Numerous humanitarian organizations and charitable groups are resolved to eradicate a debilitating eye disease. Their work points to an even greater purpose.
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Those of us who can see clearly (even with the help of glasses or contacts) sometimes take it for granted. Yet a look at conditions in another part of the globe can provide a fresh perspective.
Cataracts are the chief cause of blindness on the planet. Groups such as the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP)—with its pioneering work in eliminating cataract disease in Nepal, Ethiopia, Myanmar and other developing nations—have opened the eyes of the masses (both literally and figuratively).
A former leper colony in Ethiopia was the site for one of HCP’s recent cataract surgery campaigns.
Dr. Matt Oliva, one of four surgeons on the team, described the situation to Vice News: “Blindness in Ethiopia is a death sentence, it’s a social problem, it’s a human suffering problem, and it’s an economic problem.” Another ophthalmologist on the team added, “In a society where you don’t have social security or things like that, these people are dependent on their family to whom they become a burden.”
Those suffering from cataracts, which is a clouding of the eye lens, in developing nations discover that life as they knew it is essentially over. One woman, blind from the condition, said: “My little children look after me, I can’t even visit my friends. I just stay at home” (ibid.).
An elderly man with milky white eyes due to the disease painted a similarly grim picture: “I’m a farmer and I used to grow khat and sorghum. But now I can’t do it anymore. So, I have become a beggar and now I beg every day.”
The HCP mission is seeking to change it all by eradicating as much unnecessary blindness as possible. According to its website, cureblindness.org, since 1995 it and partners have screened and treated over 7.3 million people, provided more than 900,000 sight-restoring surgeries, and trained hundreds of doctors to do the same.
Over the course of one week, using what can best be described as a human assembly line, the HCP team of four eye surgeons in Ethiopia restored sight to 700 patients. This surprisingly large number is contrasted by a surprisingly small one—25. This is the number of dollars it costs to purchase the kit used to help repair the sight of a cataract patient. Put another way, the amount a person living in a developed nation would spend on a restaurant meal is more than enough to help a blind person see again. Shocking.
Watching young and old in jubilation as their vision is restored changes you. One by one, as doctors remove the surgical bandages a mere 24 hours following the procedure, patients scream, squeal and dance as their brains experience a sense that many patients had long given up on—sight.
The pure happiness on display, genuine embraces, and overwhelming emotions are heartwarming. They demonstrate, in a most graphic way, the one-of-a-kind joy of being made whole.
The Himalayan Cataract Project was co-founded by Dr. Sanduk Ruit, a 65-year-old ophthalmologist from Nepal.
Following his studies in India, the Netherlands and the United States, Dr. Ruit pioneered a simple, stitch-free surgical technique to cure cataracts. The procedure was so effective it began to be called a Ruitectomy.
Instead of relying heavily on machines, Dr. Ruit’s manual surgical technique involves making a small incision on the surface of the eye just below the iris. Guided by a highly magnified image, the surgeon inserts a small tool resembling tweezers into the incision and pulls out the damaged lens. The doctor then replaces the old lens with an artificial one by pushing it into the same opening.
Though slicing into the surface of the eye and poking and prodding around may sound gory, it remarkably is not. The procedure requires no stitches and there is little to no blood involved.
The surgery is completed within 10 minutes, and the doctors apply thick eye patches with bandages in the hope that the patient’s vision will be restored following a day of recovery.
Family and friends witnessing the removal of the bandages are usually just as excited in anticipation of the patient once again recognizing them, sometimes after years of being unable to. When the patches are removed, it takes a couple of seconds for the brain of the former cataract sufferer to adjust to what is being seen. Moments later there is an unbelievable smile, demonstrating that the surgery was a success. Ninety percent of patients will see well enough to pass a U.S. driver’s license test.
The ease and manual nature of the surgery, the assembly line approach, and Dr. Ruit’s innovative $3-per artificial lens is how $25 of supplies and 10 minutes can help a person see again.
Organizations besides HCP are also taking on the task of doing all they can to cure blindness. The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness lists other partners such as Orbis International, SightLife and Eye Bank of Ethiopia. The primary focus of all these groups is on the blind in the developing world.
Their work was initially shunned in ophthalmology circles. Many took issue with the unconventional research and work in environments considered squalid by Western standards. Yet groups stuck to the belief that excellent care could be delivered to the poor.
Not only do the majority of these programs waive surgery fees for those unable to pay, they also utilize mobile eye camps to take their services directly to people in hard-to-reach places. For instance, those doing work in and around the Himalayan region transport their equipment by vehicle as far as possible, then complete the journey by foot through mountainous terrain.
Once these mobile care teams get to a village, they immediately begin the work of transforming any available space into a sterile location for surgery. The location must be accessible and able to handle a large volume of patients who travel from miles around seeking to be cured. In a matter of hours, the team converts a dusty room into an operating area nearly equivalent to a clinic in the developed world.
Through this and other similar efforts, experts have made a positive impact on the world’s blindness problem. In Nepal, for instance, doctors have managed to reverse the rate of blindness from 1 per 100 out of a population of 26.4 million to about 1 per 400. Other places are experiencing similar benefits.
While the work of all these organizations is admirable, millions are still suffering from cataracts and awaiting care.
This reality drives efforts to pass along blindness prevention knowledge to other doctors. The HCP alone has helped train more than 19,381 eye-care personnel from 43 countries, of which 493 are doctors. They have built hospitals in Ghana, Ethiopia, India and China. They have also worked in North Korea, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Vietnam.
These individuals are some of the many in the blindness prevention community hoping to bring the joy of sight to hundreds, thousands and eventually millions.
Helping people see again is inspiring. In our world dominated by misery and despair, it is encouraging to witness uplifting accounts of people having their vision restored.
In a section on the cureblindness.org website titled “Grateful” are several quotes summarizing the impact of the charity’s work. One statement stood out: “It’s an amazing moment to watch [patients] realize that they can see, and to watch everything come into focus, it feels like a miracle.”
The work of the HCP does feel miraculous. Though cataract surgery may not fit the exact definition of a miracle, it is nevertheless hard to explain it any other way.
Miracles grab and hold our attention.
Jesus Christ knew this very fact. He even explained it to a high-ranking official who, despite his status, was unable to find a cure to his son’s terminal illness. He was left with no other option but to seek Christ and beg Him to heal his dying son (John 4:46-47). Christ’s response alluded to His important purpose for healing people: “Except you see signs and wonders, you will not believe” (vs. 48). He then healed the official’s son. This irrefutable sign made the man and his entire household believers in Christ and His ministry (vs. 53).
The Greek word translated “signs” means an indication, especially supernatural (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance). This term is many times translated “miracle.” A true miracle is an event inexplicable by natural or scientific laws. It is solely of divine origin.
Jesus’ first official miracle was changing water to wine at a wedding, which also helped people to believe in His divine authority (John 2:11). This act caught the attention of those of a certain status. However, Christ’s most numerous and arguably impactful miracles were those through which He brought or restored health to others, many of them poor. John 6:2 records, “A great multitude followed Him, because they saw His miracles which He did on them that were diseased.” Christ’s divine healing of the masses could not be explained away by nature or science.
Blindness was just one of the myriad diseases Jesus addressed: “And great multitudes came unto Him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet; and He healed them: insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel” (Matt. 15:30-31).
People brought their loved ones with the hopes of them being made whole. Many who had all but given up hope had their lives forever changed. When the healing came, it brought tremendous joy and exuberance (Luke 17:15-16).
Yet the question remains: What did the divine healings signal or indicate? Yes, people were made to feel better, but to what did it all point? What was the purpose of Christ’s ministry?
Read His own words: “Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John [the Baptist] what things you have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached” (Luke 7:22).
Christ wrapped His greater message—that of the gospel—in the healing of the sick. Helping people see, hear, walk and in some cases live again got their attention and the attention of witnesses.
Making people whole became the catalyst or means by which Christ spread the gospel. The word gospel appears in the Bible over 100 times. It is an Old English word meaning “god spell” or good news. The word kingdom is also an Old English term that means “government.”
Therefore, it is proper to say that Jesus Christ came as a divine newscaster bringing the gospel or good news of the soon-coming Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14). Do not be fooled or misled by those who claim the gospel is about the person of Christ or various misnomers such as the “gospel of salvation,” “gospel of grace,” “gospel of foods,” “gospel of faith” or a “social gospel.” These are unbiblical!
Jesus Christ, who plays a central role in Christianity and salvation, brought the only true gospel the Bible speaks of—the good news of God’s Kingdom coming to Earth. He also tied it to the joy and elation of being healed.
The government of God coming to Earth is God’s overarching message to mankind. Under this divine rulership, all of mankind will have access to its Creator and will learn to live His way of life. One of the benefits of this way is good health. This is a major reason Christ focused on this during His 3.5-year ministry.
Healing the sick on the spot helped people recognize Christ’s credibility and believe His seemingly unbelievable statements. Making them whole also became the chief reason to believe He was the Son of God who brought a message to mankind (John 7:31).
The happiness that comes with being healed made Christ’s words live, just as they do today.
Good news is coming. God promised it would. He said plainly that we should repent (change) and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). The reader is therefore left with the same question presented to the throngs that followed the living Jesus Christ. Will you believe?
The Real Truth and The Restored Church of God are committed to obeying Christ’s command to “preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18).
The articles we present bring a clearer understanding to the problems of today’s world. More importantly, they reveal the lasting solutions, in the same spirit of the good work being done by organizations committed to curing blindness, but with more far-reaching effect.
In God’s Kingdom, people will be healed and made whole. They will find permanent solutions to what ails them, physically, emotionally and spiritually. They will also experience the exuberance that comes along with it.
For more on what the gospel is and is not, according to the Bible, order our free booklet Which Is the True Gospel? It will give you a much clearer understanding of the central message Christ delivered, and paints a picture of the awesome environment in which all will soon be made whole.