The Story of “Mission of Hope, Bolivia”

By Cindy Thacker

My first involvement with Bolivia was through adoption. My husband, John, and I adopted three boys from an orphanage in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Through these adoptions, we were introduced to a young man named Marcelo and heard about the Children’s Hospital.

Marcelo grew up in Santa Cruz in a very poor family. When he was 11 years old, he developed a life-threatening infection in his leg. He was taken to the Children’s Hospital, a government-run hospital for the poor. His leg was amputated because his mother had no money for antibiotics to treat the infection.

Marcelo stayed in the Children’s Hospital for almost two years until he was adopted by a family in Mississippi. After three years, the adoptive family had a change of heart. They called the adoption agency and told them to send Marcelo back to Bolivia. The adoption agency called us, and Marcelo came to live with our family in 1995.

In 1997, I began taking donations of medical supplies to Santa Cruz for the Children’s Hospital. The director of the hospital gave me permission to tour the treatment rooms, the operating rooms, and the recovery room. I was struck by how bare the rooms were. The supply cabinets contained very few supplies, and much of what they had was old and out of date. There were no packages of sterile gloves. The nurses had to wash used gloves and use them again and again, even though they were intended for only one use. When the gloves got so thin that they would tear, the nurses cut them into strips and used them as rubber bands, because they had no rubber bands.

Each time I visited the Children’s Hospital, I became increasingly aware of how depressing it was. It was dirty, there were no pictures on the walls, and it was badly in need of paint. In 1998, my family, including Marcelo, decided to go to Santa Cruz for a week at Christmas and do what we could to brighten up the hospital for the children. We agreed to paint six of the children’s rooms, including the very large 16-bed room where all the children go after surgery.

In order for us to paint, the nurses would push the beds toward the center of the room. The children were in the rooms with us, watching us paint. As my daughter, Katie, and two friends were painting teddy bears on the wall of one room, a nurse came in and took the IV out of a baby’s arm. Katie and her friends just assumed the baby was well and was being discharged. A short time later, the mother came back into the room, crying. She said that the IV had been taken out because she did not have any more money to pay and that her baby was still sick.

In the “burn room,” where all the children stay that have been burned, we saw children having their dressings changed without having received pain medication. We were shocked to find out that the children do not receive pain medication and antibiotics unless the parent has money to pay. The same was true for the children even after having surgery.

During our week of painting in the Children’s Hospital, I had many opportunities to speak with the nurses privately. They told me that many donations I had given to the Children’s Hospital simply disappeared after I returned to the States. They also told me that patients were being charged for supplies that I had given for free distribution. One day, I made a search of every room of the hospital. Much of the equipment I had donated, including a suction machine and two Ivac machines, was not there. It was clear that my efforts to help in this hospital were not very effective and that the children were not receiving the benefit of the donations.

In May of 1999, I returned to the Children’s Hospital to visit with the families and pray for the children. Usually, the children have a parent or family member staying with them. One father told me his toddler had been playing in the yard, and a chicken plucked out the child’s eye. He said they lived out in the country about an hour and a half from Santa Cruz. They had sold everything they owned to have enough money to bring the child to the hospital. The child needed x-rays. Several days later, I saw the child’s doctor. The x-rays still had not been done because the family had no money to pay for them. The doctor said that without the x-rays, they could do nothing to help this child.

I went into another room to pray for a very sick baby. The mother told me there was no milk in the hospital that her baby could drink. The baby was allergic to the one formula they had in the hospital. The mother said she had been breastfeeding, but now she had no breast milk. It was Sunday evening, and all the grocery stores were closed. I prayed for the baby, and I told the mother I would be back in the morning with milk for the baby.

A few weeks later, I woke up in the middle of the night. I could see the face of this mother as clearly as if she were standing right in front of me. As I looked into her face, I realized that this mother had probably not eaten for days and that I had not given her anything to eat. If she had no money to buy milk for her sick baby, she probably had no money for food either. Then I realized this was probably true for most of the families in that hospital. If they did not have the money to buy the medicines their sick children needed to get well, they probably did not have money to feed themselves. As I lay in bed thinking about all of this, I was overcome by sadness. I felt like God was telling me that He wanted me to go to Bolivia and open a Christian hospital for the poor. It would be a place where the poor could come and receive good medical care and medicine. It would also be a place where the poor could be fed with good, nourishing food, and be fed spiritually by hearing the Word of God.

In July of 1999, I went with a medical team from Kansas to work in Cochabamba, Bolivia. We stopped in Santa Cruz on the way, and I had lunch with Dr. Ruth Oropeza, a Christian doctor who has lived and worked in Santa Cruz for many years. She has a heart that is very sensitive to the poor, and she often treats them without charging any money. I shared with her my vision to start a Christian hospital in Santa Cruz. She was very excited about the idea and told me that she had just seen a hospital “for sale” that week in Santa Cruz.

Dr. Ruth also told me of a story that had been on the TV news that week about a little boy whose leg had been badly burned. They were asking people to donate money to buy the needed antibiotics for this child. We went to the Children’s Hospital to talk with the mother. She told us that unless she had 6 vials of injectable antibiotics by Monday, the doctors were going to amputate the child’s leg. The child was 3 years old. It was Saturday afternoon. I immediately thought of Marcelo and how much he had suffered because of his leg being amputated. So, we went in search of the antibiotics, bought them, and took them to the mother.

Dr. Ruth and I went to see the hospital for sale. As I looked at it, I realized it was perfect for what we wanted to do. The hospital was centrally located and very accessible by bus, which is the main mode of public transportation.

After much thought and prayer, I made the decision to step out in faith and form a non-profit, tax-exempt organization to be called “Mission of Hope, Bolivia.” The Lord provided a Christian lawyer who did all of the paperwork to establish “Mission of Hope, Bolivia” at no charge. He also provided a Christian accountant who worked to prepare the long and complicated IRS application at no charge. The IRS approved our application in only 3 weeks time, and Mission of Hope, Bolivia became a non-profit, 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt organization March 23, 2000.

In July of 2001, Mission of Hope, Bolivia bought the hospital that was for sale in Santa Cruz, paying cash for the full amount. In July of 2002, we officially opened a free outpatient clinic in Santa Cruz. To date, we have taken care of more than 300,000 patients! The patients are receiving excellent medical care at no charge, as well as free lab work and free medicines. We have a full-time pastor working with us. Patients are hearing the Word of God every day as they sit in our waiting room, and thousands have made decisions for Christ!

Donations are needed for the on-going support of this mission hospital. Together, with your prayers and financial support, we are making a difference, both physically and for eternity! Praise the Lord!!

Mission of Hope, Bolivia
P.O. Box 103
Charlottesville, VA 22902