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The Anabaptist Healthcare Worker: Pursuing a Call to Nurturing People as a Life StandardA reflection from Five Life Standards Nurture Council member Jennifer Wiebe
The Anabaptist Healthcare Worker: Pursuing a Call to Nurturing People as a Life Standard
What do a cookbook, my work in health care, and following Christ have in common? The answer may be found in Doris Janzen Longacre’s More-with-Less Cookbook. In the book, Janzen Longacre writes about the Five Life Standards, which includes a call to the work of nurturing people. She states that nurturing is feeding, but it is much more than feeding. Janzen Longacre asserts that nurturing “includes all actions that bring others to full life and growth in the kingdom of God.” Janzen Longacre’s vision of nurturing certainly has implications for me as an Anabaptist healthcare provider. Her words beckon me to provide the best care I can for others. They inspire me to do what I can, not only to nurture people’s health, but their entire well-being. Furthermore, at a time when many healthcare workers feel disillusioned and exhausted, there is inspiration in the idea that all of us need to be nurtured and supported, and that we cannot attend to the needs of others until we have received sustenance ourselves.
As I think about nurturing people in the context of my work in providing medical care to Indigenous people in the inner city and on a remote reserve, I think about when it is that people feel nurtured. I remember Russell (not his real name). Russel was a proud Indigenous man, and he was not feeling nurtured by anything that I was doing. We did not connect at all, and even after two visits I could not figure out why he had come in. At one point he suggested that I probably did not care about him or any of his problems. I was at a loss, and eventually our meeting ended in failure. I had certainly done nothing at all to help him. I assumed that he would never be back again, and I felt frustrated and defeated. A while later that same day, I realized that Russell was still in the clinic, sitting all by himself. I decided to offer him a cup of coffee. He looked at me strangely, smiled, and accepted the coffee. Then he asked if he could make an appointment for the following week, since he had so many concerns that he needed to talk about. At that moment, everything changed. On that day, the two of us forged a friendship that would last for many years, and I feel blessed at the opportunities we have had to learn from each other. All of this happened because of one cup of coffee. With this cup of coffee, I was able to offer some physical nourishment to him, and I believe that he felt nurtured in other ways as well.
The story of Russel and the cup of coffee shows what can happen when we pay attention and work towards nurturing others. Although not all situations have such a positive ending, Anabaptist healthcare providers generally are nurturing people. This may go back to the days of Menno Simons, who is 1539 stated that true faith “feeds the hungry, it comforts the sorrowful,” and it “binds up that which is wounded.” As healthcare workers, we see a lot of hungry, sorrowful, and wounded people, and we want to fulfill the call to provide care and nourishment for them.
Although our goal as healthcare providers and followers of Christ is to nurture others to health and well-being, there are times when the extent of the need seems overwhelming. There seems to always be another serious health problem or another mental health crisis. This is especially discouraging when we see how certain groups of people are suffering disproportionately in our society. One glaring example of this is the unequal effect that the pandemic has had on particular communities. Sometimes the crushing problems seem formidable, and it is all one can do to get up in the morning to face another day.
Considering that healthcare providers spend much of their time nurturing others, it is important that they are nurtured themselves. This can come in many forms, and depending on the person, may include activities such as meditation, listening to music, creating artwork, doing a physical activity, or discussing the concerns of the day with a trusted friend. Christians in healthcare can also go to the source of all nourishment. Christ bestows on us refreshments and the provisions of life, including daily bread and living water to sustain us during life’s most difficult trials. As seen in Jeremiah 17:7-8, those who trust in the Lord are blessed, and are like trees planted by the water.
In John 13:14, Jesus himself uses the symbol of water to teach his disciples about the need to receive support and nurture for themselves. In this passage, Jesus pours water on the feet of the disciples, and then washes them. By doing so, Jesus is showing his love for them, and is a source of encouragement to them. Jesus’ act of washing the disciples’ feet also prepares them for the work ahead. He says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” It is only after Jesus provides for his disciples and nourishes their souls that he invites them to follow his example to nurture other people as well. Furthermore, Jesus shows the disciples exactly how they are to nurture and support others. Since only servants usually washed people’s feet, Jesus puts himself in the role of a servant, and therefore exemplifies an attitude of humility. In addition, the act of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet meant that the disciples were no longer just people that needed to be provided for. Instead, Jesus’ act of love suggests that he and the disciples are now in a different kind of relationship. They are no longer just teacher and student, but they are now friends. Jesus is a role model for healthcare providers, and is an example that we should embrace. Like Jesus, we are to serve others with compassion and humility, and the relationship we have with the people we serve makes all the difference.
Besides using water to nurture his disciples, Jesus also used five loaves and two fish to nourish an entire crowd. As we see in John 6:9, he used a young boy, a child, to make it all happen. Jesus used that meager lunch to bless and feed thousands of people. This all happened because the child “showed up,” and was willing to give what he had. Jesus changed everything, and used this lunch to abundantly provide for everyone. He used the offerings of a child to show compassion and mercy to each person that was there that day.
Doris Janzen Longacre talks about aspiring to a life of nurturing as a life standard. This certainly applies to healthcare providers. Sometimes we need to be nurtured ourselves, and need to let Jesus wash our feet. At other times, our small attempts at nurturing may turn into something life-giving. Sometimes, like the boy with the loaves and fish, we just need to show up and make ourselves available. And sometimes, all it takes is a cup of coffee.
Thank you, Jennifer, for this beautiful reflection. Do you have a reflection on the way(s) any of the Five Life Standards impact your work and living? Submit to Cate! firstname.lastname@example.org. Please consider joining us for Annual Gathering for in-depth, connected discussion of the Life Standards and how we renew and rejuvenate ourselves as healthcare providers.
NEW PODCAST EPISODE with Allison RuarkSocial Epidemiology comes to life during the Pandemic
Mennos in Medicine: Social epidemiology comes to life during a pandemic; An interview with Allison Ruark
Allison Ruark discusses her first year of teaching epidemiology during a pandemic and life changes the pandemic has brought to her and her family, with a sudden move from South Africa to the states. She gives us an epidemiological perspective on the pandemic and the impact the vaccine is having on our daily lives.
Available on All major Podcast Platforms
NEW PODCAST EPISODE with Esther BucherOccupational Therapy Makes Life Accessible
Occupational therapy makes life accessible: An interview with Esther Bucher
Esther Bucher talks about her experience as an occupational therapist, how she came to her profession in her forties and her two service terms abroad with different Mennonite mission groups, including time in Vietnam as a MCC service worker where she worked with victims of Agent Orange.
Available on All major Podcast Platforms
Finding Holy SpaceReflections on Serving in a Pandemic from Four MHF Members
This pandemic time has been unlike anything we’ve known in healthcare and in our faith-lives. Four MHF members took time to reflect on how their Anabaptist faith has supported them as they served in the Covid-19 Pandemic. We deeply appreciate their willingness to share their stories with us. If you would like to share a story of how your faith informs and upholds your practice with MHF, please e-mail email@example.com
Faith and Resilience – Beth Miller Kraybill
Before reflecting on the impact of my faith on my resiliency, I thought I should probably revisit the definition of resilience. I must admit I was a bit taken aback. Nearly all definitions have an adverb that indicates timeliness: to recover quickly, or easily; to adjust readily. Hmm, I thought. Perhaps I’m actually not very resilient, because none of those descriptors seem to fit my journey. And then another definition came forward – capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture. Ahh. Yes. That was more like it.
In truth, my experience of resilience is much like my faith itself. My faith tends toward slow and steady. Sometimes it buoys me forward with great energy. Other times I am full of doubt and longing. Mostly it is a constant undergirding that allows me to engage in the work I love without permanent rupture. Resilience is a similar undercurrent, an often-unrecognized stream that moves me onward.
Toward the end of 2020, I felt anything but resilient. All of my self-care and spiritual practices could not overcome my accumulated feelings of exhaustion, grief and work-related secondary trauma. Feeling embarrassed (aren’t I supposed to be able to ward this off?) and guilty (who walks away just as the pandemic is resurging?), yet also with a deep sense of knowing, I requested a six week leave of absence. I was met with tremendous care and support from my supervisor, colleagues, and co-workers. Words of affirmation and encouragement abounded, often in statements such as ‘thank you for being a good role model for taking care of oneself.’ I was able to turn the compassion I received back toward myself, and lean into time and space as necessary means of restoration.
Those six weeks helped me reconnect with core tenets of my faith. I continued to meet God in a variety of ways – weekly spiritual direction, hikes and walks in the beautiful area in which I live, and (mostly virtual) interactions with family and friends. I fed my spirit with books, jigsaw puzzles, music, and lots of sleep. I was able to participate in new support structures within my faith community. All of these helped to shore up my resilience and allowed for a slow and steady return to knowing myself as capable, compassionate, and beloved.
My faith and my resilience are integrally intertwined. I am grateful to be reminded of that truth.
Beth Miller Kraybill is a staff chaplain at Swedish Medical Center, a large urban hospital system in Seattle, WA. She is the sole spiritual care provider in a small campus with a focus on behavioral health and addiction recovery.
Finding Holy Space – Rachel Eash-Scott
One of my favorite Christmas books as a child was “Papa Panov’s Special Day,” a retelling of the Leo Tolstoy folk tale. After being told by Jesus in a dream to be on the lookout for him, a humble shoemaker spends his day watching the street and wondering when Jesus will come. As he pays attention, he notices human suffering and works to help those in need. As evening falls, he is stricken by the thought that he has missed Jesus: perhaps Jesus walked by while he was feeding the homeless man, or as he was warming the woman and child by his fire? He falls into an exhausted sleep, in which all the people he helped that day call to him, “I was Jesus. I was Jesus. I was Jesus.”
This pandemic has been exhausting. I’m a family physician working in an urban community health center; our patients are frontline workers and our COVID positivity rate hovered around 35% for most of the summer and fall. I’ve labored with COVID positive patients, wearing full PPE and sweating underneath. I’ve watched my colleagues struggle even more, especially those working in more direct care with patients with COVID. Some days, especially now in the bleak days of February, it’s hard to know how to keep going.
In these hard moments, I find myself thinking of Papa Panov. While trying to keep his eyes open for Jesus, he found himself noticing the needs of the people in front of him; he stopped his watch to care for them, and in doing so found Jesus. It’s not always easy for me to stop and pay attention in the middle of a busy day: sometimes it seems that I just can’t find the emotional energy. But I find that when I’m able to pause for a minute to truly listen to a patient’s story, or to take the time to hear about what brings them joy, or to bear witness to their heartbreak, it brings us both into a holy space. Jesus is present in those small moments. He finds his way into the exam room and across a computer screen and into my tired heart. These spaces of connection are what give me a link between my patients and my faith, and a renewed sense of hope that allows me to continue the long, challenging work of being a doctor in a pandemic world.
Rachel Eash-Scott is a family physician with obstetrics and sees patients of all ages at Sixteenth Street, a community health center on the south side of Milwaukee, WI, where she is also the Director of Family and Internal Medicine. She is a member of Milwaukee Mennonite Church.
The Faith of Friends – David Yost
Like many newly minted COVID clinicians, 2020 landed me far from my anticipated plans. Retiring in 2018 after three decades with the Indian Health Service and Centers for Disease Control, I envisioned a life of short-term missions, world travel and enjoying the wonders of grandparenting. Yet by March, I had returned to full-time work as a COVID hospitalist and field physician with the IHS, learning those skills on the fly in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.
Native Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. By June, my reservation hospital in mountainous east-central Arizona had the unfortunate distinction of serving a community with the highest per capita COVID rate in the country. Despite ready access to PPE, testing, and treatments as compared to many non-Native groups, the Apache and Hopi communities where I served lost dozens of revered elders who were key to maintaining tribal culture, language and history. COVID landed on a backdrop of crowded multigenerational homes that frequently lacked power and water, stressing families already struggling with diabetes and substance abuse.
In a hospital accustomed to a census of <15 but improvising daily to house 30+ COVID inpatients, I worked hours not seen since residency. Losing patients to COVID who were friends, work colleagues, and members of my Presbyterian congregation was disheartening and fatiguing. Yet through these experiences, I was supported by work and community partners who seemed to take each additional setback as a challenge to unite and move forward with the assurance that God’s grace would sustain us.
Although we are a federal facility, I’m blessed to be part of a medical staff filled with believers from numerous backgrounds. As COVID work strained our resources, our collection of Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists and the chance Mennonite stepped up to support one another by cross-covering shifts, working extra days, and just checking in regularly on each other’s well-being. Recognizing the rejuvenating importance of rest, we facilitated breaks to get our teammates away from the hospital, even to the point of allowing my wife and I time to travel to Goshen in August to meet our first grandchild.
More impressive than our staff’s resiliency was the rallying response of our tribal communities. Schools were converted to testing and vaccine sites, casino hotels served as quarantine hostels, gymnasiums became water delivery depots, sawmill workers morphed into hospital security guards, and high schoolers learned to be elder advocates. Facing mandatory curfews and the closure of most tribal businesses, community members with vehicle access readily adopted food delivery roles for homes where 8-12 people often shared small 2-bedroom houses. Stress was evident, but so was strength and a dedication to helping others.
COVID continues to teach lessons we didn’t want to learn. For me, it taught the value of relying on the faith of friends to support my own faith. I pray my life will also reflect God so that others may draw upon my faith in the same way that I have grown from them.
David Yost is a family practice physician who spent the bulk of his career with the Indian Health Service on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. He also served with the Centers for Disease Control and has worked globally in locales including Puerto Rico, Tanzania, and New Zealand. When not enjoying their new granddaughter in Goshen, he and his wife continue to make their home in the mountains of rural Arizona.
Finding What I Need – Todd Weaver
The year before COVID 19, my wife Anne Kaufman Weaver and I had the chance to travel to Ireland with Sheryl Shenk and Ted Swartz on Eklectic Pilgrimage which focused on the inward journey of Spirituality. Practices of reading, meditation, prayer, thought, and symbol have become so meaningful to me and especially during the pandemic. I needed to find use for all these practices this past year. At first the spreading virus was traumatic and we responded with closing one of our two offices and discontinuing all elective procedures for three months. However, because of my specialization in invasive dentistry and emergent dental care I was immediately at the front of the line with COVID 19 risk. I actually found myself very busy and taking care of a lot of dental needs from local dental offices that were closed. I was fearful for myself taking a bath in saliva and blood all day, and anxious about not wanting to bring virus home to my family, and scared to possibly pass the virus on to vulnerable patients if I became an asymptomatic spreader. PPE was a trusted barrier to the coronavirus, but then again my inward spiritual practices also became a barrier against the fear and anxiety that I felt toward being a frontline worker. I ran a lot in those early days of the pandemic and I began to collect poems on my phone and spread it across my icloud account so that I could access them from all my devices. I have now collected over forty poems and readings that have helped to center me. Recently the release of the new Voices Together Hymnal has provided me with considerable solace with learning new songs and readings. Voices Together has become the new way of coping and has focused me with song and text and I’ll always be thankful for receiving one of the early copies last fall. Our small group from church has continued to meet outside and socially distant, and has been a tremendous support for me this past year. In small group and in my relationship with my caring wife have I been able to express myself and feel emotionally supported. I have found what I need during this time of pandemic.
Todd Weaver has an expanded practice in general dentistry in southeast Pennsylvania and has been invested in a dental mission to Nicaragua until recent pandemic restrictions. He is married to Anne Kaufman Weaver who has an MDiv and is a chaplain at Landis Homes Community. Together they have three young adult children.
Kenton T. Derstine
As a member of Mennonite Chaplains Association I was intrigued when I learned about the emergence and vision of MHF. Rather than a separate organization designed to serve the needs of each profession I discovered an association intended to serve the point of connection among all professions involved in healthcare dedicated to addressing the shared challenge of integrating our faith into our different professions and contexts. I have been warmly welcomed at each annual gathering and have found the conversations, plenaries and workshops relevant to chaplains—and pastors. The vision of MHF—to promote and support a conversation among all Anabaptist concerned about issues related to healthcare in our society leads me to encourage chaplain and pastors who share these concerns to participate in MHF and contribute to the shared effort to bring our faith to bear on our day to day practice as well as society as a whole. For this conversation we need all professions at the table.
Lyubov Slashcheva, DDS
Iowa City, Iowa
Engaging with the mission of MHF allows me to bridge my identity as a follower of Jesus and healthcare professional, allowing me to strengthen the faith-based motivations in my career as a dentist.
Indigo Miller, BSN, RN
RN & MPH Candidate
MHF does important work providing opportunities for health professionals and students to build relationships across disciplines while encouraging tough conversations centered on how faith influences our individual and collective work improving health and seeking physical, mental, and spiritual human wellness. I am personally thankful to MHF for offering valuable opportunities in leadership and networking as a young professional, and their generosity via the Steven Roth Memorial Grant Program in support of my public health volunteering in Tanzania.
Paul D. Leichty, MDiv
Executive Director of Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship
I am committed to assist healthcare professionals to integrate their Anabaptist Christian faith and their professional life. It is a privilege to serve hundreds of committed and caring healthcare professionals in their faith journey.
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