Last August when students were enjoying the waning days of summer before returning to campus, eight individuals (four nursing students and four adults) boarded a plane headed to South Africa to begin two weeks of medical missionary work.
The group, part of Ashland University’s Isaiah Project, worked in a region called the Molweni Valley in the Kwazulu-Natal province. The Molweni Valley is located on South Africa’s southeastern coast near Durbin, the third largest city in South Africa. The people of the Molweni Valley are largely impoverished and poorly educated and lack access to basic health care despite the country’s socialized medical program.
Mainly there to treat conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, the group also had the opportunity to reflect and pray with patients. Each day before opening the clinic, the group led a praise and worship session, which many locals would attend.
“The people of the village would come in masses. During my time there, I really felt God telling me to speak out, to reach out to people on a deeper level. I learned to speak from my heart,” Rachel Thurneyssen, a nursing student said.
In addition to routine ailments like arthritis, upper respiratory infections and fevers, the group also saw many cases of suspected tuberculosis and HIV, which they were not equipped to treat.
“A lot of the people that came in to see us, there was nothing we could do for them. A lot of them just came so someone could pray with them,” Lisa Young, director of simulation for the College of Nursing & Health Sciences and one of the organizers of the trip, said.
During their two-week stay, the mission team had a chance to interact with the people of the village outside of the clinic.
“Their joy is amazing. These people literally have nothing. They are so appreciative of everything you do even if it’s to say ‘sorry, I can’t help you.’ You don’t realize how much you take for granted here (in the United States), how very blessed we are,” Young said.
Thurneyssen said the experience was more powerful than she could have imagined and plans to participate in additional service trips. “I know people say ‘it was life changing,’ but in my experience it was really life changing. It changed my perspective of God and nursing. It’s made me want to be the best person I can be. By doing so I’ll be better enabled to help others,” the nursing student said.
Dr. Dan Lawson, dean of Religious Life and one of the trip’s organizers, said the goal of trips like these is to selflessly help those in need, just as Jesus would.
“We talk to our students about becoming the hands and feet of Jesus. When Jesus saw people who were suffering he went to help. We ask the students to sincerely go with a desire to serve. That was a big part of it, for them to realize that we are the hands and feet of Christ in the world today,” he said.
Young is currently organizing a return medical mission trip to the same South Africa village in May.
Watch the trailer for Zululand, a film documenting the South Africa Mission Trip.