Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

OU students aid medical mission - 100 years of Methodist campus ministry


John Verbick and Amy Steele play with children in Colombia.

This story from the Wesley Foundation at the University of Oklahoma, in Norman, is the second in an ongoing series.

About a dozen volunteers from The Wesley at OU traveled to seven impoverished villages in Colombia, South America, during mid-May. The students served in mission with Cherian Thomas, a medical doctor and consultant with the Oklahoma Conference’s Kingswood Institute, Office of Mission.

One patient stood out for Grace Conway, an OU pre-med student, who blogged about the trip. She wrote:

"A man came to the health clinic in Brisas Del Mar, complaining of chest pain and general fatigue. When I asked for his medical history, I was unprepared for the response. He muttered and pulled the front of his shirt down so we could see a long scar. ‘Open heart surgery, for clogged arteries,’ I translated, a rare occurrence in an area filled with poverty.

"Dr. Thomas performed a physical exam. I sat, puzzled, trying to think how to explain to a man that has already gone to the extreme to fix his problem that he is back in the same position. I am sure [the man’s daughter] could tell from our faces that something was wrong.

"I translated Dr. Thomas’ conclusions and proceeded to new medication and treatment options. Dr. Thomas added, ‘And pray!’ He shook the man’s arm. ‘Pray to God for strength!’

I laughed and told the man what the doctor recommended.

"He smiled. ‘Prayer,’ he explained, "is my prescription. It is my treatment. I prayed when I had pain in my back; I prayed when I had my last surgery. This will be no different.’

"Over and over again, I saw a people rising up with hope. We were continually told about the dark history of Colombia. Yet these people remain strong and have a joyful outlook on life. Although their homes may lack what we consider necessities, like electricity, drinking water, and bathrooms, these community members live with such gratitude and awe of God’s work. Those who spoke of God marveled at God’s work of resurrection in their communities and answers to prayer.

"I was stunned with the hope that radiated from these villages. I struggle to find the right words to sum up adventure, excitement, learning, and longing. Thank you for making this possible so that I could be more firm in my calling to serve, and to learn that hope holds all things together in God’s will."

Three purposes steered the Oklahoma mission: providing medical service, collecting data in each community for a multi-dimensional poverty survey, and fellowship/worship with the Colombians.

In his report, OU campus minister Daniel Dennison commented, "We were blessed beyond our wildest dreams by the hospitality and the sheer joy of those households we surveyed."

Rev. Dennison said the college students raised their own funds in order to participate. They spoke in Oklahoma churches and wrote letters to United Methodists, seeking support. A return trip is planned for May 12-24, 2014. The group also identified opportunities for other Volunteers In Mission teams.

In Brisas Del Mar, a large hut, with thatched roof and no walls, serves as the only church for the seven villages. Two pastors work in the area. The Vacation Bible School led there by the OU students drew up to 150 children daily.

Dr. Thomas first visited Brisas Del Mar in 2010, on behalf of UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). Construction had begun on the Clint Rabb Clinic, a project of the Colombian Methodist Church.

Thomas reported the free medical clinic is now complete, with guest apartments that can accommodate VIM teams. An UMCOR grant provides major funding.

"The Wesley Foundation team found that the three main priorities for the communities were water, roads, and health," Thomas reported.

Grant challenge issued

A $250,000 matching grant challenge, by an anonymous donor, can benefit the Wesley Foundation at OU. The campus ministry seeks to grow its three endowments to total $750,000. One of the funds will provide scholarships for students to take part in missions such as the Colombia trip. For information: 405-321-6266, Daniel@okwesley.org.

— Compiled by Holly McCray


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