By Robert Dilday
Virginia Religious Herald
FALLS CHURCH, Va.—An eye-opening visit by a Baptist Sunday School class to a Moscow hospital nearly 20 years ago sparked a project that today provides millions of dollars in medical supplies to almost 100 countries around the world. In 1989, emboldened by the Soviet Union’s new perestroika policies, a few members of Columbia Baptist Church in suburban Washington, D.C., traveled to Moscow to explore a mission partnership with the Soviet capital’s Central Baptist Church.
While there, a tour of a nearby hospital—suffering from the country’s economic tailspin—shocked them. Medical personnel removed gauze from a wound, washed it and reused it. Surgeons used common sewing thread instead of sutures. Medical supplies were limited and sometimes non-existent.
Over the next few years, the Bible study class worked with its church and community to collect medical supplies, eventually shipping 17 40-foot containers filled with medical supplies to Moscow. The first shipment of supplies was valued at $131,532. Three years later, almost $5 million in supplies had been sent.
In 1996, the Russian relief program ended when it became too difficult to ship containers to Moscow. But by that time, Columbia’s volunteers had developed effective systems to acquire and ship donated funds and supplies around the world, and they were determined to continue the project. In November of that year, CrossLink International was incorporated as a nonprofit humanitarian aid ministry.
Since then, CrossLink has provided millions of dollars in medical supplies to thousands of missionaries, mission teams and clinics both abroad and in the United States—most recently in the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast region. The supplies include:
• Pharmaceutical drugs and over-the-counter medications ranging from antibiotics to aspirin.
• Medical supplies such as tongue depressors, gauze bandages and tape.
• Diagnostic and surgical supplies and equipment ranging from blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes to scalpels and suturing materials.
• Eyeglasses ready-to-wear.
• Hospital equipment, including beds, wheelchairs and examination tables.
CrossLink acquires large volumes of excess equipment donated by hospitals, physicians and the public. At a CrossLink warehouse, volunteers package materials for shipment, based on requests from mission teams.
The number of projects fluctuates from year to year, Cross Link Executive Director Dan Henneberg said. This year, CrossLink will be involved in about 350 projects in 90 countries, distributing close to $3.7 million in medical supplies.
Donations from medical supply companies continue to play a big role in CrossLink’s ministry. But donations from pharmaceutical companies have diminished, Henneberg noted.
“We’re always looking for churches or other groups to help us with over-the-counter medicines, such as aspirin,” he said. “For prescription drugs, we’re buying them at wholesale prices. We have developed relationships with vendors who give us good prices.” That’s possible in part because CrossLink is licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Board of Pharmacy as a warehouse/distributor of medicines.
For instance, in a recent test project, CrossLink shipped a 2-foot by 1-foot box of medicines to Romania. The cost to CrossLink of the drugs and shipping was about $700. The retail value was about $10,000.
“We can negotiate some good prices, but we still have to have churches and other groups come up with the money,” Henneberg said.
Three years ago, CrossLink, housed in a building two blocks from Columbia Baptist Church, opened its first satellite office in Memphis, Tenn.
“Strategically, Memphis is a great location,” said Henneberg. “It’s on the Mississippi River, it’s the headquarters of FedEx, and it has four or five faith-based hospitals.”
First Baptist Church in Memphis is partnering with CrossLink to provide office and warehouse space.
While an independent board of directors oversees CrossLink, the ministry retains close ties to Columbia Baptist Church.
“It’s a great ongoing relationship,” said Henneberg. “We partner with them in many ways and have lots of volunteers from the church who work on and with our staff.”
In the future, Henneberg hopes to see CrossLink provide more sustained support for the on-site clinics around the world that partner with medical mission teams.
“Mission teams go over to those clinics and do fabulous work,” he said. “But a month or two later, some of the clinics run low on supplies. We’d like to see how we can give ongoing support to those clinics, maybe providing a box or container every month or so.”
More information about CrossLink is available at www.crosslinkinternational.net.