Nursing Professor Teaches Students More than Healthcare during Mission Trip to Haiti
Seven Freed-Hardeman University nursing students journeyed to Thomazeau, Haiti, in January, hoping to make a difference in patients’ lives but they were unaware of the difference the patients would make in theirs.
As the first group of students to accompany FHU assistant professor of nursing Dr. Sarah Pierce, they prepared with a weeklong session of classes regarding Haitian culture, religion, medical practices and language. Students also learned about common diseases and corresponding treatments. They developed teaching projects for LiveBeyond’s patient population. LiveBeyond is a faith-based humanitarian organization that provides medical and maternal health care, clean water, education, orphan care and community development, while it spreads the gospel of Jesus Christ. The organization serves maternal health, children, women and men. Students developed lessons focused on the importance of healthy eating and of using well water instead of contaminated sources. “I saw the heart of a servant in my students. Not once did they complain,” Pierce said.
Byenveni nan Ayiti (Welcome to Haiti)
LiveBeyond’s compound is located 1,538 miles from FHU’s campus. Founders Dr. David Vanderpool and his wife, Laurie, established the volunteer organization to provide medical care in Third World countries that have suffered from either natural or man-made disasters.
As a previous volunteer at LiveBeyond, Pierce knew the environment would provide her students with opportunities to practice what they had learned in class. Nursing juniors Carly Bedsole, Amanda Bond, Taylor Clifton, Bailey Smith, Allie Lusk, Leanna Amacher and Micah Heffington embraced their Haitian patients, offering everyone they encountered Christ-like love and kindness, Pierce said.
“They were open to whatever needed to be done and made the patients feel like they were equals,” Pierce said. The students gave affection to patients freely. “Touch is really important in the Haitian culture,” Pierce said.
Pierce’s students were equally impressed seeing her work outside the classroom. “You can truly tell she loves her job,” Clifton said. Smith said Pierce took every opportunity to teach them while in Haiti.
“I learned a lot -— not just about healthcare but also just watching her character; the way she was with patients taught me a lot,” she said.
During the trip, Bond was not expecting to have as many hands-on medical experiences as she did. “I ended up doing a lot more than I expected,” she said. “Everything I learned, I was able to practice.”
Her first patient was a baby girl about three to four months old who was dealing with worms and pertussis. “The mom handed her baby to me, I did my head-to-toe assessment, and I had to decide which medicines to give her,” Bond said. “It’s rewarding; all of the hard work and studying pays off. It’s nice to be able to put it into action. It’s fun and it’s kind of scary because you want to get it right.”
Early Mornings, Prayerful Days
Many of the students chose to wake up at 5 a.m. to watch the sunrise. They also began each day with prayer and devotionals before heading to the clinic, where they would serve patients, including one who walked eight hours just to be seen. Their memories of their patients incite laughter and some tears.
For Bond, it was another pediatric case that involved a 2-year-old with burns from a cooking fire. Because of limited access to treatment, the child’s mother packed the burn with charcoal and baby powder. The child, however, was inconsolable until the doctor began to sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” to her. It calmed her down, and she stopped crying.
“I held her down while other people removed the charcoal and baby powder from her body. After that day, I knew I couldn’t go into pediatrics,” Bond said.
Clifton cried every day while in Haiti. “You don’t think about seeing starving kids or people walking around with severe burns,” she said.
But when situations proved emotionally challenging, the students held onto their faith. “Our purpose was not only to do medical work but also to show how our work was through Jesus and His love,” Bedsole said.
Each evening the students recorded video journals and documented their experience in a written format.
“When you are over there, you feel overwhelmed, overjoyed and blessed,” Clifton said. “Nothing you do in this life matters, unless you are serving God and His people.”
Closer to God
It was a week of little sleep, high energy and eye-opening experiences for the seven students.
“While you’re there, you don’t feel tired at all; you’re on a spiritual high. When I got back, I was exhausted,” Clifton said. “I can honestly say when I was in Haiti, I have never felt closer to God. I had a different mindset. We were able to incorporate our spiritual life in caring for our patients. There’s so much joy in helping others.”
The students said their encounters with the Haitians of Thomazeau would impact their lives forever.
“Since we’ve been home, I try to see Jesus in everyone,” Bond said. “It’s easy for us to be negative and judgmental. I try not to be so negative all of the time and not take anything for granted.”
Clifton said she does not complain as frequently since returning from Haiti. “I go home to a house with air, heat, running water, food and a bed,” she said. “In Haiti, they don’t have any of that.”
Lusk credited Pierce for helping them feel the presence of Jesus while in Haiti.
The students are hoping to return to Haiti next year for another nursing mission trip.
“I want to stay for a longer period of time and develop more relationships with the people,” Bond explained. “I want to be there for them and see their progress, especially the people who accepted Christ and were baptized.”
FHU’s missionary outreach in Haiti will expand this summer to include business majors, who will work with LiveBeyond in July for an Engaged Learning Initiative (ELI) special project called Mission in Management: Business Ventures in Thomazeau, Haiti. Business students will have a long-term objective of assisting with the development of a sustainable business operation in the region.
With Matthew 28:19 as their foundation, calling for Christ’s followers to make disciples of all the nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, students will identify, assess and implement viable business ventures including import and export operations.
“FHU students are mission minded. Serving in Thomazeau, Haiti, allows our students to apply their business acumen to the benefit of the people who live there. The vision for this work is to assist in the development of an economy that will lift the Haitians out of extreme poverty through sustainable businesses that will provide prosperity. All of this is being done in the name of Jesus, where we will serve with the ultimate goal of seeing people turn from a life of darkness found in the voodoo culture to a life of light found in Christ,” said Mark Steiner, former dean of FHU’s college of business. Steiner’s passion for this mission has led him to accept a position as chief operating officer of LiveBeyond.