BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Members of Baptist Nursing Fellowship stepped up to meet medical needs in the impoverished neighborhoods of Tijuana, Mexico, during FamilyFEST, a Woman’s Missionary Union missions trip designed for families.
“Medical missions have always been my heart. When I saw an opportunity to do a trip with my kids, I jumped at that,” said LuAnn Marlow, a pediatric nurse practitioner in Lawrenceville, Ga. It was Marlow’s fourth international medical missions trip but her first with her four sons and nephew. “I wanted to instill in them a love for missions,” she explained.
The partnership between Baptist Nursing Fellowship and FamilyFEST began in March 2004 when Judy Murray, former BNF national president and the upcoming trip’s leader for BNF volunteers, accompanied Kristy Carr, national WMU Volunteer Connection specialist, on her planning visit to Tijuana. “The trip offered valuable information about the health needs, health education and medical personnel needed,” Murray said of BNF’s anticipated medical ministry, which was just one aspect of FamilyFEST held in Tijuana and in San Diego, which included 123 volunteers serving in the two cities.
“Prayer was the biggest part of the preparation,” Murray recounted. “As Kristy and I were walking in Tijuana last March, I began to pray that God would bring the individuals that He had called to participate in FamilyFEST.”
Prayer continued as BNF members and other medical professionals began to sign up for the trip. As the team formed, they planned how to meet the needs that Murray had seen in March.
“The people in Tijuana have poor nutritional diets and live in poverty. Their homes are made of plywood, tin, with primarily dirt floors, with no indoor plumbing or electricity,” Murray said. “The water around them is polluted and there are respiratory problems from inhaling smoke from the burning trash.”
As the team began to work together in Tijuana, Murray knew God had answered their prayers to bring the right people together. “God does such good work,” she said. “We had the people here with the expertise we needed. I thank God for every person on the team.”
The team consisted of seven BNF members and eight other medical professionals, including a pharmacist, a doctor of internal medicine and pediatric nurse practitioner. Three of their teenage children on the trip were able to be technicians in the team’s makeshift pharmacy, with medications supplied by funds from the BNF Trust Fund and WMU.
Interpreters also were an integral part of the team. “I am so thankful we were blessed to have many interpreters available, so communication did not suffer,” Murray said. Maria Gonzalez, a bilingual nurse from North Carolina, along with her husband and three children, ages 6, 9 and 11, were able to interpret for the team.
Doris Bryant, a retired nurse from Mississippi, said she witnessed “the evidence of God’s hand as I watched people from many places work together as a team. Many may have come with preconceived notions, but all worked together to show the love of God to a people who have little hope.” The trip to Tijuana was Bryant’s fifth with BNF but the first with her 13-year-old granddaughter.
Because God provided a variety of expertise to meet immediate physical needs, the team was also able to provide health education, one of the greatest needs of Tijuana’s poor.
“With the great group of medical professionals, the nurses were free to do education as well as their nursing duties,” Murray recounted. The team taught basic first aid, baby and child care and disease prevention. Using balloons with baby power inside, for example, they were able to explain the spread of germs through coughing and sneezing. The team was also able to do some vision testing.
Having served on many missions trips, Murray knew unexpected challenges would arise. “Our saying became, ‘Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape,’” she noted. “Yes, there were unexpected things, but it did not rattle anyone. We assessed, planned and met the challenge, which is evidence this was a team bathed in prayer.”
One of the biggest challenges occurred when the team moved to a new location. Upon arriving at The Valley of the Flowers, the team tapped its ingenuity when they did not have anywhere to set up their clinic. “We had a vacant lot and used boards, discarded tires and timbers to set up the clinic,” Murray said. “A lady in the area brought her broom for us to sweep off the boards and timbers. Another neighbor brought out two chairs for us to use. We put the tents up, used tape to make a rope and secured a tarp to provide privacy for patients. What started out being a vacant lot full of sand soon was constructed to be a clinic. To God be the glory!”
The team was able to see firsthand their patients’ living conditions. “They literally were living on top of a garbage dump,” Murray said. “Garbage trucks came from all over Tijuana and dumped their trash. When the garbage hit the ground, children 5 years old and older were on top of the garbage looking for food, anything that could be recycled or used for building a ‘house.’ This is the life of the children in this area.”
BNF is a national organization for Christian nurses and other healthcare professionals that, as Murray described it, “provides opportunities for Christian healthcare professionals to enjoy fellowship with each other as we are involved in medical service evolving from our personal commitment to Jesus Christ.” BNF chapters -– at the state level and in nursing schools and hospitals — also raise money and supplies for missions needs, while national BNF has four trust funds which provide financial assistance to nurses participating in missions.
“People everywhere have medical needs. If churches will communicate medical needs to BNF, there can be greater cooperation and coordination of medical ministry,” Murray said.
For more information about Baptist Nursing Fellowship and FamilyFEST opportunities, visit the Woman’s Missionary Union website www.wmu.com/ministry or call (205) 991-8100.