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To your health, Bangladesh!

Twin Cities Lutherans have launched, sustained LHCB

A medical mission project in heavily Muslim Bangladesh supported mainly by Twin Cities-area Lutherans has become a unique success story in just 12 years.
Lutheran Health Care Bangladesh (LHCB) operates a medical facility in the impoverished southern village of Dumki. The facility has both inpatient and outpatient departments. It also sends out mobile clinics that serve villages in a 1,200-square-mile area. In 2006 the medical staff treated more than 12,000 patients.
In addition, because the great majority of births in Bangladesh take place at home, the project has trained over 300 “traditional birth attendants” among the na-tive population. They help provide safe pregnancies and deliveries.
Bangladesh is east of India and lies in the delta of three major rivers — the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna — on the Bay of Bengal.
The LHCB program focuses on the welfare of women and children and has a strong community-development and education component in addition to health care. The project has established micro savings and credit groups for women that allow them to take out loans and start income-generating activities for themselves and their families.
This program is modeled after the one developed by the Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank. That program was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. To date 300 savings and credit groups with over 5,000 members have been set up in the LHCB project area.
These groups are also centers where women receive a basic education that includes courses dealing with health matters. In addition, a health course for children has been set up in the schools, and a curriculum for adolescent girls is being developed.
During the past two years LHCB and the ELCA Division for Global Mission have teamed up in a program for digging the very deep tube wells (600 feet or more in depth) that are necessary to provide water free from arsenic contamination. So far about 200 wells have been installed.
From the start LHCB has had the respect and support of the local and national governments in Bangladesh.
“We’re not there to proselytize,” said Terry Dinovo, the new executive director of LHCB in the United States. “What we do is bring health care, and through our community development and health-education programs we better the lives of women and through them families.
“The reason we’ve been successful and accepted is that we’re there to provide these services, and there’s no hidden agenda. We’re fulfilling Christ’s words to help the least among us. And these are the poorest of the poor.”
The seeds of LHCB were planted in the early 1990s when the ELCA Division for Global Mission commissioned Roland Miller, then professor of Islamic Studies at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, to do a study of where a Christian mission could be established in the Muslim world.
Miller’s report recommended establishing a presence in Bangladesh to meet the needs of poor women and children.
When the professor gave a talk on his findings at a global mission luncheon at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, a physician member of the congregation, Dr. Oliver (Bud) Peterson, heard it as a challenge.
Peterson and another physician member of the Central congregation, Dr. Mead Cavert, along with Richard Beckmen, an associate pastor at Central, set about gathering support from other congregations and individuals.
Among those they attracted was Warren Ger-ecke, a member of Normandale Lutheran Church, Edina, Minnesota. He had just retired as an administrator with the Minneapolis Public Schools. Gerecke became executive director of LHCB for its first decade.
The Fairview Foun-dation agreed to contribute $50,000 to the project if Peterson and his colleagues could get support from 10 of the congregations that are members of the Fairview Association.
The goal was achieved, and congregations associated with Fairview have remained prominent among the 26 listed as church partners in LHCB, all but five of which are in the metro area.
In addition, the Fairview Foundation continues as one of 10 corporation and organization partners in the mission project.
LHCB was organized in 1993 as a collaborative of the ELCA Division for Global Mission and a consortium of Lutheran churches under the leadership of Peterson as president and Gerecke as executive director.
Ed and Karen Scott, who had led the successful LAMB mission project in northwest Bangladesh for the World Mission Prayer League, came on board to supervise early program work and construction in Dumki.
The first patients were seen in a rented house in 1995, and the new hospital/ clinic complex was completed and opened its doors in late 1997.
Major additions have been made to the complex since that time. The hospital now has 25 inpatient beds, a surgery suite, a pharmacy and recently updated laboratory facilities. Construction is underway for a new staff housing project that will provide apartments for doctors, nurses, administrators and their families.
The total staff in Bang-ladesh now numbers 119. That includes 18 administrators, 51 medical personnel and 50 community-development specialists. Virtually all these people have been hired from the population in Bangladesh.
Since 2004 the governing responsibility for the project has been split three ways. LHCB-Bangladesh takes care of all phases of operations on-site. LHCB-USA provides funding, some planning and mentoring services and prayer support, and keeps partner congregations involved. The Division for Global Mission contributes some funding, planning and mentoring as well as expertise in management.
Of the current operating budget of about $300,000, over 85% of the income comes in gifts from churches and individuals. Churches supply 67% of that amount.
Terry Dinovo, the re-cently hired executive director of LHCB-USA, will take off this month for his first visit to the Bangladesh site. He’ll be accompanied on this medical “vision trip” by four physicians who are members of Normandale Lutheran Church, Edina, Minnesota, a longtime church partner in the project.
Two of those physicians — Dr. Diane Petersen and Dr. Karna Lundquist — serve as president and vice-president, respectively, of LHCB-USA.
Dinovo, a former ELCA pastor in rural Nebraska and later curator of special collections at Luther Seminary, is enthusiastic about the project he has joined.
“This is the model of how Christians can work successfully in a Muslim setting,” he declared.