Dr. Nicholas Comninellis was waiting for me at The Classic Cup for breakfast and our interview wearing a plaid shirt and jeans and jumped up to give me a hug when I walked in. Even with an impressive list of achievements and accolades and a biography that could be as long as the Bible, Dr. Comninellis could not be more down-to-earth and personable. “Please,” he insisted as always, “just say Nicholas.”
Nicholas is the founder of INMED Institute – The Institute for International Medicine, in Kansas City, Missouri. The educational non-profit corporation operates with a mission to equip healthcare professionals and students with the skills needed to serve the world’s most forgotten people.
In just a few weeks, Dr. Comninellis would be returning to conflict-ridden Angola, a country in South Africa with a complex history of corruption, violence, and civil warfare. However, he was very eager to talk about his recent trip to Estes Park, his family, and his friends.  “Don’t you ever feel anxious or worried before heading back to Angola?” I had to eventually ask. He answered so positively “Oh, I am really looking forward to going back; I always am.”
WATCH: TEDx Featured Speaker Dr. Comninellis discussing
WATCH: TEDx Featured Speaker Dr. Comninellis discussing “Controversies In Short-Term Medical Missions” earlier this Spring.
“Ok, tell me more about your daily situation there. What is it like? What are you encountering?” I asked.
He paused. I am confident there was much on which he could make comment that could never be covered over a brief breakfast. “Well. The human needs crisis in Angola is just endless – it’s enormous. There is a lot of preventable disease. You find just a general lack of knowledge regarding personal health care. Hunger is rampant; these are a largely impoverished and forgotten people.”  He described the tragedy of newborn death rates, his role in directly promoting maternal health, and the work that the hospital does to prevent lifestyle related diseases.
It was immediately apparent that Dr. Comninellis is not a drop-in “voluntourist” – a person who vacations in varying locations while fitting in infrequent volunteer work simultaneously. It has been growing in popularity in recent years. On the contrary, Dr. Comninellis has worked tirelessly over decades to build lasting partnerships and establish a healthcare presence in the region. It was in 1988 when Nicholas accepted a position in Angola, with the International Mission Board, SBC.
When I asked about times in which he has performed surgeries for which there was an inadequate supply of tools or technology, he tried not to laugh and said “Every time. Every day.Nicholas Comninellis Kansas City Angola Emily Lohman ArticleIt is part of the draw for me.” I really could not imagine. “You enjoy being without modern medical supplies?” I asked. “Well no; it is more along the lines of being without the automation, the high-tech tools, I am in a place where I’ve got to do it all – all the guesswork, the manual calculations, it’s intense. It’s very rewarding.”
Dr. Comninellis has a lengthy history of working in emerging countries, with refugees, and in war-ridden and impoverished areas. “Have you ever been in immediate danger?” I asked. “Well. Typically, most of the people in the area tend to be thankful for the work. I would say, on average, I am left alone. But there has been a few occasions of danger; it is very dangerous at night. Gun shots and violence, all kinds of conflict happens at night. We see some of the aftermath at the hospital during the day.”
“Are these domestic conflicts? What is happening?” I asked.
“There are soldiers. There is still immense civil conflict; military conflict. The fighting happens at night.” With difficulty, Nicholas talked about being rescued in the nick of time via helicopter before the surrounding area was invaded and occupied and hundreds killed. “Another time I felt very worried was in the middle of the night there was banging on the front door of my residence there. It was soldiers and a government official. I had treated a young boy who became well and who, unbeknownst to me, was a relative of the official now standing at my door.”
“So what did they want?” It was hard for me to visualize this situation.
“They were there to let me know I had their protection.”
“What keeps you going back? Why do you put yourself in harms way throughout the year, when you could just stay in Kansas City?”
“Along with my faith and desire to be the hands and feet of Jesus, I have a passion to leave a legacy. I want to make a long lasting impact on a community – an impact that lasts long after I’m gone. I want to leave a legacy.”
For comprehensive information regarding Dr. Nicholas Comninellis’ work and medical mission education, visit the INMED website. All images from INMED Flickr.

Reposted by Dan Getz, Dance4ONE.