GANDA — A nurse led Kaitlin Smith into a room and pointed to a light bulb.
This is the only light we have in our clinic, Smith remembers her saying — the same fixture lighting the room for a baby’s birth at one moment also illuminating the conversation in another, when a patient is admitted during the night.
Electricity throughout the building would make the job easier for Ugandan doctors and nurses treating patients. At another clinic, an incinerator for “sharps” such as needles would offer safe disposal after use. At another, a microscope would aid lab work.
Smith first visited Uganda in 2013 on a medical mission trip as part of her nursing training at Anderson University. Feeling that God wanted her to return to Uganda, and noticing the clinic coordinator position open, she applied for the job.
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At first they said no. While interviewers admired her passion, they said they needed someone with more nursing experience.
Four years after the initial trip, though, she’s preparing to travel to Uganda for a fourth time — this time, to stay for at least two years as clinic coordinator.
In the years in between, Smith became a nurse at TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Working in the nursing “float pool” there — rotating among roles including the emergency room, critical care, surgical procedures and wound care — she developed a broad base of experience. She did so among a diverse patient population, estimating that 40 percent of those treated are immigrants.
She also visited Uganda again in 2015.
“I just really felt like God was calling me to go back” to stay, she said. She remembers praying, “If you really want me to go to Uganda, … you’ll confirm that call and show me what the next steps are.”
On that visit, she crossed paths with two Church of God missions leaders; the three planned another visit the next year to tour the five clinics and talk about needs at each one.
One of the fellow travelers was Stephen Lewis, associate director of global strategy for Church of God Ministries.
“She dove right in and kept asking questions, trying to understand,” Lewis said. “She brings the ability to ask the good questions and think about how things fit together.” He said a breadth of hospital experience in a cross-cultural setting is another asset she brings to her upcoming role.
Smith will travel among five clinics, partnering with 30-year Church of God missionaries Tim and Colleen Stevenson, who during their tenure have started the clinics and more than 500 churches, 200 schools and a child sponsorship program for more than 700 children. The ministry model in Uganda, Lewis said, has been “to create networks of community development.”
Smith’s job in that network will be to help bring the five clinics up to government standards. Clinics across Uganda have a number classification from 1 to 5, according to what procedures are available there. (There are also four national hospitals in the capital city.)
Two of the five clinics started by the Stevensons are Level 2 clinics. Three are Level 3 clinics, the level at which surgeries such as C-section deliveries or appendectomies are performed.
Smith’s task is to facilitate the arrival of electricity, running water and other improvements to support the care being given by indigenous medical staffs. She’ll work with Ugandan officials, non-governmental organizations and other groups to gather resources and build awareness — working to obtain, for example, plastic mattress covers to ease cleanup after HIV-positive women give birth, or a second uniform so patients still know they’re talking to a nurse even if her uniform is in the wash.
Smith must raise support before traveling to Uganda, hoping to wrap that up by the end of October. The budget includes money for a vehicle to carry her from Kampala to the outlying clinics. Her wish would be for that vehicle to be an ambulance, which she could then use as a mobile clinic. With taxes considered, which in Uganda can be more than the cost of the vehicle, she estimates an ambulance would be in the $30,000 range.
Even before she first traveled to Uganda, Smith was involved in missions as a teenager, traveling on several “Holy Sweat” summer trips as part of the youth group at Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield. Charlie Ketchen, an intern in those days and now leader of the church’s student ministry, remembers Smith as a good team member.
“Her positivity stood out to me, especially on the mission trips,” Ketchen texted from Knoxville, Tennessee, site of this year’s student work trip. “It can be difficult to keep a positive attitude when you are tired, hot and sweaty. Kaitlin was great to have because she was an encouragement to others.”
Looking back from those years, to her journey toward Uganda, it’s amazing to Smith to see how pieces of the story have come together — how she felt a call to a place and then was prepared for it.
“It’s funny how God was, ‘I’m calling you, but just wait,” she said.
Find out more about Kaitlin Smith’s upcoming work in Uganda at http://chogglobal.org/team/ksmith. Or see the YouTube video “Introducing Kaitlin Smith, Global Strategy Missionary to Uganda.”