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Members of a mountain medical team in Honduras pause for a photo during a mission trip with Friends of Barnabas Foundation. The foundation was started by a former Suffolk pastor who did relief work in Honduras in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country.
Members of a mountain medical team in Honduras pause for a photo during a mission trip with Friends of Barnabas Foundation. The foundation was started by a former Suffolk pastor who did relief work in Honduras in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country.

Archived Story

Working in the mountains

Published 8:58pm Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Suffolk-grown Honduran charity gives health care, education

What started with a Suffolk pastor’s Christmas card list has grown into a Honduran relief charity with a full-time staff of doctors and nurses and 11 volunteer teams per year visiting the Central American country.

When Hurricane Mitch stalled over Honduras in October 1998, it dumped historic rainfall totals that devastated the nation, already the second-poorest in the Western Hemisphere at the time. Linwood Cook, former pastor of Magnolia United Methodist Church in Suffolk, was part of the relief effort.

“He saw the abject poverty there and the fact there’s no medical care available,” said George Blair, a Suffolk resident and longtime chairman of the charity’s board. He’s now the vice-chairman.

“It all started with a man having a vision of how he could make a difference,” Blair added.

Cook asked the Methodist church to appoint him as an extension minister to Honduras. In 2000, the foundation got its approval from the Internal Revenue Service and got to work.

The first donors were from Cook’s 220-person Christmas card list. From those humble beginnings, the Friends of Barnabas Foundation — named after a New Testament philanthropist — has grown into one of the primary sources of medical care and education among the mountain villages it serves.

“It grew and grew and was blessed and blessed,” Cook said, adding that the foundation has been able to operate with practically no debt. “As we had a need, God would bless and we would fill that need.”

About 25 percent of the country has no access to health care, Blair said. They live in shacks where wood stoves are used for cooking. Birth defects, heart problems, poor vision, children affected by parasites and other scourges are common.

“We offer care for the children who would never see a doctor or a hospital if we didn’t provide that opportunity,” Cook said.

Volunteer medical teams now head into the mountain villages 11 times a year — once a month except for December — and provide medical care. They work with 25 villages, and each team visits five villages during their trip.

All women of childbearing age receive a six-month supply of prenatal vitamins, enough to last them until the team’s next visit. Children get anti-parasite medications. Rotted teeth are pulled. Children receive vision checks and eyeglasses.

For problems that cannot be treated in one visit, the children are transported to the foundation’s Barnabas House in a nearby village, where heart surgeries and other procedures take place and where the teams also board in between village visits.

The prenatal vitamins alone have reduced the number of birth defects up to 70 percent in some villages, Blair said.

In between visits by the medical teams, nurses employed at Barnabas House call on the villages and provide simple health care education.

“The whole idea is that by going to the same village, we’re training the people to the point we won’t need to go there anymore,” Blair said. “What has happened since the year 2000 has been phenomenal.”

Cook said many people in his old hometown of Suffolk have been faithfully supportive of the organization, both with monetary donations and serving on trips.

Cook especially recognized James Blair, George Blair’s brother, for serving on many of the medical teams.

“He gave of his best,” Cook said.

Find more information on the Friends of Barnabas Foundation at www.fobf.org.

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