For ten days this past March, three practitioners (two MDs and one NP) and I traveled with members of Third Church and the Christian Arabic Church (both of Richmond, VA) to Cairo, Egypt for relationship-building with the local El Sharabia Church and to support a medical clinic associated with that church. I originally heard of the trip through Third Church, which I regularly attend. Third had established a relationship of mutual spiritual and financial support with El Sharabia the previous year and was looking to further assist their surrounding community, largely composed of Muslims but also with Coptic and evangelical Christians. A new ministry as part of this relationship was to aid the church’s medical clinic, which at that point was underequipped and infrequently utilized. This opportunity was exactly what I had been looking for. I had never been on a mission trip, neither medical nor religious, and had been looking to experience one that incorporated both of these aspects in a cultural context distinct from my own. As a fourth-year medical student, our schedule allowed for such a trip as it would count as a two-week international medical elective.
Upon arrival to Cairo early in the morning, we were greeted by several members of El Sharabia with flowers. This was a sign of things to come as we were blessed so much by their hospitality throughout the trip. A large number of teenagers and adults were eager to assist in any way they could in processing patients in the clinic. It was a joy to get to know and work with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in Cairo. In the clinic, we were also assisted by members of the Christian Arabic Church, who were a tremendous help serving as translators. We predominately saw patients with osteoarthritis, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, and I gained valuable, independent experience treating these and a myriad of other conditions on an outpatient basis. From a health care perspective, we recognized the special value of health literacy and self-management practices in the Egyptian context, if only to verify that the prescriptions received at the pharmacy were correct, which is unfortunately not always the case. Given this, this ministry will incorporate Arabic educational materials and prescriptions written in Arabic in the future. I also learned that in typical Egyptian physician visits there is little time spent listening to patients’ perspectives. Therefore, I think the most profound effect we had was by showing Christ’s love by caring and giving an ear to patiently hear each person’s story of their pains, both physical and emotional. I believe that in their culture, our patients saw this as a very unique good that the church was providing. After one visit in which we carefully went through each of a patient’s eight medical problems, the Muslim patient and her husband made a point of telling our translator that they would be happy to worship with us. I saw this as proof that Christ uses our actions, as much as our words, to advance His Kingdom.
I am extremely grateful to have gone on the trip, to grow closer to my brothers and sisters in Richmond and Cairo, to be of some use, and to see the Gospel advance in a place where I would have had a bleak outlook otherwise. I did not leave Cairo with a sense of a special call to a specific location. If anything, I felt the freedom to serve in any of a variety of different settings of need because the groundwork of the church has already been laid in such a wide area of the globe. It did give me an appreciation for sharing a relationship with a local church in another area of the world and gives me the desire to establish these connections into my future.
4th-year Medical Student