Motivations for Mongolia

Hey all!

I’m Sarah Brooks and I’m a Registered Nurse with the Hematology/Oncology Unit (4 Weaver) at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. I graduated from University of North Florida with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2013 and was fortunate enough to land this amazing job as a brand new nurse. 4 Weaver has been a magical place to grow and develop my nursing practice. The interdisciplinary team work that we share is unlike anything else. The patients and their families have taught me how strong and courageous even the tiniest humans can be.

While I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Jonathan I have heard so much about his legacy. He has been described to me as inquisitive and compassionate. His interests in geography and other cultures remind me of myself as a kid. My dad and I would often spin a globe around before bed and I’d stop it mid spin with my finger to land on a region. My dad would then tell me some things about that region’s cultures and landscapes as we developed silly nicknames based on the shape of the country.

I learned about Mongolia Bound last summer and I immediately knew I wanted to join in! What this trip means for me is that I’ll have a chance to immerse myself in something completely foreign and learn how to find comfort and connections.  I’m looking forward to finding ways of communicating with the medical teams the children through the language barrier. From previous teams I have heard that resources are limited and standards of practice are very different than what we’re used to in America. I’m hoping that I can help improve some of the nursing practices with creativity while being sensitive to their unique cultural standards and norms.

I am so excited and honored to contribute to the amazing team that is Mongolia Bound and continue the culture of friendship between Wolfson and the Mother & Child Hospital. I recognize that this is an amazing privilege and I have the utmost gratitude for Jonathan and his family for making this dream a reality.

-Sarah Brooks


Excited feelings for Mongolia!

I am Lindsay Phillips and I have been a Child Life Specialist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital since 2010. I was born and raised in Ft. Wayne, Indiana and graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Studies in 2008. Following that, I began my career at Wolfson’s and throughout the last five years have been humbled by the amazing patients, families and staff members that I have had the fortune of working with.

Throughout this time my passion for children and the Hematology/Oncology population has grown substantially. I am constantly amazed by their strength, determination and ability to love others despite what is going on in their own lives. Shortly after starting at Wolfson’s I had the opportunity to meet Jonathan and his family just before he passed.  I never imagined that brief meeting would develop into the opportunity of a lifetime and give me the chance to travel to Mongolia along with an amazing medical team!

I feel so lucky to be able to attend this trip and cannot wait to experience everything Mongolia has to offer! I have always wanted to travel and have had a desire to complete a mission trip since college. Now, as the trip approaches I am filled with excitement and also slightly nervous! My biggest hope is to make a positive impact on the patients, families and staff that I will be working with while in Mongolia and promote Child Life and all that it can do.   

-Lindsay Phillips

Mongolia Bound!

As we are less than 1 month away from beginning our journey to Mongolia, the excitement is really starting to build. Over the past few years, I have heard amazing things about Mongolia from Justin, Jenna and my father, and I am eager to finally be able to take in some of the sights for myself. After just finishing a Master’s program and applying to medical school, I am interested in seeing how the Mongolian medical education system differs from the one here, and I hope that I will learn with the Mongolians while offering some insight as to what the medical education process is like in America.

I am curious about the requirements to enter medical school there, and how well medical students feel prepared once they graduate.  I hope to achieve a better understanding of the Mongolian medical system and culture, so that I can return with new knowledge and applications of global medicine. In order to truly understand medicine, one needs to see how it works all around the world, not just in America. 

Finally, I am excited to be able to see all of the sights and topography that the land has to offer. I have been hearing all of these amazing things and seeing pictures from my family and in the blog’s past posts, and now I can’t believe that I am going to have the chance to see it all for myself! I look forward to sharing my experience with all of you during the few weeks we are on the other side of the world!

-Ethan Sandler

Here we go again!

Hard to believe that I will be shortly heading back to the land of Chengis Khan for the 3rd time. Having missed the trip last year, I am excited to see my Mongolian friends and colleagues, to see what changes they have made over the last 2 years and to see the new cancer center. As I tell people often, these trips to Mongolia are among the most rewarding things I am fortunate enough to be able to do.
My life has been so enriched by having had the privilege to know and care for  Jonathan and to know his wonderful family- Cathy, Steve, Natalie, Paul, Luke and Anna. I know on each and every visit Jonathan’s spirit is there with us and inspiring all that we do.
So- the team is ready, the lectures are written and off we go…
-Eric Sandler

Coming Full Circle (Steve)

Two years ago, shortly after we arrived in Ulaanbaatar, Rita took us to tour The Children’s Place orphanage.  It was the first time I had ever been to an orphanage, and, as I wrote at the time, it was a gut-wrenching visit for me (click here to see that post).  With the emotional scars from the loss of Jonathan still very fresh, it was painful for me to see so many children grappling with their own loss and with such uncertain prospects ahead of them.  They get plenty of love at the orphanage, to be sure–but they are nevertheless orphans.  I left The Children’s Place that day emotionally drained.  Yet two years later, the most enduring image I have of that tour is the first: the door of the orphanage being opened by a 10-year-old boy named Usukhbayar who immediately struck me with his sweet and gentle spirit. In ways too deep to convey in words, his opening of the door opened my heart.

Over the next several days I got to know Usukhbayar and his younger sister Oyundari, playing soccer and basketball with them or spinning her around.  (Usukhbayar was a little big for the spinning.)  The more time I spent with them and the more I learned about their background, the more they seemed to root themselves in my heart.  At nights I spoke to Cathy (my wife) of them, and when I returned to the U.S. I found that I couldn’t shake them from my mind.  Cathy and I explored the possibility of adoption, but an adoption would be impossible: while their mother is dead, their father is alive (albeit unable to care for children) and retains parental rights. So while I kept the two photos below on my cell phone, I tried not to think about them.



Remember this smiling face from 2012? (Usukhbayar)


And this one as well? (Oyundari)

All that changed, however, when this past January brought Rita back to our home in Jacksonville.  Quite unexpectedly, over dinner one night Rita blurted out: “Are you two still interested in those kids [Usukhbayar and Oyundari]?  Because it is possible that you could become long-term host parents for them.  Give it some thought and let me know when I come back next month.”  Cathy and I agreed to consider the opportunity, but the truth is that we knew instantly that we would like to bring Usukhbayar and Oyundari to live with us as exchange students/foster children.  Indeed, providing them the opportunity to have an American education and helping to prepare them for lives on their own as adults would be a great gift . . . to us.  When Rita returned to our home in February, we shared with her the news that we would love to bring the children to America.

But to do so would require clearing several hurdles.  First, we would have to have the full support of the orphanage Director–and we were delighted that she immediately bought into the idea, which is really quite novel in Mongolia.  Next, the father would have to approve the plan.  Amazingly, he did.  Then we would have to have the authorization of the Mongolian social services agency, which is still in its post-Soviet growing pains and trying to figure out what it means to send kids to foster families abroad.  After 3-4 rounds of documents proving that we were people of good character who actually have jobs and a house, etc., they agreed to allow the children to live with us for a year.  The final hurdle was the U.S. government, which had to decide whether to issue the critical F-1 student visa, without which the children would not be able to enter the country.  As fate would have it, Usukhbayar and Oyundari had their first interview at the U.S. Embassy while the Mongolia Bound 2014 team was in UB.  I had not been expecting to see the children while I was in Mongolia because I knew they were at the orphanage’s Summer House, but on the afternoon following the interview Margie asked me if I would like to visit with them–they would be staying overnight at The Children’s Place before returning to the countryside the next morning.  I couldn’t say “Yes!” fast enough and caught a cab to the orphanage, where, with Margie as translator, I got to spend an hour with them talking about their hoped-for life in America.  Margie took the photo below during that magical hour:

orphanage 7-24-14

Everyone who has seen this picture of me with the kids at the orphanage back in July has said, “Steve, you look so incredibly happy . . .” And I think the kids look happy, too!


After a follow-up interview on August 14 with the U.S. Consul, who has proven exceedingly kind, the visa was finally granted last week.  Thus I am now on a plane bound for Seoul, where I will meet up with the children and their escort from the orphanage, along with Margie and her kids (who were already planning to travel to the U.S.).  After a scant 5 hours at Incheon airport, we will all catch a flight to Atlanta, where Cathy will meet us.  Then the nine of us will board one last flight to our home city of Jacksonville.

Needless to say, Cathy and I are thrilled beyond words.  (We’re also really nervous, too!)  Obviously this is a potentially big risk and a HUGE change in our lives, but our hope is to give Usukhbayar and Oyundari a future they would not otherwise have had.  Likewise, though, they will give us a future we would not otherwise have had. After the catastrophic loss of Jonathan, these children in a very real sense offer us a type of redemption: a chance to bring life from death, and to help close the circle between Mongolia and Jacksonville, between the Mother and Child Hospital and the Nemours Children’s Clinic, between The Children’s Place orphanage and Jonathan’s hospital bed on 5 Wolfson.

As we have informed friends and family about this exciting development, many have wondered aloud what would prompt us to take on such a challenge.  For me, one particular Scriptural passage has reverberated in my mind these past 7 months: to paraphrase James 1:27, “true religion is to care for widows and orphans in their affliction.”  Paradoxically, we hope that as we care for these two orphans, Usukhbayar and Oyundari will in turn help give our lives renewed purpose.

-Steve Soud



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