MARSHALL—East Texas Baptist University students recently took the integration of faith and learning far beyond the classroom, when they combined study abroad with hands-on ministry and missions in Ecuador.
Four nursing students, two preprofessional students and one Spanish student participated in the trip, accompanied by Jose Alonzo, assistant professor of Spanish; Catherine Cone, professor of biology; and Connie Wyszynski, assistant professor of nursing.
Moving the classroom from campus to Ecuador has life-changing ramifications for the students. “Traveling outside the United States helps everyone appreciate how blessed we are,” Cone said.
Cone and Wyszynski taught a course on global community health, and Alonzo taught Spanish. The health class presented the opportunity to compare community health issues between Ecuador and Texas, she noted.
“Both have rural health problems, especially in terms of access to necessary health-care essentials,” Cone said. “In this particular class, we were able to see and discuss the pros and cons of socialized medicine. The students saw the differences in U.S. health care and Ecuadorian health care, which helped them understand the problems in both systems.”
Students traveled to Quito, Tena, Shandia, Punibocana, Santa Barbara, Puyo, Banos, Chacauco, Apatug and back to Quito. They conducted six health fairs and performed health assessments for more than 680 children.
A typical day included tours of local clinics and hospitals, including time to visit with Ecuadoran physicians and nurses.
Students participated in health fairs at churches, working alongside representatives from Compassion International. ETBU students took turns taking physical assessments of children, testing eyesight, tending wounds and teaching children how to brush their teeth.
“In some of the villages, the people did not even know what a toothbrush was,” Cone said. The ETBU group delivered more than 1,200 toothbrushes and 800 tubes of toothpaste to the clinics.
Students also served with with Global Outreach International missionaries Steve and Carol Thompson, who often serve as hosts to medical ministry teams.
Melissa Albright, a nursing student from Lavon, noted her most rewarding moment of the trip occurred during a health fair at a village. A young woman who could speak English fairly well approached her to talk about her 8-year-old son and his difficult life.
“Without thinking twice, I assessed the little boy by checking his heart, lungs, ears, eyes, throat and skin, and I shared with him how God loved him no matter what,” Albright said. “I told him how great a kid he was, and after I finished, the lady thanked me so much for what I did. To me, I didn’t do much, but to that little boy, he walked way knowing someone cared for him.”
Payton Beggs, a speech communication major and Spanish student from Wichita Falls, characterized the trip as an eye-opening experience.
“I had never seen the medical side of a study-abroad trip before,” Beggs said. “I was able to learn not only about the spiritual needs in Ecuador, but also the physical and medical needs present.
“As a Spanish student at ETBU, I was able to soak up words and learn so much once the culture was real to me. My confidence in speaking Spanish increased with practice as I was motivated to speak Spanish more and more, because I desired to build relationships and get to know the people we were serving.”
Albright noted the trip confirmed God’s calling on her life to serve as a nurse.
“We saw many very, very sick individuals, and it broke my heart, but it felt so good to help them,” she said. “Going to Ecuador confirmed my passion for nursing.”
Other students who went to Ecuador were Hannah Allen of Marshall, Caitlin Coats of Mont Belvieu, Ashley Gonzalez of Overton, Brittney Garner of Lake Jackson and Joe McRee of Longview.