Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Medical Missions in Caribbean

Here is a letter I received in response to my request for help understanding what's involved in setting up a medical mission operation in another country. This couple does this in Jamaica and one of our members at Grace goes down every summer to help. My thinking is that God may be leading us to start one in Dorchester County, SC and in Curacao, NA. Here's the letter:

Dear Darien,

I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. We have been going through some personal "testing" down here in FL that has consumed not only our time but our energy and prayer life.
Jim's mother died suddenly last Wednesday so he is adjusting to all those emotions.

We are getting ready for our June trip and for next year, 2009, we would be delighted to have any of your parishioners go with us. The nurses would be a huge help and then they could come back with an "eye witness view" to go along with Linda's impressions over the past 15 years. What a beautiful christian woman Linda is. We are so blessed to have her in our lives. Your congregation sounds delightfully diverse.

Our Mutual Mission with Jamaica includes our entire Presbytery which is 62 churches from Jacksonville (North) to Palm Coast (South) to Lake City (West) in the state of Florida. It was started many years ago as an agricultural program and the Medical/Dental program we have today is an outgrowth of that original program (we no longer do agriculture). We also do an Adult & Youth Exchange and in both cases, our members go down there for 1 week and then the Jamaicans come to us for 1 week (10-15 per group). We try to stress the MUTUAL part because we do not want to imply that we are the ugly americans that can step in and take over their proud country.

Our Presbytery staffs (and bears the expense) of an office down in Jamaica that plans our programs with the member churches from the Moravian, United Church and Methodist denominations. We are known as SAMM (St. Augustine Mutual Mission) and they are known as JEMM (Jamaican Ecumenical Mutual Mission). We practice family medicine down there for the most part and Jim started the dental division in 1990. He started out with just doing extractions (carrying all the equipment from our office here in Jax) and then raised money over the years to buy portable dental units and chairs and generators to do restorative work.

The Jamaican government is very difficult to work with requiring all our volunteers to be "licensed" in Jamaica for the week each year that we are down there. The government too is very very difficult working with us getting meds, supplies and equipment into the country. We have done it for so long that our Presbytery office here in Jacksonville has learned to "play their game".
Jim and I think that your church's relationship with Curacao is such an important first step. Finding out their needs and then forming a plan to meet those needs is so useful. You mentioned your contact with Cesar and Emma. They should be a great help if you wish to expand your program. Jamaica too has socialized medicine but where we go up into the mountains, transportation for those villagers is always an issue. We also take pharmacists with us and medicine are prescribed.
The Jamaicans do pay a small fee (about $3 US) for our services. That is all handled by the Jamaican staff that is with us. The money is kept by JEMM in Jamaica and help to defray some of the costs that they have down there. As I mentioned, the Jamaicans are proud people and they believe that you value more what you pay for by giving back to the organization. They do have scholarship money for those who the ministers believe can not afford even that small amount.
Another huge need was eye care (they requested that from us) so 3 years ago we started taking optometrists with us and dispensing glasses that we get donated or purchase here in the states. All of this is possible with just the one location you have to minister to.
You starting a medical mission will so depend on how welcoming and receptive the government in Curacao is to the idea. They can make it very easy or they can make it so difficult with hundreds of hoops to jump through.

The costs to our participants is paid by the individual doctors and nurses that go and the cost of the medicines and supplies is paid for by the churches in our Presbytery. The charge for the week includes transportation and room and board and is $975 per volunteer and as I mentioned, is paid by each volunteer or the church that they attend. Jim does have a "cart and pony" show that he goes around to the various churches. After the presentation, they take up a love offering.
5 years ago we started a Dental Only trip that does dentures and partials for the Jamaicans...a huge need. On that trip we take a dental lab that Jim and his dental lab owner here in Jacksonville put together themselves. We love that mission also.
Jim said that he would be glad to speak with you personally and answer any particular questions you might have. Our home phone is (904) 725-8526, our office is (904) 744-2655 and his cell is (904) 382-6306. Please do not hesitate if we can help. Again, we would love to have any of your medical people go with us and work with us to truly understand and see first hand what we do. God has blessed this mission and we feel blessed to be a part of it too.
In Christ,
Sharen and Jim Gaff