I always wanted to believe that God listens to prayers and that miracles really happen, but I’m not sure I was convinced until I stepped off the map. I mean this literally in that I had to give up some comforts, travel to very poor countries, and try to make a difference in the medical care in these places.
Sixteen years ago, I traveled to the Peruvian Yearly Meeting with a group of five doctors from West Hills Friends. We had no idea what medicine to bring or even what diseases we would encounter. While there, I froze all night at 12,000 feet, with no heat, and found it difficult to breathe at that elevation. I rode in a helicopter with a big hole in the floor, boated to islands on Lake Titicaca, and ate pizza in downtown Puno. These experiences, so different from my life at home, opened my eyes, and by my third visit to Peru, we had handouts, medicines, and a long line coming to our clinic. I still have some beautiful handmade pottery that a family gave me when I visited their tiny home. For them, it is important to give something back. This was my first glimpse into the generosity of the human spirit and the interconnectedness we all share.
A few years later, I met Samuel Kayuni, a man from Malawi, Africa who started an orphanage after a missionary prevented him from committing suicide. I decided to visit his mission and give all his children a check-up, and it was fun. At sea level, I could breathe more comfortably, but at night, an armed guard slept outside my window. After that, I ventured out to work in a remote village clinic. I will never forget the sadness of seeing children with AIDS. I understood why Samuel called his mission, “Children with Hope and Destiny.” I have supported him every year since and am amazed at how he has educated 29 kids to become leaders in Malawi.
Now, with twelve medical mission trips behind me – most recently in Haiti - I wait expectantly for the miracles that are sometimes obvious and tangible. For instance, the optometrist who visits the clinic once a year has to round up donations of eye medication, and a single bottle of glaucoma drops costs $200. I prayed, and six months later, the mother of one of my patients - an eye doctor herself - donated 30 bottles of drops. I tell my group we will bring 50 bags of supplies when we come, and we always do. I believe that the funds will be provided for each team member to travel, and they always are.
But the best moment for me is always the last night, when people share their most meaningful experience of the week. I hear things like “seeing the resilience and gratitude of the patients,” or “realizing that we can make a difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world by just giving of ourselves.” It is then that I am truly the most blessed and am compelled to step out again.
—Mari Kay Evans Smith