When Dr. Nick Maxwell obtained his Emergency Medical Technician certification soon after he turned 18, he didn’t imagine his training would lead him to rural southern Nigeria.
As an undergraduate pre-med student at Creighton University, Maxwell got to know Father Andrew Ekpenyong, a professor and founder of the Joseph Ukpo Hospitals and Research Institute (JUHRI). When Father Ekpenyong discovered that Maxwell was an EMT, he convinced Maxwell to become part of the JUHRI mission and teach an emergency medicine course for JUHRI’s medical staff in Nigeria that summer.
“It’s a Catholic mission, creating a network of Catholic research hospitals that provide free care to the poor and underserved while conducting cutting-edge research,” Maxwell said. “That mission is just profound, so I’ve stayed (involved) ever since.”
The Archdiocese of St. Louis will join with Catholics worldwide on World Mission Sunday, Oct. 23, to support priests, religious and laypeople proclaiming the Gospel, building the Church and serving the poor in mission dioceses around the world, Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski said in a letter for World Mission Sunday.
“Your prayers remain your greatest gift, and your financial support is life-giving to our brothers and sisters in the more than 1,100 mission dioceses of the Church,” Archbishop Rozanski said.
This year’s World Mission Sunday theme is “You shall be my witnesses,” from Acts 1:8. In Pope Francis’ message for World Mission Sunday, the pope emphasized that the mission of the Church is carried out when Christians bear witness to the Gospel wherever they go.
“This is the central point, the heart of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples, in view of their being sent forth into the world. The disciples are to be witnesses of Jesus, thanks to the grace of the Holy Spirit that they will receive, wherever they go and in whatever place they find themselves,” the pope said. “Christ was the first to be sent, as a ‘missionary’ of the Father, and as such, He is the Father’s ‘faithful witness.’ In a similar way, every Christian is called to be a missionary and witness to Christ.”
Maxwell now participates in the archdiocesan Mission Office’s Missionary Plan of Cooperation on behalf of JUHRI. Founded in 2010, JUHRI is overseen by the bishops of the Archdiocese of Calabar and surrounding dioceses and staffed mainly by volunteer medical professionals, who offer free care at two hospital sites (with a third under construction) and mobile clinics. JUHRI is located in a rural area outside of Calabar and has grown over the years to offer more than typical health care, Maxwell said.
“Our focus is on caring for the whole human person. It gets at the idea of accompaniment — you’re on that journey with them,” Maxwell said. “We have a skills acquisition center where we train local women in employable skill sets like sewing or catering so we can help them break the cycle of poverty for their family. We have priests being trained in clinical pastoral education — the day is usually started with prayer at the hospital. We have child nutrition help. We support families when someone is recovering from surgery.”
As a second-year emergency medicine resident at Washington University in St. Louis, Maxwell doesn’t have a lot of free time.
“People say, ‘how can you find time to (volunteer) in addition to medical school?’” he said. “I don’t think I would have made it through medical school without something like this to really keep my fire going.”
JUHRI’s mission to “heal the sick,” taken from Matthew 10:8, is a tangible witness of Christ’s love to the people they serve, Maxwell said.
“It’s the idea of don’t just tell me you care — show me you care,” Maxwell said. “And I think that’s a really Christian message that’s not overlooked by the local people there.”
>> Give to the missions
Donate through your parish collection on World Mission Sunday, Oct. 23
Donate through your online parish giving
Donate online at stlreview.com/3RVcnLL
Where does your World Mission Sunday gift help?
•26 million children in primary school
•844,000 catechists teaching the faith
•38,140 seminarians receiving an education
•258,540 religious sisters caring for families
•8,750 homes for orphans and the elderly
•11,840 health clinics in rural areas
Learn more about World Mission Sunday at stlreview.com/3yuXIQp