Keystone group makes medical mission to Jordan

Posted: July 5, 2013

The Winchester Star

Winchester — What struck Erin Sawyer most was the hospitality of the Jordanian people.

While serving on a medical mission trip to Jordan in May with several other local residents, Sawyer of Winchester saw hundreds of people come with ailments ranging from strained eyes to infected teeth to more serious conditions.

By the end of the five day clinic, word had spread and people would stand in line for hours under the hot desert sun to be seen by visiting American doctors.

Yet no fights or bickering broke out, and when the people had finally been seen, they expressed “overwhelming gratitude,” she said.

“There weren’t enough ways for them to say thank you,” said Sawyer, a nurse with Blue Ridge Hospice.

Eight local members of Keystone Baptist Church traveled to Jordan from May 26 to June 2 for the humanitarian trip, said the Rev. Doug Wright, pastor. He joined the group, which included his wife and daughter, after the clinic finished, when some of them went on a five-day side journey to Israel.

The group was part of a 40-person team that provided the clinic through Operation Renewed Hope, a nonprofit medical missions and disaster relief agency founded in 1991, he said.

The organization focuses on providing medical, educational, and humanitarian relief worldwide.

“The opportunity to help people was something we enjoy, and it was an eye-opening opportunity for the participants,” Wright said.

The trip took the group to Azraq, a town in the desert about two hours from Amman, the capital of Jordan, he said.

The medical team included two optometrists, two dentists, and six general practitioners who saw about 1,300 patients in five days, Sawyer said. Many of the patients were from the area, but others traveled hours to get there. On the last day, about 30 Syrian refugees came seeking treatment.

The first day was quiet, but as word spread and people came back with their relatives to receive medical treatment, the lines got longer each day, she said.

Most of the local people who went are not medically trained but provided assistance in other ways, she said.

She helped in the triage area, along with Kristy Wright, the pastor’s wife, who is a teacher at Keystone Christian Academy, and Natalie Jabbour of Stephens City, who is earning her doctorate in physical therapy at Shenandoah University.

Others helped with registration, crowd control, running errands, or assisting doctors.

The other local participants who served in the clinic were Sharon Craine, a secretary at Keystone; Stuart Rogers, a teacher at Keystone; Julia Wright, the pastor’s daughter and a sophomore at Bob Jones University, and Lynette Scansen, a homemaker.

The makeshift indoor clinic was set up in the town’s fellowship center from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, Sawyer said. The doctors were sectioned off with sheets.

Volunteers going on the nonprofit’s four major trips each year pay to participate, and that money plus donations is used to fund the clinics, she said. Each participant paid about $2,700.

The group brings its own equipment and supplies, ranging from optometry stations to dental chairs to a well-stocked pharmacy. Every patient also received a wellness pack with a few basic medicines and vitamins, and their prescriptions for free, said Marc Jabbour of Stephens City.

They also improvised, turning a desk into a surgical table for cases, such as the removal of cysts, he said.

In addition to running errands, Marc Jabbour helped in the optometrist section. They saw plenty of cases of skin and eye issues because they are out in the sun so much, he said.

The clinic gave away eyedrops to help with the irritation and about 500 pairs of eyeglasses, he said.

They had all the prescriptions they needed to hand out but they weren’t always the right style, meaning sometimes men got women’s glasses and vice versa, he said. The patients didn’t care.

“It was really special to see them get their glasses and they could really see for the first time,” said Marc Jabbour, a computer engineer.

There were sad moments, too, though, he said. Once, relatives brought in a blind person and expected that because it was American doctors, they could heal him, he said.

In another instance, a baby was brought in with cirrhosis but it was too far gone for the doctors to help and didn’t survive, his wife said.

But while there were sad moments, the joy and openness with which they were greeted made it “an amazing trip,” Natalie Jabbour said. She liked sitting and talking to the children who came with their parents. Even though they didn’t speak the same language, they still had fun together.

The town put the group up at a hotel in town and fed them at a restaurant each night, she said.

“They were grateful that we came not just to serve them but to get to know them,” she said.


— Contact Laura McFarland at