Early next year, Karin Feltman plans to say goodbye to Lawrence, her job and hot showers — for good.
The 44-year-old is heading to Nepal, where she will become a long-term missionary, focusing on improving community health and eradicating human trafficking.
"Since I am able, I feel I have an obligation and responsibility to do this, not only to humanity, but also to God," she said.
Trained as a nurse, Feltman has gone on several short-term international missions in the past, helping people in need. But this time it's an indefinite commitment.
Feltman's mission to Nepal is being organized by TEAM, a religious group that puts long-term missionaries through an extensive application and training process to ensure it's something they're truly meant for — to, in other words, to make sure they're someone like Feltman.
To live and volunteer in Nepal full-time, however, Feltman will need sponsors to cover the $3,600-a-month cost of living and working there. To that end, she is holding a fundraiser from 7-11 p.m. Saturday at the parish center at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, 5700 W. Sixth St.
On a recent day among the pews at St. Margaret's, Feltman, wearing a Destination Nepal T-shirt, explained her decision to upend her life. She seemed to have all her wits about her, and got excited just talking about mission work, like she was ready to leave for Nepal at that very moment.
This all started in August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the surrounding area. Feltman felt she had to be there: to help, to heal, to rebuild. She lived out of a tent, using her medical training any way she could.
That first mission seemed to spark something deep inside her. She felt she belonged among the volunteers, helping people who couldn't help themselves.
Almost immediately after returning to Lawrence, Feltman started itching for her next mission. She went on one, then another, until she racked up 15 over the course of seven-plus years in places like Honduras and Kenya. It still wasn't enough.
"I found that as soon as I came back from these trips I was trying to figure out how to go on my next one," she said.
She had no husband or kids, nothing really tying her down. After her mom and sister died within about a year of each other, she decided it was time to pursue her dream.
Feltman wasn't always this way, so selfless and giving. In fact, she was quite the opposite, she says: selfish and inward-looking, more interested in pleasing herself than others. Until, at the age of 30, she found God.
After that, she says, "I started seeing other people and other people's needs as more important than my own."
'The remotest of the remote'
Feltman originally thought she would do long-term mission work in Africa — until she visited Nepal, in South Asia. It was so poor, so underdeveloped — hospitals use hairdryers to warm newborn babies because they don't have heat, she said — that she felt like she was needed there more than anywhere else. In Nepal, she witnessed "a level of oppression and injustice we just don't see here," she says. Even so, she describes the Nepalese she met as "sweet-tempered" and "gracious."
She'll be living in a rural, mountainous village called Dadeldhura that "even the people in Nepal consider primitive," Feltman said. "It's the remotest of the remote."
Her mission will consist of working at a local medical center (Feltman has been a nurse at Lawrence Memorial Hospital for more than two decades); implementing community health programs in surrounding villages; and trying to eliminate human trafficking.
Education will be a big part of her mission. For instance, many Nepalese are unaware of the impact of human trafficking; they often sell their children, thinking they've given them a better life (a job, school) when, in fact, the kids are being forced into slavery. Similarly, she wants to be a patient advocate at the village's hospital, which has 28 beds but no doors or curtains. She also intends to focus on wellness and prevention in a place where tuberculosis and leprosy still are major problems.
A natural missionary
Feltman's boyfriend of the past few months, Shaun Trenholm, isn't upset that he stands to lose her in the near future; he knew her plans going into the relationship
"She really believes that's where God is directing her to go. She buys in completely," said Trenholm, a 54-year-old business owner from Lawrence and treasurer of St. Margaret's Church.
Grown-ups Night Out
Lawrence nurse Karin Feltman is hosting a fundraiser for her long-term mission trip to Nepal this Saturday from 7-11 p.m. at the parish center at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, 5700 W. Sixth St. The event, Grown-ups Night Out, will feature an international food tasting, wine, massage therapy and music from Feltman's band, The Color 5. Child care is available from the church's youth group for a donation (split 50-50 between the youth group and mission trip). Tickets are $20 each or $150 for a table of eight. All proceeds go toward Feltman's mission to Nepal. For more information, email her at email@example.com.
Feltman's roommate, Yvonne Routte, has gone on several missions herself and has met people who couldn't handle them. She says Feltman is not one of those people.
"She's very outgoing, very dynamic, very active, and she has a heart of gold," said Routte, a 52-year-old hospital worker. "She's focused, and I can't see her failing. In my mind it's not even possible."
Someone who's not too happy about Feltman leaving is her niece, Morgan Banning. Feltman is a mother figure to Banning, particularly after the 20-year-old student lost her mother — Feltman's sister — last year.
"She's an important person in my life and I'm going to miss having her around," Banning said.
Even so, Banning is surprised Feltman didn't become a full-time missionary sooner. She probably would have, but stayed in Lawrence to care for her sister, Kim Banning-Bohmann, who died after a struggle with a rare skin condition.
"She's a really good mix of a friend and a mom and an aunt all in one," Banning said of Feltman. "I think she's going to take those kind and caring personality traits to people who need it."
Some serious training
Feltman already has started her training, even taking a desensitization class to get over her fear of spiders; it required that she hold a tarantula. It will probably come in handy: Routte said she's encountered spiders overseas so large it takes a baseball bat to kill them.
Feltman has to undertake a year of language and cultural training before she can even go to Dadeldhura. TEAM also required the endorsement of her church.
Those interested in sponsoring her are asked to call St. Margaret's at (785) 865-5777. Feltman will be holding two more fundraisers this year: a kids' Bingo night on April 27 at the church and a performance by her band, The Color 5, on June 15 at BlueJacket Crossing Vineyard & Winery in Eudora.
Another one of her goals is to inspire others to take on missions or, at the very least, follow their own dreams. It seems to have worked for her.
"Do what you love," she said in the cavernous worship hall, wearing stylish glasses and her hair dirty blond, her confidence and energy infectious. "We're all wired a certain way on purpose. Find your passion and be true to that, and you can't go wrong."