On a mission
Lawrence medical professionals feel call to spread healing, faith around world
When the sun goes down tonight in Kenya, there will be a little more light shining than there was a few months back.
Three hundred children will be walking around the village of Maai Mahiu with glow-in-the-dark crosses hanging from their necks, inscribed with the words “Jesus loves me.”
They were the gift of nurses and other employees of the Lawrence Surgery Center, who sent them along with Dr. Stephen Segebrecht when he went there on a medical mission trip last month.
Segebrecht’s primary goal was to treat ear, nose and throat ailments. But he was also there to spread the word about Christianity.
“It was because of my faith I was over there doing this,” Segebrecht said. “It really shows the difference people can make in a community.”
In making his first trip to Africa, the Lawrence physician joined thousands of health care professionals who travel abroad annually to treat patients who, in many cases, wouldn’t otherwise have access to high-quality health care.
Though some do it for purely humanistic reasons, many feel called by a higher power to serve those who are less fortunate around the world.
Segebrecht, a member of Trinity Episcopal Church, 1011 Vt., went to Kenya with Comfort the Children International, a Christian ministry co-founded by Kansas University graduate Zane Wilemon. The group centers its efforts on Maai Mahiu and works with a medical clinic, orphanage and technical school there.
While in the town, Segebrecht saw nearly 300 patients, many of whom were HIV-positive.
In addition to working in the clinic from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., he helped plan a library for the orphanage, to be spearheaded with $600 in donations from staff at the Lawrence Surgery Center, 1112 W. Sixth St., where he has his office.
Carole Woolfolk, clinic coordinator at the Surgery Center, helped organize the donations, which also included medical supplies. Woolfolk, who has volunteered for medical mission trips twice in Haiti, said it makes sense to include a faith component alongside physical healing.
“It’s holistic care,” she said.
Segebrecht told this story about the power of faith-based medical missions: A few years ago, Wilemon, the founder of Comfort the Children International, served as a counselor to a despondent young man. When Segebrecht was in Kenya, that man – now a seminary student – preached at a church there.
“To me, that is a tremendous ripple effect,” he said.
Faith also will send Lisa Buchholz to Romania next month.
Buchholz, a sixth-year pharmacy student at KU, will be one of about 70 people affiliated with the Leawood-based Medical Missions Foundation who will treat patients at clinics in the cities of Botosani and Dorohoi. The group leaves Sept. 9 and returns Sept. 19.
“It just stems from my past mission trip experiences (in the United States) and what I got out of it myself,” said Buchholz, who is Presbyterian. “It’s not something I’m going to focus on when I’m over there, taking my faith and teaching it. But as far as a motivating factor, it’s a big part of it.”
Buchholz will be in charge of dispensing drugs prescribed by the approximately 15 doctors who go on the trip.
“With going to a new country, I like the idea of going to help out and not just to observe the area,” she said. “I’ll be bringing something to it and helping the people instead of just watching. I like the idea of giving back.”
The Medical Missions Foundation, which makes four mission trips a year, receives its funding from donors and uses supplies and pharmaceuticals contributed by health care professionals and drug companies.
The organization isn’t faith-based. But that doesn’t mean individual volunteers aren’t driven by religious beliefs.
“Our volunteers come from all different religious backgrounds,” said Shari Hartbauer, director of operations. “It’s a valuable experience for the volunteers as well as for the people who receive the medicine from us. Any volunteer in that situation will get a lot back from helping others.”
David McKinney, a local photographer and graphic designer for KU, said he appreciates that approach. He’ll be going on the trip to take photos documenting the work being done.
“They can make of it what they like,” he said. “It may be fulfilling somebody’s religious and spiritual understanding of the world. These professionals have a job to do, and they’re compelled and feel they have a responsibility to help people. They’ve taken a Hippocratic oath, and they’re living out that oath.”