When Leah Harrison first realized that Wycliffe Bible Translators had positions for nurses, everything clicked into place. “It was like God told me, ‘That’s exactly what I want you to do,’” she said.
“I can’t think of anything more important than for people to actually know who the Lord is,” Leah said. “Their lives can’t be transformed unless they have an understanding of Christ and the gospel … in their own language. I thought it was really cool that I could use nursing and the skills I actually had to be able to support that.”
Now Leah and her husband, Garrett, serve in Papua New Guinea (PNG) where Leah is a registered nurse and Garrett is a translation adviser to the Nema people, one of PNG’s 840 language groups.
Leah works at a clinic in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. The clinic cares for both cross-cultural workers and the local community. Without it, people would have to travel long distances to a major city (or even fly back to their home country) to receive appropriate medical care. Such travel can be prohibitively expensive for many, and the time and energy it requires often negatively affects Bible translation.
Leah does everything from preventative care like immunizations and routine check-ups to emergency response for illnesses and injuries. “Some people would die if we didn’t have the clinic available,” Leah said.
One day a critically ill missionary from another organization arrived at the clinic. They weren’t able to medevac him to Australia, so Leah and the other doctors and nurses stayed up with him night after night trying to keep his fever down, unsure if he’d make it.
“We’re a clinic, not a hospital, but by the grace of God, we had enough [antibiotics]!” Leah shared. “Now he’s totally fine and … back working with a local people group [as a Bible translator].”
One of Leah’s favorite things about her job is her coworkers. “Working in the clinic is awesome! I know I’m biased, but I think we have the best team,” Leah laughed. “Everyone is so kind and compassionate to each other, and we try to help each other keep a good sense of humor.”
The team encourages each other through daily devotions, funny videos and praying for each other throughout the day. “It’s a wonderful environment to work in,” Leah said. “It’s something you don’t always get working for a hospital in the U.S. [In the U.S.] there is rarely the time to say, ‘Hey can I pray for you?’”
Over the years, Leah has seen how crucial it is to work and serve in community: “God has taught me a lot about community and being a part of a body and just how important that is,” she said. “There’s no way I can meet [everyone’s] needs. It takes lots of people working together. … It’s just really cool to see God's love working through his body, and other people in the community can see it too.”
Leah noted that her role has also taught her a lot of humility: “You have to ask for help. You can’t be self-sufficient. You can’t rely on your own understanding or wisdom or even training or education because you’re working in situations you never have before.”
Serving in a country like Papua New Guinea has its share of joys and challenges. When nursing in the U.S., Leah had many more patients than she does in PNG, and she wasn’t free to pray with them like she can now. Leah said her patients often tell her that prayer was a real blessing and encouragement. Leah also enjoys the challenges of problem-solving interesting medical challenges, seeing things she’s only ever heard of and being able to help people who are deeply grateful to work with the doctors and nurses.
Due to living in remote locations or having limited resources, many patients may not come to the clinic until their injury or disease has become extremely serious or life-threatening. “Sometimes by the time you get your patients, it is too late. And that’s hard to deal with, especially [when it involves] kids,” Leah shared.
When tragedy strikes, Leah turns to the Lord and the support of her coworkers to process. “The Lord is always there and he gives you the grace to handle [the pain],” she said. “Sometimes when you are super discouraged, he’ll put the right word on your heart or a coworker will say the right thing.”
Leah also feels the stress when she has to make decisions with limited resources or is short staffed. Currently the clinic is facing a critical staff shortage, with only a handful of doctors and nurses serving over 10,000 people. It’s crucial Leah protects her margin and sets boundaries in order to stay mentally and emotionally healthy.
Despite all the challenges, Leah can’t imagine a more rewarding job: “I think it’s really cool to see people who recover physically, and I know that maybe they would have taken a turn for the worse or maybe [would have] died if the clinic had not been there in that role.”
“It can feel [pointless] sometimes,” Leah reflected, “just giving a bunch of shots all day. You might wonder, ‘How is this helping the Kingdom of God?’ But [Scripture says] if you give a cup of cold water in his name, it’s like doing it to Christ. … I don’t know of anything more worthwhile than helping people get God’s Word and investing in people's lives and their souls through medical care.”