Healing in Honduras
For 17 years, the Raymond brothers—doctors Frank, Clifford, Jonathan, Norman, and Russell—led by Major Richard Shafstall, a retired Salvation Army officer, have engaged a team of nurses, medical specialists, and Salvationists from the USA Eastern Territory to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. They’ve provided free medical care and spiritual healing to its most needy residents. Frank, Clifford, and Norman are OB/GYNs; Russell is an interventional cardiologist; and Jonathan is a behavioral psychologist and a former university president. Alongside Norman is Jackie, his wife, who is a registered nurse. Also helping blaze the way in this medical missions endeavor are Karen and Marcia, who are Russell and Clifford’s wives, respectively.
Twenty years ago, Honduras suffered unimaginable destruction from tropical storms. And due to gang violence, today the country is widely considered one of the most dangerous in the world.
Despite this reality, the Raymonds continue their missions. With each trip, the brothers and their team bring with them more than $500,000 worth of prenatal medicines, vitamins, skin medications, and other supplies. Typically, they remove cancerous skin moles, treat a wide variety of infections, and administer check–ups. They have also treated bullet and machete wounds in the field. In less than a week, they’ll see as many as 4,500 patients, many of whom will see a doctor for the first time.
“It is Christ’s message of love for one another that excites us in this mission,” says Norman, corps sergeant major at the Army’s Chapel at Worthington Woods in Columbus, Ohio. “Jesus said, ‘When I was hungry you fed me, when in prison you visited me. And when I was naked you clothed me. When you’ve done it unto the least of these, you’ve done it unto me …’ Even a cool cup of water, medicine or a pair of shoes, in His name, means the world to people who have nothing.”
The Salvation Army has been in Honduras since the 1950s. But when Hurricane Mitch hit the country in October of 1998, officers from Northeastern Ohio asked the Raymond family to help.
“I remember that we couldn’t even make it to Honduras until January of 1999, because for several months the airport was under deep flood waters. Planes couldn’t leave or land,” recalls Russell.
When the brothers arrived in January, they saw first-hand the damage that Mitch had done. Ninety percent of Honduran businesses and industry were lost. Salt water had killed the agriculture and contaminated the once fertile land. The fresh, clean water supply was gone. Thousands of people had lost their lives.
“In one day, 10,000 people died,” says Norm. “Families were literally washed away. The people who survived had run into the mountains to escape the flooding. That’s why you see so much poverty the higher up you go in Honduras. They’re the people who lost everything.”
Norman remembers meeting a woman who had lost two sons and her husband. He had been a successful banker who provided for the family, but because she had no education or work experience, she was forced to live in the mountains with her surviving daughter. The only material possession the mother owned was her wedding ring, which she held dear.
“This woman had gone from a comfortable, upper–middle class way of life, to complete poverty,” says Norman. “Her story was one of thousands.”
Since 1980, the Raymond Foundation, a charity of Cliff and Marcia Raymond, helps to fund the trip to San Pedro Sula. The foundation’s initial goal was to help young people attend Christian high school and medical school. But through the years, the Honduras mission trip became the focus.
The brothers bring other doctors and nurses from Chicago, New York, Cleveland, and Columbus, their home city. Says Cliff, “The trip is always a blessing for us. It’s a privilege to help and to serve. It’s also a way to work together with colleagues and to learn from each other away from a traditional clinic.”
Cliff says that the team sees situations unheard of in the states, such as a patient who obviously had a severe case of bilateral cataracts. Cliff felt God’s presence during an opportunity to cure this woman. “At the time, there was no Army corps in Honduras. So earlier in the week, we had attended a service in our own hotel. There, we met a wonderful ophthalmologist who had taught in the United States, and now had a practice outside of San Pedro Sula, in a town called El Progreso.”
The Raymonds took the woman to the ophthalmologist’s clinic, where he said hers was the worst case of cataracts he had ever seen. That day, when one of the patient’s cataracts was removed and the lens replaced, she emerged with 20/20 vision in one eye for the first time in 12 years.
“The risk was too great to do the operation in both eyes so soon,” recalls Cliff. “But the next year, we returned to the same village, brought the woman back to the same ophthalmologist, and replaced the other lens. Helping this woman brought real joy to the team, and to the village.”
The Raymond Foundation provides annual funds for two children to travel from Honduras to the Cleveland Clinic to be treated for congenital cardiovascular disease through open–heart surgery. The clinic and the foundation split the cost of the flight and for the procedure. To date, 27 children have received such operations in Cleveland.
The Salvation Army and the Raymond Foundation have worked together to continue the Honduras mission trip. Grants and donations provided clothing, food, and Bibles. Officers from the Eastern Territory travel with the doctors and serve as assistants, translators, and healers.
Says Russell, “When the physicians who come with us participated in other missions, they were required to pay for their own expenses. Here, The Salvation Army helps to pay for accommodations and for transportation. This allows us to afford making the trip year after year.”
The Raymonds realized early on that San Pedro Sula was home to many Salvationists. The brothers assisted these Salvationists in establishing a corps, which eventually also became a school. There are currently plans to build a second and larger school, which will enroll 400 children.
“Before we head out to the villages, we hold a morning service at the San Pedro Sula Corps. It’s a wonderful way to say ‘thanks’ to the Army, and it also helps get the word out about our mission,” says Russell. “Many of the soldiers here were kids that saw us help their friends, neighbors, and family members.”
When children come from Honduras to the Cleveland Clinic for treatment, an officer from the Army spends time with the child’s family, providing comfort or guidance.
Says Norm, “Realizing the overwhelming service to others, Commissioners Barry and Sue Swanson, USA East leaders, have really embraced this ministry. In turn, they have been a blessing to thousands of impoverished Hondurans.”
Dr. Russell Raymond looks forward to continuing the missions, despite any risks. “There is danger, just as there is danger in our large U.S. cities. But I’m happy to say that I have never heard of any mission team harassed or even approached by gangs. They know that we come to help their families.”
Dr. Cliff Raymond says that the work of the doctors directly carries on the Salvation Army’s original slogan, ‘Heart to God, and hand to man.’
“When we started these trips, we dedicated all this to our father, a devoted Christian pastor for The Salvation Army. His faith, we’ve always believed, is one of the reasons why God has been so good to us. We’ve accepted Jesus as our Savior and have the desire and the knowledge to do these trips for His children,” says Cliff.
Dr. Norm Raymond is confident that there will be other Salvationists who will carry on the work when he and his brothers are gone. Many of the next generation of Raymond doctors and nurses have begun to make this journey.
“We trust that there will be other physicians who have heard about what we do. They will come to Honduras, and maybe even be helped by boys and girls whom we’ve treated as patients, or shared worship at the San Pedro Sula Corps, or who attended Salvation Army schools. God has a plan. I’m sure of it.”
by Hugo Bravo