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Interfaith organization sends medical supplies to countries in need


Interfaith organization sends medical supplies to countries in need

June 23, 2005   

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

HAMMOND, Ind. (UMNS)—Champ Merrick, Don Copple and Barney Stahl are busy unloading boxes of syringes and lining them up for Kathy Abdah.

Abdah calls out instructions to Karen Little, who is waiting to record the inventory on a laptop computer.

“That’s seven boxes of 3cc, 21-gauge syringes, 50 to a box,” Abdul says, as Little types.

“In third world countries they are reusing syringes by dipping them in alcohol,” points out the Rev. David Schrader, superintendent of the Calumet District, in the United Methodist Church’s North Indiana Annual (regional) Conference. “New syringes are a remarkable gift for these hospitals.”

Remarkable gifts are leaving this Munster, Ind., warehouse and traveling to hospitals in Jerusalem, Afghanistan, Iraq, Asia and Africa. Catheters, sutures, cardiac surgery supplies, baby warmers, surgical tools and more are stacked to the ceiling in this 2,200-square-foot warehouse. The supplies are donations from area hospitals.

Merrick, Copple, Stahl, Abdah and Little are volunteers from First United Methodist Church in Hammond, who have put hours of sweat equity into the Children of Abraham, an interfaith organization salvaging surplus medical supplies to ship to developing countries.

One hospital recently donated eight large boxes of surgical instruments that were destined for the dumpster.

Looking at a portion of the instruments spread out on a table, Dr. David Harvey, retired orthopedic surgeon, estimated their worth at around $15,000.

“This is a chest retractor,” he says, picking up one of the instruments. “You cut open the chest and you can crank it open with this. It’s a very expensive piece of equipment, made out of stainless steel.”

Harvey is one of several doctors who volunteer with the Children of Abraham. The group comprises members from First United Methodist Church, other churches in the Calumet District and the Northwest Indiana Islamic Center. Other volunteers bring years of experience to the team, such as Merrick, who worked in international shipping before retiring.

Schrader, a member of the board of directors for both Methodist hospitals in the area, says hospitals end up with surplus supplies because of accreditation guidelines from insurance companies and the federal government that require stocking more supplies than may be needed.

On the flip side, everything has a dated hermetic seal, and hospitals could lose their accreditation if inspectors find supplies on the premises with a past due date.

“They are getting rid of high-tech equipment that is perfectly good and replacing it with new items,” he says. “Many developing countries don’t have anything that even approaches the quality of what the hospitals here are getting rid of.”

“The people with whom we deal in the hospitals are just thrilled that they can find a means of using what is surplus to them or obsolete to them rather than put it in a dumpster,” says Merrick, president of Children of Abraham. “They are just thrilled to be able to help us supply hospitals in need around the world.”

Shawn Harvey, who works in receiving at Methodist Hospital in Gary, Ind., is glad to see the Children of Abraham pick up the supplies.

“In life, your help will not always come from people you know. Oftentimes if you allow yourself, it can come from people you don’t know,” he says. “It’s just a good feeling to know that I’m helping someone that’s not next door to me but across the world in another place.”

Many of the shipments from the Children of Abraham go to Methodist hospitals in developing countries. Some are sent in cooperation with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

The first gathering of medical supplies was personal for church members. A former associate pastor at First United Methodist Church felt the call to be a missionary in Liberia. The Rev. Anne Girton Kumeh started working at Ganta United Methodist Hospital in Liberia and told the church of the desperate need for medical supplies. The first shipments were for that hospital, but when the civil war broke out in Liberia, the church was left with medical supplies that needed to go somewhere.

At the same time, the war in Afghanistan was under way and the war in Iraq was beginning, explains the Rev. Byron Kaiser, pastor of First United Methodist Church. Children of Abraham was born in 2001.

“We were discovering because we were Christians from the United States we couldn’t get a medical container to those countries,” he says. The church decided to contact a nearby Islamic mosque and ask if it could help.

“They were thrilled to be asked to help because they couldn’t get any medical supplies out of the country, but they could get them into Afghanistan and Iraq,” Kaiser says. “It encouraged us because we realized that what God was speaking on our hearts was very much the same thing that God was speaking on their hearts.”

Imam Mongy El-Quesny and the people in the Northwest Indiana Islamic Center were searching for a way to help but were being blocked by the government after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“I see our government today in Washington, D.C., try very hard to show the good image of the Americans,” he says. “I think we have proved it by this little help we send to others.”

When the group was searching for a name, Abraham was chosen as a patriarch common in Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths. “He is the father of Ishmael and father of Isaac,” El-Quesny says. “It really brought unity to all of us.”

Merrick and Dr. Raied Abdullah, a kidney specialist at Methodist Hospital in Merriville, Ind., left June 19 for East Jerusalem to visit a hospital that is receiving a container filled with more than $500,000 worth of medical supplies.

Adbullah, a member of the Islamic center, worked with the Children of Abraham to coordinate the shipment to Makassed Hospital in Mount Olives. He also raised about $7,000 to cover the shipping cost. Volunteers absorb the cost of getting to the hospitals to pick up the supplies, and donations are sought to pay for the shipping fees.

“It is very exciting to see the fruits of what this organization has been doing and to watch the response,” he says. “I didn’t realize until I got involved with this group that one person can actually make a difference.”

It is a goal of the organization to make sure they are sending only good quality equipment to places that really need them.

“We don’t ship junk,” Schrader says. “As a matter of fact, we’ve got a theme: No ‘Junk for Jesus’ shipments.”

A detailed inventory is kept of all the supplies received from the hospitals donating to Children of Abraham. The inventory is sent to doctors on staff at the various hospitals in developing countries, and they can request the supplies they need.

“You cannot imagine how big this is,” says Dr. Olabode Oladenbe, an internist who was born in Nigeria and is working with Children of Abraham to get a shipment sent to his homeland.

“These people are involved in helping other people without bias for race, creed, religion and without any expectations for themselves.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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