May 29, 2015

‘I feel like this is God’s calling for me’: Earthquakes strengthen doctor’s resolve to continue mission work in Nepal

Dr. Christine Groves, who grew up in Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, poses with a patient, left, that she helped, and his son. Groves is in the midst of committing at least three years of her life to use her medical skills in physical rehabilitation to care for people in the impoverished Asian country of Nepal. (Submitted photo)

Dr. Christine Groves, who grew up in Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, poses with a patient, left, that she helped, and his son. Groves is in the midst of committing at least three years of her life to use her medical skills in physical rehabilitation to care for people in the impoverished Asian country of Nepal. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

All the deaths and all the devastation that happened within seconds could have rocked the foundation of faith and resolve that Dr. Christine Groves had built in her 34 years of life.

In fact, the April 25th earthquake in Nepal that killed more than 8,400 people and injured nearly 18,000 knocked Groves to the ground as she worshipped in a small church in Kathmandu.

“Everybody was afraid. The church was shaking so violently,” recalls Groves, who grew up in Christ the King Parish and graduated in 1998 from Bishop Chatard High School, both in Indianapolis.

“The recommendation in Nepal is to get out of buildings, but you’d take one step, and you’d fall to the ground. So we all stayed on the ground until it was calm enough to get out. During that time when we couldn’t get out, everyone was praying out loud. When everyone did get out, we waited in a field near the church. We were talking about where to go and what to do—how to connect with family and friends. It was scary, but we were incredibly grateful to be together.”

Groves has formed a close connection with people in Nepal during her first year of serving in that impoverished Asian country as part of a medical team for an international humanitarian organization.

And her faith in God and her resolve to make a difference hasn’t been shaken by the horror and tragedy from the April 25th earthquake—or the major earthquake on May 12 that killed at least 140 people and added to the hundreds of thousands of people who suddenly have become homeless in Nepal.

“Certainly, it’s really sad, and everyone is concerned, but it’s still what I want to do, “she says. “I knew I wanted to go to some place that had a huge need for doctors, as well as a place where I could use my Christian ministry to help people learn more about Jesus.

“In Nepal, Christians are a minority, less than 3 percent of the population. I also wanted to use my specialty—physical medicine and rehabilitation. In Nepal, there was a team I could work with that would let me focus on rehab. I want to be faithful to this opportunity. I’m committed long-term, which means three or more years. I feel like this is God’s calling for me.”

Helping during the first earthquake

In the days following the April 25th earthquake, Groves did what she could to help.

“We slowly made our way to our team leader’s house,” she says. “We called family, gathered water and food, and coordinated how we could help with relief efforts. Those first few days, we were able to help at a nearby hospital and several tent cities [where people who were homeless came].

“We just saw what medical needs people had. We were treating anything from small cuts and bruises. I saw a mom who had just given birth, and was able to check on her.”

Her contributions changed when the major international relief organizations arrived.

“There was a smaller role for us at that point,” she says. “We did a lot in terms of getting clean water to those tent cities. And we helped serve food at one of the nearby hospitals. I probably cut more vegetables during that time than medical work. Whatever was needed, we were there to help.”

After several days in that smaller role, Groves decided to keep her planned return trip to the United States and Indianapolis that had been previously scheduled at the end of her first-year commitment in Nepal.

Since returning in early May, she has visited with family, staying with her parents Bob and Beth Groves in Indianapolis. She has also traveled to North Carolina to meet with a colleague who wants to partner with her to provide rehab services in Nepal, a country with limited resources. The need in Nepal—and her planned return there on June 3—has never been far from her thoughts.

Also ever-present is the way her faith guides her approach to medicine.

‘The coolest job in the world’

“The more I’ve grown in my faith and the longer I’ve done medicine, I believe that if we heal people physically without addressing their spiritual needs, we really miss out on a lot of what people need,” she says. “Physical health gives us function. Faith gives us hope and purpose.”

Groves credits the foundation of her faith to “growing up in my incredible family” and to the influence of the north side Indianapolis Catholic community that began with her education at Christ the King School and continued at Bishop Chatard High School.

The connection of faith and medicine in her life strengthened during short-term overseas trips to Honduras, Uganda, Niger West Africa and the Republic of Congo.

“I spent a month there during my residency,” she says about the Congo. “That’s when I really felt God was confirming a long-term commitment for me overseas. I learned that it takes a lifetime to understand a language and a culture to make a difference.”

That’s why she has spent much of her first year in Nepal trying to master the language so her communication skills can match her commitment level.

Plus, there have been a fair share of adventures.

“In March, I visited a remote clinic that my team has been building in the Himalayas. You can either take a helicopter there or hike four days in the mountains. I helicoptered in and hiked out. I was there with a physical therapist, and we visited disabled patients in their homes. It was amazing to see how we could help them. That was a real gift.”

Having what she calls “the coolest job in the world” has also tested her ability to make the most of the great faith she has and the little resources she has.

“One gentleman I saw had an old spinal cord injury. He came to the clinic several months after it happened. He could use his arms, but not his hands. So he needed people to feed him. We used duct tape, PCP pipe, a metal spoon and an old bike tire to make an adaptive spoon for him.

“It made him independent. Even more than being able to feed himself, I could just see this shift in his mindset—switching from feeling limited to thinking more creatively, thinking about what he could do to make his life better.”

‘Always remember to keep hope alive’

The devastating injuries that people have suffered in the earthquakes present a far larger challenge—one that Groves is willing to accept.

“The World Health Organization recently developed a rehabilitation sub-committee because there are so many earthquake-related injuries,” she says. “There’s a much greater need for rehab in Nepal, especially for spinal cord injuries. When I head back, I’ll be working in a spinal cord hospital.”

She is also certain of her connection with the Christians in Nepal.

“It’s a really unified community. Unlike here, where I feel religion can often be separated from the rest of life, in Nepal it’s part of their identity in every way. For Christians in Nepal, they face a lot of isolation from the rest of the community. So Christians are very unified. They treat one another as family. It’s a beautiful picture of the body of Christ.”

Groves’ parents understand her desire to combine her faith with her medical ability to help in Nepal—even as their concern for her is always in their minds.

“I worry for her safety always, but she’s in God’s hands,” says her mother, Beth Groves. “I think this is what she is meant to be doing. I don’t think there’s any place in the world that needs her expertise right now as much as Kathmandu. She’ll be dealing with long-term rehab and pain. And that’s where faith can get you through a lot of trouble. Whenever we have friends in a desperate situation, Christine says, ‘Always remember to keep hope alive.’ ”

That hope lives in Christine.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” she says, quoting Luke 12:48. “I feel that finishing medical school and my residency was a gift. To do that, I had a lot of help. To have a degree and a specialty that can serve many people, I figure I should be a good steward of that.”

After her first year in Nepal, she already has experienced the benefits of that commitment.

“The last year hasn’t been easy, but it’s been wonderful. In Nepal, I’ve been able to walk with people through hard times. And I’ve been able to mentor young Nepali doctors who are Christian, which is a great gift.

“Being in a place that puts me out of my comfort zone has deepened my faith in God. I really believe God is totally in control of the details of our lives, and personally involved in those details. He’s put me where I’m supposed to be.”†

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