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
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
That experience gave Jill Burleson, nurse practitioner at Duke
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.
“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
in Durham. She works in the
division of cellular therapy.)