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Serving with Refugees: A Doctor’s Reflection

Another personal experience from the ROOTs Church trip. ROOTs volunteered to serve refugees in camps both in and around Athens.

Serving with Refugees: A Doctor’s Reflection

Playing with kids at the retreat centre

I volunteered with our team to be able serve refugees, but also to act as a team medic. As we started meeting and serving people seeking refuge from Syria, Afghanistan and Iran, I was introduced to them as a physician. Many of them came to me with health-related concerns. I was not prepared for this in terms of medical materials I brought with me, with only a dozen pairs of gloves, a bag of Q-tips, some antibiotic and pain relieving ointments, alcohol swabs, and very basic dressings—enough for our small team of 12.

Despite the scarcity of medical supplies, I believe God provided what we needed. We went to a pharmacy in Athens close to where the Syrian refugees lived, and purchased appropriate medical supplies for those that came to me at the camp, including oral antibiotics to treat urinary tract infections for multiple women in the camp, and anti-fungal creams for yeast infections.

We also acquired proper dressings and ointments for a small child with severe burns from hot water, and some multivitamin supplements for extremely malnourished kids. It was incredible and indeed a blessing that we could purchase these medications. It was also a tremendous blessing that the women allowed me to examine them in private rooms, which required much trust that we had minimal time in building, but God was able to accelerate this in a gentle manner. We took these medications with us and distributed them to the people I had seen a few days before, and explained how to properly use them. They listened carefully and nodded in understanding.

One of many checkups

I was concerned about the lack of medical follow-up for them after we left. I was also concerned about ensuring that we “do no harm” to those we served, which was one of the reservations I had about doing medicine abroad, especially as a physician to refugees. However, I believe God revealed something to me on this trip: the purpose of working for God in a medical capacity is not just to provide that one time healing through medical diagnosis and treatment. But rather, I am also to be used as a spiritual container to do God’s work, and remember that ultimate healing comes from God and acceptance of His grace.

Not every trip can be sustainable from a medical standpoint, but what is sustainable is God’s love that flows through us as we examine an infected wound, palpate a pregnant woman’s abdomen, dress up a severe burn of a small child, and reassure an insecure but beautiful woman that her pregnancy induced stretch marks are not a disease. When we touch broken hearts with the same grace that we are freely given, we show that God is truly present among the suffering.

It is about being there even when there is no medical answer. How can I tell the mothers of the malnourished children that what they need are foods richer in iron, vitamin A, B, and C, when they do not have the means to get those types of foods? How can I tell a partially paralyzed man with a non-healing 2 cm bullet wound on the forehead, with pus draining, to go get surgery as soon as possible with IV antibiotics, when he had no more means to pay to for it?

In the human-ness of me, I am powerless. But I was there, showing that I care, because God cares. In God, all things are possible, according to His plan, because the Kingdom of God is at hand and the battle is won.