missions provide relief in Central America
By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa
One church-based group
went to Honduras, while a group of healthcare workers and
medical students focused their efforts in Guatemala. But both
Toledo-based medical missions provided some much-needed relief
in Central America, where the picture of poverty remains grim.
47-year old Rachel (Ruiz) Schneider traveled to
Choluteca, Honduras, with fellow members of her congregation
from Cedar Creek Church in Perrysburg, Ohio as well as a
second church in Columbus. The August trip was her third relief
mission to the village.
“We help them with a nutrition clinic. They make an outreach
effort to have kids come in before and after school so we can
share with them about hygiene, tap into what’s going on with
malnutrition,” she explained. “We also share the Gospel with
them, share God’s love for them.”
The Huntington Bank insurance executive could not believe the
hunger-stricken children she encountered, let alone the
resulting health problems the kids were suffering from extensive
malnutrition, which she called “running rampant.”
“It’s impoverished. There are people actually living in shacks
made with plastic,” she said. “The floors are dirt, with
12-by-12 rooms, if not smaller. Kids don’t have shoes. Moms
can’t afford to feed their kids, their babies’ milk. So they’re
watering it down and their stomachs get bloated.”
HIV-related infections also are running at an all-time high.
Cedar Creek Church partners with an HIV orphanage to help
care for young ones or arrange for family members to help with
“It breaks my heart every time I go down there,” she said. “It
also heightens my senses for things around here when I come
back. I just want to reflect God’s love when I’m down there.
Some of these people feel like they’ve just been forgotten.”
The Cedar Creek mission team spent nearly two weeks in Honduras
between July 25 and Aug. 5. While any of the team members could
have been on a beach in Cancun, Aruba, or elsewhere during a
vacation—Ms. Scheider called it an important trip all its own.
“It’s like going back to help my family,” she said. “From my
heritage, I know the things my father sacrificed for me and I
never want to forget that.”
Her family immigrated from Mexico and she is a second-generation
daughter of a migrant farm worker who grew up in East Toledo.
“I used to think that one person couldn’t possibly do anything,
but every little bit helps,” she said. “Knowing I had people
alongside of me that have that same, genuine passion to show
God’s love is what it’s all about. Together, it’s for the
While Ms. Schneider definitely plans to go back, it didn’t
require any special training to show kids proper hygiene and
“I guess just being a mother gives you what it takes to show
love for a child,” she said. “Whether you’re going to a Third
World country like Honduras or here in your own community, just
don’t forget that there are people looking for hope, feel like
God has forgotten them, and just want some respect and something
to look forward to. Hope and love are what everybody needs.”
Constructing a home…and hope
53-year old Todd Sabo served as the team leader for the group of
16 people who went to Honduras—the eighth time he’s served in
that role. He was asked to lead a team right after serving in
Honduras the first time as a new church member in his mid-40s.
That mission experience changed his life.
But he called this trip “more focused” than any of the others,
because the group built two homes where there was simply dirt
before their arrival. Sabo called it a near-miracle, “especially
when you consider the tools we had to use.”
“On the second-to-last day, we finally got a generator and we
were able to use one power saw,” he said with a laugh. “It’s
awesome. If you don’t have a ladder, the people there put tree
branches together and make a ladder. The ingenuity they showed
while working in that environment.”
The Start High School health education teacher helps build homes
in the summertime. He stated the situation in Honduras is not
much different than some families face locally.
“They would not believe what they are seeing down there, but if
we look closely enough at our own communities, it’s the same
thing,” he said.
Guatemala village becomes an annual destination
This year’s medical mission trip to Guatemala was the 13th
trip there and the 52nd such relief trip over two
decades for Dr. Richard Paat, who has served all over the
world and taken his wife and three grown children on multiple
trips to help others. It was also the fifth such trip in just
under a year. More than half of those medical mission trips have
been to Central America. He leads a team every spring break to
Honduras as well.
“We go back every year and try to make a difference,” he said.
“We try to go back to the same communities.”
The Guatemala trips started at the request of St. John’s Jesuit
High School, which sends teams of students each year to rebuild
homes. The groups travel to a mountainous region where a dozen
villages, named after the 12 Biblical apostles, are located
around the deepest freshwater lake in the country— and also near
three inactive volcanoes.
There is a Catholic parish located at St. Luke, the village the
medical mission team centers its operations. Father Greg
Schaefer was assigned to be the parish priest for two years in
the 1970’s, but stayed more nearly fifty years until his death
in 2012. He walked from Minnesota to Guatemala to take the
“He lived through the civil war years and is beloved by the
community,” said Dr. Paat of his late friend. “He built a great
community to help people. He also built a mission community for
people who wanted to come in and help. So that’s where we’ve
been going to for the past 13 years.”
After 50-plus medical missions, Dr. Paat stated it never gets
old. The soft-spoken physician called it important to return to
where relationships have developed over time.
“Each one is different. Each one is fun,” he said. “It’s nice to
go back to the same place because you feel like you can make a
difference if you keep going back to the same place and help
improve the health of the community.”
This time the group set up five mobile clinics in the mountains
for people from the Mayan Indian villages. They speak a dialect
that must be translated into Spanish, then English. Every person
is treated for worms, under the assumption they suffer some sort
of parasitic infection. Multi-vitamins also are distributed and
growth curves conducted because each child is malnourished.
The medical group treated everything from bronchitis and
pneumonia to diabetes and hypertension. Physical therapists were
on hand to help with muscle-related maladies and pharmacists
helped distribute needed medications.
“It’s a teaching mission for our students,” he said. “But it’s
also a service mission.”
The overall health of those communities has improved over time.
The medical mission team used to see 1,500 patients per trip—a
number that has been cut in half this year. There is a permanent
clinic now set up to see patients, but many must walk more than
two hours from their native village to see a doctor.
“The area is very poor. They struggle to make a living,” he
explained. “They’re like anyplace else. The father and wife want
a safe place to raise a family. They want their kids to be
educated. They’re hard-working people. They’re friendly people.”
Dr. Paat spent part of the week training what he called “health
promoters,” native villagers who could then treat minor injuries
and conditions. He showed a handful of adult women how to suture
a large cut. He also taught them how to take blood pressure and
“Even after we leave, we try to make a difference,” he said.
Dr. Paat estimated his medical mission teams have treated 12,000
patients in Guatemala over the past 13 trips.
Dr. Paat, 52, was inducted earlier this year into the University
of Toledo’s Medical Mission Hall of Fame. His medical missions
have included not only trips to the Philippines, Guatemala,
Honduras, Indonesia, Tanzania, and Haiti, but also relief
efforts in the United States, including in response to Hurricane
Katrina in Mississippi.
Last year, the 1986 MCO graduate established a free medical
clinic in Perrysburg Heights, providing treatment to
approximately 1,000 low-income Hispanic residents.
Dr. Paat also serves as the volunteer medical director for
International Services of Hope (ISOH-IMPACT), a faith-based
group that provides free surgical care for children of poverty
from other nations. He was named Catholic Doctor of the Year in
2010 by the Mission Doctors Association.
A native Guatemalan goes home
47-year old Liz Villarreal served as the translator and
logistics contact in her native Guatemala for the team of two
dozen physicians, University of Toledo Medical Center (UTMC)
students, and other healthcare workers during a week-long
medical mission trip in late July. This was her sixth trip with