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Dn. Evangelos and Sh. Cathy Serve on Medical Mission Trip to Honduras

Dn. Evangelos and Sh. CathyDn. Evangelos and Sh. CathyBy Deacon Evangelos Prieston
St. Mary Orthodox Church, Chambersburg, PA

At 2:00 AM on the Friday of Bright Week, a group of Christian healthcare professionals boarded a school bus in the parking lot of Falling Spring Presbyterian Church in Chambersburg, PA for the two hour ride to BWI Airport where our group would soon depart for Honduras on a mission to provide free medical and dental care to one of the poorest communities in the western hemisphere.

The Very Rev. Luis Rodriguez, pastor of Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Chambersburg, PA led the ecumenical medical mission team. I was the pharmacist on the team, assisted by my wife, a speech pathologist; we are members of St. Mary Orthodox Church in Chambersburg. We were also aided by Mary Burkholder, a nurse from Corpus Christi Catholic Church who regularly volunteers with us at the St. Seraphim Orthodox Center in downtown Chambersburg, PA. Our team consisted of physicians, dentists, nurses,  nurse midwives, translators, and support personnel on a ten day medical mission to provide free healthcare to the Honduran Village of Guadalupe Carney. The medical professionals on the team represented five different churches from our town. 

Dental patient at the clinicDental patient at the clinicThe Village of Guadalupe Carney lies along the Caribbean Coast of Honduras, approximately five miles from the City of Trujillo. The village was named after Fr. James Guadalupe Carney, a Jesuit missionary who ministered to Honduran peasants in the 1970s while war was raging in the country. Father Carney was martyred in 1983 and the main area where he worked with the people named their village after him.

The mission team, complete with medical and dental supplies and approx. $10,000 worth of medications which were purchased with the generous donations of parishioners from all of the churches represented, set up a clinic inside the nave of the Catholic Church in the village. Father Luis had mass on Sunday morning at which time he baptized 21 children. The church only has services about once every three months because the local priest has responsibility for 50 similar village parishes and he has no deacons.

Honduran school childrenHonduran school childrenOnce the liturgical activities were completed, the church was transformed into a one-stop medical and dental clinic. Four dentists worked on one side of the building and three physicians and two midwives had their “treatment rooms” on the other side of the church. We set up the pharmacy at the “high place” of the church so that as patients flowed through the clinic, their last stop was the pharmacy where we worked on what had been used as the altar.

Over the course of the week that we operated the clinic, we had 240 dental visits (most were tooth extractions), 728 doctor or midwife visits, and we filled 2,196 prescriptions in the pharmacy. Every one of the health professionals who provided these services worked in total collaboration with each other. There was no “medical hierarchy” and no turf battles; these are very much the norm and to be expected in 21st century modern healthcare. Because each team member was a committed Christian, they were able to see the face of Jesus in every patient that they treated.

Medical teamMedical teamEvery morning, the team made the five mile journey from Trujillo by school bus to the clinic where there was already a long line of patients waiting in line to greet our team with applause and warm embraces. Father Luis give a short blessing and read a psalm each morning and the clinic was open. Each day, a different village family prepared lunch for all of the team members when we closed the clinic for an hour, usually around noontime. After lunch, we worked until the last patient had been seen, usually well after the sun had set.

Medical missionary teams are often commended for the giving of themselves in order to provide the most basic of healthcare services to those who have never seen a doctor or dentist at any point during their lives. I believe that I can speak for my colleagues in that a medical missionary receives back one hundredfold in compared with the time and treasure each team member contributes to serve on a mission team.

The residents of Guadalupe Carney did not have what we would consider to be the most basic of public services. All of the unpaved roads in the village were roads pocked with numerous and deep potholes. The primary means of transportation was walking, both to and from our clinic. What our team found especially striking was the genuine peace and joy that could be seen in the faces of the patients we treated. It was indeed a strange wonder to witness so much joy in people who had so little materially. This calls to mind the Beatitude Jesus speaks of in the Gospel of Matthew, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. We were reminded of what Mother Teresa would say when asked why she cared for so many of the sick and dying on the streets of Calcutta. Mother Teresa would simply state that in each patient she cared for, she would see the face of Jesus. This was especially true in the nearly 1,000 patients that passed through the church, converted to a free medical clinic in the Village of Guadalupe Carney. The gratitude shown by the people we treated was nothing short of astounding.

One example of this gratitude was evident during a sad moment for our team. One of our dentists and his wife received an emergency call from home to notify them of a life threatening medical situation was unfolding with a family member. They were instructed to plan to return home as soon as possible. At about the same time, the mayor of Trujillo came to our clinic to thank us for coming to provide basic medical care. However, when he heard that one of our dentists and his wife would  be needing to fly home ASAP due to a family medical emergency, the mayor at once offered the services of his car and driver to transport our dentist and his wife to the airport early the next morning. It was a seven hour drive to the airport. This was yet another example of the honest and sincere gratitude shown to our mission team.

While our medical mission to Honduras may not have been an Orthodox project, so to speak, it was an opportunity to collaborate with other dedicated and committed Christian health professionals and use the talents and gifts which God gave us to leave the Village of Guadalupe Carney just a little better than it was when we first arrived.