News Release

USNS Mercy, Staffed by Medical Professional Volunteers, Blesses Lives in the Philippines

Volunteers from the LDS Charities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worked side by side with service members aboard Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy as part of a humanitarian and medical training mission that blessed the lives of many in Samar, Philippines.

“Prepare in calm to respond in crisis” was the motto chosen by Pacific Partnership 2012 (PP12) Commodore Jim Morgan.  

The PP12 team conducted six medical civic action programs (MEDCAP), five biomedical equipment technician (BMET) exchanges, 11 veterinarian civic action programs (VETCAP), four civil engineering action programs (ENGCAP) and numerous other medical and community service projects in the region of Western Samar, across cities and towns from San Isidro to Catbalogan City.

From morning until afternoon, LDS Charities volunteers toiled alongside other civilian and service members performing operations, from cleft palate reconstruction to cataract repair, aboard Mercy which was docked a mile offshore.  Medical and dental check-ups for adults and children were performed and free reading glasses, medicine, and walking aid equipment were distributed.  

Thomas Weinz of the US Department of State said that this mission “had the most number of operations done.”  Patients needing surgery were flown to the ship by helicopter for treatment and stayed for a period of recovery, while volunteer doctors, nurses and other medical personnel set up temporary clinics in schools to assess and provide medical services to patients.  For the Samar mission, 54 medical volunteers from LDS Charities rendered service, some of whom would proceed to the next countries for the succeeding missions, while others would go home, but would be replaced by additional volunteers from LDS Charities.  

Aside from coordinating volunteers, the Church donated more than half of this project's humanitarian relief supplies,  including medical resources, vitamins, hygiene kits, newborn kits, school kits, orphanage supplies, toys, first aid kits and blankets. These supplies have been donated to various organizations in the countries where the missions have been conducted.  Seventy percent of the donations come from LDS Charities.

Michael John U. Teh, Philippines Area President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, assisted in the distribution of donated supplies and observed the medical missions conducted.  He and his wife, Grace, also attended the dinner hosted by the Navy on board USNS Mercy and met with the volunteer group from LDS Charities led by Ret. Capt. John S. Jarstad, M.D.

As President Teh shook hands with each of the volunteers, thanking them for their sacrifice in helping the Filipino people, he spoke of the “marvelous experience it was for us to witness how thousands of our countrymen have been blessed.”   

He further added, “It was also a thrill to witness the cooperation engendered among citizens of many nations.  We have people from all sectors of society coming together for a common cause.  People forgetting themselves and not minding personal inconveniences to alleviate the suffering of others.  It is heartwarming to realize that people in general, consciously or otherwise, eagerly seek for opportunities to follow the example of Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Susan Puls, Latter-day Saint volunteer medical coordinator, took charge in the recruitment of volunteers and coordinated with the assignments and responsibilities.  Her counterpart on the ground, Anthony John Balledos, who was involved in the program from the initial planning until implementation, made sure that everything was set and schedules were followed.

“Pacific Partnership has brought together the very best military, humanitarian, governmental and non-governmental agencies we and the international community have to offer,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Carter.  “These groups are made up of tireless, dedicated, incredibly knowledgeable individuals,” he further stated.

“They volunteer their skills and time because of the blessings and talents that Heavenly Father has given them.  It also shows that we want to follow the example of Jesus Christ which is to help our brothers and sisters who are less fortunate,” added Mike Hughes who is in charge of LDS Charities donations.

Team leaders, John and Patricia Jarstad, expressed appreciation to the volunteers and highlighted the need to help others, to alleviate pain and see the joy as lives are changed, sights are restored and ailments eased. Dr. Jarstad specializes in cataract and laser vision surgery, as well as treatment of diseases of the anterior segment of the eye.  For over twenty years, he has traveled to different parts of the world doing vision treatment and has been with Pacific Partnership in several missions.  Dr. Jarstad and his wife, along with other LDS Charities volunteers, will be staying for three months aboard USNS Mercy while others come and go in different batches staying six weeks each.

After the Philippines, the remaining mission ports include Vietnam and Cambodia.  The mission will continue to “build regional partnerships and collective abilities needed to respond to natural disasters.”  Now on its seventh year, the Pacific partnership is the “largest annual humanitarian civic assistance mission in the Asia-Pacific Region.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides relief and development projects for humanitarian purposes in countries all over the world. Projects operate without regard to the nationality or religion of the recipients.  LDS Charities is the foundational arm of the Church.

The humanitarian services arm of the Church sponsors five ongoing global projects to help people become more self-reliant. Initiatives include neonatal resuscitation training, clean water projects, wheelchair distribution, vision treatment and measles vaccinations.


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