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Marti's Ministry of Mercy has Spanned the Globe
Volunteering is a way of life for Marti. She doesn't know a thing about medicine, but she loves medical mission trips, and has volunteered for 20 of them.

For the past 20 years Mrs. Marti Van Hoeve has been faithfully volunteering as a general helper with Medical Ministry International (MMI). "I like adventure with purpose," declares the spry 80-year-old. Once or twice a year, she volunteers for a two-week mission trip.

One of Marti's most cherished items is this water jug made by a woman in the Copan region of Honduras. The lady made pottery in her 10 by 12 foot home, which Marti visited during her first medical project in 1987.

She is not a doctor, nurse or eye specialist. She doesn't have a medical background, but she has what it takes –the heart of a servant. "I'm a good follower of orders," says the Waterdown, Ontario grandmother. "The mission projects are more fun than a holiday. You receive much more than you give."

Often her assignment will be to entertain people waiting for treatment. She'll show pictures of other mission projects and doesn't hesitate to play games or blow bubbles with the children.

Marti naturally connects with young people. On a project in Armenia in 2001 she handed out Canadian flags and pins at the local school and encouraged the students to continue their education. "You have to make your country great!" she boldly told them.

Marti always brings Frisbees and tennis balls to projects. She doesn't just hand these out, she plays. "I'm agile for my age," she states matter-of-factly.

Through experience, she has learned to make it clear the toys she brings to projects are her personal toys. "That way no one child runs off with them." Everyone is able to share the fun. At the end of each mission trip Marti leaves her toys with a local teacher or pastor. She also leaves behind her towels, sheets, extra shoes, most of her clothes and a suitcase full of donated colouring sheets, crayons, pencils, balloons, Canadian flags, leaflets from the Canadian Bible Society and greeting card pictures with a Psalm attached and health card information on the back. "The people hang these on their walls."

Each project offers its own opportunities to mention Jesus. When Marti speaks to a class of students, she explains, "I'm here as a follower of Jesus."

On her most recent trip, last summer Marti spent two weeks in Mozambique as part of a team that included an optometrist, a dentist, and missionary hosts from African Inland Missions.

Project director, Brian Piecuch from Peru, began each day with a devotional message. The first day he addressed the local, mostly Muslim, crowd, "We have here the words and music for one of your songs. We need your help."

Marti reports, "The first day the people were hesitant, but by the third day everyone was singing and clapping." As the days progressed, the director explained, "We are here because we love Jesus." He invited everyone to pray together—to Jesus or to Allah.

Marti's role on that trip involved determining distance vision of the people waiting to see the optometrist. She along with a fellow team member and two local translators helped approximately 50 Mwani clients per day. Using a chart with graduated horizontal and vertical lines, Marti and her co-worker measured how far each person could see. Clients were directed to put their arms either up or out to indicate perceived line direction. The optometrist used results to prescribe appropriate glasses. According to Marti, people coming to an MMI clinic "are usually somewhat nervous, but when they get the glasses, it is all okay."

Glasses are secondhand ones that have been collected, sorted, labeled and entered into a computer data file at MMI facilities in Hamilton, Ontario and Parkesburg, Pennsylvania.

Marti sees it as a bonus to be living in the same city as an MMI centre. She joins ten to 30 other volunteers eight times a year to sort glasses and hear about upcoming projects.

MMI is a missionary organization with a mission "to serve Jesus by providing spiritual and physical health care in this world of need." They make it possible for approximately 1,500 North American volunteers, including many professional health care workers, to help people in some 20 developing countries through 65 missions annually. MMI volunteers work alongside national doctors and helpers, and partner with local churches when possible.

Eye projects are a favourite with Marti because of the noticeable difference a pair of glasses or a cataract operation can make. She observes that cataract operations are very successful, even when performed in less than perfect conditions. "Someone who couldn't see well for 15 years can suddenly see clearly. It's a miracle for them."

A complete eye clinic involves a team of 60 or 70 volunteers including five optometrists, opticians, nurses, technicians, and general helpers. "A team like that can help up to 1,000 people per day," says Marti.

Participation in 20 MMI missions has taken Marti across the globe. She has been to most countries in Central America and to Paraguay, Bolivia and Ecuador in South America. She's been to Romania in Europe, as well as Ghana and Mozambique in Africa. She has also worked on projects in Burma, the Philippines, Armenia, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. "I always keep Haiti on the back burner," reveals Marti. If a planned trip falls through for political reasons, Marti knows she can always go to Haiti where the people are very poor and very needy. She admits Haiti gets a lot of bad publicity yet, "personally I have not found violence anywhere there," she says.

You might wonder when and how Marti stepped into mission work. Surprisingly she waited until she was almost 60.

Marti enjoys riding like royalty during her visit to a mountain shrine on her 2004 Burma trip.

As a young woman, she came to Canada from The Netherlands to learn English so she could follow her dream to work in underdeveloped countries possibly for a world organization such as UNESCO. Then she met her husband and the dream was put on hold while together they raised three children and ran a construction company. In 1979 when their children were 13, 16 and 20, Marti's husband died.

Six years later, when her youngest left for university, Marti had the finances and good health to indulge in a luxury world tour or a cruise, but that didn't appeal to her sense of adventure. Instead she embarked on her first mission trip to Alabama where she volunteered for a seven week stint at a school in an impoverished area. She was hooked.

Marti has also participated in missions to Egypt and Kuwait with her church, Westdale Reformed Church of Hamilton. In 1989 she joined her friend Nellie Feddes in a Bible smuggling operation into Cuba. "It didn't feel very good when they announced in the airport, 'We have two Canadian ladies here with two suitcases full of Bibles.'" Officials let them go into the country with one Bible each. What the officials didn't know was that the previous day their team had successfully brought in several other cases also full of Bibles which the women quietly distributed from their hotel room.

In 1991, Marti decided to help people in her own country. She taught Bible School in Inuvik in the North West Territories with an organization called LAMP.

Between trips Marti stays healthy. She eats a Mediterranean diet of vegetables, grains, and more fish than meat. She walks or bikes at least an hour everyday. If you happen to live in Waterdown and get up early enough, you may see her biking along Snake Road to the 403—"20 minutes out and 40 minutes back." In the winter you might catch her skiing to the town hall to pay her taxes. Or you may have seen her biking to Sobey's to pick up groceries. She never uses her car locally.

Marti is going to Peru in the fall of 2006. She plans to leave several days before the project begins to give herself time to adjust to the altitude. Originally that trip was scheduled for spring 2006, but instead Marti went to The Netherlands to witness her sister receiving a national award for a lifetime of—you guessed it—volunteerism.

Medical Ministry International is located at 15 John St. North, Hamilton, Ontario. Tel: (905) 524-3544. E-mail:

Marian Den Boer is a writer and editor based in Hamilton, Ontario.

Originally published in Beacon, September/October 2006.




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