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Baptist Medical Center of Paraguay reaches out to poor

9/6/2012

By Tristan Taylor

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay —When Edith Cáceres de González says she loves Paraguay’s indigenous Maká people, she means it.

After all, the Paraguayan nurse has spent her career working full time among the Maká, providing medical care to people most medical facilities in her country refuse to treat.

Missionaries strive to leave behind a ministry legacy that will be carried on by local believers like Cáceres. But few have realized this goal as comprehensively as those who worked at the Baptist Medical Center of Asunción, Paraguay.

Over a 12-year period, the International Mission Board transitioned its Paraguay mission hospital to the ownership and management of Paraguayan Baptist nationals. In the process, the hospital expanded into a medical center with a heart institute and a medical university, but never lost its focus on missions.

COMMUNITY CLINIC

At an auxiliary community clinic, family doctors provide exams and medication at a reduced cost for patients who struggle financially. This clinic sees about 20,000 patients a year.

“Even right now we have an 83-year-old lady that came in with an asthma attack, plus bronchitis,” says Alicia Lezcano, director of the medical center’s Department of Community Health. “She is getting her medications through our community clinic's pharmacy, and we are helping her out.”

The medical center also provides weekly support groups for people with eating disorders and alcohol and drug addiction. Groups for expectant mothers promote a healthy delivery and breast-feeding.

But in true missionary fashion, the medical center also takes its ministry outside the hospital doors and into the world at large.

MOBILE CLINICS

One way it does this is by conducting mobile clinics, a ministry that began when the hospital was built 60 years ago.

“They started doing the mobile clinics, and they didn’t stick around here in Asunción,” says Marlin Harris, former director of the medical center. “So you could say ‘Baptist hospital’ in the remotest area of the country and people would know what you’re talking about.”

These mobile clinics, called The Baptist Medical Center In Your Community, travel to low-income neighborhoods throughout Paraguay, and even into neighboring Argentina, to set up temporary clinics in local church buildings. The medical center provides medications to distribute, and doctors, nurses, administrators and chaplains all regularly volunteer at these clinics.

“Through our clinics we have had an impact in those communities,” says Lezcano. “The churches, after having a clinic, always grow. ... It is a way of supporting the local church.”

MAKÁ COLONY CLINIC

Another way the medical center takes its ministry outside the hospital walls is through the work of Cáceres and others with the Maká, an indigenous tribe that lives near the edges of Asunción. The medical center has been working with the Maká for more than 40 years.

“There's a lot of poverty; there's a lot of need,” says Cáceres. “Very few are able to sell their crafts now, and crafts are their only source of income.”

Cáceres works on site at the Maká colony in a clinic built by the medical center. For more than 30 years, she has worked with the Maká and helped them face pregnancies, addictions, cancer and most recently scabies and tuberculosis.

“I love them so much. I love them,” says Cáceres. “They fully rely on me, and we need to keep helping them.”

But Cáceres asks for prayer, because her work with the Maká is often challenging. It can be hard to convince the people that taking medication will help them. And when they return from selling their crafts, they often introduce new diseases to the community.

But if the Maká go to other treatment centers, prejudiced doctors won’t even see them.

“We’re very thankful to the Baptist hospital, because the nurse is always helping us out a lot,” says the Maká Chief Andrés Chemhei. “The Lord uses the hospital to attend us, because there’s no other hospital in the country that helps us. If it were not for the Baptist hospital, our tribe would not exist today. They don’t distinguish between Indian and Paraguayan.”

Providing discounted or free health care to those who can never repay it requires an uncommon investment. But that is part of what makes the Baptist Medical Center unique. As a national Baptist institution, it is carrying on the legacy of outreach left by the hospital’s missionary founders. And by doing so, the Baptist Medical Center turns medicine into a ministry.

“It's hard; it's tiring; it's stressful. The limitations are many,” says Lezcano. “But I know that we do all we can.”

Learn how the Paraguayan Baptist Medical Center Foundation continues to support the hospital at thepbmcf.org/.

Tristan Taylor served as an International Mission Board writer in the Americas. Read more stories about what God is doing among the peoples of the Americas at americanpeoples.imb.org.

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