Through the airplane window, it is impossible to miss these a of blue tarps that have been tacked onto scores of homes demolished by wind and torrential rain. On the ground, it’s apparent that the landscape has been drastically altered. The trees are beginning to re-bud, but the shape is off somehow, only the sturdiest branches remained, all others were ripped away, and strewn about. Debris still lines the streets, and on the sidewalks, people step carefully around downed power lines. The needs are everywhere. Along the highways, people pull to the side of the road to fill containers from PVC pipes bringing streaming water down from the mountains. This is Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria.
On November 12-17, a group of U.S. mainland-based healthcare workers traveled to Puerto Rico on a medical mission trip with Compassion Services International. From all across the country, this team came together united in a single mission and shared faith. The mission was to use their medical training to help the people of the island of Puerto Rico. Dr. Crystal Jones, an Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease doctor from Indiana served as CSI’s lead physician on the recent trip. “From a child I wanted to be a doctor. I was born into an Apostolic pastor’s home, and missions was a big part of my family’s and church’s ministry. My first experience with CSI was in 1991 when I was a second-year medical resident. My friend, Dr. Lisa Kinderman, and I went to Manaus, Brazil on a medical missions trip with UPCI Missionary Bennie DeMerchant. That was the first medical mission trip ever for CSI.” Dr. Jones has continued to work with CSI since 1991 and now also serves as a member of the CSI Board of Trustees.
Compassion Services International was founded in 1986 by the UPCI Global Missions Division so that ministers, churches and missionaries could help people suffering during disasters and crises overseas. Now, for more than 30 years, with the help of many missions minded individuals, CSI has grown in scope and mission to include the North American region. In 2008, CSI was established as a separate nonprofit corporate entity and obtained its status as a UPCI-endorsed project. This connection opens up opportunities to work with and through an entire global network of pastors, missionaries and established congregations. With medical missions trips like this one to Puerto Rico, CSI also creates opportunities for fellow Apostolics and likeminded healthcare professionals from all over the U.S. to join together to relieve suffering in areas affected by disaster or extend services and aid to places with limited resources or exceptional needs.
Many CSI team members chose to volunteer their skills with CSI rather than other well-funded, larger groups, because they are able to work alongside those who share their Apostolic faith. CSI’s team approach to medical relief trips allows practitioners to network and build lasting friendships with other Apostolic medical professionals. CSI’s goal in taking a medical humanitarian group to Puerto Rico was two-fold. First, CSI’s early assessment teams indicated that the affected areas needed people on the ground helping distribute supplies and sharing hope. Second, CSI wanted to help fill the healthcare void during this time of crisis by providing direct patient care. On the first day of this recent trip, UPCI Minister Abiel Ortiz inspired the team with his words: “You can’t make a difference in everyone’s life, but you can make a difference in the lives of the ones you meet.”
This Puerto Rico trip wasNurse Sarah Brickle’s fourth medical mission with CSI. She reflects, “I am blessed to be actively involved in CSI’s mission of offering help and hope to people around the world. This organization has given me the opportunity to combine my professional training of nursing with my spiritual calling of involvement in global mission work.” Nurse Karissa Dorf adds that, “working with CSI allows
me to follow Jesus’ example and care for the physical and spiritual needs of people.” UPCI Missionaries to Puerto Rico, Rev. Gary and Kristi Landaw and Rev. Paul and Stephanie Rivero, hosted the CSI team. Despite being personally affected by the hurricane themselves (at the time of this writing, the Landaws are still without electricity), this outstanding team of missionaries is staying in Puerto Rico and is fervently continuing their outreach. “The moral support and showing you all cared was phenomenal,” Missionary Landaw said, referring to the CSI Medical Team.
While in Puerto Rico, CSI worked in four cities within a two-hour radius from San Juan. Local UPCI churches served as clinic locations. The missionaries, pastors and local parishioners had already been working diligently to meet the needs of the churches and the communities surrounding them. The CSI team was warmly welcomed, and the clinics allowed local churches to expand their footprint within their local community. Local pastors and parishioners helped set up for the clinics and hosted the CSI team, serving meals and making sure the team and the visiting clinic patients felt their support and care.
The CSI Medical Team was also greeted by a local physician in Bayamón. Dr. Garcia and his team have
been working 48-hour shifts back-to-back at their hospital desperately trying to meet the demand. The
need is so great due to the loss of healthcare workers before and after the hurricane and the normal healthcare needs that are exacerbated due to the absence of care and the aggravated conditions. Dr. Garcia told the team: “We are so appreciative that you are here doing this. We need the help…We can’t get to everybody.” Under an executive order of immunity, healthcare workers from other countries, such as the CSI team, are able to work in Puerto Rico.
Ruth, a single lady from Corozal, was one of the patients assisted by the CSI team. She came to the clinic to be evaluated for joint pain. On further questioning, CSI Executive Assistant Dr. Camra Faulkner learned more about her current situation. At the age 65, she is the custodian of her property and also the sole caretaker for her 83-yearold mother. The roof of her home was ripped off during the hurricane about eight weeks ago. As of yet, she is still waiting for her tarp or temporary cover provided by the government. The entire top floor of her home is now unlivable, and she and her mother are sharing one bedroom on the ground floor. Every time it rains—and it is the rainy season in Puerto Rico—Ruth must sweep out the water to avoid leaks down to the lower level. Ruth politely requested that the team come make a house call on her bedridden mother. In normal times, her mother only sees a physician about once a year, and even then it’s quite an ordeal to get her there. Since the hurricane, her care has become more complicated. Ruth still has no electricity in her home. She cooks with a small propane burner. During the hottest part of the day, she turns on a battery-operated fan to give her mother some relief. Despite all this, she is faithfully caring for her mother – turning her every two hours to avoid bedsores, bathing her, and keeping her covered with a mosquito net. Due to advanced dementia and medical complications, her mother is fed via a gastric tube (a tube inserted directly into her stomach). In the absence of electricity, the machine that normally administers the nourishment cannot operate. Ruth hand feeds her mother via the short tube, laboriously pushing her formula and bottled water slowly in with a large syringe.
The team could not fix all of Ruth’s problems that day. However, they were able to provide some mild pain relief and offer some guidance for her mother’s care. She needed support, encouragement and hope. The local pastor accompanied the team and all gathered to pray with Ruth and her mother before leaving. As the team exited the home, Ruth looked into their eyes and said, “Thank you so much for coming. I will remember you in my heart always.” It was both a humbling and fulfilling experience. That is Apostolic medical missions, and that is the mission of CSI.
Pastor Mark Hattabaugh from Cooper City, Florida serves as the Trip Coordinator for CSI. “Coming to these areas that have been devastated allows us to bring a ray of hope to those whose lives have been so drastically affected. The main thing is the ministry of being ‘present’.” Matthew 25 refers to ‘you visited me’ in the hour of need. This is where we can come be a blessing.”
CSI cannot do this without your help. Puerto Rico, The Virgin Islands, and many other places could truly benefit from a CSI Medical Missions Relief Trip. We need your funding and support to make this happen. To donate or to find out how you may use your professional skills to become involved in a CSI Medical Mission’s Trip or a CSI Skilled Trade Worker’s Trip visit www.compassionservices.org. Compassion Services International is a nonprofit organization recognized as tax exempt under §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. A faith-based organization, CSI is also an endorsed project of the UPCI having met the requirements of the UPCI Office of Education and Endorsement. In addition, donations, contributions and offerings made to CSI’s international relief efforts can also qualify for direct offering credit through the UPCI Global Missions. The purpose of CSI is to provide humanitarian support, medical assistance, disaster relief and care to any and all in need and to help relieve the suffering of all individuals, groups and communities affected by disasters and suffering from crisis situations around the world.