When Heather imagined the narrative of her life, she dreamt of finishing college, settling down, and starting a family. A nurse for nine years, she has seen the beauty of new life entering the world, the passing of life into the next, and all of the joy and pain in between. Much of her time has been spent caring for sick children and their families in pediatrics, as well as, bringing babies into the world as a labor and delivery nurse. Yet, she found herself in a state of loneliness, feeling unfulfilled in her life and daily routine.
“From early on in my career I wanted to travel overseas and work as a nurse,” she says, “but I was afraid to go alone, so I waited and asked my friends to go and serve with me.”
Six years went by, however, and with the passing of time she grew more eager and anxious. “That’s when I realized that I couldn’t wait around for other people to have the same calling that I had on my life just so I wouldn’t have to do it alone.” Thinking she would find fulfillment in short-term missions, she began searching for opportunities to serve abroad.
God had other plans for her.
Through an organization called Mercy Ships, Heather found the community she had been searching for. For two years, she lived on a hospital ship in Madagascar where she worked with a team that provided free surgeries to those with no access to healthcare. Upon her return to the United States, she moved to Bend, Oregon and began working with Samaritan’s Purse as a member of their disaster and international relief team. Unsure if they would be calling her for the next relief mission, Heather began to pray unceasingly – if this is where the Lord desired her to be, everything would fall into place.
The call came.
Her ticket was booked.
And just like that, Heather was on her way to serve…in Mosul, Iraq.
“A 12-foot blast-proof wall surrounded by a moat and barbed wire fence encompassed our tent hospital. Armed security personnel kept guard inside and outside the compound. After several days delay for security reasons, we finally opened the hospital, not really knowing what to expect. We were flooded with patients the first week, seeing primarily women and children who’d been injured in Mosul. They had injuries from mortar attacks, car bombs, gunshots, and snipers.”
The very first patient, an 8-year-old girl, died of her injuries in the intensive care unit on the first night that the hospital was open. A mother clutched her dead baby to her chest after losing one of her arms and one of her legs in a targeted attack on her family. Many had been separated from their family members and had no knowledge of their relatives’ whereabouts…or even if they were still alive. Heather served wherever she was needed – giving comfort to sick and injured as they fought for their lives, cleaning wounds, assisting in surgeries, performing CPR, providing nourishment and medications, and much more. Though the staff took life saving measures, many patients did not survive. The hospital was short on supplies, the team needed more staff, and the staff that they did have were fighting their own illnesses.
“I thought, ‘if this is who God is, I don’t think God is good,’” she says. “I’d never seen so much trauma as I watched these peoples’ lives being ripped apart, all in the name of terror. It was the darkest place I’ve ever been.”
Even though the trauma was great, Heather’s God was greater still.
“One morning I was reading the book God has a Name by John Mark Comer. The book breaks down the verse in Exodus 34:6, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…’ I broke down into tears when I thought of the Lord as compassionate and gracious. I knew that He was that for me, but in that moment I didn’t believe that he was that for everyone. I struggled to believe that he was gracious, loving, and faithful for my ward full of 15 women and children, lying on their cots with bloody bandages and missing limbs. I started to think that maybe I didn’t really know who God was after all.” In his faithfulness, the Lord revealed more of His character and His goodness. Jesus was there, kneeling at the cot, weeping, holding the hand of one of Heather’s patients – his heart ached for the pain she was going through. “He loved every single patient that I cared for more than I could ever love them. I pictured the same tears that our Father must have cried as his son Jesus died on the cross, and I was so comforted, knowing that his love for his people is real and desperate.”
Heather deployed twice to Iraq and since then she has continued to go wherever she is called.
“I love how the Lord has made me. He has given me a heart for broken people and has gifted me with the opportunity to go and see the revelation of his character in incredible ways – and to play a part in it. I am more fulfilled in my life than ever before with a new love for the calling that God has given me. We get so comfortable in this life where it is easy to come home to our stable jobs and living situations, but I don’t want to forget what others are going through and what their lives look like.”
When we step out of our comfort zone and embrace whatever the Lord has called us to do, He changes our hearts and lives to reflect His purpose.
“Don’t try to live someone else’s life,” she says, “live the life that God has called you to live because he has given you specific gifts. Make yourself available to the Lord, for He has opportunities for you that you would never have thought of yourself. And in everyday life, look for opportunities to love people – whether it is everyday at your job or in a tent in Iraq.”
Written by: Peri Gregory || Photos by: Erica Stubblefield and Samaritan’s Purse Media