by John and Lori Kempen, Tenth Global Partners and Founders of Sight for Souls
Often restoring sight to a blind person helps to lift their whole family out of poverty, in addition to restoring the many other benefits of sight, which parallels the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration that gives sight to the spiritually blind.
I surveyed the line of twenty or so of elderly men, who had come to this outreach we were doing in partnership with another organization in rural Ethiopia. Each, with one eye patched generously with white gauze and tape following his surgery yesterday, was sitting with a rather blank expression on his face. As John removed the first patch, I waited for the explosion of excitement. Nothing. Blank stares. After a cursory sight check (how many fingers?) and a peek into the eye for surgical complications, John peeled away the second patient’s patch. Again, not much of a response. “This is anticlimactic,” I thought. “All these years of planning and prep, for this.” However, change was in the air….
I had interviewed two particular cataract surgery patients the day before. When he removed their patches, I followed up with some more questions, a group project of a clinical technician, a family member, and onlookers, translating from Amharic to Oromifa, and back. They were happy with the result, though not as expressive as I had hoped. As I was videoing the interview, another man down the line shouted, “GELETOMA!” (“THANK YOU!”). He carried on, bursting with joy and excitement, praising God and thanking the medical team. I was pretty disappointed I hadn’t caught it on video, but finished up my interview, and surveyed the crowd again.
By now there was a quiet change. One really cute elderly man was grinning from ear to ear as he showed his neighbor his plastic cowboy-looking boots he had acquired somehow, which he had probably never seen before today. They were murmuring, smiling, chatting, thanking God and the doctors, their wrinkled faces, gorgeous and deep from a lifetime of experience and radiating delight. They were shaking their hands, palm up, murmuring, overflowing with thankfulness and gratitude that they could see. I shook one patient’s hand--he kissed my hand so fervently--I kissed his back, hoping that was okay in this culture (it was, I found out). My hand was kissed and blessed by a lot of precious whiskers, and I kissed many hands worn and beautiful by a lifetime of hard work. By the end of the day many happy men and women were on their way home seeing, and many others were having their second eye operation.
Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in developing countries. In Ethiopia, about 1.6% of the population, or about 1.25 million people are blind. Almost half of these (600,000) are blind from cataracts and could be cured, awaiting operations that are largely unavailable due to the lack of ophthalmologists.
We praise God that Phase 1 of Sight for Souls’ Discovery Eye Center is up and running well. We have four ophthalmologists (two Ethiopian and two American missionaries), and 8 staff, and a well-functioning well-equipped unit set up under the auspices of MyungSung Christian Medical Center (a Presbyterian mission hospital). We are seeing a growth in the number of patients coming by 30% per month since January. We are blessed to have the capacity to leverage our infrastructure and staff members to do further outreaches to the poor in underserved areas. Because there are a lot of souls who need sight right now.
Under Sight for Souls and our partner mission hospital, we are implementing a plan for long term sustainable medical care, paid for by patients, which we aspire to have last indefinitely and provide training to multiply and retain eye care workers. The small percentage of people who are financially well off can get cataract surgery just like we did in Philadelphia; though it costs a lot less than in the West, it still will generate a surplus that can be used to reduce costs for the middle and lower middle class people for whom lower tech approaches with the same ultimate outcomes are more affordable. However, there are huge numbers of people who are well below lower-middle class, and can’t even afford to pay our marginal cost of providing one of these surgeries of about $50 for one eye. You may have heard of the recent trash dump disaster, where over 100 who were eking out a living gleaning from the city dump died in a giant trash landslide.
We are so grateful to Tenth Presbyterian Church for including our poverty-stricken blind neighbors in the ESO, which will restore vision to hundreds of needlessly blind people (one for every $50). Often restoring sight to a blind person helps to lift their whole family out of poverty, in addition to restoring the many other benefits of sight, which parallels the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration that gives sight to the spiritually blind.