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Nursing students return to Kenya, Rwanda to partner with local providers in serving all ages of God’s people

Mariana Bendineli screens a child at Happy Life Children’s Home in Kenya.

Mariana Bendinelli grew up in Dyer, Ind., where she attended a church involved in missions work and developed a desire to take part herself. As a child, she knew she was too young to travel overseas and serve others in that way, but beginning in the sixth grade, she started filling her mother’s extra mason jars with spare change, birthday money, and babysitting pay with the goal of using it to fund a future mission trip. Eventually, she forgot about the jars she had hidden in her closet, but the desire to travel overseas stayed in the back of her mind.

“I figured that if it was something the Lord wanted, it would eventually be clear to me at the right time,” Bendinelli said.

That opportunity came along last summer, when Bendinelli, a junior studying in Liberty University’s School of Nursing (LUSON), was accepted to join the school’s trip to Kenya, one of two trips LUSON sponsored over last month’s Spring Break (the other was Rwanda). Last Christmas, Bendinelli discovered the jars again, along with letters she had written to her future self about helping others overseas through nursing.

“In both of those letters I had written that I hope that I’m still becoming a nurse and either have gone to Africa or the trip is on the calendar,” she said. “It was really cool to see that the Lord placed small moments that I can look back on and see that I was still faithful to His plan even though I had no idea if it would happen. I just stuck to the fact that if I was really wanting to go out and serve people in a different country, it would be on His timing and His timing alone. That’s what this trip was for me.”

Bendinelli was one of 17 nursing students who traveled to Nairobi to work alongside local healthcare professionals in caring for over 700 patients of all ages. For two days, students collaborated with staff from Jesse Kay Hospital to hold health clinics and focused screenings for people who traveled as far as two-and-a-half hours away from home. The hospital has a special Liberty connection, as it was built in 2018 and named in honor of the son of former LUSON professor Cathy Kay.

LUSON students worked with local healthcare professionals to screen over 700 people over the course of two days.

Professor Lisa Gazan, one of three professors leading the trip, said the trip was a prime example of collaboration in international healthcare.

“It was really neat that we came alongside other healthcare providers from Kenya, so it wasn’t us just coming in to ‘fix’ — we got to join existing professionals,” Gazan said, noting that the staff represented many departments of the hospital. “We saw entire families, babies through the elderly. From a man who had glass stuck in his eye for 10 days because he had to wait for a clinic, to a woman who walked with a cane and traveled two hours to see us. It was pretty incredible for our students to see that and help these patients.”

“Being able to spend time with people in the hot sun who aren’t feeling well, who had traveled from miles and miles away just to see us and the physicians, it really humbled me,” Bendinelli added. “Spending time with these people and getting to know their story was so special.”

The Kenya team also spent time working with children and infants at the Happy Life Children’s Home and Juja Farm school, both located on the same property as Jesse Kay Hospital, earning their pediatric care hours. Students fed babies, led dental health education seminars for staff, and conducted wellness checks for 248 children of varying ages.

“I got to sit and spend time with these babies in the morning (at Happy Life), there was worship music playing, and that was a great moment to realize that we’re doing this because the Lord gives us an opportunity to go serve His people,” Bendinelli said. “It’s not the most exciting thing to sit down and feed bottles to 18 babies and change diapers, it might not be the most glamorous thing, but we were able to help God’s children there.”

Around 150 infants and children received multiple vaccines administered by LUSON students who visited Rwanda.

Similarly, the group of 21 nursing students in Rwanda helped run clinics near the capital of Kigali with Solace Ministries. They vaccinated approximately 150 infants and children and did prenatal care. Students also visited East African Christian College to observe their nursing facilities and donated hygiene kits — filled with items like washcloths, soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste — to a local church along with hosting an educational session on handwashing and dental care.

“We become kind of complacent and comfortable with our healthcare system here, so it’s a good thing for our students to be able to see healthcare in another country, to understand that not every country is the same as ours but that even though it’s different, it is still a good system that’s good for their people,” said Professor Stacy Taylor, a leader on the Rwanda trip.

Senior Hannah Brown said she had been wanting to travel to Rwanda since arriving at Liberty.

LUSON students demonstrated nursing skills and interacted with students and staff at East African Christian College in Rwanda.

“I felt the Lord call me into missions going into college, and having this opportunity was amazing,” Brown said. “I think it’s really important to note the different cultures, to know that we’re all created by God, and to see His wonderful creation. I love the fact that we were able to go out and see the different culture there. How the Lord laid this out was perfect.”

Part of the culture they learned on the trip was the effect of the genocide in 1994.

“Our goal was to educate the students on the genocide that occurred there 30 years ago and help the students see how far their society has come in terms of healthcare by showing them different levels of healthcare that they have,” Taylor said. “We were also showing them how (Rwanda) has gone through forgiveness as a country and worked through that.”

“I did feel the Holy Spirit moving in so many people there, and we know where they came from, their history, and how they were able to forgive one another,” Brown added. “That’s a huge impact whenever you go out; you see it and see what you can learn from it and bring it to your own community.”

Before they left, both teams packed suitcases filled with medical supplies, hygiene kits, and personal items to donate to the communities they visited in Rwanda and Kenya.

Prior to the Rwanda trip, the team packed their suitcases with prenatal vitamins that they donated to Solace Ministries. The students who went to Kenya raised money to fill 40 suitcases with supplies — toothbrushes, antibiotics, scrubs for workers to wear, school materials, and more.

This year marked LUSON’s 11th trip to Rwanda and fifth to Kenya. The students and leaders for both trips had been meeting monthly since November for team building and training, which included familiarizing themselves with the culture of the communities they would serve. In early March, they held a special event to pack the donations and pray for the trips. Both trips were coordinated through LU Send, the office that facilitates all student group travel for Liberty.

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