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Medical mission leads Spokane nurse to challenge domestic violence

By Bronwyn Worthington

Nancy Mortlock, a Spokane nurse, works to combat domestic violence in Romania and Spokane.

In 1999, she never guessed she would make more than 25 trips to Romania in the next decade.  Before a group from Fourth Memorial Church invited her to accompany their medical team there, she had hardly heard of the Eastern European country.

Nancy Mortlock
Nancy Mortlock

Drawn by her nursing skills to participate in the team, she has become aware of health conditions in Romania, concerned about the extent of violence against women there and aware that such violence is also a part of the American experience.

In spite of momentary uncertainty about going, she decided to join the 1999 medical team that summer to provide health care to Romanians in need.  She found people still experiencing turmoil from the Communist fall of 1989 and desperately needing medical services.

She found people who wanted to share their stories and develop relationships.

“I understood I could not have enough life to do everything I saw needed to be done.  I told my family it does not take an army of people to make a difference in lives.  It only takes awareness, availability, modest resources and a willingness to go,” she said.

A registered nurse for 34 years, Nancy has worked as a medical consultant with various organizations.  She continues to live in Spokane, where she and her husband reared their two sons.

 “I understand that a medical background is valuable and can bridge a gap between cultures,” she said.  “It also can help people in places where health care is marginal or unavailable.”

In 2002, Nancy went on her second visit to Romania to organize city-wide educational health forums for communities of women.  Information on nutrition, exercise, cancer and hepatitis addressed needs specific to the women there.

 “Women had limited information about themselves and their health,” she said.

While teaching forums, she found Romanian women with leadership traits.  Intent on helping them become leaders in their communities, she took a third trip to Romania.

Over the next three years, she and her team traveled to the neighboring Carparthian Mountains where they met for several days with women.

During those events, women worked on unity, esteem building and goal development.

Nancy’s friendship with Paula Oprea, her medical translator on the first trip, has grown into a partnership.  Paula, who converted to Christianity shortly after the fall of communism in 1989, has a 14-year history of serving in church leadership.

As Nancy and Paula delved into meeting the medical needs of women, they discovered another issue needing attention.

“We became aware of domestic violence because the majority of women who came to the clinic told us their stories,” said Nancy.

Unable to ignore the abuse, Nancy and Paula discussed plans to create a refuge for Romanian women trapped in domestic violence.

In 2006, Nancy and Paula developed a three-step vision that included opening a counseling center, providing a residential shelter for women in need of safety, and equipping clients with life skills and rehabilitation. 

That year, to help Paula gain skills to use in Romania, Nancy arranged for her to work as an intern at Ogden Hall, a women’s homeless shelter in Spokane.

Last November, Paula came to Spokane a second time. Together, Nancy and Paula have presented their plan to combat domestic violence in Romania to local institutions such as churches, schools, community service clubs and retirement centers.

Nancy said the counseling center, due to open this year, may receive support from grants in the United States and Romania, but will primarily receive funds from individual and business donors. 

As a result of her desire to assist women and children, Nancy gathered others who shared her concern and formed Transition’s Gate, a nonprofit organization.  They chose the name because gates, common to Romanian women, represent a way to provide safety from intruders.

“Women need help transitioning from an unhealthy environment to a safe environment,” said Nancy.

Transition’s Gate’s mission is “to provide charitable assistance to women and children trapped in domestic violence, abuse, poverty or other misfortune.”

It seeks to “assist women and children by providing charitable support and resources to domestic and foreign organizations engaged in activities and services that provide safety, counseling, health care, shelter, training and healthy reintegration into society.”

Furthering the work of Transition’s Gate, Nancy recently took another trip to Romania where she and Paula learned from non-governmental organizations about legal issues involved in operating a domestic violence center.  They interviewed social-work students for employment in the center.

To learn more about effects of domestic violence, Nancy volunteered at Hope House in Spokane for several months last year.

“I learned how pervasive destructive behavior is in our community,” she said.  “The difference between Spokane and Romania is that Spokane has multiple programs, shelters, social service departments and resources.”

She hopes her efforts to address domestic violence in Romania will speak to women in abusive relationships.

“They need to know that it’s okay to break the silence, seek a safe place and transition to a better life,” she said.

In Spokane, Nancy encourages churches to address domestic violence by raising awareness from the pulpit, providing counseling and giving support through small groups.

 A willingness to take advantage of opportunities for service permeates Nancy’s philosophy.  Aside from traveling to Romania, she has also provided aid to programs in countries such as Egypt, where she spoke to groups of medical professionals on basic health-care issues, and China, where she taught medical concepts to nursing specialists. 

 “I learned that saying ‘yes’ to opportunity opens the door.  Saying ‘no’ most likely turns opportunities away.  This philosophy has led me to China on many occasions, and other countries where women can help other women.”

While Nancy’s journey has taken her beyond the original vision of addressing basic health care needs, she continues to remember the roots of her ministry. 

Each spring, she trains a medical team, preparing them to meet the medical and emotional needs of Romanian citizens.

Nancy said of these teams: “The quality of our work is the foundation of our testimony in their community.  I believe that all we do, we do with energy, accuracy and passion.  The joy is in the personal experience.”

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