Medical student shares differences, challenges of cross-cultural service

By October 18, 2013

Zimbabwe (MNN) — In Zimbabwe, a U.S. medical student is combining his passions for the Kingdom of God. Harvard medical student Timothy Yiu is serving as a short-term medical missionary at the Karanda Hospital with The Evangelical Alliance Mission, or TEAM.

The Karanda Mission Hospital sees between 200 and 300 patients each day. (Image courtesy Karanda Mission Hospital)

The Karanda Mission Hospital sees between 200 and 300 patients each day. (Image courtesy Karanda Mission Hospital)

“Because I like traveling, I enjoy medical work, and I love God, I really wanted to find a way to combine that, and a medical mission trip sounded like the best opportunity,” said Yiu recently via Skype.

“For me, it’s been important to take tangible steps in integrating my faith with my professional work.”

When time allows, Yiu prays with patients. He says the Gospel is woven into nearly every aspect of Karanda’s work; surgical teams and supportive staff pray for their patients and each other and as opportunity arises, physicians share the hope of Christ.

“They really try to have a holistic approach to care, not just approaching people’s physical needs but their social and their spiritual and emotional needs as well,” explains Yiu.

The 130-bed Karanda Mission Hospital was built in 1961 to meet the needs of mission stations in the Zambezi River valley. It’s grown to include a nurse training school, primary school for children of the hospital staff, a home-based care program, outreach ministries and a hospital chapel.

Yiu says he’s imagined himself serving at Karanda for quite some time. A family friend told him about the opportunity.

“She actually served at Karanda many years ago when she was a medical student,” Yiu explains. “Her eyes really lit up and I could tell it really had a profound impact on her life.”

When Yiu became eligible for a stint with TEAM, “she put me in contact with Dr. Stevens, who’s the medical and surgical director here at the hospital.”

So far, serving as a medical missionary at Karanda has been a “humbling” experience for the Ivy League med student.

“They sacrifice so much and that’s a humbling experience [for me] coming from hospitals in the States, where there’s just an overabundance of nursing staff and physicians,” says Yiu.

The extremely-limited medical supplies and personnel have also been “eye-openers.” And then, there are the patients.

“There’s just a lot of infectious disease we see here that we just don’t see in the States,” Yiu says. He lists advanced cases of HIV, tuberculosis and different types of cancers as examples.

“That’s been very humbling, seeing what patients are willing to live with here because of the [scarcity] of medical care.”

Zimbabwe has the 5th highest HIV/AIDS prevelance in the world, with approximately 1.2 million infected adults. According to TEAM, there are some 100,000 child-headed households throughout the nation.

Karanda seeks to help around 400 AIDS orphans and the widows of AIDS patients by providing school fees, clothing, seed, fertilizer and at times, food to the families caring for these individuals. The hospital ministry monitors each family to make sure the support is going to the intended recipients and that of-age orphans are attending school.

In addition, the ministry fights HIV infections with goats. Since breastfeeding poses a high risk of infection to the infants of HIV-infected women, Karanda provides goats. By feeding their babies goats’ milk, infected moms won’t pass the disease to their children.

There are also feeding programs to offset the effects of periodic drought, and school immunization programs.

“They’ve done a great job of integrating with the local people here, and [the people] really love and appreciate this missionary staff,” states Yiu. “It’s been an honor and privilege to serve with them.”

Learn more about the hospital by visiting its website.

There are many ways you can help, but Yiu says one takes priority.

“Prayer is probably the most important thing,” he states.

There’s a severe water shortage, so pray for rain to come soon. Pray also for Yiu during the rest of his time at Karanda; he’s expecting to end his term on November 20. Pray endurance for long-term missionary staff.

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