By Jessica Brodie
QUETZALTENANGO, Guatemala—About 350 Guatemalan men and women can see more clearly now thanks to the efforts of a United Methodist medical mission there.
In late March, doctors and other medical staff at Bethesda Medical and Dental Clinic offered a Cataract Camp, attending about 350 patients and performing 114 surgeries (106 for cataracts and eight for pterygium). Both eye issues, which impact vision, were affecting the people there, who live in severe poverty and are not able to afford medical care. Founded by Dr. Luke Rhyee, a medical doctor and an elder in the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, the Bethesda clinic is a part of Healing Guatemala mission of the UMCSC. The clinic provides low-cost medical services and has a pharmacy on site that provides medication at no cost. Rhyee and his wife and three sons live in Quetzaltenango, a five-hour drive from Guatemala City, serving a million people who live nearby, mainly in the mountains. The majority are Mayan indigenous people with little access to assistance.
The Cataract Camp was held March 22-26. Three Guatemalan volunteer ophthalmologists and a team of volunteers, including Healing Guatemala’s medical scholarship students, performed the surgeries and other eye care.
“It was such a blessing to witness those who regained their vision,” Rhyee said. “One of them burst out in tears of joy while holding her daughter, who also burst into tears, for it had been four years since she lost her sight.”
A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of the eye that leads to a decrease in vision, while pterygium is a pinkish, triangular tissue growth on the cornea that can sometimes cover the pupil and also impair vision. While not life-threatening, these conditions do impact quality of life and, sometimes, ability to work. Rhyee said the surgery typically costs more than $800 U.S. dollars, almost two months of a teacher’s salary in Guatemala, and therefore unobtainable for the people there.
But thanks to more than $16,000 in donations from UMCSC churches and other supporters, all the procedures were performed free, and they have about $4,000 remaining to go toward a similar camp later this year, possibly in August.
Rhyee said they are seeking a number of equipment items for the next camp, such as another surgical microscope, two biometric scans and a Bovie cautery.
“It was such a humbling and assuring experience when I saw the joy of the patients who just regained their sights! I often thought that it was I and my team made it happen, but it was God who made it happen and intervened each of their lives,” Rhyee said, asking people to continue to pray for the people of Guatemala, who are in desperate need. “For God’s healing of them began to happen a few years ago, when they and their family members began to pray. God saw their tears and heard their cry and brought all of us to heal them! I know our faithful God will continue to intervene every moment of our lives and ministries and will bring His salvation.”
In addition to the next cataract camp, Healing Guatemala is still hard at work supplying much-needed bags of grains and other help for families severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Rhyee said the COVID situation there is “very bad,” with new cases daily of more than 1,000 people as of press time, and vaccinations offered only for health workers. He said the health department warns of a possible third wave of the pandemic, and Bethesda clinic staffers have not yet been able to get their vaccinations.
They are also focusing on construction of the clinic’s roof, which leaks when it rains, sometimes even during surgeries causing an infection risk. They are hoping to have the roof finished by the rainy season there, which typically starts in May. Next steps are the installation of the metal roof structure, installation of OSB panels and asphalt shingles, a resurfacing job and windows. Rhyee said the rest of the construction, such as floor, bathrooms, electricity, drywalls, doors and ceiling, can wait for it will not be affected by rain.
“Each step of the construction, the Lord has always sent abundant funds, and I do believe that He will continue to touch the heart of His angels,” he said.
Dr. Cathy Jamieson, Columbia District superintendent, said she and the rest of the district are proud and prayerful for Rhyee and what she called “his extraordinary mission work in Guatemala, including this eye clinic.”
“We are thankful that God has called him to use his medical and ministry gifts to serve the ‘least of these’ in one of the poorest countries,” Jamieson said.
Healing Guatemala is a 501(c)(3) ministry. To help or learn more, visit healingguatemala.org.