National Lutheran News

Gloal Health Ministries continues to expand

Lowell Hesterman

Lowell Hesterman

Lowell Hesterman and Ken Grosch named “Faith in Action” honorees.

This month the executive director of Fridley, Minnesota-based Global Health Ministries (GHM) passes the baton to his successor, the Rev. Timon Iverson, whose term begins July 1.

When Ken Grosch steps down, he’ll leave behind a thriving medical supplies and support ministry which, at its birthing in 1987, was almost stillborn.

It’s a tribute to Grosch, and his predecessor, the Rev. Lowell Hesterman, that GHM is alive and well today, managing a budget of $1.3 million and touching the lives of people on virtually every continent.

Because of their vision and bulldog determination to make GHM a functioning reality, Metro Lutheran has named the pair its 2002 “Faith in Action” honorees. It’s the first time the paper has honored two individuals at the same time.

Global Health Ministries might be described as a child of desperation. In the 1980s, Lutheran overseas medical missionaries began to report growing frustration with their inability to secure needed medical supplies and equipment. One of these, an individual who became GHM’s first executive director, was Len Aklund, MD (see section following this article, below).

At a 1986 gathering of Lutheran medical missionaries at Limuru, Kenya, common concerns were shared. And, in a magical moment of denominational cross-fertilization, participants became aware of a model already in place in the Presbyterian Church.

Like the Lutherans, the Presbyterians had experienced a lack of available funding for medical support for mission work. They’d done a creative end-run and created an independent agency to recycle still-useable supplies and equipment and send them overseas.

A Presbyterian missionary at the Kenya meeting said, in effect, “Why don’t you Lutherans take a page out of our playbook. This could probably also work for you.”

That suggestion, combined with Akland’s passion, was all it took. Lutherans with a heart for global mission gathered in a Bloomington, Minnesota, hotel in January, 1987, and decided to launch what became GHM.

The former ALC was on the verge of merging into the ELCA and the Rev. Lowell Hesterman, an ALC global mission executive, had decided to retire in the Twin Cities rather than move to Chicago. He was asked to become the second executive director (Akland was the first, but could only invest himself marginally in the work).

Hesterman took no salary at first (later there was a stipend for part-time service). As the old ALC was closing down its downtown Minneapolis work space, Hesterman and some friends collected discarded furniture and supplies and set up an office at Golden Valley Lutheran College. When the school closed, GHM found a tiny corner of space in the offices of the Minneapolis Area Synod, ELCA, on the top floor of the Minnesota Church Center.

The ministry grew and GHM needed a full-time director. Hesterman, who wasn’t prepared to shoulder the burden, encouraged the board to advertise for his replacement.
Thirty candidates stepped forward, one of whom was a perfect fit. Ken Grosch, a lay Lutheran with experience working for an LCA bishop, and also in overseas mission work (New Guinea and Ethiopia), was secured for the position. He took over in 1990.

Sobered by lack of needed funding (during one memorable month, no money arrived from contributors), Grosch launched a program to shore up the struggling ministry. The mailing list was expanded, contributions were solicited, and a new location was found to replace the cramped quarters in downtown Minneapolis.

Grosch’s legacy is a large warehouse/office facility in suburban Fridley, Minnesota, a full-time paid staff of three, hundreds of volunteers (who come and go on rotating schedules), and a growing reputation for solid work. (See the over-view at the end of this article.)

Today, GHM receives 20% of its financial support from congregations, almost all Lutheran, and 80% from individuals. Grosch says the increase averages a healthy 15% per year. First-time contributors are constantly being added, he ex-plains.

How does the future appear for GHM? “It looks fantastic,” says Grosch. “We’re trying to improve the quality of the health care that’s given in the areas where we relate. We’re trying to be more proactive about this. We want to be a catalyst for better treatment and drug protocols.”

Today GHM sends medical supplies and financial support to mission projects in over 120 overseas locations.

* * *

GHM’s “godfather” wouldn’t give up on the idea

The “godfather” of Global Health Ministry is, according to Ken Grosch, Dr. Len Akland. “He’s been the driving force behind getting this project on line, and keeping it healthy.”
Akland and his wife, Agnes, may have been the inspiration for GHM. They wrote a letter in the mid-1980s to the Division for World Mission and Inter-church Cooperation of the American Lutheran Church, asking what might be done to support health ministries overseas.

Akland had the idea that the denomination’s mission staff would include one medical representative. But the ALC was about to become part of the new ELCA, and adding staff to a soon-to-end structure didn’t seem likely.

Instead, ALC mission leaders met, in Bloomington, Minnesota, with Akland and others interested in improving medical mission work.

Akland served as chief executive officer for GHM until Lowell Hesterman agreed to accept the job.

* * *

A Global Health Ministries Overview

* What is GHM?

It’s a grassroots movement providing financial and material support to Lutheran health care mission programs in developing countries.

* Where does the money come from?

As an independent non-profit ministry, GHM depends on gifts and contributions. Lutheran congregations provide some of the funds, but most comes from individuals. Last year over $1 million flowed to GHM (all the more impressive, considering that in one of the first months of the group’s existence, not a nickel came in!).

* Do all Lutherans participate in this ministry?

All Lutherans are welcome and invited, but most of the support and work are ELCA-related, with a limited amount related to AFLC and WMPL (World Mission Prayer League). The LCMS has maintained its own program.

* Where does GHM spend the money it receives?

While much of the work involves recycling “gently used” supplies for overseas use, GHM still bears the cost of shipping materials and equipment overseas. The ministry also makes financial grants to medical programs in overseas churches. A small percentage pays for staff and facility maintenance in Fridley, Minnesota.

* How large is the staff?

There are three full-time employees. Much of the work is done by hundreds of volunteers. A 24-member board of directors serves without remuneration.

* Is this basically a Twin Cities operation?

Many of the founders lived in the Twin Cities. The offices are in a Minneapolis suburb. But support comes from nearly all the states, along with several foreign countries. GHM’s newsletter now reaches 16,000 ad-dresses nationwide.

* Is GHM draining contributions away from Lutheran denominational ministries?

Every independent non-profit ministry runs the risk of diverting funds from already-established mission. GHM stresses “extra-mile” giving, which means church people are encouraged to provide regular financial support through their congregations first, and to GHM second (hence, “second mile” giving).

For more information about Global Health Ministries, including ways to contribute or to volunteer, or to get on the mailing list, call 763/586-9590, e-mail ghm@, or go to the ministry’s website, Or, visit the medical warehouse and volunteer center at 7831 Hickory Street NE, Fridley, Minnesota (phone ahead.)