Reflections on Samaritan's Purse: 12 Causes for Christmas

I've never seen Billy Graham speak, and I haven't met his son, Franklin. Yet I had the opportunity to work in concert with Samaritan's Purse to build homes, churches, and shelters while providing medical care to thousands of people in Central America in 2000-2002. Short-term missions teams were recruited by Samaritan's Purse to serve people affected by earthquakes, landslides and flooding in Honduras and El Salvador, countries facing thousands of deaths from natural disasters and the following political upheaval much like the current crisis in Haiti.

Church and shelter of building supplies in La Ceiba, Honduras
My job was to provide medical care, prescriptions, and medical devices to the suffering. We traveled by van to many remote locations, where construction team members erected cement block 10'x10' homes with tarp roofs. A location that broke my heart was Jerusalem, El Salvador, where we conducted our medical exams under a large tree unaffected by the recent earthquake, standing in the town square. I casted an open fracture on a 60 year old grandmother while other team members built a shelter for her, her cousin, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

While I was wholeheartedly sold on the work being done by Samaritan's Purse, it never occurred to me that working with them might mean I could not work with other aid organizations based in the United States. Our ability to serve these people long-term ended with the construction of a sturdy medical clinic and church building on a location that very well might disintegrate during the next mudslide.

 Our team consisted of about 20 construction workers, and 10 or so medical personnel. As the need for triage grew in the first few days of the trip, I was forced to train two college students to take blood pressures, temperatures, and pulse. Our translators were teenage local girls.

Several patient's faces still haunt me to this day. A six-year-old boy was brought to the clinic across long suspension rope and plank bridges from the Guatemalan border. He was in gv, a type of seizure lasting more than 20 minutes. He had been seizing for ten hours when he hit the clinic doors, and continued to seize for 2 hours more while we frantically worked to save him. We placed a bite block - a sturdy stick brought in from the jungle. I ground up prescription anti-anxiety medication from one of the construction workers (she was afraid of flying on planes) and massaged the medication into his gums. He didn't stop seizing until I injected him with an anti-seizure medication. He stayed overnight on the clinic exam table and we found him stable and alert the next morning. His mother, grandmother and sister all accepted Christ that morning, and we sent them home with Keppra to prevent future seizures.

The number of children who visited our clinic gravely ill was staggering. One baby was too dehydrated to save, and died during the night while her mother tried to spoon Pedialyte into her cheeks.

On my second trip to Honduras, a mother and son visited the clinic. The baby's name was Jesús, and he was born in Jerusalem 4 weeks after we left in our bus. His mother traveled to La Ceiba when she heard that the Wisconsin mission team had returned. A year earlier, I had diagnosed her pregnancy - she was about 6 or 7 months along - and gave her prenatal vitamins. She was so grateful for giving birth to a healthy baby, she named him after the servant-King Jesus. This story touched my heart and validated the evangelical approach of Samaritan's Purse, which is to provide for the immediate medical and shelter needs of the people while sharing the Gospel with them.

One man visited our clinic in La Libertad, El Salvador. He was having an acute heart attack, with blood pressure 200/120, and heart rates in the 190s. He admitted he had been smoking some cocaine several times daily to keep him alert at his job - standing sentinel in a field of coca. Another field nearby grew marijauna for export to the United States. He humbly asked if he could smoke marijuana when he quit using cocaine, and we agreed that would be a better compromise given the state of his health. He showed us the fields, and I was in some form of North American shock at the volume of drug being grown. The men in the coca field were chewing the leaves. Many had symptoms of heart problems.

An excerpt from my missions journal tells a painful story:
God puts before us another poignant reminder of how temporary this all is. I have been called to serve his creations, watch over these physical bodies. Yet all I can do is labor with my hands, educate my mind, and pray. HE holds the keys to life and death. My guardianship over his people is so short-lived, so temporary. As we drove up into the mountains out to La Libertad, we came upon an accident. A small boy, twisted and broken, in a pool of dark blood, his bicycle nearby. It is hard to save people only for them to die. So hard to continue this ministry, which is so easily cut short. I have always wanted to save everyone - from pain, suffering, sorrow, anger, strife. I didn't come here expecting this much beauty, nor this much sorrow, nor as many lessons. Beauty has been the flash of white teeth from a dirty face, a lily tree growing from a pile of trash, the warmth of a hug from someone so ill they can hardly stand. Sorrow has been lacking the right ointment, a surgeon's skilled hands, a dead boy in the road shot clean through after we have just taken care of him and 200 others. Lessons have been sleeping on the floor amidst roaches, eating in a filthy town square, feeling the hand of God in every treatment decision, learning to change the things I can and accepting when I cannot. (July 13th, 2001)
Click to learn more about Samaritan's Purse, including their current medical mission work in Haiti and other impoverished nations. They also sponsor Operation Christmas Child and publish a unique catalog of gifts that can be bought for those living in poverty world-wide.