Second-year medical student reflects on student mission trip
Charles Oberer, second-year medical student, poses with a family he provided health care for in Mexico.
I have been hearing mission stories all of my life. When I was young, these stories were inspiring, miraculous, and exciting. At college I began hearing a different kind of mission story from friends who had gone overseas. Stories of incompetent program leaders and harassment from the local people. My own drive to be a missionary rode the rollercoaster these conflicting stories created. However, when I was offered the opportunity to visit an orphanage in Mexico, I took it.
I knew very few details before I left for Vicente Guerrero. Besides not knowing any of the people going on the trip, I had no idea what we would actually be doing there. I thought that I had some idea about what it would be like, and I suppose I was expecting the roughest of conditions—sleeping in tents under mosquito nets, and eating beans and rice for every meal.
My imagination couldn’t have been further from reality. After driving about eight hours into Baja we arrived and were shown our house that had showers, beds, and a kitchen. What about the hammocks and “holes in the ground?”
After everything got settled, there was still the question of what I would be doing for a week. The answer came from Ed. He was the physician on the trip and the one person who decided that after two years of medical school and virtually no hospital experience, I was ready to see patients on my own. My ego was begging me to say that I could do this and to go for it, but my brain and my conscience suggested that I should be cautious. I asked if I could watch him with a patient. He obliged, and spoke the phrase upon which so much of medical education is based, “see one, do one, and teach one.”
No more than 15 minutes later, I was in my own room with my own patients. I would speak with them through an interpreter, do a short physical exam, and then go talk to Ed about them. The experience was invaluable. As for my patients, they were kind, tolerant, and above all tough. Actually, tough doesn’t begin to describe it; maybe they have a better word for it in Spanish.
I dug overgrown stitches out of a man’s scalp, and he didn’t even flinch. I swabbed an 8-year old’s blistered throat, and he looked me straight in the eye without blinking (I remember gagging and making a huge fuss whenever my pediatrician swabbed my throat).
The history of the orphanage was littered with stories of miraculous coincidence. One story sticks out in my mind. The orphanage, residing in a desert, has very little water; showers are limited to three minutes in the winter and cease in the summer. Some time ago, the leader of the orphanage grew worried that the water pump would malfunction and the orphanage would be without water.
He felt impressed by God to build a large reservoir to hold water in case the pump malfunctioned. Putting his plan into action, the reservoir was built. Shortly after filling the several thousand-gallon tank, the pump broke and the orphanage was sustained by the reservoir until it was repaired. This story alone does not force someone to believe in miracles. A person of reason would simply suggest that overworking the pump to fill up the massive reservoir exceeded the pump’s capacity and it broke. As a person of faith, I am compelled to believe that God chose to use a miracle to protect His children from thirst.
I suppose most Christian medical professionals are confronted with the faith vs. reason conundrum, and thinking about this story helped clear things up for me. I am becoming more comfortable with the idea that I have complete freedom to choose faith over reason.
I left knowing I had received far more than I gave, an understanding of why people dedicate themselves to providing the basic needs of others, and a longing for the ability to follow in their footsteps.
By Charles Oberer
second-year medical student