Residents give gift of sight in Africa

Clovis residents George and Diana Franklin are the founders of the nonprofit organization SEE Ministries, established in 1998 for the purpose of providing eyeglasses to rural Africans. (Courtesy photo)

By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer

A story in the Gospel of Mark features a blind man named Bartimaeus. According to the biblical story, Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem. Along the way, the group encountered Bartimaeus who was sitting alongside the roadway begging due to his blindness. As Jesus passed, the blind man jumped up and said, “Lord have mercy on me, I want to see.” The short story ends with Jesus healing the afflicted man and Bartimaeus following Jesus.

Clovis residents George and Diana Franklin said they have seen many “modern-day Bartimaeuses” in their African mission work.

The husband and wife team are the founders of the nonprofit organization SEE Ministries. According to an organization newsletter, the Christian ministry was established in 1998 for the purpose of providing eyeglasses to rural Africans. George Franklin said he first traveled to Africa in 1985 as part of a campaign to spread the word of God through Bible study.

The idea to begin the eyeglass ministry was hatched when George visited his wife at her place of employment, Clovis Vision Associates. He said he noticed Lions Club donation boxes where people could drop off eyeglasses they no longer used. The missionary then found out where the donated spectacles were processed and his detective work led him to Midland, Texas, where the glasses were sorted by power and then distributed to the needy.

“I thought what a great idea,” Franklin said. “I know some people who could really use these (glasses).”

Armed with 3,500 sets of glasses and an optometrist’s set of diagnostic flippers used to gauge an individual’s eyesight, Franklin said he traveled to Africa for his first eyeglass mission in 1997.

According to the husband and wife team, their most recent 24-day trip was a huge success. The missionaries reported seeing 2,267 people in 17 eyeglass clinics. “We had a lot of help and support from missionary families,” George Franklin said. “We stayed very busy.”

Diana Franklin said visiting Africa was amazing. “It’s like another planet,” she said. “You have to be careful not to offend someone.”

Diana Franklin said the African people consider pocketed hands while conversing with someone and pointing to both be impolite. She said the pointing was sometimes a hindrance when she was administering eye tests.

“The eye chart we were using is an illiterate chart due to the language difference,” she said. “There are pictures on the chart of hands facing left, right, up or down.” Diana Franklin said the villagers were supposed to respond by pointing in the direction the pictures were facing, but due to their beliefs they chose to use various hand gestures. “It was confusing because I really needed them to point,” she laughed. “But we got through it.”

George Franklin recalled one African woman who he and his wife fitted for glasses. He said she stood out in his mind because she told them she was unable to pay because she had no money, but that God would most definitely pay them. “That makes us feel pretty good,” he said. “That’s why we keep doing it.”

Diana Franklin said she had people almost jump out of the chair once their eyes adjusted to their new glasses and they could see clearly. She said some were seeing their surroundings clearly for the first time in a very long time.

Diana Franklin remembered assisting one man from Uganda who had undergone cataract surgery but who had received no implants to correct his vision. According to Diana Franklin, this left the man farsighted and effectively blind.

“My husband started testing him with the flippers and he kept having to go stronger and stronger,” she said. “We ended up helping him see again by fitting him with a donated pair of 10.75 glasses, which are extremely strong.”

The missionaries said they are so thankful they could help him because it is just like the biblical account of Bartimaeus.

The Franklins said they currently purchase two-thirds of the glasses they fit the African villagers with. “Most of the glasses we use now are readers,” George Franklin said. “They want to be able to read their Bibles.”

The husband and wife missionaries said they plan to continue their eyeglass mission by returning to Sudan after the first of the year to begin working with children in Nimule.