By Guest Contributor, Dr. Mark Paschall
This image has haunted me since our return from a remote village in a forgotten region of Kenya. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and this picture makes that especially true.
It tells a story of hardship in this mother’s eyes as she brought her child to our clinic looking for answers to the developmental and behavioral issues in her son. He was not acting like other children his age and at times did not seem capable of understanding and complying with directions or instructions. Hoping that perhaps some medication or nutritional supplement could remedy the problem, she had travelled a long distance to attend one of our medical clinics.
We were able to quickly diagnose Down syndrome and also determine that, at least for now, there were no other serious neurological or cardiac issues that often accompany this condition. While we certainly had no medication to offer that would change his situation, we were at least able to explain his condition to her and offer her realistic expectations for his future.
The obvious concern that can be seen in her face in this photo affirmed she had understood the challenges she was facing. The tremendous resources available in the U.S. for children with this genetic chromosome disorder would never be available to her, and she now understood that this was a lifelong condition that would impact her entire family for decades. At the same time, we were able to give her the information she needed to understand the implications of his condition.
When I was at the University of Michigan, the slogan for the Medical School was “Knowledge is Power,” While this may ring hollow in many desperate situations, I believe there is some truth in this case. We were able to empower this strong, determined, and concerned mother. We were also able to offer a commodity little seen in these remote areas of Africa. That commodity is hope. We were able to pray with her and remind her that she is not alone in her struggle. God is aware of her challenges, and there is now a group of Americans who will remember to pray for her regularly. Hope is something that I could never write a script for. It’s a remedy only God can provide.
As medical personnel, we often feel we have been successful only when our treatment has offered a cure or when we have fixed something or alleviated physical suffering. The most important thing we can do on these mission trips, however, is point people to the Great Physician through our holistic approach of caring for their entire beings: physical, emotional, and spiritual. This is what Jesus did and we have the tremendous opportunity to do likewise in His name on these medical mission trips.
Whatever your passion is, whatever skills and abilities God blessed you with to share with the world, I’d encourage you to use those gifts on a short-term mission trip. You will leave changed.
**Since 2011, Dr. Paschall has traveled to Kenya each year with his church, Kensington Community Church in Detroit, Michigan. We are grateful for his faithful service to the Pokot people and Pokot Outreach Ministries.