As some of you guys already know (and some have prayerfully and financially supported me [THANK YOU!!]) I went on a medical missions trip to Thailand last fall. The first thing you might have noticed was missions. Yep, I’m Christian. The next thing you might have noticed was medical. If you’re just as confused as I was during the summer when applying to short term missions, that’s a good thing. I should probably start with the entire application/planning process before I move on to the actual trip.
During the summer of last year, I was prayfully asking God what I should do with my life in the short term. Things have gotten routine, possibly to a point where life became a little too predictable, a little too stale. This was where God had re-opened my eyes to short term missions. There were a number of groups that my church was sending out that particular year (Kenya, Togo, China, Thailand). I had felt my calling either with China or Thailand. Seemingly enough, the door to China had closed (I had to shoot a wedding the weekend that they were leaving), leaving me with only with the Thailand team. The only hiccup was that it was a medical missions trip.
“What in the world is a wedding photographer going to do on a medical missions trip,” I thought. I struggled with this thought throughout the entire planning process. It came to the point where I almost dropped out of the team, just because I didn’t feel that there was a purpose for me to be there. But God had pressed on my heart that we were all called to serve, to do and not to just hear (James 1:22-25) and that we were all given unique gifts not just for us but for the benefit of the whole body (1 Corinthians 12:4-7) and finally that we are all called to use those different and unique gifts (Romans 12:6). I decided then to go and to prepare my heart to serve in whatever capacity I could, regardless of what the job or how thankless it might be.
With this mindset, my team and I traveled first to Chiang Mai, Thailand and van’d it to the Nan province in the northeastern part of Thailand. The trip over was exhausting, but being able to experience the captivating beauty of Thailand’s mountainous, sparsely populated region was energizing. But what was more energizing was the food and fresh fruits. O – M – G, the food in Thailand was AMAZING. I think this was the one missions trip that I actually gained weight from (and we were warned from the long term missionary we partnered with from day 1 that this would be the case). Thai curries, real papaya salad, fresh fruits (long kong, dragon fruit, pineapples, the list goes on and on). My team leader and I had a great affinity towards long kong (a very similar cousin to longan). I believe we cleaned out an entire village of the fruit. It was wonderous.
Dragon fruit, Chili Peppers that are essential in Thai food, and Fried Bamboo Worms (yes they were good, just like fries. though best when fresh and not packaged)
The villages that we were serving were remote though. 1 of the 3 villages didn’t have a paved road going to it. 2 of the villages were remote enough that we had to camp out for 1/2 of the trip (real camping – no showers). We served nearly 500 people in those three villages. The cases varied from typical cases of back pain and lack of essential vitamins and minerals to cleaning abscesses to a case of heart arrhythmia to a case of blindness in a baby that caused “dancing eyes”. It was quite an experience.
Some highlights @ Village #1: Ban Nam Wah
And now we get back to the initial question, “What in the world is a wedding photographer going to do on a medical missions trip?” I came with the mindset that I was going serve and fill in the gaps. I wanted to first and foremost document the trip and use my experience in photography to capture memories that we had there. Then I wanted to help out wherever I could. I would do all kinds of odds and ends. A few examples would be getting people’s blood pressure and temperature, making the doctors hot chocolate/hot soy milk, getting whatever supplies the doctors needed, filling prescriptions. I thought the job that made the most impact however was crowd control. It was pretty clear that there were no lines set, no real queue for people to follow. We also didn’t have enough chairs to sit everyone in a chair while they waited for each station (intake, doctor, pharmacy, eye check). I took it upon myself to make a queue for patients to follow. I made sure that each patient had a place to sit. If that meant running from one end of the room to the other with chairs, thats what I wanted to do. Even though I didn’t know the Thai language and the dialect that they speak, I made sure to greet each and every one of the patients with a smile and lead them towards their doctor for the day and then from the doctor to the pharmacy, and then from the pharmacy to the vision check.
The doctors hard at work.
I’m sure you can imagine being incredibly tired at the end of each day, constantly running around, showing people who you can’t communicate with words where to go, moving chairs and grabbing supplies. But God really gave me the energy to do this day in and day out. It was a truly humbling and eye opening experience. The entire trip went from confusion as to what I would be doing to contentment in being available to serve in another country to making sure that I reflected Christ in my demeanor, actions and words. I truly hope that all those who I’ve engaged with were affected by my being there as much as the entire trip affected my being. =)
Until next year… (oh wait this year…) =P
The main commodity for sustaining these villages is rice. Some of these villages were on some incredibly steep hills while others were in valleys.
There were some INCREDIBLY cute kids that came to our clinics. Couldn’t miss a photo op. =)
The Bible in Thai and while we were doing our morning worship and prayer, we were met with this elderly believer who prayed along with us.
Our HQ and View from our HQ 1/2 the time (the other 1/2 we were camping in the villages themselves)
There were some really gorgeous flowers in the flower market of Chiang Mai. If I was a florist I think I would go crazy in delight.
Our entire team! =)