Written by Rocio Mendez-Rozo
As missioners, patients, families, and hospital staff gathered for the closing ceremony at Punata hospital, a profound peace graced the faces of those who stood together for the final expression of “gracias.” One by one, past and presentpatients of mission surgeon Magued Khouzam shared their testimonies. The narratives of both spiritual and physical healing were deeply moving, an aspect of our work that leaves an unforgettable mark on first-time missioners.
I knew that by joining the Solidarity Bridge team I would participate in rituals of prayer and gratitude. Yet I never fathomed how the experience of joining hands with our Bolivian partners and working in the clinics would ground me in the transformative power of serving others through God. As a recent college graduate navigating the waves of uncertainty that come with young adulthood, I felt weary, at first, of the emotional labor that comes with serving others. As the trip progressed, that feeling gave way to the rapid pace of the mission work itself.
The pictures and statistics speak to the breadth and depth of our mission activities this past week. Together with our Bolivian colleagues, our mission team saw 734 patients in pediatrics, family medicine, OB/gyn, physical therapy, dermatology and cardiology clinics. In addition to serving patients, the week was filled with countless opportunities for professional exchange. Through formal lectures presented by missioners and in mentored medical practice in the clinics and the OR, our medical partners and missioners alike had opportunities for teaching and learning.
We also had the privilege of immersing ourselves in the communities and home lives of 14 patients around Punata. Missioner and pediatrician Monica Joseph-Griffin accompanied Dr. Jimena to visit patients in their homes. Dr. Jimena is one of the 27 doctors who make home visits four days each week throughout all of Punata. Missioner Kim Stover also provided in-home physical therapy to patients living in the area.
Bolivian surgeon Dr. Manzano and US missioners Dr. Magued Khouzam and surgical nurse Molly McGuire provided surgical care to 20 patients, all of whom had been living in debilitating pain for months and in some cases, years. Through the benefits of laparoscopic technology, all of these patients were able to return home the day after surgery. Freddie, who received his surgery last Tuesday, was unable to attend the closing ceremony on Friday because he had already recovered well enough to return to work.
In our final reflection as missioners, each of us took a moment to describe the great impact these collective moments of solidarity, learning, and service had made on our mission experience and spiritual lives as a whole. As a new member of the Solidarity Bridge team, I will look back on this first mission experience with a renewed sense of faith and hope not only for our organization, but for future missioners and patients. When we walk with God—even in a world struck by natural disaster, violence, and fear—it only strengthens our sense of purpose to build stronger bridges.
The 2017 Multi-Specialty Mission Trip takes place September 29 to October 8, 2017, in Punata, Bolivia. The team is comprised of a general surgery operating team, clinical physicians in cardiology, gynecology, pediatrics, family medicine and dermatology, and a physical therapist. US missioners will work alongside their Bolivian colleagues to provide care to hundreds of patients in need.
Rocio Mendez-Rozo is the Operations Coordinator at Solidarity Bridge. She is on her first mission trip, serving as an interpreter.