Zambia Mission: Drawing Parallelisms

I would like to take one more look at my time in Zambia and speak to a couple parallelisms that I discovered between us.

Knowing and Understanding Vulnerability

First of all, as a visitor I was new to the country, new to the people and culture. As an Anglo, I was definitely in the minority and readily noticeable. The cultural differences were most apparent. How do I sort through the unvoiced expectations because for the native Zambians, those expectations were a “given,” part of the social cues? How can I maintain some sense of autonomy – important to Americans – as well as graciously accept their guidance? There was a level of vulnerability in the newness, yet I chose to come to Zambia. The people I met were most hospitable, genuinely pleased that I would honor them and their country with a visit. Bit by bit I began to feel more at home with them.

Patients who come to our hospital are also vulnerable and they seldom come here by choice, which heightens their vulnerability. I think we could all agree that the health care environment is almost a culture onto itself. What is perhaps routine to us “insiders” can often be bewildering to the patient and family members. We also get very personal as we attend to bodily needs. Like the Zambians, we also are given the opportunity to be hospitable, to communicate to our patients how genuinely pleased we are for the ability to serve them. We also seek to respect patient autonomy while providing guidance so they can feel more comfortable in their new surroundings.

A Life of Service

A second parallelism that I would like to focus on more closely is that of the Sisters who chose to leave their homeland and minister in Zambia. It was not uncommon to hear them say, “I was sent here for three years and now it is 30 years.” The Sisters experienced a sense of call from God that empowered them to leave what was dear to them for a world and a people unknown. This was a walk of faith and their generous response allowed God to make of them a blessing. God was working through them. Over time, the heart of the missionary and the heart of the people have become one. The Sister missionary has cast her lot with the people and it is in relationship to the people that she comes to realize her deepest truth and God’s profound presence.

For every employee of Avera, we make a similar trek when we leave our homes to serve in our ministry at Avera. Our leave taking is a lesser degree than the Sisters, yet the attitude or disposition is similar. Many of us experience a call to serve and some days face incredible challenges brought to us by our patients. Like the missionaries, we cannot walk away from our patients in their time of need. I have heard stories of employees exploring every possibility to provide the needed care in extraordinary circumstances. We have cast our lot with them and with our colleagues. In those moments, our deepest truth and most profound sense of God working through us is revealed. God is indeed with us personally and collectively! This realization is both an experience of deep humility and exquisite joy at God’s fidelity to us.

By Sr. Mary Thomas

Missions Services at Avera McKennan Hospital

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