Curing Blindness in Ethiopia

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Mo Siegel

By Mo Siegel, president, Urantia Foundation, Colorado, United States

For the past two years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity of assisting Dr. Geoff Tabin, cofounder of the Himalayan Cataract Project, as he cured cataract blindness in Ethiopia. During the last week of August 2017, our small surgical team of three experienced and three resident doctors performed 1100 cataract surgeries on blind men, women, and children. With that many surgeries being performed in such a short span of time, it felt like an assembly line delivering light to those lost in darkness. When you see the despair caused by blindness, you can easily understand why the merciful soul of Jesus felt compelled to cure the blind. It took several weeks after returning to the United States for me to go a day without thinking about the experience, tearing up, or dreaming of those souls who found relief from Dr. Geoff’s scalpel.

This year we worked in a small eye clinic in a remote town in southern Ethiopia. The clinic had two “hole in the floor” toilets without running water and one old AC unit that didn’t function. Electricity generally worked but would frequently shut down during surgery. From seven thirty in the morning to eight thirty at night, the blind patients, often the poorest of the poor, streamed in, busload after busload. For me, it was an endurance test that I could only pass when I remembered Jesus’ words, “What you do for the least of my fellows you do to me also.” From my pampered American perspective I frequently felt overwhelmed by germs, suffering, and the seemingly endless waiting room of patients. Intertwined among the wafting unfamiliar smells of Ethiopia came moments of joy, medical success, and hopefulness. One look at Geoff, eyes steady on the microscope, and you felt humbled by his selfless and tireless determination to end unnecessary blindness. From the viewpoint of the patients and their families, they must have felt love, care, and the total transformation of their lives.

Imagine being completely blind before surgery on Monday, and after your bandages are removed Tuesday morning, you have near-perfect eyesight again. In an instant a blind person goes from helplessness to self-sufficiency. Despair, coupled with deep depression, turns into promise for the future. No longer does the blind person suffer the fate of being perceived by his or her family as a mouth with no hands, nor will the blind child endure the taunts of other children.

Dr. Geoff’s tenacity is a great lesson in life. Two decades ago Geoff was on the first climbing team to successfully summit the east face of Mount Everest, a route considered unclimbable. Today Geoff attacks blindness like he attacked the sheer ice and rock walls of the east face. I had the pleasure of doing the “runner” job in the operating room working for Geoff and his two highly skilled nurses. I wore my Fitbit and clocked 12,000 steps a day putting on bandages, moving patients, getting supplies, and being the nonsterile hands for the operating team. Geoff worked tirelessly, often going five hours without eating, drinking, or going to the bathroom. His average operation took about eight minutes and resulted in a success rate of over 99%. Those who didn’t have success had other eye complications. He’s like a dog with a bone in his mouth. Nothing blocks his relentless drive to cure the blind. When the electricity goes out, he operates with a headlamp. When food comes at lunch, he’s the last to eat. When the clock strikes 8:00 p.m. and the final few patients are ready to be operated on, instead of quickly finishing, Geoff invites the resident doctors to watch so he can teach them.

Over the last twenty-one years the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP) doctors have operated on over one hundred fifty thousand blind people. Even more extraordinary is the fact that the doctors trained by HCP have cured over three million blind people. Boundless determination, medical excellence, and a grand vision of curing unnecessary blindness drive this selfless team.

Three golden Urantia Book lessons I experienced in Ethiopia

1. I was born and raised on Colorado ranches. Because of the fortuitous blend of genetics and good luck, my childhood memories were blue skies and towering peaks. But for the grace of God I could have been born blind in Ethiopia, or even worse, trapped in the spiritually blind existentialist philosophy that plagued my early teenage years. Gratitude floods my being. Our heavenly Father gave me the most blessed life I could have ever hoped for and more than I
The Kingdom's First Hospital by Russ Docken
deserve. Why me? I have no idea but I’m eternally grateful. As my friend T.A. Barron says, “To be wholly alive is to be grateful—for every breath we take, every song we sing, every person we love, and every day we discover.”

2. At the end of Part II of The Urantia Book, a Mighty Messenger writes: “Love is the desire to do good to others.” 56:10.21 (648.4) This sentence has challenged and inspired me for decades. I’ve spent a lifetime working in institutions where the executives or board members do good for others. During the nine years I served on a hospital board, we built a cancer center and did good for others. It was needed and valuable executive work. But the nurses working on the floor of the cancer center actually touched patients’ lives by cleaning their beds, holding their hands, checking their meds, listening to them, and doing a myriad of necessary tasks to care for them. They were the feet on the ground doing good to others. For three months Jesus comforted patients in the tented hospital at Bethsaida. Oh, what a lesson here! It did my soul good to touch the faces of hundreds of blind people, to hold them, put on their bandages, cheer them, and to actually do good to them.

To live fully means to become free from the self by following the Spirit of Truth into avenues of love and service. “Man’s great universe adventure consists in the transit of his mortal mind from the stability of mechanical statics to the divinity of spiritual dynamics.” 118:8.11 (1303.1) Love is a verb; it acts dynamically and thus satisfies the will of God. When the end of our days comes, having given all we have to others, we’ll depart this world without regret for what could have been and leave with joy because of what was! My prayer for you and me is that we remember this lesson on a daily basis and do what Mother Teresa said: “Give until it hurts.” Selflessness and service are true freedom and also a lot of fun!

3. All through the days of surgery, I kept asking myself if I was a halfhearted believer in the Urantia Revelation’s teachings. Do I have the drive, commitment, dedicated time, and courage to help cure spiritual blindness like this team of doctors devoted to curing physical blindness? After all, what’s a worse fate: not physically seeing your loved ones—or living a life without seeing God, having a vision of the mansion worlds, and trusting in a friendly universe? Consider these numbers. There are thirty-six million needlessly blind cataract patients in the world. But there are at least two billion spiritually blind souls in the world. What would the world become if fifty, a hundred, or maybe a thousand Urantia Book believers became as dogged about curing spiritual blindness as Dr. Tabin and team are about curing physical blindness?

Since returning home I’ve doubled down on my commitment to living and sharing the teachings in The Urantia Book. This book is “God-sent,” literally. These teachings cure spiritual blindness. Knowing God and loving others is the pearl of great price that I want for you and me! Sharing the good news from The Urantia Book is salvation for this world. A mighty and great miracle has descended upon our lives. For, by some stroke of fate, you and I were blessed to discover this revelation in early days.

If there were one message I could leave with you, it’s that you envision the Thought Adjuster in others and tirelessly act upon that knowledge.

Jennifer Siegel
Jennifer Siegel

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