Access to clean water has eliminated deaths from waterborne diseases in several Mexican villages, and an estimated 2.5 million nutritious meals have been provided to hungry people, thanks to two nonprofit organizations born out of the vision of veteran medical missionary Lee Baggett and his colleagues.
Baggett is president of Manos Hermanas, based in Guadalajara, Mexico, and executive director of Hands in the Ministries of Service in Amarillo – partner organizations dedicated to meeting physical needs in the name of Christ.
When Baggett began his studies at Wayland Baptist College, he described himself as a “preacher.”
“I felt called to preach. I wasn’t going to stoop to being a doctor,” he said.
However, God used his experiences as a summer missionary to redirect his life. In Juarez, he and his future wife, Ruthie, and other student missionaries helped teach people about waterborne diseases and how to prevent them.
“Ruthie helped a mother bury her baby in a shoebox after the child died of dehydration from diarrhea,” he recalled.
Mission volunteers taught local residents how to purify a 55-gallon barrel full of contaminated water simply by adding two tablespoons of readily available bleach.
“When we got there, the news was that about 200 kids a day were dying from dehydration,” Baggett said. “In our area, when we left, there were no more deaths from dehydration.”
Serve as needed
At a student missionary conference at Glorieta Baptist Assembly, Baggett pledged to follow God’s lead in medical missions.
Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.
After graduating from Wayland and getting married, the newlywed couple moved to Mexico, where Lee entered medical school and Ruthie worked as a schoolteacher.
As a medical student in 1964, Baggett began serving in outreach clinics at Mexico Americano Hospital in Guadalajara. This experience taught him a lesson he has been applying for nearly six decades: Serve according to people’s needs, wherever they are.
In 1994, Baggett helped found Manos Hermanas as a broad-based, secular nonprofit that serves medical and humanitarian needs throughout Mexico.
Manos Hermanas assists local individuals and groups concerned with meeting local needs by working cooperatively with businesses, other interested individuals, and government officials at the federal, state, regional, and local levels. Manos Hermanas seeks to improve the lives of people in some of Mexico’s most isolated and underserved areas.
The Baggetts retired from the International Mission Board in 2002. Five years later, they left the Guadalajara Hospital Outreach Program and returned to Texas.
“When we left, we knew about 300 nurses, doctors and dentists were doing medical outreach,” Baggett said.
From 1974 to 2007, Hospital Mexico Americano’s outreach medical clinics served approximately 140,000 medical patients and more than 35,500 dental patients. The program resulted in 5,327 recorded professions of faith in Christ.
A few years after the Baggetts moved to Texas, they and Don Sewell, a former missionary to Mexico who later led Texas Baptist Partnerships and Faith in Action initiatives for Baylor Scott & White Health, founded Hands in Service Ministries.
The purpose of the non-profit organization is to promote awareness, recruit volunteers and raise funds for Manos Hermanas, which has served more than 25,000 people over the past 28 years.
Work with multiple departmental partners
Manos Hermanas and his ministry partners drilled four deep-water wells serving communities in Zacatecas, worked with hospitals in the United States to provide medical supplies to charity clinics at multiple sites in Mexico, equipped more than 150 amputees legs with prostheses and have dramatically improved infant nutrition through simple supplements like a daily tablespoon of an alfalfa extract concentrate.
TBM has worked with Manos Hermanas to provide life-saving water purification and decontamination, as well as to facilitate the delivery of dietary supplement shipments.
Through its partnership with the Amarillo Baptist Association, HIS Ministries has received Hunger Offering funds that not only provide food baskets to those in need, but have also enabled Manos Hermanas volunteers to train and to equip Mexican families for gardening, raising small animals and raising poultry.
In a quarterly report, Baggett quoted Lidia, whose family has benefited from laying hens: “Our family now has a good source of protein for our diet in our own home, without having to buy at a high price from the supermarket.”
Manos Hermanas teams taught families with limited space how to grow vertical gardens by planting seeds in plastic bottles filled with soil mounted on old wooden pallets.
In another quarterly report, Baggett noted that gardening classes had to be temporarily suspended when group gatherings were banned due to a spike in COVID-19. However, 22 families who had already received education continued to benefit from the gardens they had started.
“They produced crops for their families and seeds to share with others,” the report said.
God provides the tools and the resources
The Hunger Offering and the Texas Baptist Missions Foundation also provided funds to enable families to build eco-friendly latrines. A quarterly report includes a testimonial from Isabel, whose family now has an outhouse.
“We’re glad we don’t have to go out in the corral behind the trees anymore,” she said. “It’s dangerous, especially at night in the cold when my two children are sick.”
All Manos Hermanas services are based on community needs and provided without regard to gender, race, creed or political affiliation, Baggett noted.
“It has been our privilege from the beginning to see our Lord provide all the tools and resources we need to work with multiple teams of colleagues alongside each local team to help their people meet their needs,” said Baggett.
Quoting 1 Peter 4:10-11, he adds: “Our Lord is beautiful. He always provides what is needed for each task he entrusts to us. It’s his kingdom, not ours.