Tiffany Carbajal (left) nursing student at Loma Linda University talks to a patient in triage on Apr. 12, 2024, on the premises of the Central Adventist Church in Frederiksted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. More than 600 residents received free healthcare services by medical professionals from Apr. 11-15, 2024, as part of a mission trip organized by the General Conference Treasury Department. [Photo: Curtis Henry]

An international team of health practitioners led four days of community impact in the island.

April 28, 2024 | Frederiksted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands | Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

A team of Loma Linda University (LLU) doctors, nurses, and staff spent four days providing healthcare to more than 600 residents in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. The free medical services were part of a mission trip initiative organized by the General Conference (GC)’s treasury department, on the last leg of a comprehensive two-week evangelistic effort held Mar. 30 to Apr. 13, 2024.

On day one, Apr. 11, nurses and nursing students performed triage, glucose tests, and vision care for residents at Central Adventist Church in Frederiksted. A medical resident, a psychologist, a social worker, and three dentists saw residents for eight consecutive hours each day.

More than 100 persons from across the island of St. Croix wait their turn to be seen by the team of doctors, nurses and dentists, on Apr. 14, 2024. [Photo: Curtis Henry]

Maria Isabel Soto, 78, arrived early with two friends. While she waited, Soto treated herself to a free facial mask and massage offered by a local company hired to assist while persons waited their turn. Soto, a widow who has lived in St. Croix most of her life, has been an Adventist for decades. Once she heard of the health services scheduled at the end of the evangelistic series held at Sunny Acres Adventist Church, she told her Christian friends to sign up. “I recently fell, got a few teeth knocked out, hurt myself and now walk with a cane, but I wanted to get my sugar levels checked, get glasses and see the dentist,” Soto said. She walked out happy with a new pair of reading glasses. She also signed up to see the dentist the next day.

Gary Kerstetter, assistant professor and dental education services of the School of Dentistry at Loma Linda University, and his dental colleagues Arthur Garbutt and Mervin Moya, both former graduates of LLU, treated as many patients as possible during the four days. Patients got x-rays, cleanings, extractions, and fillings.

Dr. Gary Kerstetter (center), assistant professor and dental education services of the School of Dentistry at Loma Linda University, readies a patient for x-rays while fourth-year medical student at LLU Aliya Patterson (right) assists him. [Photo: Curtis Henry]

Clean Smiles

Fifteen-year-old Taeven John arrived with her mother and stepfather for dental services. “I got my teeth cleaned,” Taeven said. It was the first time she had stepped foot on the Central Adventist Church’s grounds and the reasons made it worth it, she said. “I’m just thankful for the experience. The dentist was very gentle and kept asking me how I was throughout the whole process,” Taeven said.

Though having a bit of discomfort from her tooth extraction, Aubrey was happy with the services, and said that everybody was so helpful, very friendly, and everything went smoothly. “The dentist was so nice to me and took such great care of all of us; I really appreciate it,” she said.

 

L-R: Fifteen-year-old Taeven John, Daniel Liburd, her stepfather, and Aubrey Bogel, her mother, were among those who benefitted from the dental clinic on Apr. 14, 2024. [Photo: Curtis Henry]

Jerigner Saint Louis, 69, was all smiles after seeing the doctors from Loma Linda University. He saw the physician for his high blood pressure and got his teeth cleaned. He has been living in St. Croix for five months and confesses that medical services are expensive. “To go to the dentist here costs a lot of money, and it’s been a while since I have gone to one. So, I am happy for the free services today,” he said.

Saint Louis was among 126 patients that were treated by the three dentists, Kerstetter reported.

Jerigner Saint Louis smiles big after benefitting from a dental cleaning on Apr. 14, 2024. [Photo: Curtis Henry]

“The biggest demand was cleanings, with minimal extractions and fillings to what we usually service during mission service trips,” Kerstetter said. “If we had had more dentists and dental hygienists and knew that their highest demand was cleanings, we could have serviced more patients.”

Kerstetter and the rest of the LLU team are not new to mission trips. Groups of health professionals and students travel throughout the world to offer free medical services to thousands of people who need them, said Edgar Drachenberg, director of Students for International Mission Services (SIMS) at Loma Linda University.

Dentists work on patients in the makeshift dental office on Apr. 14, 2024. The three dentists from Loma Linda University provided several services including cleanings, extractions and fillings to 126 patients during the free dental clinic in St. Croix. [Photo: Curtis Henry]

A Different Mission Trip

What is different on this trip compared to others, Drachenberg said, is the partnership with the GC treasury department. “This was more selective because it was not occurring during regular school breaks when students sign up for mission service,” he said. Nursing students that met specific requirements to be excused from classes were selected by the leadership of school of nursing to take part in the trip, explained Drachenberg.

“We have people from different parts of the world coming to St. Croix to serve together,” Drachenberg said. “It just shows the unity of the group serving together in mission service.”

Brandy Lara Martínez (right) nursing student from Loma Linda University, looks for reading glasses for a patient to try on Apr. 11, 2024. [Photo: LIbna Stevens/IAD]

LLU nursing and medical staff triaged and attended nearly 500 people, LLU leaders reported.

Adeline Hallen, a nursing student graduating in June, said that talking to patients in triage was an unforgettable experience. “They are so energetic and so welcoming, kind, accepting and warm, that I feel so close to every single person I’ve met here. It’s opened my eyes to the amazing people in St. Croix,” she said.

Adeline Hallen, nursing student at Loma Linda University, reads temperature and checks  a patient’s blood pressure on Apr. 11, 2024. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

Fellow nursing student Sabrina Siv has also enjoyed providing medical services. “It’s been very cool to see everyone come. It’s very different from the controlled environment of a hospital and I really love serving people who may not get the care that they need, so it’s been a life-changing experience.”

Addressing Spiritual Needs

“We have had the opportunity to see large amounts of patients, but we are not only addressing the physical needs but addressing their spiritual needs,” said Brandie L. Richards, associate dean of LLU School of Nursing. “I had one student in particular who said she was able to pray with every single patient and felt comfortable,” Richards said. “The blessing that we get from having those prayers with our patients where sometimes their physical needs can’t always be fixed with a simple medication or referral and prayer is all we have to offer.”

Brandie L. Richards, associate dean of LLU School of Nursing directs a patient to move her arms during a check up, while nursing students stay close. [Photo: Curtis Henry]

Fourth-year medical student at LLU Aliya Patterson said she had been touched by how welcoming everyone was at every patient interaction. “I really enjoyed how much impact we can have by just listening to people’s stories and just being there for them,” Patterson said. “It’s been a real blessing doing work with doctors and dentists in triage.”

Being part of ministering to others alongside LLU staff has been a dream come true for Anees Abdelnour, mortgage portfolio manager at the GC. Originally from Jordan, Abdelnour has been working in the treasury department since 1989 and says he loves working in medical missionary work. When he found out about the mission trip to St. Croix, he had to sign up. “I remember as a young child back in my country hearing about Loma Linda University and the amazing work they do and I jumped at the opportunity to be part of this experience,” he said. Wearing a bright smile, he talked to patients in the check-out process, gave them a dental kit, a copy of The Great Controversy, and helped in any way he was needed.

Anees Abdelnour (right), mortgage portfolio manager at the General Conference, gives out a pamphlet as a patient checks out from the dental clinic on Apr. 14, 2024. [Photo: Curtis Henry]

Assistance with Mental Health

Psychologist Julian Melgosa, associate education director for the General Conference, signed up to join the LLU team with his wife Annette, who works in the Office of Data Governance in GC treasury. In the 45 minutes he dedicated to each patient during the four days of healthcare services, he was able to give them tips on how to deal with their problems, mostly dealing with anxiety. “It’s not a lot of time but I’ve tried to give them some insight and self-help strategies to deal with anger and mental health issues as well as try to introduce the spiritual side of things. I encouraged them to pray and seek out a church community, look for a future with hope,” Melgosa said. “It’s been a blessing to assist and offer a tiny bit of help and let the Lord use your skills to help so many,” he said.

Angeline Brauer, an LLU graduate of public health in nutrition who serves as health ministries director of the North American Division, smiles with a patient in the checkout desk on Apr. 14, 2024. [Photo: Curtis Henry]

Angeline Brauer, an LLU graduate of public health in nutrition who is serving as health ministries director of the North American Division, said she signed up for the mission trip along with her husband Jonathan, who is part of the GC treasury team working as an application infrastructure manager. It’s been a pleasure to work with the medical team from LLU, she said. “I’ve just taken a back seat sitting at the check-out desk and being able to talk with patients as they finish up their time with us or those who have been waiting for their service but leave with such happiness and thankfulness in their hearts,” Brauer said. It’s been good to get out of her comfort zone to help people who are craving for a helping hand and a smiling face, she emphasized.

A Blessing in St. Croix

This mission trip has been a great blessing for the people in St. Croix, said Danny Phillips, health ministries director for the North Caribbean Conference. In the 10 years that he’s been leading in health ministries, Phillips said “there has never been anything at such a large scale impacting so many people and we are grateful,” he said.

General Conference Under Treasurer Ray Wahlen moves sports equipment near the multi-purpose community center on the grounds of the Central Adventist Church in Frederiksted, St. Croix, on Apr. 14, 2024. [Photo: Curtis Henry]

GC under treasurer Ray Wahlen said that in the years he’s been serving the church, he had never gone on a mission trip, although he grew up as a missionary kid. “It’s been an eye opener to be able to see what goes on and to see evangelistic activities going on as part of this trip,” Wahlen said. “Being able to work during the day, hear powerful messages and see people respond and give their hearts to the Lord has refreshed and renewed my experience as well.”  Wahlen helped the construction crew install basketball backboards, the soccer goals and layout the soccer field. He also helped in the Central Adventist Church community center. “It’s been a fantastic experience in the sun, the rain, and the sweat.”

Wearing their mission trip t-shirts Pastor Paul Douglas (center), treasurer of the General Conference, smiles next to Bertie Henry (left) treasurer of the Caribbean Union and Sanida McKenzie (right) treasurer of the North Caribbean Conference, on Apr. 15, 2024. [Photo: Curtis Henry]

Beyond Mobilizing Resources for Mission

It’s beyond mobilizing resources for mission, GC treasurer Paul Douglas said. “We need to understand how we mobilize ourselves to be involved in the mission to which God has called us,” Douglas said. “This is just a sample of what it means to work together as a church organization.” He added, “I believe in times to come as we look at all the places around the world where we will do this, capture this idea, this methodology, and this framework in bringing different partners like Loma Linda University, different preachers to do evangelistic series, all with the intention of reaching others for Christ.”

Loma Linda University Health and General Conference Treasury Team stand together minutes before working a full day of health and community impact activities on the grounds of the Central Adventist Church in Federiksted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, on Apr. 12, 2024. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

The 18-month planning process was a blessing, GC associate treasurer Josue Pierre said. “Even though we at treasury are usually stuck in the building with budgets, making some strategic planning and doing operational oversight, it was such a blessing to partner with all the different levels of our church… to accomplish one goal of bringing souls into the kingdom of Christ,” he said.

Dyhann Buddoo-Fletcher contributed to this article.

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