The Moravian Medical Program in Honduras
In reaching out to meet Honduran Miskitu spiritual and physical needs, the Moravian Church expanded the medical work started in 1934 by Dr. David Thaeler in Bilwaskarma, Nicaragua. Nurse Cleave Fishel began medical service across the border in Ahuas in 1946 following the footsteps of the Rev. Werner Marx who did itinerant medical work along with evangelistic and pastoral outreach.
The wide spectrum of medical needs required greater skills and services, so Dr. Sam and Grace Marx were called to Honduras and began building the Ahuas Moravian Clinic in 1952. Initially very rustic facilities limited medical care, but regular trips up the Patuca River and across the savannas brought pastoral and medical help to many Miskitu across La Mosquitia. Small clinics were started in Brus Laguna and Cocobila.
Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) began intermittent flights early in the 1950’s but by 1972 had based a plane in Ahuas, providing an access to daily medical care for people suffering in distant La Mosquitia villages. By then full pediatric, obstetrical, and surgical services were offered as buildings were constructed and medical equipment was donated–always with generous help from volunteers.
MAF is no longer active in La Mosquitia, but has “given birth” to a new ministry, Alas de Socorro (ADS). George Goff is a pilot who serves the church [especially the Medical Program] by providing transportation, as well as ministering to the spiritual needs of the people. His wife, Ruth, and their children, Rachel and Abby, are based in the US. Wayne Miller also flies for ADS and hopes to take mechanic training in order to service the airplaines.
By the late 1980’s, as the Nicaragua civil war raged, refugee medical problems brought a shift of responsibilities. Honduran and Nicaraguan medical providers took on the leadership of the Ahuas Moravian Hospital, reflecting the growing autonomy of the Moravian Church in Honduras.
A satellite clinic established years before by Martha Housman across the Caratasca Lagoon in Cauquira was upgraded by Dr. Edward Capparelli, a Reformed Church in America medical missionary. Across the western mountain ridge in Ocotales, a second clinic was founded for the Spanish-speaking frontier people living in that region. A network of small government clinics–now including the Brus Laguna and Cocobila facilities-led to a sharing of medical responsibilities, with Ahuas being a crucial referral center. Currently the clinic in Cauquira has minimal function, with a sole nurse providing care.
In the 1990’s Doctors Gerard Rudy and Norvelle Goff became the joint directors of the Ahuas Clinic with its triple emphasis of preventive medicine, curative and surgical care, and spiritual guidance. The medical program of the Moravian Church in Honduras is guided by a board of directors elected by the Synod of the Moravian Church in Honduras and has locations in Ahuas and Cauquira. A major initiative of the BWM since 2011 has been to help the Medical Board assume its leadership role in collaboration with the medical director.
Dr. Norvelle Goff, a Miskitu native of La Mosquitia, served as the Director of the medical program. Drs. Rudy and Goff left the field for the US in June, 2012 and Dr. Ovelio Lopez assumed the role of Director of the Medical Work. Dr. Benno Marx joined him in September 2011. He returned to the U.S. the first part of 2014 and his working in the medical profession serving Native Americans. In 2014 Drs. Melissa Brown and Kenneth Serapio joined the staff to help with women’s health and surgeries, respectively.
Also in September of 2014 the BWM appointed Rick Nelson, who previously served in Honduras, to a two-year term at the Ahuas Clinic to help redevelop the administrative structure and help address the many issues that confront the clinic. The goal is to evolve a structure that eventually is more self-sustaining.
The Ahuas Clinic has benefited from its inception from volunteers and support of its partners in North America. Work crews are often needed, even as we also try to utilize local labor for projects. Antioch Servants often spend time at the clinic, especially those interested in fields of health care. Check our Volunteer section of the website if you feel called to meet the people of Ahuas and work with them in mission.
Role of the Board of World Mission
From the inception of the medical program in Honduras, the Board of World Mission has provided personnel, administrative and financial support. Although the medical program is self-governing, under the authority of the Synod of the Moravian Church in Honduras, the Board of World Mission continues in a close supportive relationship. The Reformed Church in America is also a mission partner of the Moravian Church in Honduras.