This story begins in 2011, while I was working in Solwezi, Zambia and noticed children did not have access to books. There were no books, no libraries in schools, no public library in the town. When I returned to the United States, I resolved to put a book in the hands of every child in Solwezi which they could call “their own.” When I put out the word that I was collecting children’s books, a generous outpouring of books came from many, many people. And when I presented this idea to my St. John Vianney (SJV) parish, I had no idea of the deluge of books that would come my way. The parish decided to take up my “book redistribution ministry” as a Lenten project as a way of sharing their time, talent and treasure. Because the parish was so interested in helping with the book collection, I proposed to SJV’s Peace and Justice Committee to become actively involved in not only doing a book collection, but to respond to the overwhelming needs of the people of Solwezi and Bishop Charles Kasonde who had given me his “wish list.” The Committee enthusiastically accepted the challenge. I think every parishioner has decluttered their basements, closets and attics of books and tools! What has been accomplished is simply astounding! This story illustrates a modern-day multiplication of loaves and fishes!
Serendipitously, when a group of FSM held one of their Care of the Earth Committee meetings at the Chiara Center in Springfield, IL, I was told about the Mission Outreach ministry of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis. Their ministry inspired me to take my “redistribution ministry” of our American wealth and surplus to a whole new level! Mission Outreach was founded by the Sisters in 2002 to address the unmet medical needs of people in developing countries and promote a more green-friendly environment through a medical recovery and responsible redistribution program.
This ministry began in a garage on the grounds of the Hospital Sisters’ Motherhouse and eventually relocated to a 23,000 square foot facility that was built in 2006. At any given time there is more than $3,000,000 in medical supplies and equipment in this building and the inventory is turned over at least two times a year. In 2009, a 17,000 square foot facility was rented in Chicago, becoming the Chicago Division. Surplus medical equipment and supplies are recovered primarily from hospitals, clinics, major medical manufacturers and distributors in Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri. Since 2003:
More than $24 million of usable medical equipment and supplies have been received More than 4,000,000 lbs. of usable medical equipment and supplies were saved from landfills…helping to prevent harmful greenhouse gases from entering into our atmosphere Every dollar donated to Mission Outreach results in over $7 of medical supplies and equipment being shipped to 58 Countries in the developing world Mission Outreach was named “preferred partner of the U.S. Navy’s Project Handclasp” – allowing this ministry to provide humanitarian assistance via U.S. Naval vessels.
It is impossible to list every single contribution and the many activities involved, but here is an overview of what SJV parishioners with assistance of interested persons not members of the parish have done over the past year for the people of Zambia.
The parish and others have donated $25,000 to finance the costs of sending a forty foot shipping container filled with books, tools, computers, and medical equipment/supplies overland from Springfield, Ill to New York; by ship from NY to Walvis Bay, Namibia; and overland from the Namibia port to Solwezi, Zambia. 10,000 children’s books have been collected and shipped to children in Solwezi and Lusaka, Zambia in the container; additionally 400 children’s books were sent to Head-start children in Allendale County in South Carolina. Over 1000 adult spirituality books and a few “light reading” books for a newly established library in Solwezi’s Pastoral Center were collected and shipped. As box stuffers, over 500 pounds of donated tooth care supplies, soap, pencils, pens, school supplies and toys were collected and shipped. Men in the community decluttered their workshops and basements gathering 30 – 32 cu ft bins of tools to help establish a carpenter shop to teach carpentry skills to Angolan, Rwandan, and Congo youth living Meheba Refugee Camp in Solwezi Diocese. I ordered and shipped over 12,000 pounds of surplus medical/office equipment, supplies and computers to be used in Solwezi Diocese’s hospitals and clinics from the Hospital Sisters’ Mission Outreach Program in Springfield, IL. SJV parishioners volunteered many hours of moving 300 boxes of books, tools and supplies into storage, collecting tools from parishes, and transporting donated items to Springfield, IL.; parishioners donated a truck to move boxes from SJV storage space to Springfield, IL to be included in the shipping container of medical and office equipment.
The parish’s Women’s Council donated $2500 to finance a formation/training sewing program as an income generating project for women in the parishes of St. Stephen, Kimasala and St. Anthony, Kyawama.
MARCO (Medical Amateur Radio Council), a group of physicians, dentists and allied healthcare workers who are ham radio operators, has a subsidiary, Medishare, which donates medical equipment to developing countries. They donated a grant ($3787) for 6 computers, 2 printers and supplies to be used in Solwezi hospitals and clinics.
The Guatemalan Red Cross sent several Personal Energy Transport (PET) carts. These are hand operated carts which assist children or adults who are unable to walk to be mobile.
It is a delight to see a ministry which was a dream last year, fragrantly blossom and spread its joy in all directions. I am in awe of the uncommon goodness, the generous and selfless offering of time, talents, and treasure of the members of this parish as well as our many friends and acquaintances who offered to help in this mission of sharing our wealth with those who have so little of life’s amenities in Solwezi and Lusaka, Zambia. What has been accomplished by so many people participating in various facets of this undertaking is simply astounding! Mother Teresa has said: “We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.” The parishioners, friends of SJV and Mission Outreach have copiously demonstrated their love of God and our Zambian neighbors beyond all imaginings in every aspect of this mammoth project. When I emailed Bishop Kasonde about when he could expect the arrival of the shipping container he replied:
“I can’t wait to receive such a huge blessing to my Diocese. We shall definitely put everything to good use. I am grateful to God for this. We are privileged as a Diocese to have such friends like you.”