National Lutheran News

Making the world a healthier place

Global Health Ministries connects abundance to scarcity around the world

Lutheran health care programs overseas have a “lifeline” that originates in the Twin Cities. From hands-on rolling of bandages to financial support, Global Health Ministries (GHM) is involved in medical programs around the globe.

From its initial “home” in the corner of a Golden Valley, Minnesota, basement in 1986, the organization has grown to where it occupies a 9,000-square- feet facility in Fridley, Minnesota. Global Health Ministries buys used sea shipping containers and fills them with needed medical supplies and equipment for shipment to medical facilities around the world.

GHM predicts that it will make 25 container shipments of medical supplies and equipment to Lutheran hospitals in seven countries in 2009. Volunteers will gather, sort, repair, catalog, pack, and ship donated items ranging from needles, syringes, and bandages to incubators, ultra sound equipment, and operating tables to 22 hospitals.

The cost for shipping one 8 x 8 x 20 ft. container is approximately $13,000. So, shipping costs are a major factor in this ministry. The organization’s goal is to raise $257,000 for shipping costs in 2009. GHM primarily undertakes projects with costs in the $5,000 to $25,000 range, often considered too small for Lutheran World Federation and other agencies.

An idea of the impact GHM has is contained in comments from Warren Westvig, GHM warehouse manager, who recently returned from Tanzania: “At each of the stops I was told that without GHM and the supplies that they receive, the hospitals and clinics would cease to exist. They were very appreciative of the support they receive. This is what I take away from the trip. … GHM makes the doctors and patients feel valuable by showing that we care and will continue to care for them as we fill the containers with the supplies they need. It was important for me to be able to see first-hand the value of what we do and the places and people we work for.”

Today, GHM has a mailing list of about 17,000 — quite a contrast to the first mailing when the concern was whether the organizers could come up with 200 names, the minimum to receive the lower postal rates available under a bulk mailing permit.

GHM grew out of a need expressed at a Christian Medical Commission meeting in Kenya. At that time the Rev. Lowell (Bud) Hesterman was taking retirement from a Division of Global Ministries position with the former American Lutheran Church and offered to be the part-time director at no pay. Hesterman had the background for the task and contacts around the world. The Edina, Minnesota, resident continues to be actively involved today.

GHM finds medical treasures in all kinds of places. In the U.S., hospitals use surgical packets that include various operating room necessities. However, if only one item from the kit is used, the kit’s sterilization is compromised and the kit is discarded. Now, some participating hospitals save these supplies for GHM. Also, when medical equipment is replaced, equipment that would formerly have been discarded is given to GHM; volunteer medical technicians check out the equipment and make it serviceable for medical facilities in other lands.

Mosquito nets costing $10 each aid in control of malaria, a major health problem in many countries. GHM also funds training for local nurses and surgeons when there are fewer medical missionaries.

Hesterman noted that shipping rates have increased dramatically in the past two years, making it imperative that only those supplies that will be used at the destination are shipped. Lest anyone think this is not a sophisticated operation, all incoming medical supplies are bar-coded in the warehouse. Bar codes are also used at the receiving end. Even the giant shipping containers — some 40 feet long — are recycled at the destinations, becoming offices for dispensing medical supplies.

Among the unusual items GHM has been asked to supply was a diesel tractor. A farm equipment dealer found such a tractor, reconditioned it, and donated it. The next challenge was fitting it into a container for shipment — with less than two inches to spare on either side as it was backed into the container. Medical supplies were sandwiched in around that diesel tractor before it went overseas.

While many hospitals and clinics need relatively sophisticated electronic equipment, there are often surges in the local electrical power supply that damage or destroy the needed equipment. So, protection against these electrical surges is also a concern of GHM.

Looking at the growth of GHM, Pastor Hesterman observed, “The hand of God is at work here.” Volunteers are always needed, he says. Tasks can include assembling mid-wife kits, making up hospice kits, and packing those huge shipping containers.

While some of the volunteers are seniors, church youth leaders have found out about GHM and recruited crews of teens. Those interested in being a part of this global health effort may contact the organization at 763/586-9590 or by e-mail: ghmoffice@cs.com. More information is also available at the organization