There's something to be said for first impressions. They're thrilling and unencumbered with extensive analysis.
Such are the observations of the Cedarville University nursing students who exemplify and represent all The Luke Commission's short-term volunteers this summer.
In their own words, here are snippets of the young women's views of Swaziland, as they traveled and worked with TLC.
Cedarville nursing students (& Zion) await patients at a bush school.
JOANNA tested a lady for HIV and then met her again when she received the bad news. "As I drew blood from her and many more, it broke my heart to know of the severe suffering that lies ahead for them, in addition to extreme poverty and already sorrow-filled lives."
She continues, "Why do I have a beautiful home, a loving family, a healthy body, and an abundance of food to eat?
"I do not understand the Lord's purpose in allowing this suffering, except to know that He is a loving, sovereign God who deserves the utmost praise and thanksgiving even amidst the flood of tears, disease, poverty and death here in Swaziland."
Cedarville short-term volunteers give out Operation Christmas Child boxes.
At another TLC bush clinic, Joanna and Holly met a severely diabetic woman "lying in the back of an old pick-up, too sick to move. One foot was completely black with toes missing and layers of skin falling off. Her situation had been left unnoticed far too long..."
The Luke Commission scheduled and paid for amputation of the woman's lower leg. But, as Joanna adds, "Instances like this are not uncommon in Swaziland. People are dying daily, not only because of AIDS, but mostly due to lack of transportation.
"There's no more worthwhile and valuable ministry in Swaziland than The Luke Commission. They are saving lives, healing sickness, giving sight, providing clothes and medicines and Bibles, sharing the Gospel all in the name of Jesus."
Sipho translates while Luke, Jacob, and Zeb tell kids that their gifts come from Jesus, sent by Christians in faraway countries like the U.S.
On a lighter note, Harry and Echo VanderWal and their boys took the Cedarville girls to a game park where, as HOLLY exclaims, she saw "wildlife through the eyes of Africa with no fence between me and Rhino, Elephant, Lion, Zebra, Wildebeest, Crocodile, Hippo, Impala, Warthog, and Monkey!" (Sometimes wild animals need to be capitalized.)
Holly's life is forever changed by one lady at a rural clinic. "She was leaning against a wall waiting for treatment, one of few Swazis I heard speak English all day. I jumped at the opportunity to have an extended conversation with someone."
Holly recalls, "This woman had brought her very sick mother, who had never received medical care since birth. I asked the lady who spoke English how she was doing but was not prepared for her answer...
Jennifer distributes tracts in SiSwati titled "Help from Above."
Of her mother's 12 children, only 2 were left. Holly's face registered shock, "trying to imagine what it would be like to lose all my siblings." The lady's last sister was dying in a hospital two hours away.
That's not all. One of the daughter's daughters had died two weeks earlier. Only 3 of her 5 daughters were still alive.
"Her life is a picture of death and suffering that I could not imagine, and yet the next words out her mouth humbled me," said Holly. "With tears in her eyes, she said that even in pain and grief, God is good all the time. She said He was teaching her to trust Him with everything, even her family."
Tiffany prays with Swazis as Thulani translates.
Holly continues: "As a tear rolled down my face, I tried to comfort the lady, as I comforted myself, reminding us we can hope in a day when Christ restores His creation."
Cedarville team leader REBEKAH notices Harry and Echo's "sensitivity and compassion for each patient, as if each was their own mother, father, brother, or sister."
Rebekah is thankful her team received "clinic experience, hospital experience, organization and computer experience. We have all drawn blood, changed dressings, started IV's, given medications and injections, built wheelchairs, ran the auto-refractor, and delivered babies."
Rebekah keeps records of all these blood samples drawn for HIV-positive patients at one TLC clinic.
Between clinic days, the girls "organized medical supplies, helped cook meals, counted medications, restocked the eyeglasses and medical carts, helped the boys with school, and started a computer project to enter all patient records electronically," Rebekah said.
ASHLEY delivered a baby at the hospital "and loved it! The mom wasn't breathing during her contractions, so I taught her how. I did a vaginal exam and felt the baby – crazy! After delivery, the nurse just handed the baby to me and said, ‘Go weigh it, tag it, wrap it, and stick it under the warmer.' I was shocked and so excited."
The Cedarville girls joined TLC team that took 2,000 Operation Christmas Child gifts to five schools in one day. Ashley remembers how "awesome to be on the other end of the spectrum, because I usually assemble the boxes back home and send them to Samaritan's Purse.
Tiffany draws blood.
"As we handed out the boxes, we told the children they were not from us but from Jesus Christ. The smiles on their faces were remarkable, as many children had never received a present before..."
JENNIFER tells with laughter but trepidation the spider story.
"Late one night we talked about all the disgusting spiders we had seen in our lives. The majority of the team hates spiders. A little later a loud scream came from Mel and Tiffany's room. In their closet was a spider the size of my hand.
Joanna uses Scripture to pray with patients.
"Holly was appointed to kill the huge spider, armed with a toilet brush and a bowl. We all watched while standing on our beds. Holly squished it into the corner. We relaxed, thinking it was dead. Suddenly, the spider ran up the wall again. Spurred on by another round of screams, Holly mutilated and smooshed it for good the second time."
In a large crowd of 600 patients, Jennifer remembers one 4-year-old. "The little girl told the translators she did not know her mom, and she acted like it. She sat beside me at the triage table for 2 hours, clinging to anyone who would give her a hug."
MELODY outlines a typical clinic. "A clinic begins when Harry speaks to the people, telling them that this care is from Jesus and that The Luke Commission is a tool used to show the love of Jesus.. A Swazi member of the team translates for Harry, while another leads the crowd in singing and prayer."
Ashley tests a Swazi's eyes who needs TLC's free glasses.
Translators fill out cards for all patients, who then go to the triage table where their blood pressures are taken, glucose levels are determined, and, if they consent, HIV tests are conducted.
"After prayer, they go to Harry. He prescribes pills for their ailments or assesses those more seriously ill," said Melody, who worked beside Harry one day. "Everyone goes to the counseling department. Those who are positive learn how anti-retroviral drugs will prolong their lives. Then they come back to Harry for their prescription cards and off to the pharmacy to get their free pills."
Melody notes, "Many who are not sick go straight to the eyeglass line, where their eyes are tested before receiving eyeglasses. Others come to the clinic with anything from an itch to gangrene to burn wounds."
Melody puts together a PET wheelchair.
Picture this experience by TIFFANY. "One of my hardest moments came at the end of the day, as I sat on a dirty concrete floor and with the use of a generator light assisted Rebekah as she drew blood on a small 9-year-old boy with a mental handicap.
"Earlier in the day, he had a fever and was having trouble breathing, so we started an IV drip and tested him for HIV. When the test came back positive, Echo said he was experiencing the effects of AIDS on his body. We would see he was admitted to the hospital the next morning...
"But the harsh reality of his long-term survival was grim," said Tiffany. "It was sobering to watch, as he lay on the ground suffering, his eyes and mouth caked in a filmy material. His mom finally led him home, walking away in the darkness of night. What suffering he had experienced in such a short life."
For hours with a smile and a soft touch, Holly takes blood pressures and gives initial HIV tests
Tiffany notes, "It has been incredible to interact with the VanderWals, to hear the passion and vision they have for the Swazi people and their desire to give God the glory for everything."
Thus captures the essence of The Luke Commission. We thank all who volunteer their time, talents, riches, and petitions.
Gratefully in Jesus,
Janet Tuinstra for the whole TLC team
View the full gallery at www.lukecommission.org