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Volunteers treat post-traumatic stress, pray for quake victims

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)–Southern Baptist medical volunteers working in Pakistan’s quake zone say many of the patients they are treating suffer from post-traumatic stress -– and nearly all are in despair.

“Everyone has lost their home,” said Rodrigo Estonilo, a volunteer neurosurgeon from Pennsylvania. “Everyone has lost their relatives here. My patients have no place to go. It’s impossible for them to go home.

“The destruction is evidenced by the tents everywhere. The testimonies of the patients that I saw here is the hopelessness. That is their message.”

Estonilo is one of five Southern Baptist volunteers working in a Christian hospital in the Kaghan Valley, an area devastated by the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that struck northern Pakistan and India Oct. 8. The first Southern Baptist volunteers on the scene, they arrived Oct. 21 from points across the United States. A Pakistani physician from Texas who accompanied them on the trip is serving alongside them. Another Southern Baptist volunteer, a trauma specialist from Oklahoma, is flying into isolated villages to treat patients on site and evacuate them when necessary.

The team found the devastation to be overwhelming [audio].

“Many people’s attitudes about it is, ‘It just was God’s will, and we just have to move on now,’” said Holly Sisk, a nursing student from Oregon. “I don’t sense a lot of anger and bitterness from the people. That’s surprising to me.”

Sisk and the team have been meeting the earthquake survivors’ physical needs, but their ministry has not stopped there.

“I’ve been able to pray with my clients and be there and listen to their stories,” Sisk said. “There’s just been a lot of opportunities for spiritual counsel and encouragement.”

Estonilo and Sisk treated one 18-year-old woman left paralyzed by the earthquake and she can now move her legs. But the volunteers have brought more than just physical healing to her life.

“I got to spend a lot of time with her, and that was exciting,” Sisk said. “I prayed with her a couple of times. I heard today that she asked to pray with another team member.”

Estonilo also shared his Christian faith with the young Muslim woman, thereby showing the local Christian nurses that they could do the same with their patients.

“The Pakistani nurses are there witnessing what I am doing,” Estonilo said. “I tell them, ‘Focus on the message that God has for this calamity. Never before could we share that; at this time, we can share the hope.’

“The earthquake incident is a floodgate, opened for the love of Christ to flow. In a culture where hatred and indifference have prevailed against us, it challenges us more to be in right perspective before God.”

The medical workers were moved particularly by Muslims’ acceptance of Christians praying for them [audio].

The team has treated spinal injuries, compound fractures, lacerations and symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

The Pakistani physician, Mirza Shahbaz, has seen post-traumatic stress especially in the children, said Brent Tinsley*, a Southern Baptist worker coordinating the medical volunteers.

“[Shahbaz] says that children who experience something like this, when they have been on overload, they don’t act like kids. When you try to treat them, they just take it,” Tinsley said. “They don’t fight. They don’t kick. They’ve lost hope.”


This first volunteer medical team will be in Pakistan through the end of the October.

“The first team has been very flexible, which has been a key to their successful use,” said Philip Monroe*, a Southern Baptist disaster relief specialist serving in Asia. “What has been most encouraging is that they -– like other volunteers who have come out -– are not limiting their work to what their credentials say but are doing ministry with the goal of representing the Savior.”

The conditions under which the first team has served have not been ideal. Medical resources are limited, the drive to the hospital can be long, and because of aftershocks, some of the team members are spending cold nights sleeping in tents.

Conditions will be similar for future volunteers. A second team of medical volunteers will arrive Nov. 1 and stay through Nov. 10, when a third team will arrive.

For now, the earthquake relief efforts call only for medical volunteers, but in the spring that will change. Villages that are inaccessible during the winter months will begin to open up about the middle of March. At that time, volunteers can take advantage of opportunities resulting from relationships built through relief work that Southern Baptist workers do, as much as possible, throughout the winter.

Monroe emphasizes that volunteer work in Pakistan can be extremely difficult.

“The volunteers that we will need to supplement the work will need to be very focused and especially in tune and realistic about their own limitations physically,” Monroe said. “Volunteers who respond to come and assist should be in excellent physical condition and capable of doing hard physical work with little rest.”

While Sisk has participated in many mission trips, her trip to Pakistan has been different than any others, she said.

“I’ve done numerous trips before, but never with a medical emphasis,” she said. “There’s been a slew of things that I have never had to think about on a mission trip -– patient safety, sterility, dosage. My nursing role here is different than in the States. It has been a very good educational experience in showing me how to use all those things that I have been taught in nursing school while also caring for people’s spiritual needs in this disaster.”
*Names changed for security reasons.
— Hear a report of what the medical team encountered when they arrived in Pakistan: http://media1.imbresources.org/downloads/pakistan/loss_of_life.mp3.
— Hear how volunteer Holly Sisk is ministering to people in need, including one man and his paralyzed niece who lost 26 family members: http://media1.imbresources.org/downloads/pakistan/one_mans_story.mp3.
— For more information on current and future volunteer needs, e-mail [email protected] To contribute financially to relief efforts, send gifts designated for “South Asia Earthquake Relief” to P.O. Box 6767, Richmond. VA 23230. Or go online to www.imb.org/worldhunger and select “Give Now.” One hundred percent of the gifts will go for relief aid.

    About the Author

  • Goldie Frances*