By Kim Plummer Krull
“Since the tsunami, I’ve been feeling …”
That’s how nearly every Indonesian who visited clinics operated by the LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC) Mercy Medical Team (MMT) in Banda Aceh in February began the explanation of their symptoms.
More than four years have passed since the tsunami, one of the deadliest disasters in modern history, and people in this hard-hit city “are still dealing with a lot of emotional and physical fallout,” said Maggie Karner, WR-HC’s director of Life and Health Ministries and one of the MMT program leaders.
“We saw people who were stuck in the water, and nearly everyone we saw had lost loved ones,” Karner said. “We spent a lot of time listening to their stories, which, I think, for them, was just as important as treating their medical situations.”
Nine medical volunteers (all LCMS members) and four staff team leaders from WR-HC participated in the first MMT to travel to Indonesia. The team treated 1,128 Indonesians Feb. 15-25 at clinics in the impoverished communities of Banda Aceh and Jakarta.
“We got to go and be the hands and feet of Christ,” said Janet Sandersen, a registered nurse and member of Messiah Lutheran Church, Longmont, Colo., who used vacation time to take part in her first short-term medical mission.
Sandersen had been looking for a way to “give back” as a medical professional. As a Christian, she also appreciated the opportunity to care for people “and show them that the outside world has not forgotten their plight.”
Many Indonesians who visited the clinics still live in barracks built as temporary housing after the tsunami. Most suffer from problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and ailments stemming from poor sanitation and nutrition.
But before discussing health concerns, the Indonesians wanted to talk about the life-changing disaster. MMT volunteers met a woman who lost all her children in the waves. The team’s bus driver said he was the only survivor from his family of 11.
“We heard about losses that we can’t even fathom,” Sandersen said.
Despite the pervasive tragic shadow of the disaster, MMT members also saw hope. “When we talked, it was just like when we talk with patients here. You see their expressions change and their eyes light up, knowing that someone is listening and cares,” said Lauryl Smith, a pediatric nurse practitioner and registered nurse in Boston, Mass. Her home congregation, Faith Lutheran Church, Oak Ridge, Tenn., raised the funds to cover her MMT expenses.
Darin Storkson, WR-HC regional director for Asia, based in Jakarta since soon after the 2004 tsunami, laid the groundwork for the MMT visit, working with local church partners involved in confessional Lutheran renewal. The clinics provided two opportunities — to address medical needs in poor communities mostly overlooked by other relief agencies, and also to strengthen relationships with and build the capacity of those local partners.
Helping Lutheran partners adds to the value of short-term medical mission trips, Karner said. “Some people may question the good in parachuting into a community for two weeks,” she said. “But we see this as a way to serve people and also help establish the presence of the local churches while we assist them in serving their own community.”
This was the ninth MMT trip. The treks are primarily designed for LCMS medical professionals. Team members cover their own expenses, which, after a “good faith” estimate, run about $3,000.
The next MMT leaves April 13 for Kenya, with a follow-up scheduled for July 3-12. A second trip to Madagascar is set for Oct. 21-Nov. 1. To learn more, contact Jacob Fiene, WR-HC manager of medical and material resources, (800) 248-1930, ext. 1278, or visit www.lcms.org/mercyteams.
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted March 26, 2009