In 2003, Dr. Roger Strunk set out with a team of 12 area doctors to help people in Honduras still living in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch that occurred five years earlier.
“The hurricane inundated Honduras with water,” Strunk said. “It poured rain for days. Cities washed away. Five years later when we went, they were still suffering incredible consequences from that.”
One of the immediate effects that the team set out to reverse was the parasite problem. One of the team members was Sister Lorraine, with Water with Blessings out of Middletown. She and the doctors saw the immediate need for the people of Honduras to have access to clean water.
Through research, Strunk and Sister Lorraine discovered they could clean water by treating it with a few drops of bleach.
“Gradually, we improved methods of helping them clean the water, and that has improved their health a lot,” he said. “They still are having a hard time grasping things in the water that they can’t see. It’s still a problem.”
Since then, the team now called First United Methodist’s Ecumenical Medical/Dental Mission, has returned to Honduras every year either in January or February for a week. However, they have grown to about 30-40 team members. The team, which is organized by First United Methodist Church in Frankfort, consists of doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, teachers, a carpenter and more.
When they arrive at their destination, typically on a Friday, they immediately go to work setting up their facility and technology so they are ready to begin seeing patients on Monday. They will see patients all week before packing up and leaving the following weekend.
Over the years, Strunk believes the group has made a difference but there is still a lot of work to do.
“The parasite problem persists,” Strunk said. “Diabetes and obesity persists. The fruits and vegetables there are good, but they need a lot of education about how important those things are.”
One patient, whose life was changed by the mission, was a boy who had a tumor behind his eye. Strunk said after determining it was a tumor by performing a CAT scan, they contacted doctors in Honduras and the U.S., but none were able to perform the surgery.
After returning to Frankfort, Strunk was visiting with friends and told them about the boy. One friend mentioned that their son was a neurosurgeon in Austin, Texas. Strunk called the doctor and explained the boy’s medical condition, and the surgeon agreed to try to remove the tumor.
“We arranged for that kid to go to Austin and he had the tumor removed,” Strunk said. “I had a picture taken with him a year later. He was still in remission.”
Volunteer and retired gynecologist Dr. Arba Kenner is one of the founding members of the team, having gone on the Honduran mission trip since it began in 2003. Her role on the mission team is to help provide eye care to those in need.
“One of the few things they can’t get in Honduras is eye care,” she said. “They have a high rate of cataracts.”
Although an optometrist isn’t on the roster of doctors that go on the mission, Roger said they use a refractometer donated by Kendall Optical Ministry Inc. to get an initial prescription. They then have a stockpile of donated eyeglasses that have been cleaned and cataloged that they distribute to patients.
Kenner said participating with the mission trip over the years has been interesting, mind expanding, humbling and inspiring.”
“It makes you feel good to help the people, but also inadequate,” Kenner said. “We’re only there for a week and they need so much.”
Julia King, who speaks Spanish, has gone on the mission trip for the past 12 years. She does patient intake at the clinic in Honduras.
“It’s such a blessing to go on the mission trip,” King said. “It’s a fun group to go with and it’s a way to give back. I always look forward to seeing the same people year after year.”
Although they’ve moved locations, some mission team members will return to the original neighborhood they worked in to visit with the locals.
“There are people who we treated who came back year after year and it’s heartwarming to see them,” he said. “We went there in 2016 and we bought them sound equipment for their church and we went there in 2020 to see how their clinic was doing.”
Strunk said one of the greatest strengths of the mission group is their unity.
“Our strength is the strong sense of community we have,” he said. “You feel community, like how army buddies feel. We’ve really bonded well as a group and have experienced intimate, important things together.
“You really experience some important life changing things together. You feel bonded together the rest of your life and feel committed to keep doing what you’re doing. You make a difference. It’s small because there’s so much to do, but you feel like you’ve helped some people.”
Although the group won’t be returning in 2021 because of COVID-19 travel restrictions to the country, they still have work to do from afar. They will continue to stock and pay a doctor once a week to care for patients in the Honduran neighborhood they work in.
Many of the doctors who volunteer for the Honduran mission group also volunteer their time at the Mission Frankfort Clinic, which is housed in First Baptist Church on St. Clair.
“These people don’t seem to have any alternative to their healthcare other than that clinic,” Strunk said. “It gives them an option for healthcare that they would not have.”
Local doctors and dentists, many of which are a part of the medical mission team, volunteer to provide care at the clinic.
According to the clinic’s website, the clinic’s mission is to provide basic medical, dental and pharmaceutical care to the uninsured of Franklin County. The Mission Frankfort Clinic was founded in 2002 by First Baptist Church.
As of 2020, the clinic averaged approximately 800-1,000 appointments per year.
To help raise funds for the mission five years ago, volunteers organized the Frosty 5K, which has turned into an annual event. This year, the race is going virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Debbie Brown, organizer of the race who has gone on the Honduras mission trip for five years, said they always hope to raise $14,000-$15,000 from the race.
“The money goes to a present need,” Brown said. “The people we work — with translators and transportation providers in Honduras — their livelihood is based on people coming to the country, and right now they’re really struggling.”
Jim Burris, the team leader for the mission group, said the mission is always seeking donations for its Honduras Relief Fund.
“We transmit $200 a week presently to our main coordinator in Tegucigalpa, (Honduras), to purchase food, medical care and medicine for those impacted by COVID-19,” Burris said.
He said COVID-19 regulations in Tegucigalpa are much more restrictive than in the U.S. and many people have been assisted that would have otherwise gone hungry and sick.
“With our limitations, we only make a dent in the problem, but some are helped,” Buriss said.
With funds raised from the Frosty 5K the mission plans to distribute food to about 300 Honduran families in a neighborhood that haven’t recently assisted. They also plan to do a weekend dental clinic for those in need of urgent dental care.
“We are coordinating this work with Water With Blessings to begin a clean water program here too,” he said. “This will be carried out by the Hondurans we have worked with for years. Now, we can work with them to carry out missions without our presence. With COVID-19 restrictions, we must find new ways to help the very poor.”
Proceeds from this year’s race will be equally split between First United Methodist’s Ecumenical Medical/Dental Mission, the Mission Frankfort Clinic and Water With Blessings.
First Baptist Church Associate Pastor of Missions Michelle Carroll said the yearly general operating budget for the Mission Frankfort Clinic is $160,000. The mission operates solely on generous donations from the community, grants and the city and county governments.
“We can’t do this without donations,” Carroll said. “We’re not charging patients because they can’t afford it.”
Participants can register for the race at www.runsignup.com/race/KY/Frankfort/FrankfortFrosty5K. They can do the run/walk any day and any time before Dec. 6. On Dec. 6, there will be a drawing for door prizes and a grand prize.
“The point of the race is to get out, have some fun, be active and to help us help other people and maintain these ways to help others during this time of the year,” Strunk said.