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Health Volunteers Serve in New Ways and Places

General Board of Global Ministries
The United Methodist Church

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New York, NY 10115

Tel: 212/870-3921

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission: Christian Love in Action!

By Jane Dunn*

Health-care teams volunteering under the banner of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) continue to grow and adapt creatively to the unique health needs they find in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Americas.

In 2006, a total of 2,907 volunteers served on 264 teams with a health-promoting purpose, according to UMVIM jurisdictional reports. Now new doors of opportunity are opening in Asia as United Methodist mission personnel and programs in Thailand, Cambodia, Mongolia, and China look for help in dealing with poverty-related health issues. For example, the Methodist Church in Cambodia is recruiting full-time local community health experts for its new Community Health and Agricultural Development (CHAD) initiative and is beginning to receive US-based volunteer health teams.

Five or more years ago, UMVIM health teams focused mainly on dispensing medications and providing outpatient services. Less emphasis was placed on chronic, poverty-related health problems. Today, more teams are performing specialty surgeries and are tackling public health and sanitation issues that perpetuate cycles of disease and reinfection.

Recently in Panama, a health team visiting an outpatient clinic added community health learning segments to the clinic's program. The volunteers decided to invite waiting patients to attend hygiene classes where they could learn about a simple way to disinfect  water by using clear bottles and the sun's rays. That same team has been invited back to Panama to collaborate with the local church in implementing a program that educates and mentors local village health promoters. This approach seems more akin to the philosophy of "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime." As visiting volunteer health teams empower local residents to manage their own community's health, the residents' increased dignity and self-sufficiency are valuable by-products.

One constant within health-team experiences is how the UMVIM theme of "Christian Love in Action" comes alive. Team members' lives are enriched by the human connection as they work to serve others. This connection is the incentive that keeps volunteers coming back and inviting others to join them. The touching stories are many. Here are only three:

  • A visiting nurse cannot forget a small boy in a Guatemalan orphanage. Eliseo had been persuaded to have several infected teeth extracted. One tooth broke in two, necessitating a more difficult procedure for the terrified, screaming child. Feeling guilty, the nurse held Eliseo's hand as he recovered. That night was the final night of her visit. As the volunteers said their goodbyes to the children, there was a tug on the nurse's skirt. It was Eliseo, offering her his one treasured photo of himself and saying, in Spanish, "Remember me!"  

  • A volunteer health team returning from Panama brought back the story of Pio, a 13-year-old malnourished boy who looked to be about seven years of age. Pio was able to walk only by clinging to the wall. Suffering from muscular dystrophy, he had never been physically able to attend the local school. The visiting team physicians arranged with the community center for food supplements and a small dose of daily cortisone to be dispensed to Pio after their departure. When the team members returned a year later, they found that Pio was walking unaided, attending school, and being maintained on his food and medicine regimen.

  • Maria, a Honduran woman, lost her husband in a hurricane that left her paralyzed below the waist. A heavy, homemade iron-frame support was a burden to her as she struggled to scoot it forward, dragging her feet behind. The UMVIM team had been told of the woman's plight.  Tears of joy streamed down Maria's face as one team member gave her a new, lightweight walker. This simple gift from the team was life-changing for Maria.

UMVIM health teams continue their work using direct-care interventions and empowerment of local people through health education. Health professionals, educators, and lay workers are needed to take advantage of the burgeoning opportunities throughout the world. Recruitment information is available through the UMVIM Coordinator in each United Methodist Jurisdiction or from the UMVIM website at

*Jane Dunn of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, is a veteran of over ten UMVIM experiences. She was recently named health care consultant for the North Central Jurisdiction's medical teams and individual volunteers. She is a registered nurse and is a member, along with her husband, Richard, of the First United Methodist Church of Glen Ellyn.


See Also...

Topic: Children GBGM programs Health Mission opportunities United Methodist Church Volunteers
Geographic Region: GuatemalaHondurasPanama
Source: GBGM Press Releases
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arrow icon. View Listing of Missionaries Currently Working in: GuatemalaHondurasPanama

Date posted: Nov 06, 2007