This article is the fourth in a series of four stories that celebrate the history of Black leadership in mission through IM’s past and present. Carmella is an IM global servant in Hungary, working in partnership with Hungarian Baptist Aid. She teaches English, acts as a listening presence, and offers pastoral care to children and families with special needs. You can learn more about her ministry here.
Carmella always wanted to be a nurse. Even as a child, she would practice medicine using stuffed animals as stand-in patients. The seed had been planted by the example of her god-sister and aunt, who were both nurses. In addition to liking their uniforms, Carmella was drawn to the way they made people feel heard and cared for.
In high school, Carmella took college prep and nursing classes while also working as a candy striper. Upon graduating, she went straight into a nursing program. At the young age of nineteen, she was a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).
Living out her faith through nursing
Carmella went on to get her bachelor’s in nursing from Saginaw Valley State University. After graduating, she moved to Washington D.C. to work in a hospital’s open heart ICU department. It was when she tried her hand at homecare, however, that Carmella found her niche. Here was a job that allowed her to come alongside people, care for them, and teach them self-care. It was more personal, and she could build relationships with her patients. This strengthened her belief that “health occurs in homes and families, not in hospitals.” Inspired, she went back to school for a master’s in Community Health Education and Wellness Promotion from Trinity Washington University.
The university dean gave Carmella an opportunity to lead a hospital presentation for the Parish Nursing group (also known as Faith Community Nursing), telling her, “I think you can do this.” She suggested Carmella create a presentation based on her thesis study on blood pressure monitoring in church. Carmella went, shared her presentation, and ended up staying for the whole meeting. This was the first time she heard her faith could be fully lived out through nursing. She learned how this group teaches others about caring for their whole body—body, mind, and spirit. This outreach extends to local faith congregations (all denominations) and promotes health, healing, and prevention. They assist families facing health challenges, bereavement, hospice needs, and senior housing transitions. Carmella was hooked—“These are my people!”
For two years, Carmella volunteered with the Faith Community Nurse Program at Holy Cross Health in Silver Spring, Maryland. She was then hired on as the Parish Nurse Coordinator, promoted to manager, and finally became the director. As director, she led a team of nurses who helped other nurses develop ministries in their faith communities and offered guidance through implementation. For eighteen years, Carmella thrived. This job used her gifting, felt natural, and energized her to the point that it never felt like work.
Call to cross-cultural mission
But God was planting seeds for another vocation. It was during Carmella’s first mission trip on a medical-dental team to Guyana, South America, that she felt God urging her toward cross-cultural ministry. Carmella didn’t feel ready for this step.
Then, one day at work, Carmella’s boss suggested pursuing seminary. Carmella enrolled in Wesley Theological Seminary full time while also working full time. On the nights she didn’t have class, she stayed at work to study. The security guard would lock her in after work hours and then return at 10pm to escort her to her car. On weekends she studied at Panera, where the manager looked after her, reminding her twice a day, “Time to pay rent,” as a hint to buy lunch and dinner. At the end of the night if there was leftover unsold food, he would offer it to her. With the support of friends, co-workers and café managers, Carmella received her Master of Divinity in 2012. She was ordained an American Baptist Clergy person in 2013.
While in seminary, Carmella accompanied her friend to a mission assessment. The result: they told her, “We could send you out now.” But she still wasn’t ready.
One unexpected opportunity arose at work when the Director of Spiritual Care retired, and Carmella’s boss, again seeing potential, urged her to become the interim director. For five or six months she took on this role overseeing hospital chaplains and learned that she liked the chaplain role but not in a hospital setting.
After graduating from seminary, Carmella’s pastor encouraged her to attend International Ministries’ World Mission Conference and Hear the Call retreat. With the church covering the expenses, she couldn’t refuse.
Processing fears in light of God’s faithfulness
After reading Romans 11:29, “God does not change his mind about whom he chooses and blesses” (GNT), Carmella began to process her fears and God’s faithfulness. She decided to attend the Hear the Call retreat a second time, and she asked for God’s help in being obedient beyond her fears, trusting God to open doors. God filled her with peace to tackle the hard work to come.
Carmella applied to become a global servant with International Ministries. After an intensive application and preparation process, she was approved and offered three possible ministries—one in South Africa, one in Tijuana, and one in Hungary. Carmella entered the process expecting she would be assigned somewhere in Africa. Her heart’s desire and prayer before God was that her mission placement would use both her nursing and pastoral experience and education. South Africa made an offer, but Carmella’s heart was knitted to Hungary because she felt it was the best marriage of her pastoral and nursing gifts. In 2017, Carmella was commissioned and sent to Hungary.
Carmella works at the Pannohalmi Bela Baptist School, which serves marginalized children with learning disabilities. With one hundred children ranging from first to eighth grade, Carmella has her hands full acting as school chaplain and co-teaching English. She also works at Tabitha House—a pediatric hospice house offering short-term overnight care for children with terminal or chronically life-limiting conditions. She holds the children, reading them stories, playing with them, and assists in transporting them in and out of bed. She also offers her nursing skills when appropriate. Carmella is most loved by the children for her smile, laughter, and English.
In times of doubt, recalling the IM application process reminds Carmella that she was blessed with a unique combination of giftings, and that all her choices and experiences shaped and led her to where she is meant to serve. This ministry perfectly fits who God wired Carmella to be.
Author Darshana Chetti is the daughter of Dr. Samuel Chetti, CEO/Executive Minister Emeritus of ABCOFLASH, and the niece of IM global servants to Lebanon, Dan and Sarah Chetti.
Read more from this series: