Local church converting shipping containers into medical clinics for Cambodia

By Jim Beam from American Press
jbeam@americanpress.com
Photos Special to the American Press

Motorists traveling along Country Club Road who have seen the “Doc in a Box” banner and two seagoing containers in front of St. Luke-Simpson United Methodist Church have to be wondering what it’s all about.

St. Luke-Simpson UMC Cambodia mission team members are, from left, Janet Bruce, Helen Page, Ken Moss Jr., Mickey Moss, Rev. John Robert Black, Team Leader Dave Bruce, Daniel Kibe, Irvin Louque, Clo Mere, Susan Hill and Samantha Louque. Jennifer Creswell is also a member.

The Rev. Dr. John Robert Black, senior pastor, said the containers would eventually become medical facilities in Cambodia as part of what he calls “the most exciting mission project I’ve ever been part of.” He said he hopes the containers are a visible example of the mission of Christ.

Black said he wants members of the community to know what the containers are and invites them to be a part of it. The great thing about the containers, he said, is that so many people want to go on international mission trips and can’t do it, but this is one they can do in Lake Charles.

“It also creates a local way to participate in an overseas project, including a young man whose Eagle Scout project is to prime and paint the container,” he said.

“We hope the containers will be a visible witness that there is good and hope and love in the world rather than the constant negativity and heartache,” Black said.

Volunteer Greg Young, the mission team’s construction leader, makes weld repairs on a shipping container that will become a medical clinic for Cambodia at St. Luke-Simpson Methodist Church

Dave Bruce and Greg Young are directing a team of about a dozen members in the Doc in a Box effort. Bruce has been to Cambodia four or five times, once to dedicate a medical facility constructed at Texas A&M University. St. Luke-Simpson paid the shipping and location costs to get the facility to Cambodia.

Why Cambodia? The needs are great, Bruce said, because the genocide carried out by the Pol Pot regime in the late 1970s killed an estimated 1.5 to 3 million of Cambodia’s elderly population. Half of the current population of Cambodia is under age 25.

The country is in desperate need of health care, particularly in the rural areas where there is none. Bruce said St. Luke-Simpson’s first connection came in 2015 when it and First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge donated money to build a church at Raksmeay, Cambodia.

Bruce said he first heard about Texas A&M’s involvement in constructing these medical containers from Colin Wilkinson, a friend who was involved in building four containers at different churches. Both are engineers who worked at Conoco and Phillips, companies that eventually merged.

The two met for the first time at a meeting about a container Wilkinson’s Christ United Methodist Church in College Station, Texas, sent to the Republic of Kenya. Wilkinson told Bruce about his involvement in building other containers.

Construction begins on the second container clinic to be donated to Kampong Chhnang Province, Cambodia.

Texas A&M got involved in constructing containers after 12 people were killed in 1999 when an Aggie bonfire collapsed during its construction. It is the university’s way of remembering those who died. Student volunteers built 12 containers over three years, and then continued building them because of high demand.

Medical Bridges, a Houston company that partners with Texas A&M, equips the containers with used and unused medical equipment from Houston’s many hospitals. The company also works with volunteers.

St. Luke-Simpson got the 11th container from Texas A&M that it shipped earlier this year to Kratie Province, Cambodia, which is on the border between Cambodia and Vietnam and has no medical resources within 75 miles. The church has worked with the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church and the Community Health and Agricultural Development

(CHAD) in Cambodia that has a vision for the 160 congregations of the Methodist Church in Cambodia (MCC).

Bruce said United Methodist Women at St. Luke-Simpson paid about $3,000 for shipping and the site preparation for the Kratie container cost between $10,000 and $11,000. All of that was paid for with private donations, he said.

Unloading the first container clinic in Kratie Province, Cambodia are, from left, Rev. John Robert Black, Mickey Moss, and Dr. Chhneang Sovutha, Kratie provincial health director.

The people of Cambodia for about $14,000 got a medical facility that Bruce said is worth somewhere between $100,000 and $150,000. Rev. Black and Bruce were among a team of 12 from St. Luke-Simpson at the commissioning ceremony and celebration in Kratie Province that was attended by the lieutenant governors of Cambodia and Vietnam.

Bruce said St. Luke-Simpson opted to build a container locally. While they were in Cambodia. Ken Moss, a church member, visited another site that Cambodia’s missions people said needed the next container.

The country’s Ministry of Health said it needed a container with three sections. The entrance would be for screening and reception, the second for obstetrics and gynecology and the third for minor surgery. Cambodia is responsible for staffing the medical facilities.

Many at St. Luke-Simpson, including the Scouts and trained craftsmen, are involved in constructing the medical container going to Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia. The province is centrally located and could become a major medical center, Bruce said.

Framing has already begun and the plywood walls, insulation, plumbing and electrical work are up next. The church hopes to get the necessary furniture and medical equipment from local hospitals that they no longer need. The interior of the container will be fully completed, equipped and the interior artistically painted before it is shipped.

The first container clinic sponsored by St. Luke-Simpson Methodist Church being installed and commissioned in Kratie Province, Cambodia, in February.

Persons interesting in volunteering on the project are urged to contact St. Luke-Simpson United Methodist Church at 337-474-1500.

The Bruce-Young project team estimates the budget for the project is between $45,000 and $50,000, and there will be $10,000 in site preparation costs. All of the funds will come from private donations, the team leaders said, and additional contributions will be gratefully accepted. The church plans to build more medical containers.

Bruce said local and medical officials in Cambodia are young and hard-working people. Although the country is 95 percent Buddhist, he said the young people see Christians coming to their country doing so much for their health care and not getting anything for it. As Rev. Black said, it is a visible example of the mission of Christ.

A mission team from St. Luke-Simpson United Church stands with Cambodian Methodist Church officials and Cambodian Health Department representatives as a medical clinic made from a shipping container is dedicated in Snuol, Cambodia in February. The new clinic is in a rural area that had no medical resources within 75 miles.

“It’s a wonderful pragmatic use of existing resources to help people who face a tremendous shortage of medical care,” Black said. “I’m thrilled to be part of a mission with unlimited potential for the people of rural Cambodia.”