A central belief of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) is to serve people everywhere, which stems from a desire to follow Jesus Christ. This core doctrine is a motivating force for 71 Latter-day Saint volunteers on the USNS Comfort’s Continuing Promise 2011 mission, which includes visits to nine countries throughout the Caribbean, South America and Central America.
As was done with Continuing Promise 2009, Latter-day Saint volunteers are working hand-in-hand with the United States Navy and other relief organizations for this humanitarian and medical training mission that has benefited more than 56,000 people. Continuing Promise 2011 began its mission in April and concludes 30 August. USNS Comfort has visited Jamaica, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Costa Rica, and is now in its final destination, Haiti.
Unique to the 2011 mission is the implementation of Helping Babies Breathe, a neonatal resuscitation training class that teaches lay midwives about newborn resuscitation. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated all materials for the classes. To date, more than 350 people throughout the nine countries have been trained in neonatal resuscitation.
“Helping Babies Breathe will change lives if taught to the right people,” said Courtney Lenberg, a Latter-day Saint volunteer nurse on the ship for the entire five-month period. “And, if utilized, it will drastically reduce the number of babies who die each year because they can’t breathe.”
Patients needing surgery are flown aboard the ship by helicopter where they are treated and remain for a short recovery. Meanwhile, additional volunteers travel to shore in a 40-passenger boat each day to set up temporary clinics in schools and community centers. At each stop, medical personnel and volunteers perform surgeries ranging from cleft palate reconstruction to cataract repair.
“These volunteers have sacrificed so much — for 11 of them, five months of their life — to come serve people who don’t have the means to get needed medical care,” said Dr. Susan Puls, Latter-day Saint volunteer medical coordinator for the mission. “This service is given because these volunteers want to spread God’s love by sharing their talents and skills to bless others’ lives.”
Full-time Church missionaries serving in the nations visited by the Comfort act as interpreters and help coordinate logistics. Help also comes from everyday Latter-day Saints within each country. In Jamaica alone, 100 volunteers gave 373 hours of service during the Comfort’s nine-day stop in April. Medical personnel provided eye, dental and pediatric and adult medical services.
“It was long hours, hot sun and lots of people, but it was worth the effort,” said Elder Theron Schaefermeyer, a senior missionary serving in Jamaica.
In addition to coordinating volunteers, the Church has donated nearly 200 pallets of humanitarian relief supplies, including medical resources, vitamins, hygiene kits, newborn kits, school kits, quilts, toys, first aid kits and blankets. These supplies have been donated to various organizations throughout the participating countries.
In the coming weeks, Newsroom will take a closer look at the experiences of some of the 71 Latter-day Saints who have been with Comfort during its five-month mission, and also report the perspectives of the beneficiaries of this medical service.