Healing bodies, souls in Ukraine
North Carolina Baptist Men
August 01, 2011

Healing bodies, souls in Ukraine

Healing bodies, souls in Ukraine
North Carolina Baptist Men
August 01, 2011

Since 2008, North Carolina Baptist Men has partnered with

Roma (gypsies) in Munkacs, Ukraine.

Initially slated to transform an old KGB listening post into a house of

worship, the need for volunteers was redirected when the young pastor said

“would you please just come love on the children?” Teams eagerly switched gears

and focused on the children.

Members of First

Baptist Church

in Roxboro spent a week last summer working with up to 300 children each day.

Along with teaching Bible stories, crafts and music, they conducted several

medical clinics.

That experience gave Jill Burleson, nurse practitioner at Duke

University Medical

Center, the desire to conduct a

week-long medical mission trip. Her dream became a reality in the spring of

2011. The following is her account of that experience.

“Our van passed a whitewashed brick wall, switching the

scenery from a quaint village in Munkacs, Ukraine,

to a trash heap. Mud roads jostled our insides while we tried to comprehend the

stark reality behind that wall. Filth, trash, mud, disease, houses crafted

crudely out of sticks or mud, roofs patched with cardboard and trash to hold it

in place met our eyes first. Children with naked brown bodies and swollen

bellies from malnutrition ran alongside the van to cheer and wave. Their dirty

faces strained to make out these strangers coming to visit. The need was

overwhelming. And the tears began.

BSC photo by K Brown

After walking through the gypsy camp in Munkacs, Ukraine, several children followed Jill Burleson and other North Carolina medical volunteers to be assessed and treated. See video and photo gallery.

“However, those tears were soon dried by mamas and children

clamoring to hug, kiss, and engulf us into their fold as if we were family. We

entered a building, from which a melody came floating lightly, joyously, on the

putrid air, turning the stench of the trash into a holy aroma rising to the

heavens. And there we worshiped.

“I recalled these scenes from eight months before, the

beginnings of a dream to bring a full medical team to the gypsy camps of

Munkacs. Now after planning and packing, it was reality. For a week, our team

provided medical care to almost 450 people from the gypsy communities. Some

were extremely sick, like our Lily who was severely burned and whom we labored

over intensely each day. We were relieved to watch her bloom as the week


“Others suffered only from malnutrition and received

vitamins. The rest fell somewhere in between. All were given undivided

attention. It was our privilege to hold their hands, listen to their lungs,

hear their hearts (whether through story or stethoscope), and try to convey

God’s love to them in words and actions.

“My soul sighed at the end of our week in Munkacs. I

realized that in my daily life, I tend to forget how to sing heaven’s song that

the gypsies know so well. How the love flows naturally and praises drown out

the world, melting the rubbish of life into a campfire’s ashes.

How gently the spirit can hold a child that

isn’t its own, or how the flinch of a person touched kindly for the first time

feels under your fingers. How it is to bandage hearts and hold hands, and how

love needs no language to be perfectly understood.

“I learned in this week how it feels to have a homecoming in

the middle of a garbage dump. How it is to have the strength of Samson when

holding a child who just needs to be close. How it is to feel that child

wrapped around you so tightly it’s as if she is trying to seep into your very

heart. And how it is to feel your heart

break as you realize she has.

“The medical and societal needs of the gypsies in Munkacs

are many. But in their beautiful pain, they are reaching for God, rising from

the rubbish, and bestowing a renewed blessing to those of us fortunate enough

to serve them. It is only by God’s grace that we have anything to offer them in


Visit baptistsonmission.org/ to find out how you can

volunteer to help in Ukraine.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Jill Burleson [RN, ANP-BC, MSN]

is a nurse practitioner at Duke University

Medical Center

in Durham. She works in the

division of cellular therapy.)