What’s it like to work in a health clinic in Guatemala?

When I came down to live and work in Guatemala full time, I had originally expected to be working in Students International’s art ministry site. I love Carlos and Telma (the artists) like family and had already interned with them in the art school multiple times. However, just before arriving I was presented with the idea of working in the health clinic instead. Our full time staff member in the clinic (Maurine, whom I’ve mentioned before) had to leave for personal health reasons and there was a bigger need for me in the clinic. I was actually excited about the opportunity to work in the health ministry site because, being a biology major in school, I am much more interested and gifted in this area. I had also interned in the health ministry site one summer. But with a new doctor, new nurse, and a new facility, I was not exactly sure what to expect. When I was explaining my ministry to many of you before I moved down to Guatemala I described what I would be doing in the art school. And I know that you have probably gotten a pretty good feel for what I do in the clinic through my blog updates, but I just wanted to take a moment to explain to you guys what my ministry in Guatemala practically looks like, now that I have been here for over 9 months.

Our clinic is located in the community center, a large building that we finished building at the end of 2010. This building is also home to our construction workshop and is the headquarters for our social work and microfinance ministry sites. Our doctor, Sara Romero, is a pediatrician, but we also see adults in our clinic. People arrive as early as 5:30 in the morning to get a number, even though we don’t start attending patients until 9:00. We always have more people come to the clinic than we are able to see in one day, so we hand out numbers to the first who come, in the order that they come. We see a lot of basic illnesses: respiratory infections, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, colds, allergies, asthma, scabies, gastritis, anxiety, parasites, minor lacerations and burns. Health is a huge ministry opportunity inMagdalenabecause there is only one public health clinic and it is completely unaffordable for many of the people to buy their own medicines. In our clinic we give them their complete treatment included in their 10Q appointment (about $1.50). The student groups that we receive in the health ministry site assist us in seeing the patients and ministering to them by sharing their own stories and experiences with them. I also see my job as an opportunity to minister to the students that we receive so as to open their eyes to a great reality and inspire them to make a difference in the world in Jesus’ name. But of course our clinic is not only about attending to patient’s physical illnesses. We are using health care as an opening to minister to the people ofMagdalena. We have spent an hour on a single patient (multiple times with multiple patients) in order to discuss with them different problems they are having at home and to help them realize the one and only solution. I am so blessed and humbled by the experiences I’ve had when people open their hearts and pour out all that they have been suffering to hide inside of them for so long. It is beautiful to see true healing happening right before our eyes in the clinic. Whatever temporary physical healing we would be able to help our patients with would be useless if they were not completely healed from the inside out by the Great Physician.

Here is an example of one way that working in a health clinic inGuatemalahas changed my perspective and consequently changed who I am. Our ministry is so focused on loving people enough to give them the time they need to pour out their hearts to us in the clinic. Many people, women especially, do not have another outlet or anyone with whom to share their troubles and just treating them with love and respect enough to sit patiently to listen to all of the problems they deal with (abuse, neglect, poverty, chronic illness, hopelessness, fear, lack of direction) is a huge part of our ministry. I have learned to slow down and see our patients not just as patients, but also as people, whom God loves. The other day I was walking back quickly, returning from the clinic in Magdalena to the bank inAntigua, when I saw one of our patients in the road. Carolina is a woman that we have been ministering to in our clinic whom I have written about in a previous blog post. I was extremely conscious of how much it was out of character for my “old self” to slow to her walking pace and double or triple my commute time in order to be able to walk and chat with her. I was honoring her as a person and investing in my relationship with her as I chose to take the time to listen to how she’s doing. My natural inclination was to say “good afternoon, have a good day” and keep hurrying on my way, but I had to think of the story of the Good Samaritan and remember that Jesus calls us to notice our neighbor on the side of the road.

I also wanted to tell you guys a little about some of our patients that have been in recently so that you could lift them up in prayer. We see many patients in our clinic who suffer from a lot of emotional/spiritual problems and this is manifested into physical symptoms. We try to minister to the whole person and address all areas of their life that are contributing to their problems. To be sensitive to our patients’ privacy, I have withheld full names and complete details.

Maritza is currently suffering through depression. From what I understand, she has been depressed for a number of years, but has recently stopped eating and talking. We have spent extensive time with her trying find the root of the problem but have not been able to break through with her yet.

Marta has been in our clinic before. She suffers with her nerves and anxiety. She is a widow and has also lost her sister and niece. She recently had an operation on her eye that went well but she feels very self-conscious about her eye appearing a lot smaller now and she feels that everyone is gossiping about her because of this. She can not focus on anything other than this and it is isolating her from others and causing other physical symptoms because of her anxiety. She can not read, but she does have the desire to know what God has to say to her through His Word.

Ana is a young girl who lost her dad a while back and struggles with accepting his death. She is having some friction with her mom and really feeling the absence of her dad. It was so powerful for me to watch Dra Sara, who has recently lost her father herself, minister to this young girl and tell her that she has a Heavenly Father who loves her.

Maria also suffers problems with her nerves and anxiety. Her son had been falsely accused of a serious crime a while back and she is still dealing with the judgment and gossip of the people in her community.

Esmeralda is another young girl who suffers from physical symptoms brought on by pent up bitterness. Her father had left her family and ran off with another lady and she is struggling to forgive him. We prayed with her and her mother to forgive this man that had abandoned them.

Luz suffers from bone spurs in her feet and is extremely inhibited because of her pain. She has been struggling to keep an income and support her daughters. It will be a long road to resolving these issues but she is trusting in God and earnestly seeking Him.

Mayra is another patient suffering from physical symptoms brought on by anxiety. Her husband has left her, but she says she’s better off without him because he used to abuse her. But she has always wanted kids, so she is mourning the loss of that possibility as well. She is looking for direction in her life and we tried to encourage her to look for a job as she is still young and has plenty of skills.

Alba is our first patient who has received the benefits from the proceeds of the Guatemala Greetings card sales. We were able to buy her all the insulin she will need for at least a month. She is only 31 years old and her diabetes, uncontrolled, has already started to cause her to lose her vision. Thanks to all of you who have supported this ministry!

Alba is a widowed mother of 4 girls. This is a picture of my Bethel student Kate and I visiting her home.

My Bethel nursing student, Kate

Thank you for your prayers and support! As you can see, we have a lot of work to accomplish in the clinic and even when it gets rough to constantly share the burdens of our patients, I am so encouraged to know that I am not lifting these burdens onto my shoulders alone, but that countless numbers of people are taking them to the Lord in prayer. Thank you for joining me in ministry.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Nancy Christiansen
    Feb 28, 2012 @ 16:59:18

    Girl! You do so well painting the picture of what it’s like to work in the clinic: the joy,the frustration, feelings of inadequacy, joy and delight at helping others! I am with you in spirit – praying for you! You are God’s hands and feet and heart for those wonderful people! God is with you!


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