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The team recently representing World Medical Missions and Samaritan’s Purse in outlying
Bolivian villages enjoys the sights of Lapaz, a city of 1.6 million people, as they prepare to
return to the United States. From left are Kathy LeFevers, Jan Thompson, Dan Thompson,
Charles Miller and Connie Trivette.
Photo Submitted

Originally published: 2014-03-17 12:16:00
Last modified: 2014-03-17 12:18:52

Medical missions in the Bolivian Amazon

by Sherrie Norris

Connie Trivette of Boone, a registered nurse employed in health services at Appalachian State University, has returned from a two-week mission trip to Bolivia.

Trivette was one of five medical professionals recently ministering in several Bolivian villages as part of an ongoing project of Samaritan's Purse's World Medical Mission. 

They served aboard the Ruth Bell River Boat, a mobile medical clinic named in memory of the late Ruth Bell Graham, mother of Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham. 

Bringing medical care to the Bolivian Amazon

According to Samaritan's Purse, there are more than 20 native people groups call the Bolivian Amazon home, and each has its own distinct language and culture. 

Life is not easy for most who live in communities along the riverbanks, where challenges include growing food, earning income, receiving education and finding ways of improving lifestyles. Access to even basic health care is virtually nonexistent, due to their isolated and harsh environment, Mary Everett, Samaritan's Purse spokeswoman, said.

Many of the communities are disconnected from the rest of the world, Everett said, with no access to land and air transport, communication or basic humanitarian services. Consequently, many are suffering a variety of illnesses and are unaware of basic health and sanitation practices. 

Many, too, have yet to embrace salvation through faith in Christ, she said.Responding to these needs is the Ruth Bell River Boat.

Rising with the water

Since October 2013, heavy and persistent rains have caused the major rivers in Bolivia to overflow, with catastrophic flooding destroying livestock, crops and homes and claiming dozens of lives.

Samaritan's Purse responded by mobilizing staff and resources to flood-affected areas where the organization has helped several hundred vulnerable families so far.

On Jan. 27, the Bolivian government declared a state of emergency in the area, following reports that 80 municipalities had been affected.

Beni, where Samaritan's Purse has a regional office, is one of the worst affected areas. Nearly 4,000 families are currentlydisplaced, some having been sent to shelters or relocated to tents along the roads of the city of Trinidad.

First time out

For Trivette, it was her first time out of the United States, which, she said, "required a leap of faith."A member of Beaver Dam Baptist Church, Trivette said a foreign mission trip had been on her mind for a long time, but family circumstances and responsibilities prevented it.

Recent changes in her life circumstances nudged her closer, but still, she thought she'd wait until she retired or saved enough money, she said.  

"One day, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, 'Why wait?'" 

Having previously observed mission opportunities on the Samaritan's Purse website, Trivette completed her application process online. 

"At the bottom of the page, I read that no nursing positions were available," she said. "But, as I clicked the submit button, I told God that it was in his hands."
 In a couple of days, Trivette said, Everett informed her of an upcoming opportunity.

"I was changing jobs at the time," Trivette said, "but I committed to make that trip. My new supervisor was very supportive my of desire to go."

Financial concerns were alleviated, she said, when friends, family and her church offered support. "A real blessing to me," she said. 

On Feb. 15, Trivette joined mission team members at the Charlotte airport for their trip to Bolivia; they returned March 1, but not before making memories for a lifetime.

 "It confirmed to me that God loves everybody, that this world is big, and that everybody has a need for the Lord in their lives," Trivette said. "It was a blessing to be a small piece of sharing God's love, and to be a part of what Samaritan's Purse does every day, all over the world."

Arriving in Lapaz Bolivia (12,000-plus feet in elevation), her body "required some adjustment," she said. 

They rode a small plane to Trinidad, the closest city to their destination. 

 "We took a smaller boat to the Ruth Bell Riverboat, which became our combined home and clinic for the next two weeks," she said. "It wasn't large, but accommodated us well. We converted rooms, as needed, for treating patients."  

The team was introduced to Tom Covington, Samaritan's Purse's site manager who oversees the riverboat mission. 

"He and his wife are wonderful people who do amazing work," Trivette said.

The team had been alerted earlier about the flooding, and quickly worked to assemble and distribute hygiene supplies.

It wasn't the typical experience for most medical teams, Trivette said, adding, "But, it was what God planned. We worked our clinics around the needs of the people. They were very happy to receive the kits, and even happier that we didn't forget them in their time of need."

It was sad to see so much underwater, she said.

Morning devotions, "a Samaritan's Purse standard," Trivette said, proved a perfect way to start each day. 

Breakfast was followed by clinics, which lasted into the evenings, with a midday break for lunch.

"The people we treated were so kind and appreciative," she said. 

Medical concerns were many -- from parasites, upper respiratory and ear infections, to anemia and polio. 

"Everyone recognizes the medical cross on the boat and know they can come there for help," she said.
 She said will never forget a 12-year-old boy, who came with his brother and parents. "He had been coughing for weeks and was not getting better," Trivette said. "He had coughed so hard that he had burst blood vessels in both eyes and had developed bronchitis, and possibly pneumonia."

The doctor ordered an antibiotic injection that Trivette administered. "He was scared and started crying, which started him coughing again, with blood in his sputum," she said. "It just broke my heart. His mother helped calm him, and we sent him off with oral medications. We were able to pray with his family, asking God to intervene and restore his health -- and to let them know that we were doing our work in God's name. He was a very sick young man. We were very concerned, but we just had to trust God to take care of him." 

Other situations were also difficult, Trivette said, "and some we couldn't do anything to fix."  Trivette voiced deep concerns for Bolivia's spirituality.

"Even many who profess Christianity hold to their old beliefs," she said. "I'm glad for the presence of Samaritan's Purse there, which helps them know truth."

Trivette enjoyed getting to know and work with her colleagues, which included Dan and Jan Thompson, dentist and dental assistant from Blacksburg, Va., Kathryn Lefevers, dentist from Pineville, Ky., and Charles "Chuck" Miller, pediatrician from Hockessin, Del. 

"Tom Ovington and his wife, Patty, Samaritan's Purse representatives stationed in Bolivia, were also very helpful," she said.

 "I really enjoyed meeting our wonderful cook, too," Trivette said, "a Boilvian Christian woman with a great testimony. She had endured a difficult past, but now she and her son both work for Samaritan's Purse."

The food was delicious, Trivette said, and included traditional fare and some exotic dishes, such as Armadillo. 

"I didn't try it, but I did try alligator," she said, calling it  interesting. 

Showering in muddy water pumped from the river wasn't like being at home, Trivette said, "but I didn't think about it. I just wanted cool water after long hours in high temperatures and humidity." 

The mobile clinic was tied up along the river at night, Trivette said, adding, "I couldn't help but wonder what creatures were lurking out there in the dark. The snakes I saw were in the water and very small. God took care of that for me, too."  

Trivette shared common ground with her roommate, Lefeevers. "She is from the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky and we're a lot alike," she said. "We speak the same language, but neither of us speak Spanish."

The hardest part of her journey, Trivette said, was wishing she could do more and stay longer. 

"Two weeks is not enough," she said. 

She said she missed her family and friends, but felt their prayers. 

 "I had a real sense of peace the whole time," she said. "I never once questioned why I was there, but I wanted to make sure God used me for his glory while I was there."

She hopes to do something similar again, she said. 

"But if I don't, I'm happy for this experience," she said.

For more information, visit or call  (828) 262-1980.