March 30, 2006

By Carol Flaherty MSU News Service

BOZEMAN -- Jon Balgeman says he still laughs when he thinks how the spin of a globe has shaped his life.

The near-4.0 senior in Montana State University's College of Nursing was a Manhattan High School sophomore in 1990 when he heard of a world-wide mission project. Wanting to help but not knowing where, he made the general choice of the Southern Hemisphere. Then he closed his eyes, spun the globe and landed his finger on New Guinea.

"My parents said if I could raise the money, I could go, so I wrote letters to a couple of churches and raised the money for the trip," Balgeman says.

He not only went back the following summer, but wanted to continue working in the area. So he took training with the New Tribes Mission, and during language training in Missouri met his wife-to-be, Linda Wiebe of Manitoba, Canada. They met in January, became engaged in May, and spent their first anniversary in the remote and crocodile-infested Sepik River region of New Guinea. Three years later, they returned to the United States with Jon committed to becoming a nurse.

"We did a lot of education for community health" in New Guinea, remembers Jon. "It could be as basic as hand-washing and bathing, or could include childhood immunizations." He and his wife also had the task of learning and writing down the until-then mainly unwritten language of the village they lived in. He says the culture worked on what is called a pay-back system, where when you supply someone's need, that person is indebted to you to supply your need if one arises in the future.

"Keeping the debts you owe people in mind is pretty much how the culture works," he adds.

That principle seems to have continued to guide their lives when they returned to the United States in February 2000. Jon wanted to be trained in medicine because it "is a beautiful way to connect with people." Linda began working at MSU Employee Wellness.

Now in his final months of upper-division nursing training in Bozeman, part of Jon's nursing education includes work experience this spring at Bozeman's Bridger Clinic, where he counsels men about sexually transmitted diseases, and learning about medical administration by working at the Livingston Memorial Hospital.

Jon was recently honored as the Rotary Student of the Month for March. After graduation, he will begin work at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Long-term, he says he and Linda may yet find a use for their talents in mission work, whether full-time or as a break from more conventional stateside employment.

"Once you have experienced the challenge of living in other cultures, it is difficult to stay put in America," he concludes.

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