In 1979, a Salem businessman named Ron Post was watching television when news coverage of the atrocities in Cambodia flickered across the screen. His heart immediately went out to the people he saw who, through no wrongdoing of their own, were facing unimaginable horrors. They needed help. And he was blessed to help them.
He rifled through his Rolodex, made a few calls, and Northwest Medical Teams was born. Thirty-one years later, Post returned to the organization he imbued with the notion of acting faithfully and helping those in need.
Last week, Post spoke at the first ever Founder’s Day, an event held at the Oregon Historical Society. In front of roughly 50 people, both old friends and a new generation, he told of the early days of Medical Teams International.
Below is an excerpt from his speech.
Medical Teams International founder Ron Post speaks at Founder’s Day at the Oregon Historical Society in downtown Portland. Post founded MTI (formerly Northwest Medical Teams) in 1979 after watching footage of the Cambodian genocide.
The Bible says we spring up like a blade of grass, and that we’re nice and green and flowery, and then we wither and die. Well, I’m in the withering stage, guys. And it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. It goes by so fast.
There was a clear call in 1979. Sometimes, do you feel like God is saying to you, ‘I’ve got something for you to do’? And how many times do we shrug it off? But in ’79, He really got my attention — seeing (on TV) a young girl’s body in Cambodia being picked up in a field, then looking over at my own daughter sitting on the couch and thinking, ‘Why are we so blessed to be born here?’
God gave me a plan, to raise up a medical team.
When I saw Cambodia, I saw for the first time the least of these my brothers that the Lord spoke about. It really impacted me. I said, ‘I really have to do this.’
Then in 1985, we responded to the Mexico City earthquake. Fifty-seven hundred buildings had either collapsed or were greatly damaged. Thousands of people died. We got there on the second day. In fact, we were in the middle of the street when the second earthquake of 8.2 hit. Helping those people at that time led us to work there for 30 years.
One highlight for me was, between Mexico City and Oaxaca, we started 21 children’s Bible club programs, where children could come and have fun — because these children lived in such poverty — but also learn about how Jesus loves them. Two generations went through that program. I got to see some of them after they had grown, and I got to see just how well they were doing.
That was a great experience down there. I will never forget it.
And then there was Ethiopia, where they had that terrible famine. Hundreds of thousands of people died. It was one of the biggest tragedies of the century.
We had our teams in two or three different camps in Ethiopia. Mainly we were working in intensive feeding centers for babies. One day I was watching them, and they would line the babies on the ground. Our nurses would go on down the line and feel between the fingers of the babies to determine the fat content. By that, they would determine who would be the 200 cases they’d admit that day.
Our nurses would do that, and then they would go off into the corner and cry their eyes out. They knew that some of the babies that were left would be dead tomorrow.
As I watched that tragedy unfold one day, I saw two ladies walking toward us. As they got close, I could see they had little black buckets in their hands. One of the women walked up next to me and within a minute started trembling and then fell on the ground. She died. We couldn’t help her.
But God had a message for me — that I have to tell you and anyone who will listen. There was that elderly lady on the ground, laying on her side with her hand out on the ground.
An inch from her hand was that empty bucket. God said, ‘Ron, I want you to tell people, there are millions of empty buckets in this world.’
There are millions and millions of empty buckets.
And you’re helping to fill them! And the beautiful thing is, your bucket never goes dry while theirs fill up.
That’s the message God has for all of us — to tell that story over and over, so people remember that God wants us to fill buckets. And that’s what spoke to me during that trip to Ethiopia.