On a Mission
A dynamic group of fifteen students from LCU’s pre-health professional programs embarked on a medical mission trip to Peru in May. With purpose, passion, and perseverance, these students ventured into new territories with the desire to make a tangible difference. Guiding this endeavor was LCU professor Dr. Andy Laughlin, Chair of the Department of Natural Sciences.
Back in 2012, Laughlin had three pre-med students who wanted to go on a medical mission trip, but at the time LCU did not have an opportunity specifically with that emphasis, so he sourced those trips through other sister universities in order for LCU students to participate in a medical mission experience. Upon their return, a sentiment echoed through them that while the experience held immense value, a sense of inclusion and integration within the group remained elusive, which raised the question, “Why doesn’t LCU do a trip?”
Dr. Laughlin, a true visionary with a heart for students, responded to this need by establishing a medical mission trip experience for LCU students. The next year, he took a survey trip with Olive Branch Ministries International, founded by LCU board of trustee member Dr. Patti Patterson (‘78) and her late husband, Scott Zapalac. Laughlin’s mission was to establish a lasting partnership that would be successful for many years, and medical mission trips specifically for LCU students ran for eight years from 2013 to 2019. Like many similar efforts, this program was put on hold 2020-2022 because of COVID-19, but this past May was the first trip back to Peru after the pandemic.
Each trip has been made in partnership with Olive Branch Ministries, and over the course of a decade, 120 students have traveled to South America as active agents of change to serve the people of Peru, working in clinics, gaining valuable experience, immersing themselves in diverse cultures, enriching their knowledge, and kindling friendships that transcend borders.
“These (trips) are designed specifically for our students,” Dr. Laughlin said. “They can be any pre-health profession majors—we've taken pre-vet majors before—but the trip is really designed to be a short-term, international trip with a medical emphasis, so that they can accumulate some shadowing hours and experience different cultural perspectives.”
Sage Post, a senior biology major from Midlothian, was one of the students who went on this year’s trip. She shared that it emphasized to her the universal nature of the medical profession.
“Obviously, the culture there is very different from our own,” she explained, “but medicine is so much the same. The illnesses that plague them are the same things that plague us. In America, we constantly preach the importance of maintaining a healthy diet, and I was surprised to find that it's the same over there. That's something that I wasn't quite expecting. I don't know if I thought we were going to encounter some exotic illnesses, but it was much more familiar than I thought it would be.”
Dr. Chris Huggins (‘04), Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences, agrees. “Despite the language and cultural barriers, the universal language of compassion and healing connected us, fostering an environment of trust and understanding. Caring for the physical needs of those in the Lima community granted us the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Through this experience, we gained a deeper appreciation for the resilience of the human spirit.”
Kayton Genenbacher, a junior biology major from Lubbock who plays volleyball for the Lady Chaps, explained how deeply the experience affected her perspective on her profession as a calling.
“Even with the language barrier, we're all the same people,” she shared. “At the end of the day, each person that came in wanted to be known, wanted to be heard, and wanting to be loved. And we had a chance, even beyond the physical care, to show them God's love—even without words, just by us being there. I think that was my biggest takeaway—how can I constantly be showing love even nonverbally?”
Another student, Kamryn Lucas, a senior biology major with a pre-dental emphasis from New Home, shared her own takeaway from the experience.
“This trip really gave me hope for my career path,” she said. “It was really inspiring to see the doctors who joined us give of their personal practices and love on these people. I spent my time in the dental clinic, and I learned so much from my time there. The dentist supervising there didn’t have to spend the time to explain different things, to teach me, but he chose to anyway. That wasn’t just helpful to me as a professional—it was inspiring to me, because I realized that I want to do that for others one day.”
Kamryn added that, in her case, the language barrier proved to benefit her learning experience. “In America, when I’ve had experience shadowing, the dentist can't always tell me exactly what they're doing, because the patient often doesn't want to hear the details,” she explained. “That was kind of cool, because in Peru he could talk to me the whole time and walk me step-by-step through what he was doing—the one-on-one time was really exciting.”
In conjunction with LCU faculty members Drs. Laughlin and Huggins, a team of medical professionals were assembled for the trip to offer a diverse range of expertise. This year’s team included Clayton Adams, M.D.; Jack Dyer, M.D.; Robyn McGraw (‘03), Pharmacist; Taylor Prather ('16), RN; T.J. Randers, DDS; and Amy (Blume) Taylor (‘89), Nurse Practitioner.
Dr. T.J. Randers, who has served the Lubbock area as a dentist for nearly twenty years, has been a regular on recent trips with the group—the trip this past May was his eighth such partnership with LCU.
“It’s always an honor to be asked to join the group from LCU to help treat the people of Peru with their dental needs,” he shared. “The students add such a fun component to the mission trip and each group has a unique feel to it. I enjoy working with the students and doing my best to teach them as much as they are interested in learning while in the dental clinic. It is neat to see what services our group as a whole is able to provide to the areas where we set up our clinic and what a great opportunity for the students to get to rotate through the different clinics and observe all the different providers.”
"Working alongside the medical professionals expanded my healthcare knowledge and humbled me in witnessing the gap in the Peruvian healthcare system,” reflected Kate Childre, senior biology major with a pre-medical emphasis from Cedar Park. “It also left me excited knowing that my skills as a future doctor can be applied in similar trips serving underprivileged communities while also mentoring future healthcare students.”
Lynsey Rogers, a senior pre-physical therapy major from Lubbock, echoed that point. “I have a PT tech job, and in that role, I do not get to do half the things that I got to in Peru. Here, my job is mainly cleaning and communicating with patients, but there, I actually got to talk with patients about their health challenges and try to figure out how to help them through the exercises we prescribed them.”
Kayton chimed in as well, explaining that the trip helped her realize the importance of finding her own style of care. “One thing I observed was just how differently each of the doctors would go through the process of talking to their patient, seeing what is wrong, and what they are going to do about it and how to assess it. I realized that I need to learn how I want to assess my patients one day.”
For Dr. Huggins, these trips proved to be a turning point in his career.
“This annual trip to Peru has not only impacted my career but changed my life,” he shared. “This was my sixth trip to Peru as a physical therapist and fifth as an LCU Exercise Sport Science Department professor. My first trip in 2013 was not only fulfilling for me at the professional level—God made it clear to me that teaching was in my future.”
Though he had heard that calling on the trip, he could not have known how quickly doors would open. “Upon returning, I began my journey through the Doctor of Science in Physical Therapy program at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center to earn a terminal degree,” he continued. “I called to update Dr. Toby Rogers that I had begun this program, and he informed me that there was a recent opening in the ESS department that morning, and he encouraged me to consider this opportunity.”
The rest is history. “I have been teaching at LCU for eight years and continue to make the annual trip to Peru,” Dr. Huggins shared. “My favorite part of the trip is working with our exceptional undergraduate students to provide healthcare services to those less fortunate and help them realize that God can have a profound impact through them to serve others. This is the true calling to those going into the healthcare profession: be the hands and feet of Jesus.”
While the trip is planned around weeklong clinical experience alongside licensed medical professionals in the field, Dr. Laughlin also plans a few leisure days for students to soak in the culture, locales, and experience.
“The food was amazing,” Kayton recalled, “all the flavors were rich, and I even tried octopus while we were there.”
Lynsey shared how one of their translators on the trip had a deep impact on her experience. “Her name was Karina, and from the beginning of the week, she established sort of a motherly relationship with us, and throughout the week she just took care of us so well,” she recalled. “She took us under her wing and showed us how compassionate and loving her people were. I remember at the end of the week when I was thanking her for everything that she had done for us, she just replied, ‘Thank you for loving on my people.’ And that really touched me.”
The trip also provides the local churches in Peru with a new way to connect with and serve others in their community. “Sometimes, the professionals we work with will come tell me, ‘Hey, this lady just lost her husband two days ago—is there somebody out there from the church who could come and talk to her?’ We kind of intercept them and connect those people with a member of the local church to come alongside them in whatever need they have, even if it is just to walk with them.”
Dr. Randers deeply appreciates the lasting impact that relationship can bring. “I really appreciate that we work with local church leaders so that when we are gone, they can continue the relationships they are able to start with the people waiting to be seen in our clinic,” he shared. “The physical help we provide is aided by the spiritual nourishment they can continue.”
According to Dr. Laughlin, however, the ones who get the most out of the experience are the LCU students.
“For some of the those who go on these trips, the experience will be life-changing, and for most of them, it will be eye-opening—it allows them to see something from a different perspective,” he shared. “Some of them have traveled internationally before, while for others that was their first plane trip. But what I see from them when they get back is a different level of maturity than they had before they left, even in only 11 days. It might not completely rock their world and completely change their perspective on everything,” he added, ‘but they're more mature than when they left.”
Dr. Randers shared, “Since I have been able to go several times, it has also been neat to see the pre-dental students that went on some of our very first trips as they have now completed dental school and are practicing providers themselves.” He added, “I hope that I helped them in some small way and look forward to any chance I get to catch up with them to see how their careers are going. What we hope to teach these students in the short week is that God has granted us the opportunity to learn a skill that we can use to give back and help those that may not have easy access to care.”
“The students get a rich experience because they get to make connections with all of these health professionals,” Dr. Laughlin emphasized. “They now have this whole battery of professional people who they can actually pick up a phone and call to help them in their practice, and they've got all these people who are going to help them on their journey.”