Elena Dupuis is a registered nurse and a part-time resident missionary nurse at an orphanage in Nicaragua. (Header photo: The first load of supplies Elena brought to the orphanage)
Elena, you’ve been a nurse for a while, but the mission work started more recently, and has redefined life for you. What prompted it?
After my youngest graduated from high school I found myself struggling in my marriage and knowing who I was individually. I needed to take a time out with God. So I decided to serve others for a while to discover what my next steps were. I went on a 10-week mission trip alone to serve at an orphanage in Nicaragua (CICRIN children’s home in Ometepe, Nicaragua).
Wow. I know you’re an experienced traveler, but this was different, primarily because, though married, you went alone and for a long period of time. What was that like for you?
The most difficult part was the solitude and coping with the loneliness of being in a place where, although there are many precious little ones around, very few people spoke English. That was a challenge for a talker like me. I really had to learn to be okay with the quiet and allow myself to be quiet and hear my own thoughts again. I had to learn to rediscover again, to reconnect with my faith, to be comfortable with the waiting.
But this wasn’t a one-time experience; it really signaled a change moment in your life, didn’t it?
Exactly. Now I go to Nicaragua twice a year for 5-10 weeks per trip, depending on the political climate, and I serve medically for approximately 150 children. I also sit on the board of directors for the orphanage and help with their social media and public relations for American visiting teams.
These kinds of shifts in life aren’t easy to navigate. What helped?
My faith, my Bible and a circle of friends that had tireless ears and weightless shoulders and endless boxes of tissues! Also having an education was key to coping with change. Being able to go to work on hard days and be reminded of my value was huge for me!
You’ve discovered a lot about yourself. What’s been the best part of this process?
Realizing my strength: I can endure hurricanes, 100+℉ temperatures in menopause, eating rice and beans everyday, traveling alone in third-world countries, tarantulas, medical emergencies with no back up, etcetera. Realizing that I am less afraid of change than I thought I was. Realizing that my voice matters. Realizing that it’s okay to make my needs a priority.
I love that you say you’ve realized your voice matters. Tell me more about that.
I know that my value lies far beyond the walls of my home. When I was younger, I thought my impact would only be measured through the children I raised. Now I can see my impact travels around the world.
Last year, during one of my routine assessments on a child at the orphanage, I found one of the girls to be having headaches and trouble seeing in her school classroom. I recommended that her parents bring her for an eye exam, knowing that this likely wouldn’t happen. I told the school director my recommendation, and we all agreed to pray about it. A few weeks later I left to come home to the States.
This past October, upon my return, guess who came running up to me with a new pair of glasses?!? That’s IMPACT! That’s faith mixed with miracle.
Indeed! And that kind of affirmation that what you do matters is empowering. So what’s next for you?
I would love to spend more of my year, like 6 months of it, in Nicaragua working with the extreme poor. A dream would be to open a clinic on site at the orphanage.
Has the extended time away each year and your new passion for this ministry enhanced your marriage and friendships or caused other issues?
My first trip away certainly did add strain to a marriage that was already feeling pressures, and this added to it. Throughout my marriage my husband traveled regularly, so being apart wasn’t unusual, but it was usually not me doing the traveling. For me to speak up and assert my need to do something alone was a tense time, to say the least, but I knew it was what I needed to do for me.
With wise advice and with many, many hours of counseling I have, at least, learned how far I am willing to compromise on the issue of my missions volunteering. If it involves my safety, we discuss, if it’s more of an emotional reaction, there is much less of a discussion and I move slowly ahead with my plans, as he would with his work.
As far as an enhancement, I always look forward to my time in Nicaragua as a time of renewal. Although there is so much work to be done there, there is so much rest. Although I have so much language struggle, I find so much peace; although I spend much of my time alone, I feel so embraced. The friendships that I have made and cultivated on my precious Island go beyond any barrier that language could put up. And watching God meet the needs of my beloved ones is an honor and faith building and a personal encouragement for me in my daily walk.
It sounds like you’ve come a long way since you first landed in Nicaragua. Who or what keeps you inspired?
Corrie ten Boom has always been a hero of mine. Most people know her because of what she did for the Jews in the Netherlands in WWII, but for me the most remarkable part of her story is that she was a woman in her late 40’s when she began hiding Jews in her home! I missed that part of her story in my younger days. As an older adult it strengthened me. Shoot, if she could fight Nazi’s and survive death camps in her 40s and 50s, surely I could make some life changes!! Her books are so honest and full of personal struggle, and her deep faith in God. That resonates with me so much! Her words still inspire me, everyday.
Strong, selfless women are incredible role models. I love Corrie Ten Boom’s story, but I think yours is pretty impressive, too. Something indiscernible stirred inside you, and you nurtured it. You found your voice, your direction. You redefined your life. Any advice for our friends whose own hearts might be feeling a similar nudge?
Take your first step, it might only be to buy a book about something you love but it will stoke that inner flicker that will lead you to what comes next.
Your situation is unique in that you are able to both work locally and go away for long periods of time. What would you suggest for women who might be drawn to what you’re doing, but who do not have the freedom to leave home for extended periods?
Look for opportunities in your community where you can serve. There are so many organizations that are looking for volunteers: women’s shelters, food banks, after school care, free clinics, short term missions, etc.. Pretty much everyone is open to volunteers, or start something with a friend! Offer your gifts. You have so much that can be used, that is needed, desperately. You won’t regret it. Not for one moment.
So many of us need to fan that flame. Thank you, Elena, for using your power for good–for others. What you do matters. And thank you for sharing your story with us here!
Photos used by permission from Elena Dupuis
Find Elena’s Nicaragua blogs or follow her on Instagram!
Facebook blog: Elena’s Nicaraguan Adventures 2019