Ironton woman helps people in former Soviet republic

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2003

For many people, a three-week summer vacation would signal a cessation of work, and a lot of relaxation.

But, an Ironton woman had something different in mind. She took time off her regular job to work for God and serve her fellow man.

Janice I. Bellville, RN, spent part of July in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan as a medical missionary. Bellville, a member of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod in Ashland, Ky., said she had always been drawn to the idea of missionary work and over the years had frequently perused her denomination's Web site, exploring the possibilities for short-term missionary service. She had earlier seen a request for medical workers in Kyrgyzstan, but wasn't drawn to go there until February of this year.

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"I just prayed 'Lord, send me where you want me to go,'" Bellville said.

After prayer and earnest consideration, she applied for the three-week stint in Asia.

"I just knew I was meant to go there," she said

Bellville, who did not speak Russian prior to her trip, took the initiative of learning language basics, although her travel included the assistance of an interpreter, who acted as both a language and cultural bridge between the western visitors and the Kyrgyz people.

"I can say 'I'm an American nurse' and 'beautiful' and 'I'm Lutheran' and 'Good morning.' Thank goodness for the Briggs-Lawrence Library and its free Russian tapes," Bellville said. "It (learning native phrases) helped break the ice."

Bellville said her mission was two fold: to dispense medical aid to the poor, underserved population and to share the message of Christ with a nation that had for years been under communist - and atheist - control. Among people hungry for hope, many found the message of Christ appealing.

Kyrgyzstan is approximately 75 percent Muslim, 20 percent Russian Orthodox, with 5 percent of the population listed as belonging to other religious denominations. However, many who consider themselves Muslim are more acquainted with the cultural aspects of their identity and do not practice the religion.

"People solicited not only medical care, but prayers for their problems," Bellville said. "It was surprising. I thought that they would have walked away or refuted Bible verses with verses out of the Koran, but they were very polite and I really sensed that they were listening. I could tell from their facial expressions that they were receptive and really mulling it around."

Work included traveling with a 53-foot mobile medical trailer filled with supplies and a staff of 10, including a pediatrician, gynecologist, two dentists, two dental assistants, a nurse, a technician, a cook and an evangelist, who oversaw Bible study and opportunities to create new churches in the various villages the rolling clinic visited.

"People would show up and wait for hours to see us; they wanted to be seen that badly," Bellville said.

The mission trip to Kyrgyzstan left Bellville with a deep desire to return to the mission field. It also left her with an appreciation of home.

"Our worst day in Ironton is better than their best day there," Bellville said. "It was like looking back to 1910 - no cars, people walked everywhere they went. You just don't see people here doing that.

They made their bread in outdoor ovens. The poverty was striking. You come back with a deeper perspective on what you have."