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Monday, July 03, 2006

Monday Mission Moment: Volunteer Optometrists

Welcome to the RGBP’s new Monday blog feature—Monday Mission Moment.

PureChristianIThink (of Rebel without a Pew) and I are teamed up to bring this to you each week. Our goal is to highlight an interesting mission that our blogging community is involved in. We hope these posts will inspire more mission and outreach as you find new ideas for Christian service. Today and next Monday we will describe projects that we are familiar with. But we want and need your ongoing participation for future posts, and a photo or two is always welcome. Email your suggestions for this feature to: Please include a description of the project and the sponsoring organization.

Today’s Monday Mission is Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH), a program that my good friend and fellow church member, Dorothy Goforth, participates in each year. The young man examining a patient in the photo here is her son, Marshall, who was part of this year’s team. Thank you, Dorothy, for the photos and the story!

Now I’ll let Dorothy tell you all about it.

“ My sister, Dr. Nancy Clark of Danville, Virginia has been participating in mission trips through VOSH for many years. She has traveled throughout Mexico and Central America. Her 21 year old daughter has been part of these trips since starting high school. Three years ago a program for computer matching the eyeglass inventory with prescriptions was developed and she needed someone familiar with computers to help in the dispensary so I volunteered! I have now completed three trips with Nancy, all in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico. This past year my 18 year old son joined us as well. What a blessing that was!

San Cristobal is high in the mountains of southern Mexico. Most of our patients are rural villagers of Mayan descent. They speak various Mayan dialects and some speak Spanish. It makes for some very interesting conversation when you have to go through a double interpreter! English is rare with the Indians, although in the town it is fairly common. Also, for the past two years, we have had Dutch optometric students on board so things get really crazy. Most of the village men and young folk read a little, while the older women do not.

For the most part the women need reading glasses to help them with their beautiful embroidery and weaving. Sunglasses are really in demand for the farmers and the children love them as well. Glasses are a coveted item and we find that many of our patients don’t want to wear them all the time – they save them for special occasions.

In San Cristobal we set up shop in the Tzotzil Bible School, which is run under the auspices of the Mexican Presbyterian Church. (Tzotzil is one of the many Mayan dialects). The patients first undergo a screening process, where their name, age, occupation and very brief medical history is taken. The first vision test with an eyechart (symbols for non readers) is done next. They then have a more detailed vision screening, at which point they will finally see one of the doctors or optometric students. If an entire village has come together, as often happens when a bus is sent for them, this process can take half a day.

Cataracts and other acute vision problems are referred to an ophthalmologist, although we have begun to realize that this doesn’t usually mean much. However we try to focus on what we can accomplish, rather than what we cannot. The prescriptions are then brought to the dispensary, where we use the computer program to select the closest match available in our inventory. Our opticians make any necessary adjustments and explain about bifocals if necessary for some of the adults. It is surprising how often we can get very close to the needed prescription. For me the most gratifying part of this work is watching people look around them with needed eyeglasses, especially a child with very poor vision who has never worn glasses before. Leave-takings are often accompanied by a hug and a kiss and a very quiet “Gracias, Hermana”.

We bring as many eyeglasses as we can in our luggage since shipping is iffy at best. In San Cristobal, as well as other sites, there is often an inventory of glasses available from past mission groups as well, though it takes much longer to match prescriptions with eyeglasses that are not in the computer inventory.

The eyeglasses are obtained through the Lions Club, as well as donations from all our churches. This is a great way to get my church involved, even though only 2 of us actually go on the trip. Our work group this year contained members from Virginia, Texas, Iowa and Holland. In the 4 ½ days that the clinic was open, we saw about 800 people. Most of them left with eyeglasses, including lots of sunglasses and reading glasses, and smiling faces.”

VOSH is a national organization with different state chapters. You can check their website for more information and lists contacts for chapters in each state. This is a project that churches of any size can get involved in. Although specific skills are required for the volunteers that go on the trips, donations of prescription glasses and non-prescription sunglasses are always needed and can be a great project for small groups.


  1. Wow, QG, that is a great story! Thanks for explaining how other churches could become involved.

  2. This is a wonderful story. Thanks!!

  3. I loved this and passed it on to our church's service team. We're gathering this month to brainstorm new ways to be of service in our community and in the larger world.

  4. What a great story -- and it gives me a sense of where those eyeglasses go that we put in the Lions' box.

  5. The first Monday Mission looks great! Thanks for leading off.

  6. what a wonderful start to the mission monday- an inspiring story

  7. This is great! Thanks for sharing this.

  8. It is inspiring ...and motivating too :) Thank you

  9. This is a wonderful way to begin the Monday mission. When I was in Wadley there wer two groups involved this kind of ministry;, and It is a good ministry, and one that laity can do. It was neat to read the mission work from the lay person's viewpoint.


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