An interview with Kristen Postma
Kristen Postma has a passion for nursing and a desire to serve God with her gifts. At 27, she has completed years of studying and nursing, graduating from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Also licensed as an RN, Kristen worked for three years in Grand Rapids in medical surgery and ICU. She then returned to her hometown of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, and studied at the University of Toronto to earn her Masters of Nursing and Nurse Practitioner Certificate. Since then, Kristen has been working with the Neuroscience Program at the Hamilton General Hospital. She recently completed her licensure examination and will become a licensed Nurse Practitioner in mid-November.
On September 2, 2015, Kristen travelled to Chicago to join a team of 12 nurses under the auspices of Nurses for Africa. From there they flew to Zambia where they worked until September 24. Christian Courier interviewed Kristen to discover why she went to Zambia and what she experienced there.
Christian Courier: What is Nurses for Africa (NFA)? How does NFA work with nationals in order to offer health care?
Kristen Postma: According to NFA’s website (nursesforafrica.net), their mission is to “empower nurses to use their God given talents and skills to bring hope to the people of Africa who have limited access to medical services or resources to pay for medical care by providing compassionate nursing care, medications and medical supplies.” NFA works with an organization called Hands at Work (Hands) in six countries in Africa, providing food, education and medical care. They also train careworkers from each village who follow the most vulnerable children, as identified by Hands. As members of the NFA team, we worked closely with Hands and their careworkers to host medical clinics for the villagers and to open our own eyes to the villagers’ other needs.
How did God lead you to become interested in and involved with NFA? What did you hope to achieve?
I’ve always wanted to be involved in medical missions. I love my job as a nurse, but I knew there was more that I could do with my profession to help others. Since discovering that the church I attended in Grand Rapids supported medical mission trips, I wanted to be involved.
One day while procrastinating from studying for my Master’s program, I googled “nurses and medical missions” and found NFA. I had no expectations going into the trip. I knew that plans could change with a moment’s notice and I didn’t want to be disappointed. I wanted to engage with the people of Zambia to understand their joys and struggles. What I didn’t anticipate was their overflowing belief in God.
What standards did you have to meet in order to be accepted by NFA?
After I applied, I didn’t hear anything for over a year. In January, I received an email that I was accepted to a 2015 trip. The priority qualification for the trip was that I was a Christian. Two years' work experience was also required.
You had to raise all your own funds. How did God provide for you?
Abundantly! Since NFA is an American organization, tax receipts were not available to Canadians who donated on my behalf. Because of this, I thought it would be difficult to find funding. I told my church, family and friends about my trip plans, and my costs were completely funded. God is good!
What particularly struck you when you arrived in Zambia?
I am still processing. Once I got there, I tried to absorb everything. As nurses, our coping mechanism tends to be to not think too much. But that is exactly what I now need to do. It was hard to believe that I was walking through an African village surrounded by smiling children who might be orphaned, or have HIV, or eat only one meal daily. It was hard to believe we saw young, middle-aged and old men walking around drunk at two in the afternoon. It was hard to believe that the innocent children surrounding me could become like them if they weren’t loved, fed and educated by followers of Jesus.
What did your typical work day include?
At 7:30 a.m. on our clinic days, we left the Kachele Farm, where we were hosted by Hands. We arrived in the village around 9 a.m. Every morning began with worship and prayer, no matter how late we arrived. If we weren’t smiling and dancing, it meant we weren’t happy and that we didn’t mean what we were saying. By the end of the week we were always dancing in the name of Jesus. Each nurse was paired with a careworker who also worked as a translator. It was great to form close relationships with them as they communicated the medical questions that we asked. They expressed endless appreciation for the work we were doing.
Which person or experience made the greatest impact on you?
I was able to listen to my translator’s story. When Reuben, now from the village of Mulenga, was a young child, he was adopted by a grandparent because there was no school near his village. This would enable him to get an education. But, because money ran out, he only completed up to Grade 7. From then on he taught himself, especially how to speak English. He worked so hard to make something of himself. He calls it his miracle. His faith is endless and he shares it with anyone who will listen. I was lucky enough to visit his home and meet his five children as well as his “spiritual son,” whom he adopted. Though he already had a difficult time providing for his own children, he realized that there were always others who were worse off.
Another story comes to mind. When I was sitting with the kids in Chibote while classes were being taught inside, one of the kids noticed that my feet were dirty and dusty. He started brushing them off, trying to clean them. This reminded me of how much servanthood means to the Zambian people, even if this young boy didn’t realize it, and how Jesus did this for his disciples, too.
You travelled to Zambia with a team of nurses. How did the experience of serving God together change you personally and as a group?
We really didn’t know anything about each other before we met in Chicago prior to travelling together. We clicked! Our group worked so well together – we laughed, cried, shared our faith and built strong friendships that will hopefully continue now that we’ve returned home. My biggest task now that I’m home is to remember not to take anything for granted. In Canada we have been abundantly blessed. Also, I want to live with my faith on my sleeve, express what I believe, be more careful with my money and place a greater importance on supporting organizations such as Hands.
In recent years, criticism of short term mission trips has intensified. Questions have been raised about whether coming to a country, serving for a few days, and then leaving actually helps the nationals or hurts them. How does NFA deal with this issue?
Since NFA works with Hands and the caregivers, who are all established within the villages, I don’t feel this way. It really is a privilege that Hands gives NFA the opportunity to be involved in such a ministry.
Do you plan to go again?
That’s a very good question! I’m still processing the whole experience. My plans vary from moving to Zambia for a longer time period, to doing more intensive medical work projects with Hands, to visiting other countries with Hands, to focusing on my new career. I know that, day by day, God continues to reveal just a little more of his plan for me and all I can do is continue working on patience (and patients).
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