Deep in the jungles of the Miskito Coast, a breech baby or machete injury can be a death sentence. For 9-year-old Nadia, an umbilical hernia became a life-or-death emergency. Common in infants, this ailment had been left untreated until it finally blew out Nadia's belly button. Part of her intestine protruded through the opening and Nadia had to hold it in.
The simple medical procedure necessary to save Nadia's life took place at one of three full-service medical clinics constructed by the Rescue Task Force. Located in remote Honduran villages, patients served by the ministry must first survive up to a six-day canoe paddle to receive the medical care they need.
"(Our) nonprofit alleviates suffering and provides developmental aid to those who have been marginalized by geography or economic deprivation, said Gary Becks, the 68-year-old president and founder of Rescue Task Force. "We often go where others do not to help those outside the scope of conventional relief providers."
Becks is anything but conventional.
As a Vietnam medevac corpsman with the Third Marines, he was awarded seven Air Medals for outstanding performance in more than140 combat missions. As a civilian, Becks said his role as a San Bernardino County Fire Agency Battalion Commander helped prepare him for creating a task force.
After cashing out his retirement in 1988, Becks said he had the seed money necessary to start his rescue ministry. Assembling resources from a variety of individuals and corporations, the task force began working with the Contra war refugees that flooded into Honduras after spiritual attacks on churches in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas had confiscated Bibles to use as toilet paper and for rolling cigarettes, so RTF started taking Miskito language Bibles to the village pastors who could read and write.
"The church is the focal point of the village, and the people are strong Christians," Becks said. "If anything, they would evangelize us."
Serving local ministries
Whether confronting calamities caused by the Sandinistas, wildfires in San Diegowhere the ministry was based before relocating to Inland Empireor a tsunami in Thailand, Rescue Task Force always works alongside a local church. Other organizations contribute supplies. After the Moore, Okla. tornado in May, Becks said the ministry "worked through World Emergency Relief to get containers of supplies moving the very next day: 4,176 bottles of water and 4,488 Meals Ready to Eat along with other necessities such as 3,700 pairs of shoes, 2,400 masks, 1,600 lunch kits, 1,300 work gloves, 960 brooms, 320 blankets and 200 tents.
Becks said that in such a disaster, even though a family may have moneywallets, credit or debit cardseverything that might meet their immediate needs is gone. During those first few days after a tragic event a family or individual may find themselves with nothing. So the task force provides numerous gift cards and cash to meet all types of needs. During various disasters they've also met such unique needs as finding a pair of size 52 pants for a man who was dressed only in his underwear and acquiring a wheelchair for an elderly, overweight woman, who'd been separated from hers.
RTF well knows the difference a wheelchair can make. Becks said they frequently work with Free Wheelchair Mission to supply wheelchairs, in the name of Jesus. Free Wheelchair Mission ships the chairs to a seaport where groups like Rescue Task Force pick them up and distribute them throughout the region. RTF has distributed more than 5,000 wheelchairs in El Salvador and more than 6,000 in Cambodia, where land mines and polio still claim 300 new victims each yearmany of them children.
Maximizing relief efforts
As much as possible the ministry recruits local volunteers for its teams. In Honduras, the Ministry of Health is so grateful for Rescue Task Force's work, Becks said they've agreed to staff 10 full-service clinics, creating an interlocking network placing all of the villagers of the Miskito Coast jungle within one day's canoe paddle of a facility. To motivate health care professionals to live and work in some of the extremely remote villages, Rescue Task Force sometimes offers a bonus.
The clinics are built in the center of village areas on land donated by the Indians, who also contribute much of the construction labor, including cutting the mahogany trees in the jungle. RTF ships in the remaining materials such as cement, rebar and roofing material. In addition, they provide equipment such as exam tables and pediatric scales, shipping everything from the United States.
Becks said the cargo is shipped to Puerto Lempira, where it's then loaded onto a power boat or hired canoes and transported through the jungle to the clinic site.
Despite steady progress, the ministry's fourth clinic remains stalled due to a lack of funds, which has proven problematic for more than just the residents. Hazardous rains, for instance, can even prevent their own team from making the arduous trip out of the area. On one trip Becks said he became so concerned about snakes and medical emergencies that he gave the volunteers the option to leave a day early to take a less hazardous route home. The entire team decided to stay.
The next morning, a family arrived at the clinic after paddling for four days. The father carried in his 16-year-old son in a hammock. A fly had laid larvae in his eye, which eventually displaced his eyeball. The boy needed more help than the clinic could offer, so "the medical professionals immobilized him, dressed his eye and gave him pain meds. They carried him all the way to our rendezvous point, got him on a plane to Tegucigalpa, then to an eye doctor," Becks said.
A month later when Rescue Task Force went back on another mission, they escorted the boy home. With a new glass eye, he was ready to live a full and normal lifea good example of Becks' mantra: "The difficult we do immediately; sometimes the impossible takes a few days."For more information, visit www.rescuetaskforce.org.