Manitoulin medical professionals offer faith and care to Nicaraguans during recent mission

Dr. Ben Quackenbush, Dr. Sherri Renwick and nurse Christine Wallace were among 16 participants who travelled to Nicaragua earlier this year on a medical mission with Threefold Ministries.

NICARAGUA––Three medical professionals from the Manitoulin Health Centre, including Dr. Ben Quackenbush, Dr. Sherri Renwick and nurse Christine Wallace, travelled to Nicaragua earlier this year, bringing a message of faith and providing medical attention to Nicaraguans in need through the organization Threefold Ministries.

“Dr. Quackenbush sent out an email to colleagues seeking other medical professionals to travel to Nicaragua on a mission,” explained Ms. Wallace. “I had never been on a mission before and it was something that I have always wanted to do, but the timing was never right until this spring. Dr. Renwick and Dr. Quackenbush and I all belong to the same church (Mindemoya Missionary Church) so not only was the timing right, it was also nice to be able to go with friends.”

Dr. Renwick shared a similar story with The Expositor. “I went into medicine thinking that it (missions) was something I would do,” said Dr. Renwick. “In Grade 10 I committed myself to missions—I thought being a doctor was something I could offer in addition to spiritual. Up until this spring it was just something I wanted to do, but had never had the opportunity to. The trip (to Nicaragua) really jump started what I hope to continue.”

Dr. Quackenbush first learned of Threefold Ministries while doing his third year clerkship through the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) in Parry Sound, where the organization is based.

“It was this same year that the lead for NOSM in Parry Sound, Dave Clarke, led the first team to Nicaragua with Threefold,” explained Dr. Quackenbush. “I got involved with the first team to the Skylark Centre in San Marcos, Nicaragua in April of 2008. I then returned two years later in 2010, that time as a family medicine resident. The trip this spring was my third trip with Threefold to Nicaragua. As a follower of Jesus, I first decided to participate in the medical mission because it was a tangible way to demonstrate the love of God to some people in desperate need of medical care. It is one small way that I can live like Jesus and sacrifice my time and energy for others.”

Dr. Quackenbush, Ms. Wallace and Dr. Renwick were among 16 participants, including five medical students from NOSM. The group led clinics that benefitted 747 patients from six in-need communities in the Carazo Province, treating hypertension, diabetes, upper respiratory infections, migraines, eczema and digestive disorders, among other medical issues.

“It was wonderful, but it certainly was a challenge—it wasn’t a vacation,” Dr. Renwick said. “We saw between 100-150 people a day, often going into villages where patients would be bused in from the surrounding areas and seeing 75 patients in the morning and another 75 in the afternoon. It was a lot of primary care. The Nicaraguan people were so grateful for any care they received. Often people would have to wait for four hours before we would see them and no one complained.”

“I had no idea what to expect,” added Ms. Wallace. “The five medical students were extremely good, they certainly made my job easier. Everything ran extremely smoothly at the clinics. You see commercials for similar things on television (medical missions), but when you are there it puts a whole different light on things. The people are so patient and so grateful.”

“The focus of our mission was medical and we ran clinics,” said Dr. Quackenbush. “Some days patients walked from the closest communities, but most days patients were bused in from neighbouring communities. Our team consisted of four doctors, a nurse, five medical students, a pharmacist, some volunteers in support roles and several translators who were Nicaraguan nationals. Patients would spend the entire morning or afternoon at the Skylark Center. Patients would register, have vitals taken, be seen by the physician/students, receive whatever treatments/education etc. from the medical staff, and then receive any necessary prescriptions from the pharmacy. There were also health education sessions at various times throughout the day on relevant topics. Arrangements were made for any patients who required investigations (ultrasounds, bloodwork) or referral to specialists and the costs were covered by the funds that the team had raised.”

Assisting with the funds the team raised were the Manitoulin trio’s church, Mindemoya Missionary, the Northeast Manitoulin Family Health Team and Noojmowin Teg that donated medical supplies and Breakaway Sports in Little Current that donated a backpack of Canadian t-shirts.

Both Dr. Renwick and Ms. Wallace had a special experience treating a patient named Rita whose leg was severely infected.

“She came in with a banana leaf wrapped on her leg,” explained Dr. Renwick. “She had a very infected leg due to a burn from boiling water.”

“The infection could have entered her blood stream and she would’ve died had she not gotten immediate treatment,” added Ms. Wallace. “You can prepare to treat patients in the clinic you work at back home, but you don’t know what it’s going to be like in another country, especially during your first medical mission trip.”

“We had the privilege to treat her and were able to keep her overnight at the clinic,” continued Dr. Renwick. “It was a unique way of showing love to someone who wouldn’t have normally been able to receive care.”

On Rita’s return visit to the clinic she wore the Canadian t-shirt that the pair had given her, supplied by Breakaway Sports, which they described as a “neat experience.”

Another moment that stood out from the trip was the earthquake.

“Everyone slept through the night, but when I woke up the next morning there was a huge crack that ran the length of the bed,” said Ms. Wallace, noting that they didn’t know it was going to be earthquake season during their visit. “We asked the translators, ‘doesn’t it scare you?’ They said they don’t even feel them anymore. It was surreal.”

Coming home from the trip the team reflected on their time, all telling The Expositor that they hope to return in the future.

“I would love to go back,” said Ms. Wallace. “It would be nice to see the people again, see how we made a difference.”

“Caring for patients in Nicaragua required us to treat people within the context of their culture,” said Dr. Renwick. “As well, lack of resources, including nutritious food and clean water, forced us to think more creatively on how to meet the healthcare needs in their community.  This has given me insight, I believe in understanding our patients here within the context of their own personal resources and culture. Healthcare needs to be individualized and we must truly understand the person as a whole in order to come alongside them in their journey.”

Threefold Ministries was established by Rev. Gary Robinson in February 2006. Threefold’s main purposes are to advance and teach the Christian faith through word and actions, to support and maintain missions and missionaries and to establish and maintain Christian educational institutions. Threefold’s primary ministry takes place in Nicaragua.

Threefold’s philosophy of ministry has always had as its goal substantiability. Threefold believes it is absolutely essential that if you are going to help people in a meaningful way you must commit to them for the ‘long haul.’ This means that if you build projects in a third world country you must also staff them with people, provide for their ongoing operational needs, and then run meaningful programs in those projects.

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