More than 600 Receive Health-care Services from LLU Professionals in St. Croix

International team of health practitioners led four days of community impact.

Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News
More than 600 Receive Health-care Services from LLU Professionals in St. Croix
Tiffany Carbajal (left), nursing student at Loma Linda University, talks to a patient in triage on April 12, on the premises of the Central Adventist church in Frederiksted, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. [Photo: Curtis Henry]

A team of doctors, nurses, and staff from Loma Linda University Health in California, United States, spent four days providing health care to more than 600 residents in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. The free medical services were part of a mission trip organized by the Treasury department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists on the last leg of an island-wide two-week evangelistic effort held March 30-April 13.

On day one of the clinic, April 11, nurses and nursing students performed triage, glucose tests, and vision care for residents who came to the site at the Central Adventist church in Frederiksted. A medical resident, a psychologist, a social worker, and three dentists saw patients for eight consecutive hours each day.

Local resident Maria Isabel Soto, 78, arrived early with two friends. While she waited, Soto treated herself to a free facial mask and massage offered by a local company hired to assist while people waited their turn. Soto, a widow who has lived in St. Croix most of her life, has been an Adventist for decades. Once she heard of the health services scheduled at the end of the evangelistic series she had attended at Sunny Acres Adventist church, she told her Christian friends to sign up. “I recently fell, got a few teeth knocked out, hurt myself, and now walk with a cane, but I wanted to get my sugar levels checked, get glasses, and see the dentist,” Soto said. She walked out happy with a new pair of reading glasses. She also signed up to see the dentist the next day.

Gary Kerstetter, assistant professor and dental education services director in the School of Dentistry at Loma Linda University, and his dental colleagues Arthur Garbutt and Mervin Moya, both graduates of LLU, treated as many patients as possible during the four days of their clinic. Patients got x-rays, cleanings, extractions, and fillings.

Clean Smiles

Fifteen-year-old Taeven John arrived with her mother and stepfather for dental services. “I got my teeth cleaned,” Taeven said. It was the first time she had set foot on the Central Adventist church grounds, and the reasons made it worth it, she said. “I’m just thankful for the experience. The dentist was very gentle and kept asking me how I was throughout the whole process,” Taeven said.

Her mother, Aubrey, though having some discomfort from a tooth extraction, was happy with the services, saying that everybody was helpful and very friendly, and everything went smoothly. “The dentist was so nice to me and took such great care of all of us; I really appreciate it,” she said.

Jerigner Saint Louis, 69, was all smiles after seeing the doctors from LLU. He saw the physician for his high blood pressure and got his teeth cleaned. He has been living in St. Croix for five months and confesses that medical services are expensive. “To go to the dentist here costs a lot of money, and it’s been a while since I have gone to one. So, I am happy for the free services today,” he said.

Saint Louis was among 126 patients treated by the three dentists, Kerstetter reported.

Kerstetter and the rest of the LLU team are not new to mission trips. Groups of health professionals and students travel to places throughout the world to offer free medical services to thousands of people who need them, Edgar Drachenberg, director of Students for International Mission Services (SIMS) at Loma Linda University, said.

A Different Mission Trip

What is different about this trip compared to others, Drachenberg said, is the partnership with the GC Treasury department. “This was more selective, because it was not occurring during regular school breaks, when students sign up for mission service.” Nursing students who met specific requirements to be excused from classes were selected by the LLU School of Nursing leadership to take part in the trip, Drachenberg explained.

“We have people from different parts of the world coming to St. Croix to serve together,” he added. “It just shows the unity of the group serving together in mission service.”

Adeline Hallen, a nursing student graduating in June, said that talking to patients in triage was an unforgettable experience. “They are so energetic and so welcoming, kind, accepting and warm, that I feel so close to every single person I’ve met here. It’s opened my eyes to the amazing people in St. Croix,” she said.

Fellow nursing student Sabrina Siv also enjoyed providing medical services. “It’s been very cool to see everyone come. It’s very different from the controlled environment of a hospital, and I really love serving people who may not get the care that they need, so it’s been a life-changing experience.”

Addressing Spiritual Needs

“We have had the opportunity to see large amounts of patients, but we are not only addressing the physical needs but addressing their spiritual needs,” Brandie L. Richards, associate dean of LLU School of Nursing, said. “I had one student in particular who said she was able to pray with every single patient and felt comfortable,” Richards said. “The blessing that we get from having those prayers with our patients, where sometimes their physical needs can’t always be fixed with a simple medication or referral, and prayer is all we have to offer.”

Fourth-year LLU medical student Aliya Patterson said she had been touched by how welcoming everyone was at every patient interaction. “I really enjoyed how much impact we can have by just listening to people’s stories and just being there for them,” Patterson said. “It’s been a real blessing doing work with doctors and dentists in triage.”

Being part of ministering to others alongside LLU staff has been a dream come true for Anees Abdelnour, mortgage portfolio manager at the GC. Originally from Jordan, Abdelnour has been working in the Treasury since 1989 and says he loves working in medical missionary work. When he found out about the mission trip to St. Croix, he had to sign up. “I remember as a young child back in my country hearing about Loma Linda University and the amazing work they do, and I jumped at the opportunity to be part of this experience,” he said. Wearing a bright smile, he talked to patients in the check-out process, gave them a dental kit, a copy of The Great Controversy, and helped in any way he could.

Assistance with Mental Health

Psychologist Julian Melgosa, GC associate education director, signed up to join the LLU team with his wife, Annette, who works in the Office of Data Governance in GC Treasury. In the 45 minutes he dedicated to each patient during the four days of health-care services, he was able to give them tips on how to deal with their problems, mostly dealing with anxiety. “It’s not a lot of time [with each person], but I’ve tried to give them some insight and self-help strategies to deal with anger and mental health issues, as well as try to introduce the spiritual side of things. I encouraged them to pray and seek out a church community, look for a future with hope,” Melgosa said. “It’s been a blessing to assist and offer a tiny bit of help and let the Lord use your skills to help so many,” he said.

Angeline Brauer, an LLU graduate of public health in nutrition, who is serving as health ministries director of the North American Division of the Adventist Church, said she signed up for the mission trip along with her husband, Jonathan, who is part of the GC Treasury team, working as an application infrastructure manager. “It’s been a pleasure to work with the medical team from LLU,” Angeline said. “I’ve just taken a back seat, sitting at the check-out desk and being able to talk with patients as they finish up their time with us, or those who have been waiting for their service, but leave with such happiness and thankfulness in their hearts.” It was good to get out of her comfort zone to help people who are craving for a helping hand and a smiling face, she emphasized.

A Blessing in St. Croix

This mission trip has been a great blessing for the people in St. Croix, Danny Phillips, health ministries director for the North Caribbean Conference, said. In the 10 years he’s been leading in health ministries, Phillips said, “there has never been anything at such a large scale, impacting so many people, and we are grateful,” he said.

GC undertreasurer Ray Wahlen said that in the years he’s been serving the church, he had never gone on a mission trip, although he grew up as a missionary kid. “It’s been an eye-opener to be able to see what goes on and to see evangelistic activities going on as part of this trip,” Wahlen said. “Being able to work during the day, hear powerful messages, and see people respond and give their hearts to the Lord has refreshed and renewed my experience as well.” On a project aimed at the community, Wahlen helped a construction crew to install basketball backboards and soccer goals and helped lay out a soccer field. He also helped in the Central Adventist church community center. “It’s been a fantastic experience in the sun, the rain, and the sweat,” he said.

Beyond Mobilizing Resources for Mission

Commenting on the purpose and results of the trip, GC treasurer Paul Douglas said, “We need to understand how we mobilize ourselves to be involved in the mission to which God has called us. This is just a sample of what it means to work together as a church organization.

“I believe in times to come, as we look at all the places around the world where we will do this, capture this idea, this methodology, and this framework in bringing different partners like Loma Linda University, different preachers to do evangelistic series, all with the intention of reaching others for Christ,” he added.

The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site. Dyhann Buddoo-Fletcher contributed to this story.

Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News