Nestled in the shadows of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya in northwestern Kenya sit the villages of Bomet and Kaspowar where a pair of Christian hospitals provide much-needed medical care to the Kenyan nation.
Throughout the year, dozens of foreigners travel thousands of miles from home to spread their love in these African communities. These types of mission trips are nothing unusual for those associated with Lipscomb University.
Each year over 650 Bison students, staff and faculty embark across the globe to spread the gospel. Most of those that venture abroad take time off from their jobs and classes and do something entirely different then what they face in their normal routines, but for former Lipscomb baseball standout Ryan Mitchell, his trek to Kenya was a month-long medical mission full of surgeries and helping those in need.
The Lipscomb record holder for the highest on-base percentage in a season (.450), Ryan and the team of volunteers from World Medical Missions made the 8,000-plus mile journey across the Atlantic Ocean this past summer beginning the fulfillment of a special long-term goal.
“When I was accepted into medical school, I knew that medical missions were something in which I wanted to be involved in throughout my career,” Ryan said.
After being accepted into medical school at the University of South Alabama, Ryan began his studies and quickly realized that he wanted to become an orthopedic surgeon. Working in that specialty, the former CoSIDA Academic All-America crossed paths with a fellow mission-minded resident named JD, who planted the seed for Ryan’s own trip halfway around the world.
“JD went with a local doctor (Dr. Albertson), who practices in one of the suburbs of Mobile,” Ryan said. “Dr. Albertson’s entire practice was established by a group of Christian doctors and it is still written into their contracts where as long as they can pay overhead, they can take off as much time as they want to do medical mission work.
“After hearing about JD's trip to Africa when he came back, I knew it was something I wanted to do.”
With the fire ignited inside him, the former Lipscomb first baseman approached Albertson about a year in advance of this past summer’s trip and found the veteran of a number of medical mission trips was just as excited about another mission trip as Ryan was his first.
With the medical arm of Samaritan’s Purse behind them and providing support, the newly formed medical duo was able to take significant amounts of much-needed orthopedic surgical equipment to the hospital in Kaspowar, where missionary doctors live year round and provide surgeries and medical attention for the Kenyan natives.
Throughout his adventure the Andalusia, Ala., native served as an orthopedic resident as part of the team performing orthopedic surgeries during his mission. Along with three other Kenyan medical residents, Ryan was responsible for seeing patients everyday in the wards and writing the daily notes for their care.
“Every day we would either go to the clinic or see patients in the clinic setting, or we would go to the operating rooms and perform surgery,” Ryan said.
“The attending surgeons were there to help us out, teach us different surgeries, or offer advice about what to do with a clinic patient's problem if it was something that we couldn't handle by ourselves. But they would give us as much freedom to make our own decisions, or do procedures as we wanted.”
Along with aiding with broken hips by the elderly and various problematic bone infections, the team was also on call for the “casualty room” known on our side of the pond as the emergency room.
“Motorcycles have become very popular in the area where we were,” Ryan said. “And my understanding was that you don't have to have a license to drive a motorcycle. So, we had many patients who had suffered broken bones (especially in their legs) from motorcycle accidents. We would put rods in their legs, or use plates and screws to fix their broken bones.”
Despite seeing such deep need among the mostly Markawet people and being able to help so many, it was Ryan, who felt that he gained the most out of the trip abroad.
“As anyone who has been on a mission trip can attest, God always stretches and challenges you in your relationship with Him in so many ways when you go on a mission trip and are out of your comfort zone,” Ryan said. “One of the biggest things I took away was seeing how God met everyone where they were and brought us all together in the singular purpose of serving Him.
“There were many missionaries there from all over the U.S. and different parts of the world that came to this one hospital in the backwoods of Africa where the native language is Swahili. However, despite all the differences seen, everyone was able to get along and knew the big picture purpose of why we were all there. It was great seeing how God brought everyone together with such different backgrounds to serve His ultimate purpose of using our gifts and talents to tell others what He has done in our life and how someone else can have God their savior.”
Having gone into the trip thinking about how much God was going to use him to help the Kenyans, Ryan found out his plans were not exactly what he thought they would be.
“I always go in thinking about how God is going to use me to save these people” he said. “I think about how I'm so instrumental in whether or not these people get the help they need. But by the end of the trip, I'm always reminded about how God can save these people without me. But rather, God is after my heart and attitude and to be reliant on Him and let Him work through me to do His will. That is when God can really use me to make a difference for His kingdom.”
Ryan believes letting God work through his believers and the talents He has given us is essential.
“Through playing sports and the Lipscomb environment, I learned how you can make a positive difference in the lives of others when you're sold out to developing and using the gifts that God blessed you with,” Ryan said. “Once the athletics part of my life was over and I transitioned to my medical training, it became easy to find ways to integrate medical missions into my work. I could easily see how being sold out to God would let me make a difference in other people's lives through medicine.”
Despite the long, 14-hour work days and missing some of the comforts of home, Ryan encourages anyone considering taking a mission trip to take a leap of faith and make the plunge.
“If you feel led about any type of mission trip, go for it and don't look back,” Ryan said. “God will meet any kind of needs, fears or concerns. I've never heard of anyone who went on a mission trip and came back unchanged, wishing they hadn't gone.
“Once you make the commitment to go, plan for the trip as best as you can. It will give you an idea of what to expect and how to prepare for it. But once you leave, the main thing then is to be flexible. Chances are once you get to where you're going, things will change, and it will look absolutely nothing like your original plan. But that's okay. God's in control. You'll never be the same.”
Somehow, you have to believe that at the end of the day, the Kenyans that Ryan and his mission team had the privilege to work with will never be the same either.
Written by Jamie Gilliam, Athletics Communications Manager.