About five years ago, Marcus Bouma, RN, heard something interesting on the radio. Kathy Holmgren and her daughter Calla, both nurses, were talking about their work on a 2006 medical mission trip to the Congo. The trip took place while Kathy’s husband and Calla’s father, Mike Holmgren, was coaching the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
“That caught my attention,” said Marcus, who works in the emergency department at St. Clare Hospital, Lakewood, WA. “They could have been in VIP seats at the Super Bowl, but they honored their commitment to the medical mission.”
Marcus contacted Medical Teams International (MTI), the medical volunteerism organization mentioned by Kathy Holmgren, and applied to become a volunteer. His first international medical mission was in the jungles of Nicaragua, in the company of two other nurses and two physicians.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” said Marcus. “We had a base camp in the mountains, where the farmers grow coffee, and drove to a different village each day. We were the first medical providers that some of the people had ever seen. They were such wonderful people, and so grateful for the treatment we provided.”
After that, MTI asked Marcus to lead a team of three nurses on a medical mission to Haiti. “I wasn’t so sure that I was a leader, and I had actually applied to go to Cambodia or a location in Africa,” he said. “I prayed about it, and at a bible study I attend, we discussed a passage from Jeremiah. It says, in part, ‘You must go to everyone I send you to.’ I took that as a sign that I should go to Haiti.”
While the Nicaragua mission had been eye-opening, Haiti proved to be life-changing for Marcus. “There is so much need, and so many heart-touching stories,” he said. “We met a young man who has been in prison for stealing bread since before the January 2010 earthquake. His family died in the earthquake; the prison was damaged and his paperwork was lost. With no paperwork and no family, he had little chance of getting a lawyer. There wasn’t much we could do for him while in Haiti, but when we got home, we wrote our Congressional representatives and Amnesty International, and we hear that he now has a lawyer to help him.”
The three nurses also met a young mother with a five-day old infant whose eyes were crusted shut. “Before the baby was born, the mom did not know that she had syphilis,” said Marcus. “We were able to help both baby and mom with some antibiotics. The mom told us, ‘You are the answer to three days of prayer.’”
Marcus recently made another medical mission trip to Nicaragua, and is saving for a fourth trip. “With MTI, volunteers pay their way,” he said. “I set aside $100 from each paycheck for these trips.”
On each trip, Marcus finds it hard to leave for home. “These are places where many people have nothing but what aid agencies can bring to them,” he said. “They cherish the little they have, they cherish other people, and they cherish acts of kindness.
“When you work in an emergency department, you can begin to feel that you’ve seen it all,” he added. “Medical missions remind me that I have not seen it all, not even close. For me, it’s also a spiritual experience, and a chance to form bonds with some amazing medical professionals.”
Marcus encourages his clinical colleagues to get involved in medical volunteerism, and reminds others that volunteering doesn’t necessarily require travel or special skills. “Whoever you are, whatever you do, there’s always someone who could use your help,” he said. “God always needs willing hearts and hands to change the world.”