BY ROBERT MORALES
PHOTOS COURTESY KARLA AND RODNEY MORROW
For Karla Morrow, her once-a-year trip out of the country is not only a passion, itâ€™s her mission.
Morrow has been going on spiritual missions since 2000. “I felt that when I was 16 or 17, I wanted to do it, and as a teenager, time passed by. So I thought Iâ€™d never get the opportunity to do it, and I wanted to be a missionary, and I kept on thinking, â€˜itâ€™s just because Daddyâ€™s a preacher.â€™â€
A girl moved in with the Morrow family from Teen Mania, one of the largest Christian youth ministry organizations in the United States, headquartered in Garden Valley, Texas.
She had been a missionary since she was probably 13-year-old, and she went to the Teen Mania boot camp after high school, and she was in love with missions, and she was planning a trip to Panama, and she proposed that Morrow should go to Panama with her. “And I took her up on it.â€
Morrow has been to Panama at least twice, to Romania, and to the Philippines about five times, including the latest trip from which she just returned.
What happens on a missionary trip?
When Morrow began going on these missions, she was a registered nurse. “I felt like I wasnâ€™t prepared enough to actually be actually be able to go the extra step for the people. I had my nursing knowledge, and I had years of taking care of people in their homes, but I always felt as if there was more that I could do. I couldnâ€™t find that many doctors that were willing to stay in the jungle with me for one or two days â€“ if I could find a doctor at all.â€
She went back to school to get her advanced practice degree as a nurse practitioner. “Thatâ€™s really the reason I did it. All I knew is that I needed that extra education to be able to help more people and to do more in the field, and not require a doctor to be with me all the time.â€
On this trip to the Philippines, Morrow went to Palawan, a Philippine island about 480 miles from the capital of Manila. The Philippines has about 7,100 islands, of which about only 2,000 are inhabited. The major islands are Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
To get to the Philippines from El Paso, it takes about 20-22 hours, depending on the layovers, from Dallas-Fort Worth to Tokyo to Manila, or however the airline formulates the route.
Every time we go, we meet with Christian Light Foundation out of the Philippines, a nonprofit, non-denominational missionary organization established in 1983. They have a medical team. They have nurses and doctors that volunteer, and this year I just called and asked, â€˜where do you want me to go?â€™ I usually travel with a couple of women from Florida and we plan it, and invite Christian Light Foundation to come with us. This time it was Palawan.
Palawan is known as having the “8th wonder of the world,â€ the Palawan Underground River. It was established in 1971 as a national park to conserve forests and protect wildlife. It is located north Puerto Princesa.
Morrow has also been to the island of Mindanao twice, where she has served at the orphanage. The orphanage, Ms. Morrow said, was established by Bob Tebow, the father of former NFL quarterback, Tim Tebow. She explained that she had to submit a narrative to the officials of the orphanage to gain approval to go because it is located in a highly sensitive area that is known for political and religious unrest.
Morrow said she had spoken with Christian Foundation, and the organization has been having a difficult time to be staying solvent with the medical aspect of the mission because of decreased donations in the U.S. “Our economy and our giving in the U.S. has had a direct impact on their mission that theyâ€™ve been called to do Theyâ€™ve had to decrease their missions from a week or more to only a few days to be able to afford to do the missions.â€
Morrow shipped more than 100 pounds of medical supplies to the Philippines that went by ship. For the supplies to arrive at the destination, she shipped it in February, and the supplies arrived about three weeks before her arrival.
This mission was three days â€“ Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday â€“ and on Friday, she went on home visits with the New Tribes Missions leader. She visited three different villages. At Santo NiÃ±o village, she saw 300 patients for medical care. Other patients not requiring medical attention were in line for dental care. Another line was a group of young boys waiting for circumcisions.
Circumcision in the Philippines is called “tuli,â€ a rite of passage for boys usually between the ages of 5 and 7 and up to 12 years of age. For more affluent families, this procedure generally takes place at birth at a hospital, but for the vast majority of the population that doesnâ€™t live near a clinic or a hospital, circumcision doesnâ€™t occur until a later date when practitioners, such as Morrow visit a village. (See photo of boys waiting in line.)
“If theyâ€™re not circumcised,â€ said Morrow, “they get made fun of by the other boys in school.â€
On Wednesday, Morrow visited the village (barangay as theyâ€™re known in the Philippines) of Bubusawin. On this day, Morrow cared for 200 patients. On Thursday, she held clinic at Puerto Princesa. On Friday, she visited the Aloha House Orphanage. On that visit, Ms. Morrow performed physical examinations on the infants.
What are the challenges a medical caregiver, such as Morrow faces, in a remote island in the Philippines? “Everything,â€ she said. “Electricity, air conditioning, water, toilets, hot water, if you can find water.â€ For example, to get water, most villagers use a pump at a community house. Others have a long hose from the mountains that comes down from the river and all the villagers go to the same hose and fill their buckets with water.
One that that we teach them when we go to a village is to boil the water. Sometimes, itâ€™s an “ahaâ€ moment. She gave the example of her missionary visit to Panama. She said that every patient had diarrhea. She found an interpreter, and asked some very basic questions. How many people drink water out of the river? How many people wash their clothes in the river? How many people take a bath in the river? How many people see the animals in the river pooping and peeing? How many people boil their water before they drink it?
The answers to all of the questions except the last one, was yes.
In these impoverished villages, people could their inside their huts using coal or wood, creating a large amount of smoke in the room. According to Morrow, respiratory diseases are the number one cause of death in the Philippines. These include asthma and COPD. Some villages have a specially designated cabin to cook food, but most of the villages do not have these cabins.
“When you go through the villages, you can see the smoke plumes coming out of the windows,â€ Morrow said. “I see a lot of young kids audibly wheezing, and they have asthma, so we do a lot of teaching.â€
Karlaâ€™s husband, Rodney, accompanied her on this trip. He added that going into these desolate jungle villages truly makes any person appreciate the simple comforts that most of us take for granted. For example, Mr. Morrow said, toilet paper.
“Thereâ€™s no toilet paper. You have to bring your own. When you flush the commode, you use a bucket of water.â€ He said there is no such thing as a shower. “You take a bucket bath with no hot water.â€
Ms. Morrow recalls the day the villagers decided to kill a pig for dinner. She and Mr. Morrow walked on the beach and found a place with tiny huts available for the night. She said electricity is available only between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. and water was only available during those same hours.
Another challenge, said Morrow, was the tear-down and setting up of the clinic in a new village every day. She said it takes about an hour and a half to set up the clinic. “Thereâ€™s a lot of preparation time involved in getting the clinic open,â€ she said.
For those people who have never traveled to a third-world country, what one sees on a visit may be more than an eye-opener. For example, Morrow said that it was not uncommon at the open food markets to see a kitten or a puppy sitting on the cookies.
At some markets, she said, “thereâ€™s fish and chicken hanging everywhere and thereâ€™s cats everywhere.â€
As for the climate, itâ€™s tropical weather â€“ hot and humid. “Youâ€™re wet all day. You never dry. You wake up wet, you go to sleep wet. And youâ€™re drying off from a shower, youâ€™re starting to sweat. People take three or four baths a day.â€
The medical mission clinics serve a dual purpose. Not only do people with little or no means get medical treatment, they are also presented the gospel, said Morrow. She said it was fairly analogous to The Salvation Army. Before patients are seen, they are first ministered to by one of the missionary volunteers.
As Morrow explains, Christian Light Foundation, the organization that manages these health clinics, the primary objective is to preach the gospel. “Thatâ€™s what weâ€™re there for,â€ she said. “Every time I go on a mission, I have a particular personal goal. I want to be a better person when I come back.â€
On this visit, Ms. Morrow said, her goal was the first chapter of Peter reflecting on adding certain things to your life to be a better Christian. She enumerated the eight things starting with: (1) have faith; (2) add goodness to your faith; (3) add knowledge to your goodness; (4) to your knowledge add self-control; (5) to your self-control add endurance; (6) to your endurance add Godliness; (7) to your Godliness add Christian affection; (8) to your Christian affection add love.
Mr. Morrow said that going on these yearly missions should serve as not only an inspiration to others who may never have seen another part of the world, but as a reminder of how we may not be appreciative about what we have, regardless of how little or how trivial it may seem.
“People here donâ€™t realize weâ€™re so spoiled,â€ said Morrow.
“Those kids and those parents [in the Philippines] have very little, but what little they have, they appreciate, said Mr. Morrow. “Theyâ€™re accustomed to it. Kids play on the beach. Theyâ€™re not indoors on their i-Pads or computers in air-conditioned comfort. Theyâ€™re out there actually having fun.
The language barrier, said both Morrows, is the most difficult challenge to overcome on these visits. Tagolog (pronounced Ta-GA-log) is the official language of the Philippines, although many people living in the more affluent areas speak English. And while many of the Philippine surnames are Spanish, most people do not speak Spanish.
In addition to the communications challenge, said Morrow, the 13-hour time difference (ahead) is tough to contend with, given the one week mission. “We have to switch from day to night and night to day. It takes me about two days to get my internal time switched around, and coming back is even worse. It takes about a week.â€
The tropical climate, Morrow said, only adds to the daily demands of a missionary. Palawan, the area she visited is a jungle with extreme heat and humidity. These are the physical challenges.