October 17, 2012

Responding to the Call of Ministry

They stood for all that America represented, and in minutes they were gone. Standing tall, the Twin Towers came crumbling down, burying thousands of people. It was a horror story come to life. White smoke painted the sky so thick that it was hard to see right in front of you; debris floated everywhere—into every crevice of the city. The sounds of sirens rang through the smoke-infested air as police officers and firefighters rushed to the devastation that would take some of their own lives. Screams of agony and pain echoed throughout the air as family members frantically searched high and low to find their loved ones. 

The days immediately after September 11 seemed to last longer than 24 hours, and they were filled with despair, depression, hopelessness, and fear. Missing person signs dangled on doors, windows, and walls. A silence unfamiliar to the usually vibrant and bustling New York City hung in the air. It was then, at their lowest moment, when mothers and brothers and wives and husbands wept on the streets, praying their loved one would be found, that patriotic music coming from a small marching band permeated the air, and hugs were received from strangers from far away. The shirts identified the group as NAPS, the National Association for the Prevention of Starvation, and they had come from Huntsville, Alabama, to give a hug. A hug that brought hope, love, and support to the New Yorkers whose lives had been changed so quickly and drastically. 

The Ministry
NAPS takes the same hope, love, and support that brought comfort to those in New York City after September 11 with them around the world. Founded in 1978 at Oakwood University (OU) by biology professor Anthony Paul, this nonprofit volunteer relief organization seeks to live up to its mission to mitigate hunger, poverty, and disease, and to improve education and food security among suffering people both nationally and internationally, regardless of race, religion, or nationality. This ministry, which focuses primarily on children, is very active in the prevention of HIV/AIDS and violence, and food security for the most vulnerable. Based in Huntsville, the organization has 21 chapters throughout the world that represent 17 countries with offices in Guyana, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Madagascar, Sudan, and Zambia. NAPS volunteers represent approximately 5 percent of the OU student body with 30 percent of the student body’s academic awardees being NAPS volunteers. 

This ministry has responded and given aid after several recent high-profile disasters and events, such as the famine in southern Sudan in 1999, September 11, the Sri Lanka tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the Haiti earthquake in 2010. Those involved with the ministry have been on many mission trips and have seen God’s hand at work in the lives of people all around the world. 

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SHARING A HUG: Current medical director Marlo Hodnett, M.D., as a student in NAPS, embraces a child after baptism in Southern Sudan.

NAPS in North Africa
In 1999 the southern Sudanese were desperate. Starvation was countrywide. Thousands of children lost their parents in the war between the Muslim north and the Christian south and were left orphans. They were nomads fleeing the front lines of the war. It was at this time that NAPS came to help. 

Marlo E. Hodnett, M.D., current director of medicine for NAPS, was part of the group that went to southern Sudan. She became inspired when she had visited southern Sudan previously, while an Oakwood student in NAPS.

“At that time I was a junior at Oakwood College aspiring to be a physician. After developing a relationship with an elder in the village named Phillip, who was the closest thing to a physician (despite not going to medical school), I knew that being just a physician was not an option. I must use my skills to help those less fortunate. He was an inspiration to me.” 

Phillip proved to be an inspiration to not only Hodnett but many others. He helped physically take care of the people in his village, and was serious about spreading the gospel to the people on the front lines of war. NAPS helped by giving him flashlights, batteries, water bottles, tents, food, and Bibles—different supplies he needed for his mission to spread the gospel. 

Seeing God’s Hand at Work
Coming back from the powerful mission experience in southern Sudan, Hodnett, then an Oakwood student, went home for the summer, where she gave a presentation to her local church on the mission to southern Sudan. After the presentation she met a man named Wol Bol Wol. Wol was a refugee in northern Kenya when NAPS went to southern Sudan. He told Hodnett about how he had heard about their mission of love and relief by reading a newspaper. It had changed his life. 

The story doesn’t stop there. After coming to America, Wol prayed that God would help him find a church that believed what he had learned from the Bible—and he was led to Parkhill Seventh-day Adventist Church in Denver, Colorado. Not only did he find a church home, but the church, along with Hodnett and Paul, worked together to get him into Oakwood University. He graduated with a degree in theology, went on to Andrews University, and is currently almost finished translating the entire Bible into the Dinka language—the language of his people. His life is an inspiration to NAPS—a testimony of the importance of continuing the work that they do.

“Spreading the Word of God declares the importance of God’s love to an individual, showing the value of a human before the Creator,” Wol says. “This work brings answers to individuals who are lost in a chaotic world. Imagine if no one had influenced me like NAPS did, I would not have come to love the truth and follow it.”

Relief Work After Tsunamis and Hurricanes
A couple years later, in 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami left the stench of death in its wake. Despite the difficulties of entering Sri Lanka as a Christian group, NAPS finally arrived in the country a month after the tsunami. They could still feel the tension of disaster. NAPS removed debris, helped with grief recovery, put on children’s puppet programs, and built homes for families. These volunteers worked earnestly in uncomfortable weather, and people saw and trusted their sincerity. Their trust opened an avenue for people to be receptive to Christianity. 

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SHOWING SUPPORT: NAPS gives hugs to New York firefighters to show support after September 11.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and surrounding areas a year after the devastating tsunami in Sri Lanka, NAPS was one of the first responders to the scene, arriving the day after. They joined with the Red Cross to help cut down trees, get people out of their homes, and take supplies to charities. Not only were they able to help—they gave people the opportunity to hear the gospel and catch a glimpse of hope. 

“It was nice to see people give their life to Christ. Not only physically, but to have that spiritual aspect of their life restored also was really a blessing,” says Lakicia Foster, a NAPS member since 2003, as she reflects on the experience.

A Small Miracle After the Haiti Earthquake
After the 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, many people both inside Haiti and across the globe found ways to support relief efforts. For Haitian NAPS member Jeffery Pascal, it was personal, as his father lived in the country. Pascal hadn’t heard from his father since the earthquake—there was no question that he would go with NAPS to Haiti. Arriving two days after the quake hit, while people were leaving the country because of the danger (destroyed homes and buildings, lack of sanitation/plumbing, and disease), NAPS went in to bring medical relief to the survivors of the tragedy. 

While helping those in need, God worked a small miracle on Pascal’s behalf. As NAPS helped doctors, patients, and survivors at the Adventist hospital in Diquini, Pascal helped with translating. In the midst of all the people and noise, he somehow felt a tap. When he turned around to see who it was, he was amazed to see a familiar face—his father. Emotions overtook both of them as they embraced each other. Up until this point Pascal hadn’t known anything about his father’s safety, but God had kept him safe and reunited both of them at a time no one would have expected. 

Visiting African-Indians
NAPS’ ministry doesn’t stop at responding to national disasters. Instead, it goes beyond to bringing hope, love, and support to remote, less-known places. One of those isolated places is Karnataka, India, where many African-Indians live. This group of people, hardly known on the international scale, lives in remote parts of India, and are social outcasts because of their dark skin and African heritage.

They are disconnected from other people and advancements in the world today, so NAPS volunteers brought some point of relation for the African-Indian people—these castaways were able to see they were not the only people who look the way they do. Because of severe discrimination by others in the local schools, these African-Indians haven’t had very many educational opportunities. NAPS built a school for them in their own village where they could safely learn without worrying about being scorned or beaten.

Southern Work
Along with responding to disasters both internationally and nationally, NAPS takes seriously the commission of Ellen White for the Southern work: “The Southern field is to be thoroughly worked. This burden, as God has laid it upon us as a people, has been kept before us for many years. And the question for each individual is, what am I to do?”* 

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MIRACLE HAPPENS: After finding his father alive and well after the Haiti earthquake, NAPS member Jeffery Pascal says goodbye.

Taking the question posed by White to heart, NAPS has operated medical clinics once a week in the South’s Black Belt communities. Everything is provided from treatment of hypertension and diabetes to Pap smears, and acute illnesses such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and upper respiratory infections (URIs). Labs are available to draw blood and collect samples as necessary. Mobile clinics are also set up monthly in rural areas of Alabama and Mississippi and inner-city areas to help residents and migrant workers. The clinics offer health screening (blood pressure checks, diabetes screening, and breast exams), treat acute illnesses such as UTIs and URIs, and give school physicals and gynecological exams. 

Along with the medical missionary work and health seminars, the ministry volunteers tutor and give Bible studies. Out of the five counties NAPS is reaching out to, only one has an Adventist church. Despite the lack of Adventist presence in the area, God has been working in incredible ways. After a woman who weighed 300 pounds came to the clinic and NAPS shared with her the importance of a lifestyle change and presented a healthy diet plan, she lost 30 pounds. It didn’t stop with just pounds; she and her husband received the message of Christ and accepted the truths NAPS had shared with them from the Bible. 

Currently NAPS is in the midst of building a Good Life wellness center in southern Alabama. The center, which is being built through fund-raising, will provide medical missionary training and prepare medical missionaries to spread the Word of God in unreached areas both in the U.S. and overseas. They will be equipped with evangelism skills, medical skills, and either carpentry, plumbing, electrical, or farming skills. The center will also include such services as hydrotherapy, weight reduction, cholesterol reduction, diabetes control, and health seminars. 

Continuing the Call to Serve
With more than 10,000 baptisms worldwide since 1998, this Christ-centered organization has mastered sharing the love of Christ through their service to those who need Him most. Hurrying to the rescue of people suffering everywhere, these volunteers have put their lives at risk to meet people in their time of need. At a time when many young people are caught up in their own lives and problems, these special students in NAPS have accepted the call of ministry in their lives and have dedicated themselves to being an example of Christ’s love around the world. They continue to serve the world by not just bringing relief, but, as the NAPS slogan expresses, “hand-delivering it with love and care.”

“We live in a generation where it could be really tough to serve the Lord,” says NAPS member Foster. “I encourage any young person that if they are going to make any choices, [they should] err on the side of the Lord. It’s so rewarding serving the Lord; it completely alters your path.” 

* Field Tidings, June 8, 1910.

Ashley Batiste, a recent graduate of Oakwood University, was THE 2012 summer intern of the Adventist Review. This article was published on October 18, 2012.