For a long time, I struggled with this question: how do you know what you’re meant to do?
That’s a big question!
It would have been much easier if I knew I was called to be a fireman or an astronaut. But it never came that easy or that clearly. Instead, I’ve had to find a few ways to try and work it all out.
I wanted to share some of those ways with you….
First, it wasn’t just one simple solution. I’ve found the best way is to simply try a few things. I shared a little on a previous post about how through a short-term mission trip I found out that I don’t have a passion for kid’s ministry, but what I get super excited about is helping people, more specifically by helping people with their health.
So the first suggestion is : what do you get super excited about. (And I’m not thinking your football team winning here – I’m talking about helping others).
My first real encounter of seeing public health in action was in Nepal in 2013. After walking around a hospital and praying and playing with the children, I was overwhelmed by the number of patients who were there for easily preventable causes: Children with cuts and bruises that had gotten infected because they weren’t treated properly, a young mother (who was about my age at the time, 17), who had just delivered twins, and hadn’t had any prenatal health checks prior to coming to the hospital. Fortunately, both her and her babies were healthy, but it could have been a very different story. And countless burns victims. These were the hardest to see and I wanted to simultaneously vomit and cry. Sadly, children and babies being treated for their burns weren’t uncommon. In order to keep warm overnight, the families sleep next to the fire place and then inevitably roll into it. Writing that down makes me want to weep, seeing it in person made me sick.
Hence the second suggestion: what stirs you emotionally…
I was overwhelmed with all I saw. It was depressing. I remember sitting down looking over the mountains and begging God to show me where He was, and how any of this was fair.
A couple of days later we were able to go to a community health meeting. Here women from the different towns in the area had walked – some for 2 hours – to meet together to discuss what health problems their communities were facing. Here I saw women being empowered to create a real change in their community. With the help of the hospital, they were able to work out solutions to the needs of the community. The major issue at the time (in 2013) was not enough toilets for the size of the community, an idea that seems crazy to us in the west, especially as many of us have multiple toilets in our own homes!
As this meeting continued, and the conversation was translated to me, I was so encouraged. There was hope after all and it was pretty simple. I returned to Australia with this burning question, what could I do? I was a 17-year-old high school student, with a very small sphere of influence. But I knew that I had to do something. A few months into year 12 I came across the Bachelor of Applied Public Health and Global Studies, and I was motivated to study hard to be accepted into the course.
The third idea then: what brings you hope that you can share with others …
Although I studied for four years, it wasn’t until last October that I was able to see public health in action again. Before arriving in East Timor, I did a little bit of public health research on the country. Call me a nerd, but I find these things fascinating. I wanted to understand what major health issues this country faced. Despite my research, I still wasn’t prepared for what I’d find on the ground. There’s a slum that adjoins the airport as you fly into Dili, and all around the city there are obvious signs that you are in a country that’s been affected by poverty and war for years. Open sewers, unpaved roads, children running barefoot in mud and so much dust and dirt! Whilst the people are very friendly and welcoming, they have not had the easiest past and carry many scars.
I was so excited when the opportunity arose where I was able to see public health in action in East Timor. Maluk Timor is an NGO that “aims to transform healthcare in Timor-Leste’s community health centres, so that people get great quality care, when and where they need it.”
It’s slow work, but it’s transformative work!
Number 4: what gets you super excited!
East Timor, like many other developing countries, has high rates of TB and HIV. I loved visiting a clinic they were about to open that would do screening, counselling and education about these conditions. They were empowering locals and making a difference in the country. I came back from this short visit feeling alive and so excited! With so much stigma surrounding these issues and a general low level of health literacy, the work of organisations like Maluk Timor is able to create lasting change.
It’s also a way we can show Jesus’ love to these people. What good is it to preach and teach, if we’re not also helping them physically? Jesus has commanded us to love our neighbours (Mark 12:30-31). Furthermore, he tells us that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for him (Matthew 25:31-46). Educating, treating and loving people who are suffering from illness and disease is a way of loving Jesus. And that’s something we can do overseas, but it’s also something we can do wherever we live.
In the months since returning, I’ve wrestled with how I can show God’s love to the people I’m living amongst. And I want to give you the same challenge: how can you practically show love to those around you today?
Thank you so much for joining me on this journey!