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Paraguay Baptist clinics treat, minister to poor

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

The Paraguayan nurse has spent her career working full time among the Maká, who live near the edges of Asunción, providing medical care to people most medical facilities in her country refuse to treat.

“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.”

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.

Cáceres works on site at the Maká colony in a clinic built by the medical center. She has helped the Maká face such joys as pregnancy and such trials as 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.”

Cáceres asks for prayer to handle the many challenges she faces with the Maká. 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, Cáceres said.

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,” said 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.”

At an auxiliary community clinic, family doctors provide exams and medication at a reduced cost for patients who struggle financially.

The clinic sees about 20,000 patients a year, including an 83-year-old woman who suffered an asthma attack, has bronchitis and is getting her medications through the community clinic’s pharmacy, said Alica Lezcano, director of the medical center’s Department of Community Health.

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

In true missionary fashion, the medical center expands its geographic reach through mobile clinics begun 60 years ago when the hospital was built, said Marlin Harris, former medical center director.

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

The mobile clinics, called The Baptist Medical Center In Your Community, travel to low-income neighborhoods throughout Paraguay and into neighboring Argentina, setting up temporary clinics at local churches. The medical center provides medications for distribution, and doctors, nurses, administrators and chaplains staff the temporary clinics as volunteers.

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

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 continues a legacy of outreach began by the hospital’s missionary founders and thereby ministers through medicine.

“It’s hard; it’s tiring; it’s stressful. The limitations are many,” Lezcano said. “But I know that we do all we can.”
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 here. Click here to read how the Paraguayan Baptist Medical Center Foundation continues to support the hospital. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Tristan Taylor