Deacon Don Grossnickle from the Archdiocese of Chicago offers his thoughts on his unique ministry and mission ahead of World Mission Sunday. 

This Sunday is World Mission Sunday, designed to support Catholic mission work around the globe.

I know first-hand what that means.

Ten years ago, Our Lady of the Wayside parish in Arlington Heights, Illinois helped send me to  Uganda to start a mission — and that first trip has changed countless lives, including my own.

The work began by supporting nurse midwife Teopista Nakawundu (Mother Teo) who had financially struggled for 30 years running a mostly charity maternity clinic. Running a healthcare business as a “Good Samaritan“ meant she only received payment from approximately 30 percent of the patients she treated. The clinic was threatened with bankruptcy as she became too generous, giving away free care to the poor.

I visited the clinic and witnessed six mothers connected to IV drips, being treated for complicated malaria that threatened their vital organs. I was moved to do something, anything. The challenge was daunting. What could just one American deacon do to help? What kind of miracle would it take to support this saintly nurse midwife bent on saving the lives of moms and babies?

When I returned home, I asked for any help to support Mother Teo’s work. In response, parishioners back in the U.S.  helped initially with donations; later, we began to consider the idea to build sustainable businesses to benefit the clinic.

On a return trip to Uganda, I took a critical look at how existing business practices were preventing the future ability to provide care for destitute mothers and babies. A systematic business rescue plan was forged by a local team of leaders. The plan took advantage of startup incubator research combined with available studies of microfinance investing. The idea was to seek U.S. donor investors who would help launch a small pig farm on land owned by the clinic. Profits from a sustainable income stream would then create a local village charity fund that would, in turn, cover a good number of the clinic’s visits. Fortunately, $5,000 was supplied by a St. Raymond Catholic Parish Lent donation. This provided a “forgivable loan” to help launch the agribusiness. The only repayment required was periodical progress reports to the US donors.

Soon after, another microfinance business plan was set in motion to create a diagnostic laboratory for the clinic. A $500 clinical microscope and a $7,000 high-tech ultrasound system were donated. Updated facilities boosted the attractiveness to new [paying] patients and, eventually, 50-100 came daily, seeking access to healthcare. Two dairy cows were then added to the farm enterprises and milk sales boosted the growing sources of charity fund income.

Following the success of the initial plan – from 2014 through the present – my ongoing mission work continued with Mother Teo in Nakifuma Village. In 2018, we organized a 501(c)(3) charity. In 2019 a team of volunteers raised funds to remodel the clinic and, in 2020, $25,000 in donations were raised. These funds helped equip a government-approved mini hospital surgical center.

And now there is even more good news to this story!  The MAAP Foundation is proudly exporting its mission success to 20 other financially strapped clinics seeking help. Note: It takes $5,000 to start a small income-producing farm (pigs, poultry, fish). Each farm startup boosts the number of moms and babies whose lives can be saved.

This Sunday, please remember the people of Uganda and Sister Teo in your prayers. Remember the vital work being done, thanks to the generosity of U.S. donors, and please consider what you can give to support the Catholic Church’s missionary work around the globe.

Watch videos here showing the impact of Mother Teo’s work.

For more information or to contribute, visit the website for MicroFinance Alliance Africa Projects Foundation.