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Unsung Heroes: Local volunteers support mission work in Belize

Debra McCown • Jan 3, 2013 at 4:27 AM

The office of Dr. Joe Smiddy is stacked high with cardboard boxes. They’re full of medicine for Belize, says Smiddy, the medical director for Body and Soul Ministries, a Kingsport-based charity that sends about 300 people a year to the tiny Central American country, which is situated between Mexico and Guatemala on the Caribbean Sea.

"Belize has a very primitive national health organization run by the government," said Smiddy, also a pulmonologist who practices in Kingsport. "They do not have most of our major specialists: There’s no pulmonologist in the country, there is no psychiatrist, there is no allergist, so it’s a very poor country with very primitive health conditions."

Body and Soul Ministries started 15 years ago, when a man named Ralph Digman packed up his family in an old school bus and drove to Belize to help the poorest of the poor. The Rev. Frank Waldo, the current president of Body and Soul, helped to build the organization.

But the ongoing effort wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers, said Smiddy. A group from the Kingsport area - often about 20 people - travels to Belize each month.

The groups typically stay a week or two and do everything from giving medical treatment to constructing buildings to handing out food and Bibles. They include medical personnel and often church workers and high school and college students.

"Many of the patients we see are actually hungry, and a doctor doesn’t have time in a mission field to distribute food and water, so our missions workers - who do Christian evangelism and build and run Bible schools - are the basis of our work. They’re the foundation," Smiddy said.

"The most common thing we do is go to church and have church, and we take guitars and we sing hymns and we find out what the needs are. Sometimes the needs are building, and we have folks do that. Sometimes the needs are medical, and we can often tell a church to bring their sick ones to the church the next morning."

Two full-time missionaries also work at Body and Soul’s Roaring Creek, Belize, compound, which includes a six-room clinic with x-ray and ultrasound technology, a pharmacy, a church, a dining hall, cabanas, dorm rooms and a shower house - all made possible by donors in East Tennessee.

The mission gets ongoing help with supplies from mom-and-pop pharmacies in Kingsport and international medical charities.

Sometimes, Smiddy said, doctors will see 700 patients in a week. Trips are planned a year in advance, though doctors and nurses are still being sought for a trip in August 2013. Smiddy said the trip costs a total of $1,200, and there’s fundraising help for those who can’t pay their own way. People who go are typically very flexible, enjoy the outdoors and are already involved in charity work.

"The most common theme is that everyone who goes on a mission trip has a dramatic life-changing experience," Smiddy said. "The other common experience of those who travel with us is a deep appreciation for what we have here in America."

Anyone interested in serving as a medical volunteer or helping with the medical effort can email Smiddy at [email protected]. Anyone interested in volunteering in a non-medical capacity can email Frank Waldo at [email protected]. Anyone interested in sponsoring the grade-school tuition of a child in Belize, so that they can attend school, can email Teresa Hayden at [email protected].

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