(Shenandoah) -- Belize Missionary Dr. Paul Whisnant is speaking on his over three decades of experiences at several KMAland churches later this month.
Members of the Southwest Iowa Belize Mission will be hosting Whisnant at five churches on August 27-28, including at the New Beginnings Church in Shenandoah at noon and Vine Street Bible Church in Glenwood at 5 p.m. on the 27th. In addition, the Hillsdale Church near Glenwood, Clarinda United Methodist Church, and Presbyterian Church in Red Oak will host the missionary on the 28th at 9 a.m., 2 p.m., and 5 p.m., respectively. After an original one-week mission to Belize at 18 years old and seeing several families in poverty and malnourished, Whisnant tells KMA News he felt a calling to establish a more permanent mission in the Central American country. Thus he took a one-way trip in 1990.
"As a 19-year-old teenager, I withdrew from college, took everything I had and gave it away, and put three changes of clothes, a bible, a toothbrush, and a flashlight in a backpack, and bought a one-way plane ticket back to Belize," said Whisnant. "I didn't know anybody, I didn't have a mission agency or anything to help me, all I had was the backpack and $50."
For the next four years, Whisnant lived with a family in a grass hut made of leaves and sticks in a remote jungle village. He adds the early months were certainly a trying and daunting experience -- including losing nearly 46 pounds in the first six months.
"It was tough, man, I didn't know if I was going to live to the next day because there was a a lot of poisonous snakes, army ants, and things like that there -- it was tough but it was worth it," said Whisnant. "I couldn't help a lot of people as I only had $50, but I helped the people that I could and tried to make a difference and that's how it all began."
Eventually, the mission grew into the International Servants -- which began with Whisnant raising chickens and turkeys and dispersing the animals and eggs with the local jungle villages. But, 32 years later, the mission has grown into one of the largest in Belize, offering many programs, including food and healthcare.
"Our feeding programs, everyday we're feeding children who are malnourished, and in the medical clinics whenever volunteers such as the ones from Iowa come down -- which is a huge blessing -- they're treating people," said Whisnant. "A lot of them die from simple diseases that are easily preventable, but if you're poor and you can't afford medical care or the medicine, it doesn't matter if the medicine is only $5, if you don't have $5."
He says over 100 volunteers from Iowa have assisted with the health care clinics, raised funds for medicine, or helped to distribute food. Between Malvern physician Dr. Tom Baer and Rich Van Dellen, the Southwest Iowa Belize Mission team has taken 18 trips to the country.
But, Whisnant says the goal is to go beyond simply providing food to individuals.
"If you're malnourished a starving, food is all you can think about, and our goal is to provide food for those in that case who are starving," said Whisnant. "But then teach them how to grow their own food, how to raise their own chickens, so the concept is to 'teach a man to fish.'"
He adds their network now includes 54 local churches holding worship every Sunday with roughly 200 individuals per church. To learn more about the mission or to give food or medicine, visit www.iservants.com.