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A Tale of Two Nurses
by Julie Cramer
Posted on Tuesday, March 08, 2016
On a whim one day, in the hospital’s staff lunch room, Rhonda Lynn took a chance and asked her coworker, Alicia Hulse—who was virtually a complete stranger—if she wanted to go with her to Africa on a mission trip. Alicia’s response surprised her—and, over time, changed everything. 

Alicia thought Rhonda was out of her mind, but she agreed to go on the trip on one condition—Rhonda was not to breathe a word of it to their coworkers in the emergency room department of MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, Washington. Rhonda also agreed; however, she must have been crossing her fingers because soon everyone in the ER knew the two nurses were bound for Kenya.

Two years ago, Rhonda traveled to Guatemala with Orphan Outreach and was hooked. The trip had been a general mission trip, and Rhonda longed to use her nursing skills in the context of missions. When the opportunity to go to Kenya on a medical mission with Orphan Outreach came up, Rhonda said “the timing was perfect.”

“As a little girl I enjoyed watching National Geographic. I’ve always had this passion to learn about different cultures, but I just knew I was going to grow up and become an attorney. So I used to watch Perry Mason,” she said, laughing.

Yet an early marriage and subsequent pregnancy changed her plans. Rhonda’s first daughter was born with severe spastic quadriplegia, the most debilitating form of cerebral palsy. Being unexpectedly submersed in the care of her daughter christened Rhonda for a career in health services. Her career aspirations shifted from a gavel as her tool of trade to a stethoscope.

“Savannah was never able to form a word. She never could walk, sit, or stand. We fed her through a feeding tube,” Rhonda said. “But she smiled and laughed all the time, except for when she was in pain. She could change a room.”

At the age of 19, Rhonda found herself not only caring for her needy daughter, but also hopping planes from Washington state to Washington, DC, to lobby Congress on her behalf. She and others pushed for public schools to integrate children with special needs into mainstream classrooms. Her efforts captured the attention of First Lady Barbara Bush, resulting in the reauthorization of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to allow children with special needs to learn alongside their able-bodied peers.

“It was pretty awesome to be a part of,” Rhonda said. “I carry Savannah with me every place I go.” The daughter who motivated and inspired her all the way to the halls of Congress passed away at the age of 17.

“I had a huge meltdown after Savannah passed away. Then one day I laid on my floor and cried and listened to Jesus, Take The Wheel like 45 times. I completely surrendered,” she said. “I totally immersed myself in serving God, and my whole life changed. Alicia is one of the main reasons why I have been able to do this, to be closer to God.”

A Clinic in Kenya

A doctor from Nairobi let the nurses know immediately that he had expected them to bring a doctor from the States.

“He was really worried,” Rhonda said, “but he told us we would have to diagnose and treat patients. In every country, the medical problems are different. Guatemalan people don’t have the same complaints as children in Kenya. I gathered as much information as I could to figure out how we were going to organize the patient load. We saw every single child,” she said, “and even had time to play football and volleyball with them. They sang to us. You learn in ways you never thought you were going to learn, and love in ways you never thought you could love.”

rhonda and alicia in clinic

“I was a new nurse when Rhonda started talking to me in the lunch room. We had never worked side by side because in the ER you are working with different people all the time,” Alicia said. “When she asked if I would go to Kenya, I said, ‘I’m pretty sure I’m in, but don’t tell anyone.’ Not 10 minutes later, she told someone. She refused to stay silent. She kept telling people I was going.”

“I felt God told me to tell others,” Rhonda confessed. “We talk about it now. She admits she would have backed out otherwise.”

“When someone gets in my world …” Alicia said, then started again. “I don’t want people in my bubble because it’s hard. I took a risk to go with Orphan Outreach, and wow! God is honoring that and has given me a friend. I treasure Rhonda. By saying ‘yes’ to God, he totally took care of me.”

Kenya greeted the medical team with wide open arms.

“We arrived in vans down this dirt row among fields and fields of sugar cane,” Alicia said. “We got out of the van and were walking down this little road and all of a sudden hundreds of orphans come running out with their leaders, dancing and singing and holding our hands.”

rhonda in bungoma 2

The Kenyan doctor, however, was dismayed when he learned the team had arrived without an American counterpart. While Rhonda stepped up and began organizing how the team would operate, Alicia headed outside to play with the children. Soon 100 children were playing Red Light, Green Light—a playground classic.

“They were so ready and open, like kids are supposed to be,” Alicia said. “They weren’t fearful, even though we had to pull some of their teeth that day!”

“The children followed Alicia around, mimicking her—hundreds of them, all giggling and laughing,” Rhonda said. “It’s so rare. No one else on the team could instantly connect like that with the kids.”

A Clinic in Guatemala

Once Alicia agreed to go to Kenya—whether of her own accord or partly Rhonda’s subtle coercion—she never looked back. The day in the lunch room not only catapulted the two women on a journey toward friendship, but also adventures across the globe in the sake of caring for others. The dirt road in Kenya led a year later to lush Lake Atitlán of Guatemala.

Just as in Kenya, Alicia developed a quick rapport with the youngest villagers. Soon, they were chasing after her, tugging at her sleeve to play games she could invent spontaneously. She patted their heads as they sat crossed legged outside the clinic in games of Duck, Duck, Goose.

alicia in guatemal

“The Guatemalan kids were the same as the 100 kids in Africa,” she said. “They have this intrinsic need to be loved, to laugh. We all need it in different ways. It’s the same things with my patients in the hospital. They just want to be cared for.”

As strong as the cups of Guatemalan coffee in their hands, the medical professional gathered each morning to pray before they traveled to the clinic and the waiting line of patients. Alicia said it was a powerful reminder that they were the hands of feet of God, and it motivated her to power through exhaustion.

“What I’m learning when I do these trips is that everybody is the same but different. I know it may sound cheesy, but everyone wants to be loved. We all have moms and dads, or we are orphans. And everyone has this internal thing that we need Jesus,” Alicia said, reflecting on her experiences. “Maybe we need to be reached differently, or loved differently. Even the landscape: Africa, Arizona, Guatemala—God just decided to put grass here and mountains there. The Lord is so creative. Now when I get busy at work, I take a step back and think, ‘I have people right here who need me.’”

A Call to Others

“Orphan Outreach is so organized, and the staff in the States and each country are like family. We’re there to serve and you feel it 100% on all the trips,” Rhonda said. “It’s surreal at times because I’m surrounded by everything I’ve wanted—likeminded people doing the journey God has us on. There’s nothing fake.”

“Don’t wait,” Alicia said. “Some people want to have their finances in order before they do anything. Well, you’d have to wait a lifetime. Your worldview changes when you travel. It changes the way you look at America. The government doesn’t save the world. To me, it’s Jesus and the church. Orphan Outreach is an organization like that. The people I’ve met that work with Orphan Outreach are all very kind ... both feet are in it. They live their lives differently. They realize you can’t do it without the Lord, and that’s what I appreciate. If Christ isn’t at the center of it, it’s worthless to me.”

“And I feel so safe with Orphan Outreach,” Rhonda added. “They are so organized. Every trip is so thought out and planned. I never even had to question it. I always wanted to take care of people, and the medical mission trips couple that with my passion for traveling. Alicia and I met because of the medical mission, and now we are best friends. She is my sister in Christ, and she’s family. We go to church together, and go on these trips. On my big bucket list is to take all my children on medical trips too,” she said. “I haven’t scratched that off yet, but it will happen.”

alicia in bungoma

In the meantime, she and Alicia already are gearing up for another Orphan Outreach adventure this summer to India. After that, Rhonda said—all while she pursues a doctoral degree in psychiatry—is Latvia.

“You don’t have to go on a big trip every year for a big life change,” Alicia added. “You’re changed when you’re investing in people. You can get involved. You can have life change every day. God blesses you when you take risks and it’s hard. He’s way more powerful than me. It has been a blessing to meet people on that common ground.”

You can join Rhonda and Alicia in Bungoma this September. The deadline for registration is fast-approaching.

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