British doctor Laura Douglas-Beveridge, 33, has just returned to the UK after serving for three weeks at Samaritan Purse's field hospital in Ukraine. She speaks to Christian Today about the trauma she witnessed but also how her faith inspired and sustained her.
CT: How different was what you encountered there from what you might be dealing with as a doctor day-to-day here in the UK?
Laura: The differences were pretty enormous. People had quite extreme presentations with illnesses that had really deteriorated after having to flee without their medications etc. The combination of having to travel for several days, with injuries and delays to receiving treatment meant that they often developed infections or had complications that potentially needed surgery. This was quite a different set of challenges from what we would see in a stable environment where you could treat someone immediately at the time they had sustained that injury or where someone was able to look after their own health.
But then at the same time, there were also a lot of similarities. People are still people wherever they are in the world and the things that bring hope to people are often the same - showing kindness and compassion, just spending a few moments to listen to someone and help them feel heard. Those things are exactly what we would try to bring to patients at home here in the UK as well.
CT: Did you feel afraid going into a warzone?
Laura: I think some apprehension is an appropriate response but I was reassured knowing that I was going with an amazing organisation doing everything they could to keep us and the patients as safe as possible, and I would be working with a team of incredibly skilled and experienced colleagues who have worked in challenging environments before. My husband and I had a strong sense of peace that this was something I felt called to do. That gave me a sense of calm despite it being a very difficult situation.
CT: Aside from all the physical difficulties, what kind of emotional toll is the war taking on the patients you encountered?
Laura: People presented in all sorts of different ways. For some, they were in a very emotional state and upset and distressed. For some, there was a numbness where they just weren't able to take in what was going on around them. And then for others it presented as physical symptoms. This was particularly the case among some of the children who would be brought in complaining of tummy pain or feeling sick, and actually it wasn't that there was a medical problem; they were simply feeling the physical effects of psychological trauma. I have two young children myself so it was quite upsetting to see the little ones really feeling the effects of what they had seen.
That's where the pastoral element that Samaritan's Purse tries to bring in is so helpful, because they recognise that so many of the needs that people have are psychological and trauma-related, and so to address those on the frontline is one of the biggest things that we can do to support the patients.
CT: Did being a Christian play into your decision to go and did it help sustain you once you were there?
Laura: Absolutely. I felt I had practical skills I could bring into that situation, but there was also that feeling of being called to something and that sense of peace that I talked about earlier. My husband and I talked about it when the call came through from SP asking if anyone was available to be deployed. There was just a sense of peace and we prayed together about it and decided that if it's where God wants me to be, let's go for it. So it was a family decision in faith that we made together.
Once I was there in that environment, it was so helpful when I felt weak knowing that I could rely on God's strength. We started every day as a team by taking some time to pray together and worship. We were caring for people from all over the country and from all different backgrounds, but that opportunity to come together and ask that God would use us was amazing. It reminded us that it wasn't about us but the people we were caring for.
CT: Some people may say 'where is God in all this?'. Did you have those moments where you could 'see' God in the midst of so much trauma?
Laura: For me personally I see God at work every day in situations where there shouldn't be any positive outcome but there is; where it looks on paper like everything is lost and yet there is joy and hope. I think many of the people we met were absolutely reliant on the faith that God was going to bring good days ahead and a good future, like it says in Scripture, and they were absolutely focused on what is to come. And that was something I found really inspiring..
So it wasn't so much one single moment but rather, it felt like the Holy Spirit was there amongst all of it. Jesus would get in amongst all of it and get his hands dirty. He would be taking the infected dressing off a wound and helping clean the feet of the person who's not been able to change their socks for a week or whatever the need might be. He would be in there, comforting the people in distress and we had the privilege of being that person - like Jesus with skin on, I guess.
CT: Is there anything from your time there that will stay with you?
Laura: I was absolutely inspired and so challenged in myself by the interpreters we worked with. Our interpreters were all Ukrainian men and women and the majority of them were displaced themselves, so many of them were sleeping on the floors of local churches or in school halls at night and then coming in to serve and work with us during the day. Many of them had lost so much themselves but were just so committed to serving their people and showing love and compassion and hope.
One of our Interpreters shared that two of her nephews had become separated from the rest of the family while trying to escape from Russian-held territory. But she hadn't mentioned it until they'd already been missing for 48 hours and yet the whole time, she had been encouraging and inspiring others when she had so much else going on because she felt that her focus needed to be on the people there in the hospital. Thankfully, her nephews and the rest of the family were able to get out to the West safely.
But that selfless attitude is a Christlike character trait and it is something I want to get better at and learn from and continue into my day-to-day here - that selflessness and relentless hope.
CT: You are now safely back in the UK. How can Christians pray for the ongoing work of the field hospital?
Laura: God is bigger than even the most challenging of situations and many times before, God has changed the hearts of people who have been on a very dark path. First and foremost I think we need to pray that Putin and the Russian government would have that 'Road to Damascus' moment. Pray for continued support for the people of Ukraine and for Samaritan's Purse, who have been committed to being there for as long as it takes. Pray for the team that is out there, that they would have the strength and the resources to be able to continue providing excellent care and loving on people. And pray for a future of hope for a beautiful country with amazing people.