NEW PALESTINE — Her hands were sweaty and shaky, but still, she said it was time.

Ashley Malloy remembers the butterflies she felt when she decided she would move to Malawi.

Wes Gunn remembers, too. Board members of Chikondi Health Foundation had gathered for their meeting in Montgomery, Alabama, to talk about the mobile medical clinic work developing in the southeastern Africa. Malloy, a nurse practitioner, approached Gunn.

“I could see the immense fear in her eyes because of all the ‘what if’ questions,” said Gunn, president of the foundation’s board of directors. “But in that moment, I knew God had … been preparing her for many years.”

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It was a moment years in the making, one foreshadowed by other moments. There was the day in Ukraine in 2008 when the mission trip was ending, but she felt she could have stayed; she said that is when God first approached her heart for the mission field. There was also the time, on another mission trip to Tanzania, when she was lodging with church planters in a remote area and became interested in village medicine.

Those moments and others point to one coming at the end of April, when the New Palestine High School graduate will board a plane to begin 17 hours of flights to take her back to Lumbadzi, Malawi, the place she found hardest to leave. Of her first trip there in 2010, she wrote to mission supporters recently, “It was on this trip that I realized my heart would not be satisfied until I returned.”

She did return with short-term teams in 2012 and 2015. During the next three years, her challenge is to help expand access to medical care for those living in remote areas of one of the world’s poorest nations, where health care is free but more difficult for rural residents to access.

“People die needless deaths for lack of treatment,” Gunn said.

But by putting care ranging from malaria medicine to blood pressure checks within reach, and by working to build the skills of Malawians, Chikondi hopes to change that.

Chikondi (which means “love” in the native tongue of many who live in Malawi) was formed by people who wanted to support the work of Blessings Hospital. The foundation paid, for example, for a hospital administrator to receive more training.

Gunn said donors pay about three-fourths of the cost to operate the hospital and mobile clinic, a cost that reached $102,000 in 2016. The hospital and mobile clinic treated nearly 11,000 patients — most of them outpatients — last year, Gunn said; patients pay about 300 kwacha, or 45 cents, per visit.

A foundation donor paid for the vehicle to launch the mobile medical clinic. It carries care providers and supplies weekly to villages, where they set up clinics in churches often fashioned of mud-brick walls and dirt floors.

Malloy, a member of Chikondi’s board of directors, will partner with the Malawians already providing care at the hospital by offering routine care as the clinic visits three villages a week. The hope is to visit five villages by year’s end, and after that, for Malloy to help launch a second mobile clinic.

There was a time when such a goal was not on her mind, a time when her aim was to become an athletic trainer and return to New Palestine. She’s done that, graduating from Franklin College in 2005 and over the years staffing the sideline for a number of Dragon teams.

“When you’re working with Ashley, you have her full undivided attention,” said Adam Barton, dean of students at New Palestine High School. “She is 100 percent invested in everything that she does.”

Barton has known Malloy as a student in his biology class, a boys basketball manager during his coaching days and a trusted family babysitter. Years later, she remains close to the family; he and his wife were among the first she told of the plan to serve in Malawi.

After graduating from high school and college, Malloy went on to graduate school at Troy University in Alabama, remaining down south after those studies to be an athletic trainer for the Faulkner University football team.

“It’s funny how random everything seemed at the time,” she said, “but how God was fitting the pieces together, too.”

During those years, a new thought formed: She really enjoyed what she did, but she didn’t know how useful it would be globally. It was a thought that would eventually push her to nursing school and later to become a family nurse practitioner.

During those years in Alabama, she also met Gunn, missions pastor of the church she was attending. She was part of trips he organized to Ukraine and Tanzania.

Later, he began organizing visiting surgical teams to visit Blessings Hospital in Malawi, which Gunn said has about 15 surgeons for the country’s 17 million people. Even after Malloy returned to New Palestine, she traveled with the first team in 2012, returning in 2015.

Having personally witnessed her work in that setting, having seen the way she engages patients at the hospital and children at the nearby orphanage, Gunn feels confident Malloy is a good fit for the work she’ll be doing.

“The Malawians respond in an incredible way to her,” he said. “She just has a deep love, and people sense that in her.”

Barton, knowing Malloy’s friends in the community have also noticed that, anticipates many will be following her journey.

“She’s made so many connections around here,” Barton said, “that there’s going to be a lot of people here praying for her.”

Getting involved

The non-profit organization MedSend will make Ashley Malloy’s student loan payments while she’s in Malawi. Part of her living expenses will be paid by a $15,000 grant from the Sara Walker Foundation in Nashville. Fundraising continues for the other half. Those interested in contributing can donate at www.chikondihealth.org.

Chikondi Health Foundation welcomes medical professionals to join its visiting surgical teams and also has posted a wish list of medical supplies. The next trip is June 2-11. Learn more at www.chikondihealth.org/serve/travel.

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Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at annesmith@greenfieldreporter.com