Everyone needs a hero in life. Mine happens to be Rich Stearns, president and lay person of one of the largest nonprofit Christian humanitarian organizations in the world. His organization is tried and true: surviving economic downturns and a number of political and spiritual obstacles, while working tirelessly in the field (for more than twenty years) to help transform conditions of the poor, eradicate disease for the sickest of the sick and address injustices in the world that seem all to unfair. All this and more while painstakingly chipping away at the inequality of scales that exist in countries: the rich become richer and poor become desperately poorer.
Is this an info commercial about World Vision? No. But it does broaden our vision of nursing and demonstrate the power of God’s transforming love and healing when people are moved to act. We see the undeniable effects of how one person among many can transform the world and somehow, when we read about these stories, it makes us feel really good inside.
Why? Because it exposes the soul work of caring, the raw truth about what’s really happening out there in the world, and how we can all play a part in its healing if we choose to.
Struggling with issues, seeking answers
I haven’t visited forty countries, but I did witness the devastating and deplorable conditions of poverty in Africa and the jungles of South America: children and adults extremely sick from diarrhea, little babies suffering from cerebral malaria, and, worse yet, a child or mother contracting HIV because of a lack of educational materials.
I had to pause and think about my own commitment to the social, ethical and moral problems not only in society but in the world, and ask myself not only how I could soulfully and practically respond to its call, but foremost, decide what responsibility my role as a nurse could play in its repair. I had to struggle with those issues and more, while searching for answers which required me to dig past years of soul numbing attitudes and walls of indifference, all in the name of ‘doing my part.’ This soul – searching, self-inventory work was not only painful, but forced me to ask important questions about life and my vocation as a nurse.
What did all this ‘stuff’ really mean to me on a heart and soul level? Did I decondition myself against the pain and suffering of men, women and children on the ‘other side’ of the world, even within the guise of my own profession? What role did I want my education, skill and abilities to play in reaching beyond the walls of my town and community in order to touch the lives of the poorest of the poor? Was I stretching enough for those who were out of my immediate circle or reach? Or did I allow years of indifference and arrogance about the injustices in the world seize hold of my heart and actions, while I continued to play my part as nurse, healer and educator.
Child in a West Africa remote village, hiding in the bush, waiting to be tested for Malaria, © Nurses for the Nations
The deeper call
The truth is, for many years the impact of poverty and disease never touched my life, because I was far removed from its effect. Why would I think about all of the sickening conditions going on in devastated countries of the world? My country and community had its own problems. Besides, the issues occurring in other countries were outside my circle of life, right? I was performing my duties as a nurse (so I rationalized): working every day, contributing to ‘society,’ raising a family, involved in church community, going through the motions, so to speak. Anyway, I just didn’t have the time. What else could I possibly do to contribute to repairing the wounds of the world or be responsible to help in some other way? And why did such inequality exist anyway? It wasn’t my problem.
When I returned from a medical outreach trip to the Amazon Jungles of South America, I finally understood the reason for the stark difference between the United States and developing countries of the world. Our abundance and sophisticated support systems have always bolstered us against the depths of poverty, illness and social injustice. In poorer nations, these support systems are literally non-existent, making it near impossible for men, women and children to rise from the muck and mire of their devastating conditions.
I was finally able to turn a deaf ear to the nagging internal argument over the years that kept diligently reminding me how I needed to concentrate on fixing our own social problems. While recognizing our share of social ills and my continued duty to respond to my community, I was able to understand the deeper call to ‘social and spiritual responsibility.’
Moreover, after nursing in a third-world country, I realized our country harnessed the support of hundreds upon thousands of churches, organizations, abundant wealth, learning institutions, direct benefits to advances in medicine, research, education, jobs and the wonders of technology which not only addressed our issues, but solved them, eradicated them, or in many cases, kept them at bay.
Without modern conveniences
I was reminded of the words from my faith “whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me,” when struck by the utter poverty, lack of medicine, tools and supplies indigenous people actually live without day after day. There was one particular man, a chieftain of one of the Amazonian villages we visited, who was suffering from an ulceration that was very painful because it was infected. He could barely walk. The wound needed to be cleansed, treated and dressed, but the village water source was tainted. He had no antibiotic cream, no sterile dressings, no money and no ability to go to a clinic because he didn’t have a boat to take him to the nearest hospital which was far beyond the jungle borders and the Amazon River. He treated the wound by covering the ulceration with a filthy rag that had dirt on it.
It was unbelievable to see the odds stacked up against this poor man and the other sick men, women and children in the village, simply due to lack of access with money, treatment and education; things you and I enjoy every day at the snap of a finger.
Leg ulceration in a West Africa remote village,© Nurses for the Nations
I can only imagine what life would have been like for me, without the modern conveniences of running hot water, electricity, home cooked meals, nice clothes, a suburban home with a garage and modern day vehicle to get me where I wanted to go: and a nursing job which paid me for my professional talent and education. Could I have passed the test of suffering from desolation in the jungles of South America? Absolutely not. I would never have withstood the challenges, yet alone survive the day in, day out ravages of sickness and disease from lack of food, water, health care treatment and insufficient supplies the Amazonian people experience on a daily basis.
In West Africa, I saw the same devastating poverty, lack of food, electricity, toilets, clothing, supplies, and inability for many to get clean fresh drinking water. The advanced leg ulceration below is only one example of the types of wounds our nursing team from Nurses for the Nations saw in the remote villages of Liberia.
Nurses are key players
The truth is – statistics are staggering and testify to the deplorable conditions of poverty throughout the world that touch millions of men, women, children and small babies every day.
“Forty percent of the world’s population, or 2.6 billion people, live on less than $2.00 a day, while fifteen percent of the world’s population, or 1.0 billion people, live on less than $1.00 per day. The wealthiest seven people on earth control more wealth than the combined Gross Domestic Product of the 41 most heavily indebted (poor nations).” [The Hole in our Gospel, Richard Stearns, Copyright 2010 World Vision, pg 122]
Nurses can play a compelling role in serving the poor in developing countries by becoming activists in the delivery of compassionate nursing care treatment, teaching and training. They have the ability to affect world poverty, sickness and disease, and are key players in healing the sick and destitute.
Like Florence Nightingale our founder, we are the new millennium pioneers. We are the Florence Nightingales of the future and nursing with its compassionate outreach is the beacon of light and comfort we can deliver to the poorest of the poor. This nursing vision offers a transformational care to developing countries like our physician co-partners, lay people and private citizens in the healing community, we can truly impact deprived and indigenous communities throughout the world and make the difference, one life, one heart, one person at a time.
Women preparing dinner, West Africa, © Nurses for the Nations
Visit Nurses for the Nations website at http://www.nursesforthenations.org and read their nursing stories. Learn about their international service trips or feel free to email Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org.