Wayland alum provides medical clinic ministry as part of Kenyan mission team

August 2, 2012

LIMURU, KENYA — Laurie Hall spent two days recently throwing starfish back in the ocean.

Faced with the challenge of providing medical help to the residents of the slums around Limuru, Kenya as part of the annual July mission team, sponsored by the Wayland Baptist University Mission Center, Hall said one of the biggest challenges of the two-day clinic was the overwhelming need.

“The thing that comes to my mind is the story of the guy throwing the starfish back into the ocean. Are you ever going to get it done? No. But it makes a difference to that one starfish,” she explained.

While the month of July is summer in Plainview where the 1985 graduate of Wayland Baptist University works as a registered nurse, it is winter in the mountains of central Kenya. That meant it was cold and foggy almost all day, every day.

Hall earned a degree in theology and philosophy at Wayland with a desire to serve in some type of full-time ministry, but after she got married that desire was pushed to the side to raise her two children, Alexis and Lucas. It wasn’t forgotten, though. Once her children graduated from high school, Hall began to rekindle her desire to do ministry work.

“I spent 20 years doing custom framing and although I think it’s incredibly important to be good Christian business owners, I still always had a passion for wanting to do something that was more ministry related and whether or not you have a nicely-framed picture on your wall didn’t seem to be high on the list,” she said with a grin.

Over the years, she and her husband, Wayland Baptist University Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Bobby Hall, talked about how much they would like to get involved in disaster relief.

“Bobby, with all his talents, you know, could easily go into any situation and probably be an asset and I didn’t feel like, again, custom picture framing was something in a disaster relief zone that would be high on the list of needs,” she said.

However, she then was faced with the question of what would be high on that list.

The answer? Nursing.

“Through the years of having to take care of sick parents and family members, it always kind of seemed to be my role that I assumed with his parents as well as mine, you know, spending time in hospitals and taking care of people. My interest in nursing grew dramatically. When my kids got older and nearly out of high school I just told Bobby one day I wanted to go and be a nurse so I could go and do medical missions. He said, ‘OK,’ ” she said.

She started classes at West Texas A&M University in Canyon and graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing.

When Dr. Hall was asked to join the July mission team for university-related business reasons, the nurse seized her opportunity.

The two-day clinic in Limuru was run out of the cramped quarters of the Living Proof Baptist Church, pastored by Linus Kirimi, the husband of Liz Kirimi, the program manager of the Wayland Baptist University Program in Kenya. The goal was to help the residents of the three slums surrounding the city — Farmers, Misiri and Karanjee. Misiri is the Swahili word for Egypt and area residents acknowledge that the slum’s name comes from the fact that its residents are seen as being enslaved by poverty. Wayland sophomore Tabetha Karp joined Hall in the endeavor, and the two worked with a local Kenyan doctor who volunteered her time.

Other members of the Wayland mission team split into groups to do door-to-door evangelism in the slums and tell residents about the medical clinic.

Hall got her first glimpse of what was ahead when she arrived at the church the first morning to see a long line already forming. She explained that while the residents of the slums benefit, to a degree, from a form of socialized medicine that allows them to visit with a doctor, that does them little good because they have no money to buy the medicine the doctor prescribes. Through this clinic, Hall would use money raised in the United States to purchase the drugs the patients could not afford to buy for themselves.

Local residents came to the church, where Karp — working through an interpreter — began the process by taking blood pressure and temperature readings, and getting a general explanation of the individual’s medical needs. She then would send them to Hall who would do a more thorough examination before sending the patient to the doctor for the final assessment and prescription. The patient would then go to another building where a volunteer pharmacist would fill the prescription.

The clinic was designed to operate from about 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. but Hall said both days there were 70-80 people lined up waiting when she arrived.

“I think both days we stopped letting people take a number by 1 or 2 o’clock just so that we would be able to finish seeing the people (who already had numbers),” Hall said, adding that over the two-day period the team treated approximately 270 people.

During that time, she continued, they basically saw routine medical needs. It was cold and damp so there were a lot of respiratory problems and because of the living conditions in the slums once people got sick they passed the illness onto others and then were re-infected themselves. At the same time, Hall said, because of worms and microbes in the water supply, people needed treatment to help clean up related intestinal issues. Finally, and perhaps the most frustrating, was the need for basic over-the-counter medications that Hall pointed out are taken for granted in West Texas for treating chronic pain and discomfort issues such as ulcers and arthritis.

“You know we take for granted being able to run down and take Tylenol Arthritis, or whatever, and they don’t have access to even simple painkillers,” she said.

While most of the needs the team treated were routine, there were two that stood out to Karp and she choked back tears as she talked about them.

The first was a small boy who had come in with his mother.

“There was a little kid and his mom brought him in and she wasn’t sick but he was and he was the only one today that was running a high fever and his fever was about 105.2. My heart just broke because I love kids. To know I couldn’t do anything else besides just, ‘This is what’s wrong? This is how long it’s been going? OK. Go onto the next person.’ I just really wanted to hug him.”

The second was a woman who came in carrying an envelope containing X-rays. When Karp saw the X-rays she was floored.

“Her leg had been broke. She broke it in her shin and it was a compound fracture. She said she went to the doctor in Limuru and he put a cast on it but her leg, obviously, was still having problems. She brought her X-rays and showed me and the doctor had not reset her leg so for the rest of her life she’s going to be crippled. Trying to explain to her that the doctor said she would get better but her leg was obviously healed and the only way she’s going to get better is to cause more pain and to re-break her leg and have it reset, was hard . . . . I don’t know. I just took it hard.

“I really struggle with why God allows so much suffering and I’ve been blessed with so much,” she said, struggling to contain her emotions.

Ultimately, for Hall, there were a couple of questions that needed answers: “Was it worth it? Was anything really accomplished?”

Her answer was straight forward and it came from the starfish story.

“We don't know how God might grow the seeds that were planted from this little bit of time that we were able to do something like that. It's not really our position to decide whether something is worth something or not. If God gives us an opportunity to be a part of something then that's what we need to do and we'll let Him worry about that,” she said.

The key, she continued, was that the medical clinic was run as a ministry project of the local church.

“I don't know that you could really say that it's terribly beneficial if it wasn't through a ministry of a church,” Hall said. “In a month, when that medicine is out, if it was something for a chronic illness, they're still not going to have it. But during that time, you've made a difference in their life. I think the people in that area are going to be able to remember, you know, those people cared about us.”

From a practical standpoint, Hall said she didn’t really know what to expect going in because it was her first time to participate in a medical clinic mission project. She made it clear, however, that it won’t be her last and she will use what she learned in the mountains of Kenya to apply to other situations.

“God expects us to take care of those that are less fortunate than ourselves; to take care of the widows and the orphans. I don't see how we can do anything except put ourselves in positions to be able to do that.

“Now, can we be smarter in the ways that we utilize funds to help do ministry? Absolutely and if I have the opportunity to come back I'll rethink how we did that so it can be better or more effective. I wish that, in hindsight, that we had had time to do some education with some of the parents and stuff from a health standpoint while we had them in a captive audience. But you have to kind of experience some stuff and then say, okay, how can we improve on this, and how can we do things better, and what were the things that really weren't so good. You know, you have to take any experience and try to make things better and pray that God will show that to you.”

Other members of the team were Wayland students Katelynn Murga, Samer Khamisi and Phil Avants; incoming freshman Ashley Price; and Plainview High School Junior Monique Lucio.