Wentz uses nursing skills to serve marginalized

In Ethiopia, home hospice programs provide care for the dying. CBF photo

By Laurie Entrekin, CBF Communications
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
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ATLANTA – Tori Wentz remembers all too well how shy she was as a child. Yet, early on, she loved the church and was fascinated by stories of missionaries traveling far from home to do God’s work. It took a while, she said, to overcome her insecurities and realize that God doesn’t call “special” people to be ambassadors; rather, God calls “ordinary” people.

Wentz has been fulfilling her calling as a medical missionary for as long as she’s been a registered nurse – 22 years. While some of that time has been spent on short-term international trips to Kenya, Thailand, Burma and Ethiopia, Wentz counts her work stateside as missions-based, too.

“My call to missions isn’t an experience I’ve had,” said Wentz, of Fredericksburg, Va. “It’s an understanding of God’s love for the world that results in a commitment to serve. In whatever setting God places me, I pray and ask that God would open the eyes of my heart and allow me to see past the surface in order to discern the real needs of the individual in front of me. People in this world are hurting and the causes of their pain are often related to more than the effects of their physical illnesses.”

Appointed as one of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s field personnel in 2007, Wentz has already been on a two-month trip to Ethiopia. She plans trips to both Zambia and Kenya later this year. With a background in hospice, her main work focuses on bringing palliative care philosophies to people in countries where early diagnosis and treatment of diseases like HIV/AIDS and cancer are limited by poverty and a lack of medical resources. 

While in Ethiopia this past spring, Wentz interacted with health care professionals in many different settings. At a hospital run by a South Korean Presbyterian church, she met with and educated doctors, social workers, chaplains and nurses about hospice care.

“It’s so new,” Wentz said of the philosophy, “that many misunderstand what it is all about. Pain control is not a main focus of their care. They associate hospice with death, and therefore are hesitant to use many of the strong pain medications commonly used in the States.”

Wentz shared with the staff at the hospital a book that explains how hospice philosophies have been implemented in other African countries. The book, which offers correct information about pain medications, also details the benefits of helping terminal patients make necessary decisions and face death with dignity.

“Talking was helpful,” said Wentz. “The discussion broke down barriers and led to the formation of a multi-disciplinary committee.”

She expects that relationships formed on that committee will make progress easier during her next visit to the hospital. She knows change will take time. After meeting and talking with a nurse who runs a small home care hospice in the capital city, Wentz learned that a group of health care professionals have been trying to influence government policies on palliative care and pain control since 2003. In four years, the hospice has treated about 250 AIDS patients. With approximately 368 people dying from AIDS in Ethiopia per day, according to the Ethiopian AIDS Resource Center, there is much work yet to be done.

Nevertheless, Wentz believes that God is creating opportunities for her to make a difference in the lives of hurting individuals even now. She shared the story of her encounter with the father of a 13-year-old boy with a brain tumor, who traveled 700 kilometers to the mission hospital where she worked in Ethiopia.

Visiting them daily during their hospital stay and letting them know she was praying for them, Wentz communicated by gestures and bits of Amharic, the family’s native language. Because the boy did not do well after surgery, his father was distraught. Wentz sat with him while he cried and listened while he talked. She encouraged the hospital’s medical and nursing personnel to implement interventions for relieving the boy’s symptoms.

When at last the time came that the father was able to secure aid to take his son home to die – against medical advice – Wentz wanted to show that she cared by doing something to make the trip more bearable.

“I approached the nurses and asked if they thought it would be appropriate for me to ask the father if he would like to take a shower and have me wash his clothes for him before he left. Grabbing some soap and hospital scrubs for him to change into, they went back to his son’s room and asked him in Amharic if he would like for that to happen,” Wentz said. “He readily agreed. He had been wearing the same outfit for more than two weeks.”

When saying goodbye, Wentz gave the father a hug and promised she would continue to pray for them. While she doesn’t know if they made it home before the boy died, Wentz said that’s not important, “What matters is that they knew that God did not leave them to suffer alone.”

“When Jesus healed, He did not do so from a distance,” Wentz said. “He reached out and touched [people], even those considered outcasts. That is the focus of my ministry … being the presence of Christ to those who fear that God might not want to have anything to do with them.”

To learn about partnership opportunities with Wentz’s ministry, contact Chris Boltin at (800) 352-8471 or cboltin@thefellowship.info. To become involved in CBF’s community of practice related to medical ministries, go to www.thefellowship.info/medical.

CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.

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