Spare change leads to change of heart

Lauren Kelley, now a first-year student in Union College’s physician assistant studies program, took a long look at the list of unusual ice cream flavors. As a student missionary for the Ambassador’s Medical Outreach and Relief (AMOR) Projects in Peru, a day off was the perfect chance to learn more about the local life.

“I heard someone behind me trying to get my attention,” Kelley said. “I turned, and to this day I can still see his face.”

A man, whose face was weathered from the sun, watched her. His eyes were sunken and he wore a red jacket, even though it was 95 degrees outside. Sticking his hands in his shorts pockets, he shifted from side to side and asked if Kelley had any spare change.

“For whatever reason—I regret to say—I told him no and I turned back around to decide on my ice cream flavor,” recalled Kelley.

Just as she was saying no, Kelley’s friend reached into his pocket and pulled out some coins to give to the man.

“It pained my heart as I realized what happened,” Kelley said. “But I put it aside and enjoyed the rest of my day off.”

That night Kelley had dinner with a different friend. As they waited at an outside table, an older man walked by selling chewing gum and small candies. Kelley’s friend reached into her bag and gave him some change without even stopping to think about it.

The next morning Kelley got up and had her morning devotions. She read 1 John 3:18. "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."

“Through some tough conversations with God, He showed me that even though I was serving Him through my job, I needed to serve Him with everything, including what I did in my free time,” Kelley said. “He wants to be in everything.”

Kelley’s passion for mission work runs in the family. Since her father has a dental practice for poor areas in North Carolina, Kelley grew up seeing healthcare as a ministry.

Throughout high school Kelley participated in a few short-term mission trips. In 2004 she went to Mexico with her church to help with a small clinic, hold a Vacation Bible School and complete various construction projects. In 2007 Kelley went to Roatan, Honduras, and helped build a church and hold a Vacation Bible School each night.

This all inspired Kelley to take a year out of college to go to Peru for 10 months for the AMOR Projects. As a student missionary for Touch of Love, the founding mission project in Peru, Kelley worked as the public heath nurse. She taught health lessons to women in four different jungle villages, aided in clinics doing triage, helped with surgeries, filled prescriptions and assisted the doctor. She also helped with Sabbath school for the children, Bible studies, and church planting along with regular project maintenance and manual labor.

Kelley decided to attend Union and finish her undergraduate studies in 2010 after returning from Peru. Now a graduate student in the PA program, Kelley is looking forward to seeing where God takes her next.

“I chose to come to Union because it was important for me to go to a PA program at an Adventist school,” she said. “Union also offers the opportunity to take one clinical rotation overseas. I’m definitely interested in doing that.”

Kelley is one of the first five awarded the Primary Care Services Scholarship for the PA program at Union College.

In 2010, Union received a $792,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of the Expansion of PA Training program, allowing it to award $22,000 to five new PA students over the next four years and to expand the program from 25 to 30 spots in each class. Each scholarship is renewable one time, totaling $44,000. Union is one of only 28 PA programs in the country to receive the grant.

Like the rest of the students who won a scholarship, Kelley’s ultimate goal is mission-oriented. She hopes to work outside of the U.S. at a hospital in need after graduating.

“I want to be able to bring healthcare to those who need it most,” Kelley said. “I hope to not only bring healing to their physical beings, but to their spiritual souls the best that I can.”