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Building to preach and heal

Joe Austin came to Honduras to be a nurse. Predisan made him a plumber, too.

Workers and supporters of the Catacamas-based ministry rushed to finish the new Family Health Complex by the Jan. 25 dedication. Lawyers became painters. Preachers and businessmen moved bricks.

And Austin, who came by his plumbing prowess after three remodelings of his home back in Alabama, installed sinks.

“We were looking for a place where we could use our medical skills and evangelize, and this fit the ticket,” said Austin, a pile of wrenches and metal joints at his feet. He and his wife, Anne, also an RN, moved to Catacamas in late 2002 with their son, Johnathan, 12. The Central church, Tuscaloosa, Ala., supports their work.

With the plumbing installed, the Austins will practice their medical skills in the new clinic, painstakingly painted and tiled in shades of healthy green. As workers put finishing touches on the facility, Predisan, a combination of the Spanish words for “preach” and “heal,” became the second medical ministry to open a new, state-of-the art facility in Central America in less than a year. Birmingham, Ala.-based Health Talents International dedicated its Clinica Ezell Feb. 1, 2002, in Montellano, a small community in western Guatemala.

Both ministries moved from cramped, rented facilities to spacious surgical suites. Both had dedication services in Spanish and English, complete with prayers and speeches that emphasized the role of local Christians in building and staffing the facilities, said Linda King, president of Predisan USA, the stateside support organization for the medical mission.

“I thought it was very Honduran in its pace,” King said after the dedication ceremony. “It was intentionally a way to join the community … symbolically, not preferring either language.”

Dr. Amanda Madrid, a Honduran Christian and executive director of Mission Predisan, visited local clinics and members of the medical community, inviting them to attend the dedication.

“We gave a private tour to the local medical community. (We said we’re) not here to replace you or one-up you,” King said.

Predisan’s U.S. supporters stress that theirs is a supporting role. They consult with local workers in all major decisions, said board member Joe Robling.

“We have a long-term view of missions here. We also have a native Honduran view,” Robling said. “If something were to happen politically, we could get every American out the country today and continue to operate.”

But when Hondurans “think about Predisan, they think about the U.S.,” as they watch doctors, clad in scrubs, walk the streets of Catacamas, said Martha Revera, a Honduran and former financial director for Predisan.

When asked if Predisan’s Honduras workers saw the new complex as a Honduras or U.S. facility, Revera said “I think it’s a combination, because the planning has had opinions from specialists in the U.S.” Architects from the United States consulted with a Honduran architect to design the 40,000-square foot facility.

But Revera praised the spirit of the U.S. volunteers. “It’s really neat when you work with the American missionaries because they don’t come here with their ideas,” she said. “They just share their knowledge, and we share our knowledge also.”

Predisan’s beginnings date back to 1985, when Joe Glenn, of Atlanta, visited a preacher training school in Catacamas. One of the student’s wives brought their child, suffering from severe dehydration, to see the U.S. visitors at the Hotel Juan Carlos. The problem was so severe that the child’s skin wouldn’t spring back when pinched, Glenn said.

A nurse with the group ran to a drugstore and bought a saline and sugar solution for the child. “The baby’s skin got texture back to it,” Glenn said. The visitors decided it was “sinful for us to send these young preachers into the mountains when we could give them the skills to heal,” he said.

When he returned to the Decatur church, Atlanta, (now the Northlake church) Glenn talked about the need for a medical mission in Catacamas.

“What we worked on today … it was never in our wildest imagination,” Glenn said, standing near the spot in the hotel where he first encountered the sick child.

Robert and Doris Clark, former medical missionaries in Guatemala who were forced to flee in 1980 due to violence in the country, moved to Catacamas and launched Predisan in 1986. The ministry gained respect in the town, and Madrid and other Honduran church members joined the effort. Robert Clark died in 1994 of a tropical disease. Doris Clark, now president of Predisan Honduras, continues to lead the Catacamas work.

Before the ceremony, Doris Clark was constantly in motion, making last-minute preparations and giving visitors tours of Predisan’s various ministries, including the “Cerepa” substance abuse rehabilitation center and a community of homes built by the ministry after Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras in 1998.

Both Health Talents and Predisan send teams of doctors into rural villages to provide low-cost health care and offer Bible studies. The Health Talents clinic was designed to be a referral site for major surgeries and procedures that can’t be done in the field. By comparison, the Predisan facility, built in a more populated area, was designed to include administrative offices, surgical suites and the ministry’s Good Samaritan Clinic. In the clinic’s former setting, a small, rented building in Catacamas, workers provided health care to more than 15,000 of the region’s poor in 2002, according to Predisan’s year-end report.

With the new clinic, “the quality of the service is going to be better,” Revera said. “We’re going to have the opportunity to serve more people.”

The new building is a cool refuge from the hot Honduran sun, moving air through wide breezeways, spacious ceilings and broad windows looking out onto lush, forested mountains. Predisan spokesman Charlie Walton said the project was under budget, with a price tag of less than $400,000. In the United States, the figure would easily be in the millions, he said.

Honduran work crews cast bricks and did most of the work by hand. Members of Atlanta’s Northlake church, Predisan’s overseeing congregation; the Quail Springs church, Oklahoma City; the Dayspring church, Edmond, Okla.; and churches in Tennessee, North Carolina and Michigan helped in the final days before the dedication.

Taking a break from hauling bricks, Richard Cribbs watched the Honduran workers smooth the surface of the small, angular chapel beside the clinic. Cribbs, of the East Brainerd church, Chattanooga, Tenn., works as a “runner” during surgeries, getting instruments and supplies for doctors as they operate.

Cribbs said the new surgical suites will provide a more sterile environment than the ministry’s previous facility, though it will deprive surgeons of several “war stories.” While assisting on a hernia surgery in summer 2001, during Honduras’ rainy season, “A volleyball size piece of ceiling came falling down,” landing in a small triangle of space between the patient’s arm, the doctors and a bank of monitors. The patient was awake and watched it happen, and the fact that no one was injured “was a definite God thing,” Cribbs said.

But with improved facilities come increased operational expenses, and increased expectations from the people served. A host of public officials, including Honduras Vice President Alberto Diaz Lobo, attended the Predisan dedication. Dr. Mirna de Lobo, of the country’s office of public health, challenged Predisan to expand its work. “Make this project bigger,” she said. “We have the dream that the people in public health are going to learn to give the quality of care that the people of Predisan are giving.”

Other officials said that the facility should be the model for future medical facilities, and King said that several Catacamas city officials would like to make the complex the town’s public hospital, which would require 24-hour staffing.

Honduras, thought to be the poorest country in Latin America, is the home of at least five ministries supported by churches of Christ and numerous humanitarian efforts by religious groups from Baptists to Mennonites. Its people are familiar with ministries that come to Honduras with big plans, but quickly lose funding and missionary zeal. Vice President Lobo encouraged Predisan workers to persevere, even when the complex is no longer new.

“I want to recognize all the humanitarian spirit that you must have,” he said. “Again, I feel it is the Holy Spirit that is calling you to leave your homes, to leave your families (and come here).

Looking at the newly painted walls of the facility, he said, “Take really good care of it. Please don’t let it deteriorate.”

For more information on Predisan, see the Northlake church’s Web site, www.northlake.org.

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