INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — All the deaths and all the devastation that happened within seconds could have rocked the foundation of faith and resolve that Dr. Christine Groves had built in her 34 years of life.
In fact, the April 25 earthquake in Nepal that killed more than 8,400 people and injured nearly 18,000 knocked Groves to the ground as she worshipped in a small church in Kathmandu.
“Everybody was afraid. The church was shaking so violently,” recalls Groves, who grew up in Christ the King Parish and graduated in 1998 from Bishop Chatard High School, both in Indianapolis.
“The recommendation in Nepal is to get out of buildings, but you’d take one step, and you’d fall to the ground. So we all stayed on the ground until it was calm enough to get out. During that time when we couldn’t get out, everyone was praying out loud. When everyone did get out, we waited in a field near the church. We were talking about where to go and what to do — how to connect with family and friends. It was scary, but we were incredibly grateful to be together.”
Groves has formed a close connection with people in Nepal during her first year of serving in that impoverished Asian country as part of a medical team for an international humanitarian organization.
And her faith in God and her resolve to make a difference hasn’t been shaken by the horror and tragedy from the earthquakes April 25 and May 12 that, according to an AP report, killed 8,700 people, injured 22,221 others and added to the hundreds of thousands of people who suddenly have become homeless in Nepal.
“Certainly, it’s really sad, and everyone is concerned, but it’s still what I want to do, “she told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. “I knew I wanted to go to some place that had a huge need for doctors, as well as a place where I could use my Christian ministry to help people learn more about Jesus. … I also wanted to use my specialty — physical medicine and rehabilitation.
“In Nepal … ‘m committed long-term, which means three or more years. I feel like this is God’s calling for me.”
In the days following the April 25 earthquake, Groves did what she could to help.
“We slowly made our way to our team leader’s house,” she said. “We called family, gathered water and food, and coordinated how we could help with relief efforts. Those first few days, we were able to help at a nearby hospital and several tent cities (where people who were homeless came).
“We just saw what medical needs people had. We were treating anything from small cuts and bruises. I saw a mom who had just given birth, and was able to check on her.”
Her contributions changed when the major international relief organizations arrived.
“There was a smaller role for us at that point,” she said. “We did a lot in terms of getting clean water to those tent cities. And we helped serve food at one of the nearby hospitals. I probably cut more vegetables during that time than medical work. Whatever was needed, we were there to help.”
She came home in early May to visit family; her parents, Bob and Beth Groves, live in Indianapolis. She traveled to North Carolina to meet with a colleague who wants to partner with her to provide rehab services inNepal.
The need in Nepal — and her planned return there June 3 — was never from her thoughts.
Also ever-present is the way her faith guides her approach to medicine.
“The more I’ve grown in my faith and the longer I’ve done medicine, I believe that if we heal people physically without addressing their spiritual needs, we really miss out on a lot of what people need,” she said. “Physical health gives us function. Faith gives us hope and purpose.”
Groves credits the foundation of her faith to “growing up in my incredible family” and their Catholic community – plus her Catholic education.
The faith-medicine connection strengthened during short-term overseas trips to Honduras, Uganda, Niger in West Africa and the Republic of Congo, where she spent a month during her residency.
“That’s when I really felt God was confirming a long-term commitment for me overseas. I learned that it takes a lifetime to understand a language and a culture to make a difference.”
She spent much of her first year in Nepal trying to master the language so her communication skills can match her commitment level.
Plus, there have been a fair share of adventures.
“In March, I visited a remote clinic that my team has been building in the Himalayas. You can either take a helicopter there or hike four days in the mountains. I helicoptered in and hiked out. I was there with a physical therapist, and we visited disabled patients in their homes. It was amazing to see how we could help them. That was a real gift.”
The devastating injuries that people have suffered in the earthquakes present a large challenge — on her return she would be working in a hospital dedicated to treating spinal-cord injuries.
“The last year hasn’t been easy, but it’s been wonderful. In Nepal, I’ve been able to walk with people through hard times. And I’ve been able to mentor young Nepali doctors who are Christian, which is a great gift,” she said.
“Being in a place that puts me out of my comfort zone has deepened my faith in God. I really believe God is totally in control of the details of our lives, and personally involved in those details. He’s put me where I’m supposed to be.”
Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.