A Missional Life
Years ago I felt called to go to the jungles of Peru on a mission trip. It was an experience that would forever impact my life. It took days to get to our destination deep in the Amazon basin. We traveled by several airplanes and then a bus for 12 hours. We worked with a missionary doctor and his wife among the Aguaruna Indians. One trip led to many more and soon my husband and I were leading mission teams to the jungles. Later, we began doing mission trips to other areas of Peru, from the Andes Mountains to the coast.
It was on these mission trips that I discovered that I needed to stop seeing people through my human eyes and start seeing them as God sees them. By that, I mean God loves us all and He sees what we can be with His help. I returned home from one of my mission trips and the first day back at the office I began working on my stack of paperwork. I looked at the lifeless pages and God spoke to my heart and said, “You are spending all day working on these papers when you could be helping a real live person who needs to hear about Me.” To make a long story short, God opened up the door for me to quit my job and become a full-time youth and music leader of my church.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. - Acts 1:8
I continued doing foreign missions and God continued to speak to my heart as I studied His word in more detail. I saw God do amazing things in the lives of those young people and their parents, but most of all, I knew God was using me as His tool to make a difference in others. No amount of money can buy that feeling!
After three years God began changing my course again. I knew God was calling me to something new, but had no idea what my next path would be. A board member of the Baptist Medical Clinic contacted me and told me the clinic was looking for a full-time executive director. At that time, I had never heard of a free clinic and did not know one was in the area. I met with one of the other board members and she asked me to pray about coming on as the director. I headed out on a mission trip to Iquitos, Peru and began praying for God to show me what He wanted me to do.
While I was in the jungle city, a missionary doctor shared his personal testimony of how almost 40 years ago he had taken his family to the remote jungles of Peru as a new missionary. He talked of how hard it was when they first arrived there and knew no one. He said there were many shaman in the jungle and no one had heard of his type of medicine. He began to build a relationship with the people there and soon they were coming to him for medical help. He also told them about Christ and over a period of time God helped him to build a medical clinic, a church, and a school to train nationals how to become pastors. These men would come from villages far away to learn how to go back to their remote villages and begin a church. Mission teams would come after the people came to Christ and would help them build a church. He talked about how he had used his talent of medicine to reach the lost in the Amazon. God immediately spoke to my heart and said, “I am giving you that same opportunity in Galax, Virginia!”
I came back home, turned in my resume, and on September 1, 2006, became the first full-time director of the Baptist Medical Clinic of Galax. The clinic started out in the First Baptist Church of Galax in the early 90’s. As time went by, interest diminished in the clinic and it became a “clinic without walls” (patients were sent to area doctors’ offices). At the time I became the director we had 32 patients and we paid for most of their medications.
God began to bless our efforts and in 2007 we opened our first physical location in the Oldtown section of Galax. The clinic soon changed its name to The Free Clinic of the Twin Counties. We hired a retired pediatrician, Dr. Linda Marshall for 16 hours per week and later a nurse practitioner, Kim Leftwich, for four hours per week.
It was very difficult those first couple of years with very few volunteers when basically no one had heard about the clinic. We went to area local governments to gain financial support from them. The clinic provides free medical care to uninsured residents of Carroll and Grayson Counties and the City of Galax. Most churches in the area did not realize that we minister to our patients as the opportunity arises, so they were not supporting the clinic as a local ministry. We have tried to inform them that we are not only a medical facility, but that we care for the spirituality of our patients as well.
In 2008 I was at a missionary gathering where various videos were being shown about various mission trips. I thought I had seen poverty in Peru, but the video that broke my heart was one on Haiti. I learned that mothers there were feeding their children dirt cookies. These cookies are made from dirt, oil, and salt and you could see these drying out on a sheet in the sun. The mothers feed the children these cookies to fill their stomachs so they will not cry from hunger at night. The children have a form of malnutrition called Kwashiorkor.
I sat there viewing these images with tears rolling down my face and something within me said, “No human being should have to live like this!” The man presenting the video asked, “Okay, now who wants to go to a dangerous area where you could be killed, in a heat that is unbearable, and get eaten alive by mosquitoes and risk malaria, and smells like the worst garbage dump in the middle of summer?” All the people I had gone on missionary trips with sat there motionless and speechless. No one offered to sign up for this mission trip! I began to think what kind of missionaries are we? We think we are doing God some big favor by leaving our homes for one or two weeks and put ourselves in a little inconvenience and expense when these people are dying from hunger and most have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I had to sign up to go! I had to try and make a difference!
As we arrived in Port-Au-Prince I began to see how bad the poverty was there. I was frightened at times by what I saw. There was a lot of fighting, pushing, and shoving at the airport and it was difficult just getting to the missionary’s vehicle. As we rode down the streets I could not believe what I was seeing. There were homeless people everywhere! There were people with guns at the gas stations and on the street. The U.N. was everywhere trying to keep the peace. We rode for hours in the back of a pickup truck with boards fastened to it to keep people from getting our luggage. The road was indescribable; at times you would come off your seat from the holes in the road.
At one area where we worked, missionaries had just built a feeding center for the children. They fed them rice and beans Monday –Saturday and just bread on Sunday. They could feed about 200 children per day. When I first started going they did not have enough spoons for each child so some would eat and then hand the spoon to another one, or they would just eat with their hands. There were always more children than there was food so the nationals would stand at the door and check their teeth to see if there was food in their teeth. If there was, they would not be allowed in that day because there were always more children who had not eaten in days or weeks who might die if they did not get food. I have been to Haiti four times now and each time I find there are many who have died since the last time I was there.
One day a lady came up to me and tried to hand me her baby and motioned that she wanted me to take it. When I did not take it, she began to mistreat the baby. I had never experienced anything like this in my life. The missionary explained that the mother knew I had compassion in my heart and if I saw the baby mistreated I would eventually take it from her and then she would be gone. She knew her child would die if it did not get a better chance at life. I cannot explain to anyone how I felt at that moment. I cried out to God to help these people!
When it came time to leave I said, “God, how can I go home when there are so many people here in need and I have not begun to make a difference!” The missionary said, “Dina, you can do more by going home and sharing what you have seen with others and bring them back and they will bring more back and so forth.”
In the middle of the city in which we worked there was a statue of Jesus Christ on the cross. The Voodoo priests go there to make sacrifices to Satan because they say he had victory over Jesus on the cross. It is very disturbing to see. On the last day, we visited an area called “Prayer Mountain” which is an area that overlooks the city. Christian nationals are there 24/7 praying over their city and their country. One of the visiting missionaries stated that God had heard their cry for help and was sending more people like us to come and help. The Haitian Christians cried at hearing this.
There has been such an improvement in the work going on there. Now the missionaries are having good soil brought in so that the people can learn how to garden. Homes are being built. A medical clinic is under construction and there is a Christian school underway. God is moving in Haiti! Mission teams, especially medical mission teams, are needed desperately.
As I was preparing for my first mission trip to Haiti I heard about a product that was being fed to malnourished people in other countries. I began raising money to purchase the product but soon found that it cost more to ship the product than I had money to buy the product. I contacted another missionary in Port-Au-Prince and she remembered an older missionary who had a recipe for something similar made out of dry soy infant formula, honey, peanut butter, and powdered sugar. I spent the money I had been given and our team took as many cans of infant formula as we could and gave the rest of the money to her to purchase the other supplies in Haiti. We were soon making peanut butter balls!
Helpers began to document the children who were being fed the product each day and within a couple of weeks the children began to have dark hair roots which meant they were having improved health. Soon the recipe was being shared by many missionaries there. Lives were being saved and continue being saved today thanks to the direction of our Almighty Father!
There is still a great need in Haiti for volunteers to come and help meet the medical needs of the people there as well as in The Free Clinic of the Twin Counties. God has provided the opportunities at both places, but Jesus said it best when he said in John 4:35: “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me, finishing the work he started. As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time!” (The Message)
Dina Clower continues to serve as the executive director of The Free Clinic of the Twin Counties in Galax, VA. She continues to live with the understanding that missions is not something you do 2 weeks a year, but is something you live out every day; and that Christ has called us to minister to the suffering everywhere we find them. dina.clower [at] galaxfreeclinic [dot] org