by Maggie Boyle Judi
Twelve-year-old Olivia Wells landed with her parents, Dr. John and Emilee Wells on a humanitarian medical mission organized by Dr. Richard Paat of Maumee, OH.
Olivia’s dad, John Wells grew up surrounded by opportunities to serve. The son of Larry and Karen Wells, owners of the “Wilderness Quest” desert rehab program, John learned early the value of selfless giving.
“Growing up, holidays were spent taking stuff out to the groups. We would cook dinner and take it up to them. And that was Thanksgiving or Christmas.
So 20 years later, as a hardworking and caring parent in his own right, John Wells wants to impart his knowledge of kindness and selfless service to his children.
It all began, when John and Emilee had been married a few short months.
While planning a tour of Europe, Emilee recounts that John came to her and said, “For this amount of money we could spend the whole summer in South America, and we could go and help people.”
John started researching organizations looking for humanitarian volunteers. They decided it was “silly” to hire someone else to arrange an experience for them, so the Wells’ searched for Orphanages in La Paz, Bolivia on the internet. The plan was set.
Emilee prepared for her adventure by gathering supplies from her jr. high math students. They filled four duffel bags with supplies, booked a flight and headed to Bolivia.
They found an apartment to rent in a nice part of La Paz, and went to work six days a week caring for children at the orphanage.
Emilee learned Spanish by helping the kids with their homework. “It’s really the best way,” she reminisces, “because there is no judgment. A four year old doesn’t care, he’ll listen to you five or six times until you get it right!”
She adds, “The kids just giggle and say the word again and again” until the tiny teachers are satisfied that the she got it right.
There were five small houses with one Momita (a female caretaker) and 20 children age eight and under. This is where John and Emilee’s crash course in child rearing began.
John talks about how much the little kids loved Emilee. They would see her across the playground and shout, “Hemileem!” He says, “These little kids were not the cleanest little kids,” but despite that “she was giving them a big kiss on the head and giving them a big hug.”
On days off, they would be tourists and explore the country. One weekend, they decided to go to Cochabamba, along with John’s younger brother Chris. It turned out to be quite an adventure.
The bus stopped in the middle of the night in a scary neighborhood in La Paz and a flood of people got on the bus.
All the empty seats on the bus had been purchased in advance by the throng of new passengers.
The conductor motioned for them to come out of the bus and motioned again at the luggage compartment underneath, where two little Bolivian men popped their heads up and said hello.
Emilee turned to John and said, “It kinda seems like this would make an awesome story. So let’s get in!”
They found an inch-thick foam pad to lay on during their seven-hour journey.
Just before the conductor shut the compartment door, Chris shouted, “Are we going to be able to breathe down here?”
The conductor comfortingly replied, ‘Oh yeah, you’ll be fine,” as the metal door slammed shut revealing a little night light in the luggage compartment. Not so bad after all!
As the bus started to roll, they realized that there were plenty of gaps and holes where fresh, if not freezing air, rushed into the compartment.
Aside from discovering that John could make the bus accelerate by pushing his feet against the pipes and wires on the ceiling, the rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. They arrived in Cochabamba safe and sound. And so began many years of humanitarian trips.
John decided to become a doctor as a teeneager in Monticello after a conversation with Fay Muhlstein. John had said, “Maybe I’ll be a PA,” and Fay answered, “Why do that? Be a doctor!”
“Honestly,” said John, “up to that point I don’t know that I had thought about that.” Muhlstein’s words, spoken right before his LDS Mission, planted a seed that would grow into fruition years later.
When John was in residency at Toledo University in Ohio, he was one of two doctors selected to go on a humanitarian mission to Honduras. It was such a success that John has gone every year since.
The idea of taking his own children on his missions once they turned twelve really landed in John’s heart. He has memories of epic scount master Ty Lewis and Jim Muhlstein, who gathered up kids to cut and haul wood for neighbors who needed help. Wells wanted to give his children the opportunity to see first hand the blessings of selfless giving. Now he just had to convince Emilee.
If Emilee thought Bolivia was scary as a young newly wed, Honduras as a mother escorting twelve-year-old Olivia was terrifying. She speaks of arriving at the clinic to see a line of nearly 600 people waiting anxiously and patiently for their turn with the doctor.
Emilee was scared for what Olivia might encounter, scared of the unknown and foreign situation, scared that her Spanish would be terrible and no one would be able to understand her.
Emilee says, “A young mother came in with her tiny tiny baby. She looked up at me with total terror in her eyes.”
Something clicked in Emilee’s mind. As a mother, she knew that look. She recognized the mixture of fear and bravery in the eyes of a fellow mother, willing to do anything to help her sick child.
Emilee softly says it was a life-changing moment, “She went in the moment from being a strange Honduran woman to being my sister. I thought, ‘Emilee you can do this, because you know how to say, ‘Hello’, ‘Good Morning’ or ‘Your child is beautiful.’ I knew that I had to let go of my fear or I wouldn’t be any help to these people.”
And so Emilee pushed aside her fears and went to work. She says of that experience, “You don’t have to fix the whole problem but you do have to offer what you have.”
Dr. John Wells has given his family the opportunity to experience real compassion. Something his wife says follows him wherever he goes.
Besides running a busy family practice in Roosevelt, UT, John is also a hospice doctor and travels from Manila to Tabiona, a 200-mile radius, to help bedridden patients all around the Uintah Basin.
Emilee says most days she meets people who praise the kindness of her husband. For John, the adventure of these humanitarian opportunities is his passion. His innate sense of compassion knows no bounds, a personality trait he has carried all his life and one that will carry the Wells and their children on many more Honduran adventures.
It’s like Oliva said, “My trip at Honduras was amazing.” And thanks to the philosophy of her parents, my bet is that Olivias life will be amazing too.