COLUMBUS — It has been nearly a year since Tamra Boettcher has seen her “family” in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua.
The local registered nurse has traveled to the Central American country with Global Passion Ministries-Nebraska since 2010 to perform minor surgeries for the people there.
Her team previously included Dean and Carolyn Athey, who made their final trip earlier this year, leaving Boettcher to lead the group.
Boettcher will be joined on next year's trip, set for February, by her husband Scott, Dan Smith, John Novotny and Kevin Harm, who will help build homes and take on other construction projects in the city.
“We’re the construction fix-it team,” Novotny said. “The group has generously given us the title ‘The MacGyvers.' We do whatever we have to do in order to help in any way that we can.”
General maintenance of existing homes and buildings and equipment upkeep will also be on the agenda.
The annual trips began when Novotny and his wife, Dr. Nila Novotny, went on a mission trip to Nicaragua in 2009 with their church.
“It was a non-medical mission trip and we took our children with us,” John Novotny said. “Immediately after we got there we realized there was a great need for medical care.”
The Novotnys were introduced to a medical mission group called Forward Edge. The next year Boettcher went to Managua to work for a clinic that operated on cleft lips and palates, which are common in the area.
“Once we were working with Forward Edge, we saw that there was a more efficient way that we could help these people,” Boettcher said. “So in 2011 we joined Global Passion Ministries. We later decided to add Nebraska to the name to clarify who we are.”
Cleft lip and palate surgeries are in high demand in Nicaragua. While the condition is not well understood by the natives, Novotny said the need for the surgeries is "philosophical."
“There is a lot of witchcraft that goes on there,” Novotny said. “So it’s a spiritual and cultural component to them thinking their kids are born cursed. It’s a curse to them, whether they think it’s real or not.”
Since medical care is not as widely available there as it is in the United States, Boettcher said some children do not get cleft lip and palate surgeries until their teenage years.
“In a week I did about 100 procedures,” Boettcher said. “In that time, there are long lines of people waiting at the doors to be helped. In a week we can have 500 people at the clinic. It is not uncommon for us to see people staying overnight in tents in hopes of being seen, but sometimes we have to turn patients down. The good thing is they know we will always be back.”
Harm, a nurse practitioner, will be assisting in the medical mission by providing additional major scar surgeries, treating tonsillitis and performing other minor operations.
The trip will be the first for Scott Boettcher and Smith.
Tamra Boettcher said she is excited to show her husband what she is so excited about.
“It’s going to be a new experience for me,” Scott said. “It will be interesting to see the culture and what kind of an impact we will have on their lives.”
Smith said he has been preparing to do something like this all his life.
“I have no idea what it’s going to be like,” Smith said. “But I cannot wait to see what God can use us for. Even though I don’t have a medical background, I know I can use my skills to help out in any way that I can.”
Volunteers do not need to have a medical background.
“All you need to do is be a good servant. There is so much more that can be done,” Tamra said. “We sometimes work outside our comfort zone, but that’s OK."
For her, the most-rewarding aspect of the trip comes from the people they help.
“I just love how gracious they are to be seen by us,” she said. “Their love of God, simplicity and graciousness are what I love to see the most."