Where People Receive Sight
by Mary Beth Coudal
In March 2006, Dr. Lowell Gess celebrated his 180th ocean crossing. On that trip, Dr. Gess traveled with United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (UMVIM) from Central United Methodist Church in Milbank, South Dakota to Freetown, Sierra Leone to volunteer at the Kissy United Methodist Church Eye Clinic.
Dr. Gess, who retired as a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries in 1975, first traveled to Africa as a surgeon in 1953 with his wife, Ruth Gess, a registered nurse, and their four children.
Global Ministries has a strong connection with the Kissy Eye Clinic and the United Methodist Hospital Kissy which share the same campus. Six months ago, the UMC Health and Maternity Center became the United Methodist Hospital Kissy.
The work of volunteers at the Kissy Eye Clinic takes place in partnerships with Dr. Ainor Fergusson, a Sierra Leoneon ophthalmologist, who is an approved candidate for missionary service through Global Ministries.
The purpose of the eye clinic is to provide sight to people with various kinds of vision impairment in the outlaying regions of Freetown. “The wonderful thing is if people are brought to the clinic they become independent and productive. They can see again. They can work again. They can feed themselves,” said Dr. Gess.
In Sierra Leone, a country of more than six million people, five doctors practice in the field of eye care. Dr. Gess compares that number to Minnesota, a state with a population of less than five million people, with a total of 250 eye doctors.
The Dakotas Annual Conference is one of many conferences giving assistance, through health care professionals, to the Kissy Eye Clinic. Several on the Milbank team have made multiple trips to Sierra Leone for more than 20 years, including contractor Roger Reiners, who helped build the eye clinic in 1981. “Little did I ever imagine when this project began 24 years ago that we would be shipping containers from Milbank to the Eye Clinic,” reported Reiners.
In addition to the work team, the South Dakotans sent a container that included 10,000 packets of garden seeds, 700 pairs of glasses, 30 desks, medical supplies, hymnals, Bibles, books, school supplies, an organ, and a rototiller. Packed with more than 11 tons of materials, the container traveled from Milbank via Minneapolis, Nova Scotia, Amsterdam, and finally Sierra Leone.
One of the many tasks on the team’s “To Do” list last March was to build ten benches for the waiting area of the clinic. “It was a pleasure to see these benches…completely filled each morning with an average of 100 patients per day,” eye-care professional and UMVIM Melanie Reiners marveled.
The Reiners will be returning to Sierra Leone in November to assess the possibility of working with upcountry eye clinics. “In Njaiama the need for eye-care is tremendous. The people are beginning to return to their home areas now that the violent years are over. Dr. Gess has stated many times that ‘80 percent of the people in third world countries who come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior come to Him through a medical need or emergency.’ This is one of the places of greatest opportunity to spread the Gospel through health care in Sierra Leone,” said Ms. Reiners in an email message.
Kissy Eye Clinic has a continuing need for ophthalmologists, optometrists, and nurses with optical training. To help financially support the Kissy Eye Clinic, please make a donation to the Advance #09229A.
Date posted: Jun 22, 2006