by Melanie Ave
At 19, Madison McKinney had never been on an airplane.
But in June, she stepped onto a jet in her home state of North Carolina and, 18 hours later, landed in Nairobi, Kenya. The trip revealed a world she didn’t know existed and cemented her desire to help others.
McKinney, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C., and a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Statesville, N.C., was one of 14 volunteers of an LCMS Mercy Medical Team (MMT).
The short-term volunteer program offers medical professionals and lay people opportunities to provide mercy abroad in a variety of clinical and health-related settings. Volunteers fundraise or pay for the trips themselves, and they work with LCMS partner churches and international clinics to address needs of both body and soul.
The MMT Kenya team worked out of a makeshift clinic at a rural, tin-roofed primary school.
By the time McKinney and the rest of the team reached the clinic to begin work, a line of patients waited outside, hoping to be seen. Word had spread throughout the surrounding villages.
In one week, the team treated about 2,000 people of all ages. They saw people with open wounds, dislocations and malnutrition. They treated hundreds for malaria, a disease eliminated in the United States in 1951.
“People were very sick,” said Jacob Fiene, manager of LCMS Health Ministry. “The community itself didn’t have any medical facility available to them.”
You hear about countries like this and poverty like this, but until you see it and talk to the people … you don’t realize how severe it is and how desperate they are for what we could do for them.” – Madison McKinney, a 19-year-old college student who was part of an LCMS Mercy Medical Team clinic held in June in Kenya
While many of the team’s members were doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, there also were several young people like McKinney who are studying for careers in a variety of health fields.
“Being part of a Mercy Medical Team gives them an opportunity to connect their ambitions,” Fiene said, “with something meaningful in the church.”
During the clinic, McKinney worked in the clinic’s pharmacy, helped take patients’ vital signs and acted as a runner for a nurse practitioner and physician. Despite her limited medical training, McKinney wore scrubs and a stethoscope.
“I felt pretty official,” she said, laughing.
McKinney, sometimes called “Gladison” because of her trademark smile, signed up for the trip to gain mission-focused medical experience and to “travel the world.”
“It makes all the difference to have the support and prayers and the Lord on your side,” McKinney said. “Just knowing why you are doing what you are doing, it means more, not just to you, but to the people you are serving.”
McKinney is considering a career in ophthalmology, especially after seeing the vast number of people in Africa with poor eyesight and limited access to glasses.
“Just seeing the great need that was there, that shocked me,” McKinney said. “Until you see it and talk to the people … you don’t realize how severe it is and how desperate they are.
“They would say, ‘I’ve been nauseous and throwing up.’ We would say, ‘For how long?’ They would say, ‘Six years.’ Can you imagine having something that chronic and not having any way of getting better?”
Despite the poverty McKinney witnessed, she was struck by the hope many people had. Several talked about their belief in God.
One of her fondest memories from the trip is of a little girl with the “biggest grin I’ve ever seen.” McKinney saw the girl with her mother and siblings on the clinic’s last day. The college student and the girl played a hide-and-seek smile game throughout the day but never actually met.
The next day, the team worshiped at a parish of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya, an LCMS partner church.
“And in walks the little girl,” McKinney recalled. “She spotted me and started laughing and smiling. I got to shake her hand and give her a hug and tell her I thought she was special.
“She said, ‘God bless you.’ It was such a sweet moment.”
McKinney said the MMT experience gave her a new fervor to help people as a medical professional after she graduates.
“You can’t go somewhere like that and see people like that and not come back different,” she said. “I know people always say, ‘It changed me.’ But it really did. I’m so grateful for the opportunity.”
Learn more: www.lcms.org/mercyteams
Melanie Ave is a staff writer and social media coordinator for LCMS Communications.