic asking that a doctor come and see her sister, who was too weak and in much pain to walk to our clinic site which was only two and a half block away from her home. Their tiny place inside was a lot poorer and simpler than what one would have guessed just by looking at the outside of their home. The patient was in a dark little wooden plank hut with corrugated metal ceiling, laying over a board makeshift bed, and covered with just an old blanket. In the corner of this tiny space, their attempt at heating the room was a tiny fire pit, that really didn’t do much for heat (that night, it was cold enough for all of us Minnesotans to want wear a light jacket or a sweater, or at least long sleeves. Both the patient and her sister are elderly and only have each other, since neither of them ever married. As the lady told us about her sister’s ailments she caressed her hair and kept on telling her in hushed, reassuring tones not to be afraid, that a doctor was there to see her…
Another image is that of an elderly dying gentleman surrounded by his wife, children and grand children (at least 12 of 15 family members were gathered in his tiny home). We learned of their loving efforts to keep him comfortable and their fragile hope that he might get better. Other sights, mothers holding their babies in their shawls; the two little brothers sitting in the pew in front of Susan and me, while at mass in the Cathedral of San Cristobal, with their arms over each other’s shoulders and their dad sitting right next to them and lovingly looking at them with a smile on his face, and so many more…
This was MDP’s third trip to Chiapas Mexico, which was a success made possible thanks to the generosity of our many donors, the selfless work of our volunteers, the countless hours of work of our president, Susan Peller, and thanks as well to the tireless work and enthusiasm of our board members. I “discovered” during this trip, that you love your country the way you love your child, with all his/her virtues and –if you choose to see them-- in spite of all his/her flows. With your willingness to allow us to serve in Chiapas, once again, I truly feel like you too love my child, and what better gift can a mom ask for? My gratitude to our volunteers and donors for such gift is immense and forever in my heart. I hope you keep my child, my México, and its people in your hearts. May the image of the Chiapanecos grateful smiles and their love of family keep you coming back.
I am now at home sitting in front of my own computer and it is really the first opportunity I have had to fully read the blog and the comments. I am able to take my time, soak in the words and the beautiful pictures and allow the tears to slowly slide down my face.
First I would like to thank the entire team. Each brought his or her own unique gifts and without them we would not have had the incredible experience we have had, but I feel the need to speak a bit about Helen. Helen does a lot of our blogging and really encourages other team members to share their perspective. She also is the one who posts all the pictures. Because of her talents we are able to bring the story to those of you back home. She is an extremely talented writer and as I read the blog this morning it completely brought me back to Mexico. She displays at all times a genuine desire to serve the person in front of her. Whether that be helping a provider gather his medicine, listening to other team members challenges or sharing her smile and playfulness with the people of Mexico. Lia has given her the title of "Disaster Prevention Specialist" and I must say it is very fitting!
In reflecting on our week and our very busy clinic days I am struck by the faith the people we served placed in us. As I watched them lined up on benches sometimes waiting for hours I wondered, what do they think about us? How do they seem to trust us so much? Then I thought, well they have a lot of faith. They believe in our intent to do good and they are not second guessing our motivation. I also thought maybe some of them are so desperate for help that even if they are concerned they believe it is worth the risk if something we can provide will help.
One of the things that is always difficult for me is if we need to turn patients away. I feel responsible for each of the team members and for how we are perceived in each community. Of course I want to serve every person but sometimes that is not possible and it is difficult to see the disappointment on their faces and then also the disappointment on the faces of the team members when they realize that others were hoping to be seen. It is just a fact and something I have to accept but it is not easy. I try to focus on all who were seen and not the few who were not, and I trust that God put in line the ones He really felt needed to be seen. I need to keep in mind that He is truly the team leader and I am His worker.
Again I would like to say thank you to all of you back home who followed our mission and kept us in your prayers. We felt them every step of the way.
God Bless You!
It would hard to overstate just how removed the people we served are from the sparkling beaches and resorts that most Americans think of when you tell them you are going to Mexico. I think I can also say, without question, that every one of us on this trip would gladly give of our time and resources, and gladly share our hearts and gifts with the people of Chiapas again. Since the bible tells us that God loves a cheerful giver, then He must indeed be pleased with this team because this was a week marked more by joy than by anything else.For those of you at home who wish to know about the people that your friends and loved ones will come home talking about, allow me to attempt a short description of each team member:I’m writing this at 37,000 feet, flying high above the tourist cities that dot the Mexican coastline.
· Lia is a beautiful, passionate, excitable woman. Her love for her country and its people are rivaled only by her sense of responsibility for those of us who have come to serve. Lia never rests, and after a long day of clinic, she still needs a brisk walk and a late-night cup of coffee! Lia is most likely to wipe away tears when filled with pride in the people of her home country and the respect and dignity we tried to bestow upon them.
· Thalia reminded us that we “can sleep when we are dead.” She radiates warmth, and was the team member that brought a smile to everyone just by being herself. Everyone feels better about themselves and the world after they have spent the day with her. Thalia has the energy and passion to rival people half her age, and an infectious, sweet spirit.
· We didn’t have internet access on much of this trip, so thank goodness we had Bob. Bob knows everything about everything! He has a kind, gentle and earnest concern for people and for MDP. Bob was the physician most likely to be concerned about preventative health and to ask the pharmacy if we might be able to give a patient a full year's worth of medication so they could stay healthy until MDPs return next year.
· Jodi finds humor and joy in everything. She loved to crack jokes and have the interpreters communicate them to the people, and especially to our driver, Vincente. Watching her do patient intake without knowing a word of Spanish was like a day-long, laughter-filled game of charades. She will never grow tired of telling the story about the blue lady - ask her when you get the chance.
· Seeing Chiapas through Jake's eyes was much like a visit to a farm. While he loved the children and played a lot of catch, tag and baseball, he was more likely to mention the dogs, chickens and sheep than anything else. Every morning, Jake analyzed the personalities of the team after morning devotionals - what a great kid. When you have Jake with you, you're traveling with a funny, lively, impulsive, Rich Peller clone.
· Nancy was our provider most likely to entertain the dinner table and van with stories of the day's adventures. If we were closing up clinic and patients still wanted to be seen, they would somehow know that Nancy would be the one who could never refuse their need. She was the provider who most needed to blink away tears, and literally gave one grandmother the clothes right out of her suitcase.
· When Curtis joined this group,he elevated the mood and attitude of everyone in it. There is no trace of negativity in him, and he radiates the joy of his faith. Curtis once said he felt like he had won the lottery when he was invited to serve on this trip, and more often than not, would either describe a long day of service as "fantastic" or a "blessing." Curtis seemed to be on a continual mission to stock up on cacahuates (peanuts) and good coffee, as well as to find brief moments of solitude to pray and process our experiences.
· Luke easily transitioned from being the "kid" on MDP trips to a full blown member of the team. He loves people, both the locals and team members, and is quick to engage in conversations with anyone. Luke had an entire "waiting room" cracking up when a local girl said he would be good to have babies with. Between playing peek-a-boo with little ones and claiming one day that he had "rocked a translation," we all could see that his passion for serving others in this capacity is just beginning. Anyone who watched me close enough would see me bursting with pride over Luke's growing faith, tender spirit and eagerness to learn.
· Helen was the quiet, moral and ethical compass of the team. When we had seen over 80 people one day and were tempted to complain about the ONE person who snuck into clinic without permission, Helen reminded us to never focus on the negative. When we were all frustrated with poor service in a restaurant, Helen woke up that night reminded that the people we serve would walk for miles and wait for an entire day to see the doctors, yet never complain. Helen never loses sight of our purpose, and her deep faith is at the core of everything she says and does.
· Aaron was like the Pied Piper for the young men on our team, with a rapid-fire sense of humor and a patience for everyone and everything. Aaron quietly and consistently took the worst seat in the van, riding in the "trunk" with the suitcases when necessary. He was just as likely to be seen leaning in and listening earnestly to patients as he would be using humor to break up the seriousness of their situation. Aaron barely needed the pharmacists, as he readily did his own work and the work of others with a quick smile and without complaint.
· Susan, el presidente, is a wonderful leader and encourager. She is quick to make necessary decisions, though never without care and concern for the people we serve. For a long while, I will be able to hear her in my mind saying: "Tome una pastilla en la manana, una en la tarde, una en la noche...." Susan stretched in her use of Spanish and lovingly watched and smiled as Jake amused us all. Her vision for MDP and work to make these trips happen is an inspiration.
· It's hard to write about myself, Karen, when you don't really know what others see. I will say that I often joked about having "no particularly useful skills whatsoever," but God, indeed, finds a way to use everyone and everything for His good purposes. Serving in Chiapas with my son will be remembered as one of the greatest joys I have ever experienced, and attempting to use Spanish which had laid dormant for 25 years was one of my greatest challenges. The people's fascination with my wild, curly hair was a standing joke, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity to grow in my faith and passion for "the least among us."
A mission trip consists of those that go and those that send. For all of you that "sent" us, we thank you. To our families who selflessly released us from our responsibilities at home and lovingly trusted that the One who called us would be faithful to protect us, we thank you. And though you may not know it, those of you who prayed for us were a very real part of this mission. God heard your prayers! We continue to pray that there will be lasting impact in Chiapas and in the hearts of those of us that went that we all might grow closer to the heart of Jesus and join in His mission each and every day.
I am sitting alone in the church in Los Llanos. Children’s playful voices drift through the air; the same sound that echoes on playgrounds all over the world. But these are poor children, with parents who struggle to feed them, clothe them and to give them the best that they can.
Our team is working like a well oiled machine. I believe our doctors and interpreters have made a heroic effort to care for each person who comes to them. Their genuine care and passion to serve are beyond what one could even hope for. All of the other team members have worked diligently in their duties – nursing, intake and pharmacy. And yet what we do is not so heroic. Tomorrow we will return to our warm homes and loving families and friends, renewed in our desire to embrace each day with more compassion and love, renewed with a wonderful gift which challenges us to break open the Gospel a little more vibrantly in our everyday lives.
The heroes we see here in Mexico are the poor who live with a humble grace and steady courage. We have heard stories of women who carry 65 pound bundles of wood on their backs three miles each day. They repeat the journey carrying 40 pounds of water to their homes. And they only weigh about 100 pounds - including their heavy clothing. It is no wonder that their bodies ache. One man had teeth so rotten that he wished we could pull them all. And we all know what a simple toothache can feel like. Today a girl came to the clinic. She said that her throat had hurt terribly for 2 years. Her tonsils were so infected and swollen that one can only imagine what her days have felt like. Just surviving can be a challenge. At the village we were at yesterday, we learned that a mom who was at our clinic last year had passed away from a fever. How different our worlds are. Sitting in the beautiful Cathedral in San Cristobal on Sunday evening I wondered how many of the people in the villages have ever had the opportunity to even visit this church. Their world is so different
We are burdened with our American ideas of solving problems, yet we must respect what we do not understand. It bothers us to see the people drinking too much pop, but we don’t know how it feels to walk in their shoes. Has the marketing by the big corporations made them to feel like that is a slice of moving up in the world?
The people in most villages are happy –but some entire villages seem to be sad. Smiles create a universal connection. Yet some people cannot smile. Perhaps they don’t want us to see their missing teeth. But I suspect some are trudging through great difficulty and must muster extraordinary courage to do what they must do each day. They might not have the strength or reason to smile much.
We have met matriarchs of communities watching over everyone to make sure all is well. We have those back home too. And what patience people here have! They wait for hours and hours in hopes that they can see a doctor. In Pantepec, some had gotten up at 4 a.m. and waited all day – children and mothers mostly, each in their own little space expecting whatever good they can receive, and trusting that these strangers from America can make their lives even a little bit better. How many times are we impatient? How many times are we too demanding?
The people we have seen have a faith of blended Mayan and Catholic tradition. It is a beautiful thing to see. At one clinic there was a statue of Mary behind the pharmacy area. It was old and not that nice looking. In fact it was in such poor shape that we had to ask who it was. At one point I saw a very elderly lady genuflect, make the sign of the cross and kiss her hand and then touch her heart. Her reverence humbled me. At another clinic, Susan was walking a woman to see the doctor. Susan directed the woman in one direction and the woman turned away from her. Susan looked confused. The woman bent at the waist, kissed her hand and touched her heart as she turned to reverence the tabernacle behind us. Had we even noticed?
There are so many stories we can and will tell. One that will haunt me is the story of Christina. It will bother me because I know there is not a solution. It is simply the way it is. Christina is an interpreter who worked with us yesterday in a very poor, remote, mountain, farming village. She was beautiful, bright and had a smile that radiated joy. She translated from Tzotzil into Spanish. Over our lunch break I invited her to have some of my food. She eagerly told me that she could speak a little English too. She sat next to me on the bench so close that her elbow pressed up tightly against me. We looked at pictures from this trip on our MDP computer and her eyes twinkled with anticipation and pure joy at being able to see the places we had been. In her village we were not allowed to take any pictures because of their belief that it might take away their soul, so it was interesting to me that she was so glued to the computadora.
We proceeded to pronounce and read the labels on the foods together. Forming certain sounds was difficult for her – yet she persisted. Practicing colors and names was our next lesson. The time passed quickly. I have been taking some Spanish lessons and must confess that I felt a bit sheepish that I am sometimes a little lazy with homework. Just think what Christina could do with a little opportunity! She could soak up an education with such enthusiasm – if she had a chance. I asked about her education and was told by Lia that Christina had finished junior high via satellite. That was two years ago. Now this bright mind sits in her village hungry to learn but there will not be an opportunity. How I wish that could change.
We are not asked to be successful at what we do (however you wish to measure success). In the end it is the effort that counts. That is what God asks of us. And we must try to make a difference however we can. As I wrap up this reflection, a little girl has walked into the church singing a beautiful song approaching the altar with a little skip in her step. Her eyes are fixed on the statue of Jesus. She doesn’t see me until she is almost to the altar. I marvele at how she kept her eyes on Jesus and has such a happy song in her heart!
What can we learn from the poor? Plenty. We are continually amazed. Each encounter brings so many blessings to our life journey and I hope the nearly 450 patients we have served this week feel a little lifted up too!
This trip has been full of all kinds of new experiences and some which are similar to my first trip to Guatemala. The most familiar thing is the great people. What a blessing to have friends and acquaintances in this life that lift us and make us better people. As my grandma used to say, if you meet someone who is not a friend it is up to you to do something about that. We see that as we experience clinic on a daily basis and see these people who need so much from each of us but in turn teach us each so much.
Humility is a trait less often valued by our world around us, however one of the traits which was best exemplified by He who was the Master Physician. As I sit in these beautiful surroundings with these great people I am thankful again for all those at home who help to make this happen in a very real sense you are a silent member of this team and mission and I will be ever grateful for those who contribute behind the scenes and pick up the slack so that we as a team may serve our fellow men. My hope when I go home from this trip is that I will be able to take that spirit which is so abundant here of serving the one in front of us into my daily life at a higher level from day to day. Likewise It amazes me how when we are in the service of our fellow men together the different perceived boundaries of religion seem to melt into what truly matters in our Savior’s eyes. Thanks for taking the time to read and support our efforts, I apologize if this doesn’t make sense - I really should learn to use punctuation. God bless you all and your families.