“I’m a missionary, and I’ve never left home.” How a job became a ministry at Walla Walla General Hospital

A nurse and a missionary. That’s all Lauri Rootvik, RN, ever wanted to be. And for this veteran nurse and recent recipient of Walla Walla General Hospital’s (WWGH) Mission Achievement Award, those dreams are fulfilled with every patient, every day, every time she walks through the hospital doors.

Rootvik’s story goes back—way back—past college and high school to her childhood in Dillingham, Alaska. Rootvik’s physician father operated a medical clinic in the basement of their home, and by the age of eight she was sweeping the floors for 50 cents a week.

“As I got older, I started assisting with all kinds of accidents and minor surgeries,” she recalled. “We even delivered babies right there at the house.”

When the time came to make a career choice, Rootvik didn’t waver. “I knew this was what I was going to do,” she says.

While the clinical aspects of the nursing profession fascinated her, Rootvik was even more compelled by the opportunities to make a spiritual difference. “I always wanted to be a missionary nurse somewhere,” she said. “I had in mind that I was going to marry a doctor or pastor and we’d go to some far-off, remote place.”

Instead, after graduating from Loma Linda University, Rootvik and her husband, Dennis, found themselves living and raising four girls in not-so-far-off and only semi-remote Walla Walla, Wash.

She’s been part of WWGH’s family ever since—17 years and counting—and has stayed for one simple reason: the sense of common purpose she shares with all who serve in Seventh-day Adventist health care.

“We have a special mission. We’re not just doing a job,” Rootvik stated. “Jesus has given me reason to hope, and every day I get the chance to pass that along to my co-workers and patients.” Rootvik sees the mission of her hospital and her church as being inextricably linked. “No, we’re not making alter calls, but we’re helping make people whole,” she said. “Spiritual and physical health go hand in hand.”

Everyday Rootvik walks past a plaque on the hospital’s lobby wall. “Restoring peace. Restoring hope. Restoring health. To do this as Christ did,” reads the hospital’s mission statement, a phrase that echoes her very personal philosophy.

“In a sense, I’m the physical presence of Jesus,” Rootvik said. “If I’m open for his spirit to work through me, I can be His hands.” It’s something she thinks about often, especially while she’s driving to work. “Each morning, I have this prayer in my heart that God will somehow use me to touch a person’s life for him.”

As for receiving the Mission Achievement Award, Rootvik was genuinely moved, maybe even overwhelmed, and she gets a little choked up just talking about it. “Sometimes when you wonder if you’re really making a difference, the Lord has a way of catching your attention,” she said. “It’s tremendously humbling to think about—I’m a missionary, and I’ve never left home.” •

Featured in: April 2003