Hands of Mercy

Mon, Mar 11, 2019 12:00 AM

Shirley Trowbridge, a retired nurse and substitute teacher from Centreville, was looking for ways to share her medical experience. Alice Newport, trained as an occupational therapist, needed a mission opportunity that could fit in her already busy schedule. Narissa Kirby Ross, a special education teacher, understands the responsibility of advocating for special needs students so they can maximize their capabilities. Mary Craaybeek , a retired teacher and current Vice President of Mission Outreach for the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League Michigan District, was searching for ways to incorporate active mission participation into the daily lives of the women of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Centreville. 

In walks Patricia Nuffer, deaconess for Hands of Mercy, a Christian outreach to the disabled of South Sudan. Hands of Mercy offers employment opportunities, in-home and centralized rehabilitation therapy, occupational training, and Bible study to clients in the Yambio area. Deaconess Nuffer gave a presentation last year at St. Paul’s as part of the church’s monthly programs introducing mission opportunities. Trowbridge, Newport, Ross and Craaybeek were among those in attendance. “Often times, the staff of Hands of Mercy discovers that, alongside intensive rehabilitation, simple modifications can make life-changing differences for individuals. Imagine the difference clear vision gained by a pair of glasses might make in creating employment when legs cannot withstand physical labor. Imagine the freedom offered by a wheelchair or transfer bench to someone previously restricted to a mat on the floor. Imagine listening to instructions or the words of your family with the help of hearing aids, what worlds will be opened”, Nuffer challenged the congregation.

Fired with enthusiasm and the heartfelt desire to serve the men and women Nuffer introduced in her talk, the Ladies ACTION/LWML society was ready to board the plane to Yambio right then. But reality reigned. None of these ladies was able to travel to Africa at this time. But Mary Mingus, another nurse and member of Centreville’s ACTION/LWML, proposed the women listen carefully to the reference to “simple items” being significant. What could St. Paul’s ladies do from their own homes? Knowing that Deaconess Nuffer is restricted to carrying all Hands of Mercy’s supplies and equipment in suitcases of 50 pounds via commercial airplane, then by bus on unpaved, rutty roads- really just muddy paths at times- or begging space on the already over-crowded aging trucks of a sister ministry such as Orphan Grain Train hoping they can add a drop-off within walking or biking distance of Yambio , the ACTION ladies wanted a meaningful addition, something worth devoting a few of those precious pounds. Mingus directed attention to a quote from Jesus Calling found on the bottom of Hands of Mercy’s e-mail communications: “Weakness and woundedness are the openings through which the Light of the world (Jesus) shines forth.” Why not create medical kits from readily available items in the United States? In South Sudan, which is experiencing severe inflation, band-aids, ointments, cotton swabs and eye-lotions become impossible purchases for the struggling disabled who are barely making the cost of daily food. 

For a year, church members collected medical supplies, stripped them of excessive packaging- “Remember every ounce counts in that fifty-pound limit, ladies,” Mingus frequently reminded- and gathered the vital items into medical kits. Norma Frays, at 91 the oldest of the ACTION ladies, took on the responsibility of counting pills and tablets for inclusion in the packs. “At my age, I have far too much experience in doing pill counts. Who would think God was preparing me for work in South Sudan?” Frays reflected. The kits were delivered in October to Hands of Mercy’s Michigan headquarters.

In January, the members of St. Paul’s spotted photos of their medical kits included in the carefully edited suitcase of Deaconess Nuffer. She had chosen these kits to carry with her to share in Yambio. Including the kits would mean reducing herself to one set of clothes for the month-long scheduled over-sight visit, showing the value she placed on supplying the items to those served by Hands of Mercy.

February newsletters distributed by Hands of Mercy contained a heartrending account of a woman about to die. Mentioned in the story was a small gift left with her family- a medical kit. Seldom is such a direct connection between the heart-felt needs of women of Centreville Michigan and the heart-felt needs of a women and her family in Yambio, South Sudan so clearly pictured. Mary Craaybeek sums up the first aid kit collection, “So in St. Joseph County, Michigan, came ACTION/LWML's response to familiar words: ‘Insomuch as you have done it onto one of the least of these, you have done it onto Me.’   

For more information on Hands of Mercy please see their web-site at www.handsofmercymission.org. For information on Ladies ACTION/LWML contact Mary Craaybeek at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Centreville.