“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ commissioned His followers to proclaim His name and carry the Gospel to all nations, and ophthalmic surgery mission projects provide an excellent platform for achieving this goal. Unlike most fields in medicine that require long-term follow up and repetitive treatments in order to attain favorable patient outcomes, ophthalmic surgery offers rapid and substantial functional improvement with limited postoperative care often after just a single operation. Cataracts are responsible for millions of people losing their vision each year in developing countries and remain the number one cause of blindness in the world, yet they are potentially curable with surgery. In the United States, cataract surgery can often be performed in less than 15 minutes with a greater than 99% success rate, and a vast majority of patients experience beneficial effects of the restored vision on the very first postoperative day without further rehabilitation. However, a lack of effective governing, an inadequate number of properly trained eye surgeons, and limited financial resources sadly deny the majority of people residing in developing countries access to cataract surgery. These challenges make ophthalmic surgery a particularly attractive discipline to the missionary arena.
The history for Christian Ophthalmic Surgery Expedition Network (ChOSEN) can be traced back to August 2008 when my father and fellow ophthalmologist James Avery Rush III, MD and I went on our first ophthalmic mission trip to Tampico, Mexico. We collaborated with a group of volunteers from various parts of the United States to perform about 180 cataract surgeries during the one-week project in Tampico. The days were long and the operations were tough; the hospital operating rooms did not have air conditioning, and many of the patients were without lodgings and thus consigned to sleep on the concrete pavement outside the hospital. My father and I were genuinely touched by the sincerity of faith and the gratitude of the Mexican people who freely gave thanks to God for sending us, and it was at that time that we became tenaciously determined to return to Mexico each year to further build upon our initial project. In August 2014, we completed our seventh project in Montemorelos, Mexico with volunteers mostly from Amarillo, TX. This project involved patients from several states of Mexico, including some traveling even more than 24 hours by bus to reach our location. We performed over 600 ophthalmic surgeries during this one week project, thereby making it one of largest surgical projects in all of Central and South America to date. Throughout these years of service, we strived not only to perform a greater number of surgeries during each successive project but also to improve upon the working conditions of these projects. We can now closely replicate the environment of our own surgical suites in the United States while in the foreign mission field, and our foreign mission patients typically experience similar postoperative outcomes to our patients in the United States. In order to support the considerable labor and materials cost to fund such projects and safeguard the future for more projects to come, ChOSEN was established in 2014 as a 501c3 non-profit charitable organization, specifically for the purpose of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ through compassion and healing, and providing ophthalmic surgeries consistent with the highest standards of the profession for impoverished individuals, particularly those residing in developing nations. ChOSEN is inter-denominational and principally concerned with sharing the basic Gospel of Jesus Christ as displayed in the Holy Bible through prayer, preaching, discussion, song, scripture reading, and the gifting of Bibles to patients and their families.
One of the patients from my 2014 project in Montemorelos, Mexico came up to my technician in the hospital corridor the day after her surgery and graciously and emotionally thanked him for his help. She told him that she had been living by herself in a one-room shack with a dirt floor and no electricity or running water for the past several years following the loss of her vision from diabetes and cataracts. Too visually impaired to work and without family to help, her survival depended on neighbors putting out a plate of food on her doorstep each day. When the food arrived, she had to contend with wild dogs and birds attacking her to get the meal. She said she sometimes went days without food and often wished that she would soon die. However, following her operation, she said that she no longer wanted to die but to go back to school and become a teacher. She said that her surgery had restored much more than just her vision; it had restored her hope. What I believe is most profound about this woman’s testimony is not the temporal and physical relief provided by the successful ophthalmic surgery, but rather the healing that occurred in this woman’s soul as a result of the love of Jesus Christ demonstrated to her by the Holy Spirit-filled actions of the missionary workers.
Help us continue the vital work of restoring sight to the blind and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor to these people in great physical and spiritual need. Whether by monetary gifts, gifts of service or both, you can make a real difference. We operate as the healing hands of a compassionate God who commands His confessors to look after the needs of our impoverished and downtrodden neighbors. The time to get involved is now. Don’t fall into the trap of becoming paralyzed by the constant barrage of devastation and strife easily observed all around us in the daily news and even in our own lives. God has indeed provided the world a temporal solution to this age-old problem of suffering: You and me!
Ryan Rush, MD
President and Founder of ChOSEN