BLUFF CITY, Tenn. — While many college students anxiously await spring break for the prospect of a week of relaxation and fun, Lauren Ries embraced the opportunity to travel overseas on a mission to help others.

Ries, 22, a sophomore from Bluff City, is in the nursing program at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. She traveled to Nicaragua over spring break on a medical mission trip with Global Health Organization to participate in a five-day clinic attending patients in the small village of Los Gutierrez Norte. The clinics were held in the courtyard of an open air church, where doctors were on site to treat patients, with stations for family practice, pediatrics, surgery, OB/GYN, dentistry and physical therapy, and with nurses and medical students also in attendance. Each consultation table had a doctor, a translator and a medical student. Ries worked at the triage table, and saw more than 2,500 patients over the course of the week.

“Lauren has the ability to connect well with others,” said Denise Martin, nursing skills lab instructor and clinical adjunct coordinator at Cedarville. “She has a fun, energetic spirit, a compassionate heart and a desire to care for people in underserved areas. I admire her dedication and enthusiasm for learning, and I love her heart for people and ministry.”

This trip was the second time Ries has been to Nicaragua; her father, a doctor, has led the trip for about 20 years.

“It has always been a big mindset in my family to give and do ministry,” Ries said. “The people in Nicaragua were amazing — they are so selfless. They are the least entitled and least selfish. These people have nothing and everything at the same time.”

In addition to treating the patients’ physical needs, Ries and the other mission members addressed their spiritual health, and prayed with every patient. The group treated a wide range of conditions, including cyst removals, lipomas, musculoskeletal injuries, malnutrition, and other maladies. One woman collapsed in the courtyard — doctors assessed she was in a severe state of complete sepsis from a kidney infection and would have died were it not for the immediate treatment she received at the clinic.

“It was really cool to see all that work out so quickly and so perfectly,” Ries said. “She could have died in our courtyard. It was one life that we changed. It was really cool the way the Lord orchestrated that.”

Before attending Cedarville, Ries struggled to find her calling. She attended two other colleges, Liberty University in Virginia, and Word of Life Bible College in New York. She also spent a year on the road traveling with a ministry music group. While singing with the group, she traveled across the country to 27 states in less than a year, had over 300 meetings and ministered to about 36,000 people. Although she admits that 10 months was very hectic, she cherishes the experience and the opportunity it provided for her to connect with young people through the ministry and counseling she did while on the tour.

“Lauren works extremely hard in everything; academics, sports, and service,” said Suzanne LeFever, associate professor of nursing at Cedarville. “She has a very positive attitude, always looking for the best in every situation. She is a blessing to everyone she interacts with and yet very humble.”

In addition to her nursing studies and her faith, Ries is a dedicated runner and competes in cross country. Though she has always wanted to go into the medical profession like her father, she quickly decided that she didn’t want to be a doctor.

“I love caring for people, but I don’t like diagnosing people — I just want to take care of them,” Ries explained. “I know that my purpose on this earth is to serve others and make their lives better. Nursing seems to fit, and I felt like that was where the Lord was leading me — I really feel like that is where I’m supposed to be and where I can help people the most.”

After cramming in classes, clinicals and cross-country practice, Ries has completed two years of nursing school in about 10 months. With the hard parts behind her, she expects the next couple of years to be a little easier, and she will graduate in 2020. Ultimately, her goal is to do more mission work overseas in underserved areas of the world.

“I think the Lord is calling me into full-time ministry, and I would really love to spend the rest of my life overseas and help in hospitals and villages,” Ries said. “I’ve never felt like staying in the same place for 50 years is what I was called to. I just feel there is something bigger than myself that I could be doing with my life.”

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Laura J. Mondul is a freelance writer. Email her with Hometown Stories ideas at features@bristolnews.com.

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