Years ago, Rose Gaerlan Wascher was praying for a sign. She was seeking a faith-based organization to take her to Africa on a medically-based mission trip.
When she opened her eyes, Rose noticed a stained glass window of an African-American Jesus directly in front of her. Tears filled her eyes. She knew it was the sign she had been seeking.
Within the next year, Rose would prepare to travel to Kenya on her first mission trip with the Joliet Diocese of Illinois, starting her long journey of many such trips to come.
Not long ago, Rose gave a presentation at the St. Paul Parish Center describing a mission trip made in 2015 to Borogan, which is a city on Eastern Samar, one of the 7,701 islands in the Philippines.
The purpose of Rose’s presentation was to give the people who supported her a little bit of background on what she has done in the past and will do on future mission trips.
“I had a lot of support from my parish and friends,” she said. “I wanted to show them what their support will help with.”
Over a dozen people attended the presentation. Among them were Arthur and Darlene Timmerman, who know Rose through the church. According to the Timmermans, Rose is an extremely devoted Catholic, who attends Mass almost once every day and participates in multiple prayer groups.
“We want to know what she really does,” Darlene said. “We know she’s a nurse and assists doctors. We think she is pretty special.”
Life after the storms
Borogan has endured its share of hardship over the last several years.
In November 2013, Super Typhoon Yolanda, ravaged the Philippines. The storm killed 6,340 people, caused $2.86 billion worth of damage and was recorded as one of the most intense cyclones ever to hit land. Just a year later, Typhoon Ruby brought a similar story to the country. While Ruby was just a blip on the radar compared to Yolanda, the storm still caused $114 million worth of damage and killed 18 people.
Borogan was an impoverished city before the storm, but the aftermath left it completely decimated. The recovery of these places are usually contingent on soldiers of faith, like Rose, who help pick up the pieces.
Every year, people like Rose participate in mission trips around the world to help restore communities like Borogan. Many of these trips are coordinated by various organizations. The missions that Rose participates in are coordinated by the Joliet Diocese of Illinois, which has a 40-year tradition of planning relief to impoverished nations. Rose has been participating in these trips for the last 10 years and has gone on six trips to locations including Kenya, Bolivia, Colombia and the Philippines.
Creating a stronger community
According to Rose, aside from faith, her mission trips usually have three foundational goals to build Borogon into a stronger community. These goals are represented by three teams that helped with construction, outreach and medical care.
The construction team focused on rebuilding structures that were destroyed by the typhoons. The team also built a new house for a family in Borogan, which was auctioned off for free in a lottery system to one lucky family.
The second step of the mission is to provide outreach by working with the community, local orphanage and sisters to hear and meet their needs. The mission team bought food and supplies for families and made a huge meal for the public. Outside of the special meals provided by the missionaries, some of the people have never or never will eat that much food in one sitting in their entire life, and according to Rose, it is just like Christmas.
Playing her part
It is Rose’s knowledge of medicine that made her a strong candidate for all of her missions.
Rose is a specialized registered nurse at the St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese. On the mission trips, she works with doctors and surgeons to provide much needed surgeries to people in need.
When the medical team first arrives, Rose said that the hallways of the Borogan hospital are packed wall to wall with residents who need medical care. Many of the people cannot be served in one day. Patients who still need care at the end of the day find nooks, crannies, benches or just curl up on the concrete floor so they can sleep in the hospital to ensure they do not lose their spot in line for the care they need.
“This is a lottery to them,” Rose said. “Not everyone gets medical attention. Some don’t even have food to eat. So, to get medical care, their prayers have been answered, and they are so excited.”
One of the most common surgeries performed was the removal of large thyroid glands and uterine masses. According to Rose, in the Philippines, many civilians can be seen walking through the streets with enlarged thyroid glands or women looking nine-months pregnant because of masses in their bodies. Usually, if these ailments are not removed, it will mean death for the patient.
Rose said that because of this it is crucial that the surgical team provides as much care as possible in the limited time they were in Borogan. Surgeries were often preformed two at a time, back to back, in the same room. Rose said the surgeons often needed to be reminded to rest.
Over her two-week mission trip in 2015, 109 patients were given surgeries, and overall, 300 patients were given medical care.
“The things we complain about with our healthcare are nothing like what these people deal with,” said presentation attendee Erin Hopfinger. “It makes you grateful for what you have.”
On Jan. 27, Rose embarked on another mission with 53 other people on another mission to Borogan. However, unlike the other 53 people, Rose was going to participate on two back-to-back missions, extending her stay in the Philippines to about a month.
Her first trip will be another trip with the Joliet Diocese similar to the mission she described in her presentation. The first trip will last two weeks.
The second part of her mission is solely a medical trip in Bohol, another area of the Philippines. It is being coordinated by Dr. Renato Rivera of Breese.
According to local media in the Philippines, 218 individuals benefited from the mission in Bohol Feb. 18-24. Of the 218 mission beneficiaries, 86 had cases of goiter; 52, breast masses/cysts; 44, obstetrics; and six had gallbladder stones.
Finding a way
As one could imagine, being in a foreign country for a month is costly. These trips will cost Rose about $2,800, all of which comes straight out of her own pocket.
“Every time I leave it up to God,” Rose said. “I tell him, “If you want me there Lord, you are going to have to find a way,’ and sure enough, I find a way there.”
It is a sacrifice she is willing to make based off of her own blessings. When it comes to serving her lord, Rose said money does not matter, all she needs is to see the smiling faces and unfathomable faith of the people she has helped.
“It is not for everybody, but God will give you that calling. I hope that it doesn’t get ignored or pushed aside because of fear,” she said. “When you overcome that fear and doubt of following your dream, to actually pursue any type of mission, it’s just indescribable.”