One of the things that intrigued me about Pullen Memorial Baptist Church from my very first visit was the congregation’s approach to international missions. Pullen supports five international partners through long-term relationships that involve diverse groups within the congregation. One partnership goes back to the 1970s. Another to the mid 80s. Taking on a new partnership isn’t done on a whim, because the church sees value in being able to commit to offer support to the work of partners through money, volunteers and prayers for an extended period of time. These relationships are just as important as the work being done to improve the lives of people in the countries where our partners are based.
This afternoon I was able to get a personal taste of one of these partnerships when I arrived in Managua, Nicaragua, with six other friends from Pullen. We are here for 11 days to visit and work alongside AMOS Health & Hope. Drs. David and Laura Parajón are the driving force behind AMOS — which stands for A Ministry of Sharing Health and Hope. The Parajóns are top-knotch physicians and public health experts who have poured their skills and passion out for the people of rural Nicaragua.
AMOS operates a medical clinic at the compound in Managua, but the Parajóns primary work takes place in the remote villages of this Central American nation where access to clean water, antibiotics, and training in safe hygiene are sorely lacking. AMOS establishes trust with these communities, identifying a member of each village to serve as a health promoter who can perform basic, but often lifesaving tasks, referring the most critical cases on to licensed physicians. Health promoters also work to change the habits of people in the 27 communities AMOS operates in. Running water through a sand filter before drinking, washing hands, and paying attention to minor issues before they become crippling all go a long way towards fostering healthier communities and happy people. In a place where diarrhea can quickly lead to death for a child, and dirt floors make keeping clean a challenge, this work of education, care and advocacy is what it looks like to embody the love of Christ for the most vulnerable of God’s children.
Our team will be piloting a new project that involves offering vision screenings and prescription eye glasses to people who may have gone their whole lives without being able to see clearly. The logistics have been extensive, though others in the group (which also includes Deb Norton, Jonathan Sledge, Ben Suttle, Tom Winton, Phil Letsigner and Jock Gault) have done the hard work of making plans, preparing equipment and securing paperwork. We had a short scare on the runway at RDU, as our fully loaded plane was held in limbo on the tarmac for nearly an hour before we were told an item had to be removed from the luggage area because of improper paperwork. We were worried some of our optometry supplies may have thrown up a red flag, but all of our gear made it safely to Nicaragua. With careful negotiations and 46 pages of documentation notarized by multiple officials across two continents, we even made it through customs.
After dinner on this first night, our group circled up and reflected on what experiences the week ahead may hold: opportunities to deepen relationships with friends, new people we will meet at AMOS and in the villages we travel to, the opportunity to serve people who are often overlooked by society, and being open to the unexpected. Perhaps in the process we will also be blessed with clearer vision to see things in new ways, with eyes that focus more on what God’s Spirit is doing in our midst. One can hope.
The Pullen group will be Nicaragua from August 30 to September 10. For more information about AMOS, visit http://www.amoshealth.org. For daily updates of the group’s activities, check on David Anderson’s blog. Posts will be added as internet access is available.