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This is the final part of the four-part “Mission of the Heart” series

Copyright 2000 Des Moines Register

Reprinted with permission
March 22, 2000 Wednesday
HEADLINE: Healing body and soul
Iowans serve to boost spirits

El Pauji, Venezuela -Dr. Jim Lovell can do little to ease the pain in Ana's
eyes. Healing this day will come in her heart.

Ana, a tall, middle-aged woman, sits on a table in a classroom-turned-clinic,

wiping her eyes with a cloth.

Lovell, from Urbandale, Ia., and nurse Jen Van Liew, from Des Moines,
question Ana through a Venezuelan interpreter.

"When was the last time she had her blood sugar checked?" Lovell asks. The
doctor, nurse and interpreter sit about 8 inches above the cement floor on
chairs used by children at Fuente de Vida School. Beside Ana on the table are a
box of tongue depressors, a bag of latex gloves and "I Didn't Cry" stickers for
brave young patients.

Lovell and Van Liew were part of a team of Iowa missionaries who visited the
barrio of El Pauji for a week in late February.

About half the team, organized by First Assembly of God in Des Moines, set up
the clinic in the school, treating medical and dental patients without benefit
of lab or X-ray equipment. Other missionaries worked on electrical, painting and
clean-up projects or entertained children with puppets.

Whether it was treating patients, passing out toiletries or hauling away mud,
each good turn was accompanied by a question: Do you have Jesus in your heart?

The doctors, nurses, dentist and pharmacist treated patients at no cost,

regardless of whether they made a religious commitment. Medicine, though, is not
the clinic's primary purpose. At best, the doctors said, their treatment
provides temporary relief. They believe their testimonies and prayers will lead
to eternal life.

Ana, who takes insulin shots twice daily, couldn't remember when she had her
blood sugar checked. Lovell sent Van Liew, the lone Catholic on the mission
team, to the pharmacy for a kit to run the test.
Old testing kit

Neither Lovell, a cardiologist, nor Van Liew, who teaches nursing at Grand
View College, had used this particular testing kit recently. They laughed while
reading directions and fumbling with the equipment.

"Tell her we're trying to learn how to do this," Lovell said.

Ana winced when Lovell poked her finger.

The test showed, as he suspected, that Ana's blood sugar was high. He told
her how much to increase her insulin dosage and prescribed a pill, diabeta, to
take daily.

"As her sugar gets better, her eyesight will get better," Lovell told the
interpreter, as Ana wiped her eyes.

Having done what he could for her eyes, Lovell moved on to the clinic's real
mission. Does she go to the church next door, he asked.

When she said no, he suggested that she should. "Pastor Alexis is a very good
pastor," Lovell said. "He will pray for your eyes."

Pray in Spanish

Soon Ana made the decision Lovell was seeking. "She wants to receive Jesus as
her savior," the interpreter said.

After Ana prayed in Spanish, asking Jesus to forgive her sins and come into
her heart, Lovell prayed in English: "Dear Father, I thank you for my new sister
Ana. We know that you can heal her eyes. We pray and ask for your healing that
she will be completely whole."

After a hug, Ana left and Lovell confessed his frustration. The measures he
prescribed would give "a little help, but she's just way, way out of control,"
he said. "We just don't see that degree of uncontrolled diabetes at home."

An American patient at that stage of diabetes would have an insulin pump to

regulate the dosage and might receive a pancreas transplant, he said.

"Best medicine"

At week's end, Lovell would tell a farewell gathering in front of the school,
"I have spent years and years and years learning how to take care of people who
have sick hearts. In only one week God has taught me that the best medicine for
the heart is Jesus Christ."

Ana was one of many heart-breaking cases the doctors saw in five days of
operating the clinic: a girl who had been burned in the pubic area by her
mother, a worm-infested boy who regularly ate garbage, a baby born two weeks
before the December floods that devastated much of Venezuela, a 4-year-old who
needed hernia surgery.

"There was nothing I could do for that," said Dr. Sue Adamson of Urbandale, a
family-practice physician who completed training recently at Broadlawns Medical
Center in Des Moines. She examined and treated patients behind a curtain in the
same classroom as Lovell.

"We can't run any tests, so you have to take a good educated guess," Adamson
said. "It's great that it's combined with Christianity and trying to get God in
their lives because that will help more than what I can do."

Heat stroke

In the next classroom, physician's assistant Kathleen Smith of Des Moines

told a patient who had been fainting that she probably was having heat stroke.
She should drink a lot of water and eat small, frequent meals rather than two or
three big meals.

"We're so overwhelmed with God's incredible love we just want to come and
share it with you," Smith told the woman, who said she wanted to ask Jesus into
her life. Smith, nurse Coleen Waage and translator Luis Diaz prayed with her.

Behind a curtain in the same classroom, Dr. Jim Blessman of Polk City, a pain
specialist and veteran of several missions, and nurse Janet Drake of Ankeny
examined more patients.

"When was the last time you saw the doctor?" Blessman asked an 8-year-old
girl. She giggled when the doctor pressed on her abdomen. "You are very
healthy," Blessman told the girl. After praying for her, he prescribed a
lollipop, dispensed by the doctor's mother-in-law, Norma Cramer of Prairie City.

House calls

Later in the week, Blessman made house calls to patients in El Pauji who
could not get to the clinic. A 30-year-old man had been bedridden for three
years by a tumor the size of a volleyball. He was paralyzed from the waist down.

Nurse Becky Stover changed the bandage on a large bed sore and showed the
patient's sister how to change the bandage with materials the Iowans would
Maria, a neighbor with breast cancer, came to the house. Before she removed
her shirt, the Americans assumed she had undergone a mastectomy, said
interpreter Michelle Schmidt of Des Moines. The smaller breast was healthy.

The other breast "had such a large, conical tumor, that it gave the
appearance that she had undergone a mastectomy on the other side," Schmidt
recalled. "The bright red tumor had come to a point and had a scab where pus had
been oozing. It had also grown out the side of her breast, under her arm."

Both cases were so advanced that pain pills were the only medical help
Blessman could give. Even in the United States, he said, surgery would not have

"It was heart-wrenching," Schmidt wrote later.

A good person

The Iowans prayed for the patients individually. The man told them that he
thought he'd go to heaven because he was a good person. "We explained that being
good cannot get us to heaven, we can only have the assurance of eternal life, la
vida eterna, through accepting Jesus Christ as our lord and savior," Schmidt

He prayed with the Iowans to accept Jesus. Maria affirmed that she was
already a believer.

At a Tuesday night worship service outside the school, Blessman told a

congregation of Venezuelans and Iowans, "This work feels exactly like what God
created me to be doing."

In the dental clinic, Dr. Randy Ruisch, a veteran of 15 mission trips,

treated two patients at a time, one in a portable dental chair brought down from
Iowa, one in the wooden chair normally used by the classroom teacher. Model
dinosaur skeletons sat on shelves, a drawing of the solar system hung on a wall
and globes dangled from the ceiling.

Son assists

Ruisch was assisted by his son, Ryan, a junior at Bethel College in St. Paul,
Minn., daughter Lindsay, a sophomore at Johnston High School; Matt Moeckl, an
Iowa State senior planning to attend dental school; Sarah Dornink, a junior
pre-med student at the University of Iowa; and Nicholas Waage, a sophomore at
Dordt College in Sioux Center, who plans to attend dental school.

Most of the dental patients needed teeth extracted. Ruisch examined patients,
supervised and showed the students how to pull teeth. John Vargas, a Venezuelan
interpreter who had a tooth pulled at the end of Monday's work, pitched in
Thursday by yanking out a tooth.

After Ruisch numbed a tooth with a shot, the clinicians became evangelists
while waiting for the novocaine to take effect.

One gave a personal testimony, then another presented the plan of salvation,
which was spelled out on the classroom blackboard.

"The Bible says that heaven is a free gift and that it's not earned or
deserved," the dentist explained to a second-grader named Kenni, wearing a
Detroit Pistons basketball jersey. "The Bible says God loves Kenni. . . . God
sent Jesus to die on the cross to purchase a place in heaven for us, which he
offers as a free gift for Kenni."

Kenni nodded that he wanted to accept the gift. Ruisch held his hands and
Kenni repeated the prayer, line by line, as Schmidt translated: "Jesus, thank
you for dying for me. I ask you to come into my heart. I ask you to come into my
life. I ask you to be my savior."

Closed mouth

Pulling a tooth, though, was a different matter. Kenni, who wailed over the
novocaine shot, would not open his mouth again.

"The pain is over," Ruisch said, explaining that the shot had deadened the
tooth. Kenni whined, shook his head and refused to open up. They gave him a
toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and a balsa airplane. They gave him a few
minutes to settle down. Finally they sent him back out to wait with his mother.

"We're not going to pry his mouth open," Ruisch said.

Things went better with Alejandro, who held Moeckl's hand tightly for the
second shot. "If he doesn't cry, he gets a sticker," Ruisch said as the boy
tried mightily not to cry.

In all, the clinic saw 675 patients during the week and 129 prayed to ask
Jesus to be their savior.

Sometimes it was hard to tell whether a patient was sincerely asking for
salvation or just saying what the doctor wanted to hear, like a promise to brush
teeth more faithfully or eat a balanced diet.

"People will agree to things in a medical setting that they might not
otherwise," Blessman said. With one 10-year-old boy in particular, the physician
said, "I could kind of sense that he was doing it to please us."


For many patients, the conversion appeared genuine. "Even though there's a
language barrier, you can see it in their eyes. You can see their smiles,"
Adamson said.

Ana affirmed her conversion at the Tuesday evening worship service in front
of the school, hours after her visit with Lovell. She sat in the third row,
dabbing occasionally at her eyes.

After a moving sermon, Venezuelan evangelist Juan Madriz invited those in

need of spiritual healing to come forward. Ana was among them. One by one,
finishing with Ana, Madriz laid his hands on them, shouting, "Se libre!" "Be

He embraced Ana after praying for her, then shouted, "Gracias, Senor!" "Thank
you, Lord!"

Reporter Stephen Buttry can be reached at (515) 699-7058 or buttrys

GRAPHIC: s_By: GARY FANDEL, THE REGISTER; Hard work: Above, Iowans
Cornelison, Coleen Waage and Jen Van Liew crash after a hard week. At left,
Michelle Schmidt prays with a dental patient of Dr. Randy Ruisch. Adios, amigos:
Iowan Steve Holte exchanges hugs and goodbyes with new-found friends in El
Pauji, Venezuela.