National Lutheran News

Global Eye Mission brings gift of sight

Gustavus Adolphus alum provides healing ministry in Indonesia

Healing ministries since the time of Jesus have included restoring sight to the blind. Luke 7:21 records, “In that hour [Jesus] cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight.”

Today, ophthalmologist Dr. Steven Anderson, a Mankato, Minnesota, native, works at a hospital on the island of Borneo (Indonesia) and heads an organization called Global Eye Mission (GEM). GEM’s mission is “helping the blind see by bringing the life-changing gift of sight to under-served peoples of the world.”

Restoring sight is a passion for Anderson, a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, who did ophthalmology residency training at the University of Minnesota. With family in Mankato and Eden Prairie, he still considers the Twin Cities “home,” as well as headquarters for GEM.

Dr. Steven Anderson and his family live in Indonesia, where he provides eye surgery for people with vision problems. Photos provided by Global Eye Mission

“The primary surgery performed in all of our sites is cataract surgery as this is the leading cause of blindness.”

In addition to the Borneo hospital, GEM works in Kenya, Tanzania, Gabon, Central Asia, Ecuador, and Peru, as well as having other partnerships around the world. Requests for GEM to partner with additional eye ministries continue to grow, including programs for the poor in South Sudan and Burundi.

Recognized for service

Anderson practiced ophthalmology in the Twin Cities for 12 years while doing short-term medical projects around the world including with Bethesda Hospital in Indonesia. In 2008, he accepted an invitation from the hospital to help its newly-graduated Indonesian ophthalmologist establish a long-term eye program to serve the poor of the region. Responding to the overwhelming need for eye repair, Anderson’s family moved to Borneo and GEM was created. Since that time he has pursued his passion for offering eye care to the blind poor, serving both as a full-time medical missionary in Indonesia as well as serving in a leadership role in GEM and assisting a number of other eye ministries around the world.

In recognition of his commitment to eye care in under-served regions of the world, Anderson was recognized by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) as recipient of its 2011 Outstanding Humanitarian Award.

“Each program we work with around the world is at a different level of development,” Anderson told Metro Lutheran. “I would estimate that, in all our affiliated programs combined, approximately 28,000 patients are examined and 3,000 surgeries are performed per year.

“The primary surgery performed in all of our sites is cataract surgery as this is the leading cause of blindness, accounting for almost 50 percent of all blindness around the world.”

A woman recovers from eye surgery.

Anderson explained that GEM is “supported 100 percent through donor contributions primarily by individuals and churches.” He continued, “None of the missionary doctors receive a salary from the mission hospitals where they serve. They depend entirely on the financial gifts given by supporters to be able to serve at their mission hospitals. This is the traditional model of missions. Local doctors we work with typically do receive a salary through the mission hospitals or through local missions.

“Patients are charged for their care at a level they can afford, which is often less than the true cost of the care they receive. … For example, in our region of Indonesia, rice farmers may only make an annual family income of about $600. If a family member needs a major operation or requires expensive medication, the family could easily exhaust its entire annual income on one individual. Therefore, mission hospitals often provide care at a price that the patient can afford, which can be far less than the true cost of the care. In that regard the more ‘successful’ a mission hospital is in treating the poor, the larger its deficit may be.”

The ‘eyes’ have it

Anderson and his family enjoy their time in Borneo. He said, “We have lived in Indonesia as a family now for over three years and I think we have adjusted well to this very different environment. We live in a remote rainforest/jungle location. The heat and humidity, bugs, and so on, do take a little getting used to, but overall we have come to appreciate the beauty of this place.

Post-operative patients with eye patches await the doctor’s permission to return to their homes in Tanzania.

“The culture and language are also very different from the West and we have had our adjustments to that as well. In general, we have found the people here to be very warm and friendly and have made many good friends.

“While there are complexities to living in a developing country, we find there is a simplicity to life here which can be refreshing as well. For example, I walk to work and our kids walk to school, we eat three meals together daily as a family, we have limited Internet and no TV, which is a blessing! Our kids enjoy climbing trees, swimming in a nearby jungle pool made from a dammed up stream, and playing outside as we have ‘summer’ weather 365 days per year.”

Doug Stewart, who works with the local GEM office, said, “It has been an honor to support GEM here in Minnesota. It is exciting to know that the efforts of GEM’s board, donors, and local volunteers can play a small role in helping to tangibly change lives overseas. It’s a real pleasure to serve alongside Dr. Anderson. He is an amazing individual with a breadth of talents that include not only his gifts as a surgeon, but also as a visionary, organizational leader for GEM, and a mentor in how to trust in and wait on the Lord.”

Persons interested in knowing more about GEM can visit the website: www.globaleyemission.org, which includes information on how to contribute. Anderson may be contacted at: globaleyemission@gmail.com. (For security reasons, GEM’s quarterly newsletters can not be forwarded without permission or posted on the Web.)

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