La Fuente Centro de Salud Integral
Project # 94777

A New Model for Missions: Laser Surgery in Peru

By Andrew Shaughnessy, May 16, 2019

Jorge,* a Quechua man in rural Peru, had not left his house for five years. Struck blind by cataracts, he was unable to work. During a mobile medical clinic, MTW missionary Dr. Nathan Henson performed what those of us in the U.S. would consider a routine cataract surgery. In 15 minutes, Jorge’s life was forever changed. After surgery, he could see, and was able to go back to living a normal life.

Nathan, an ophthalmologist, performs many such surgeries at La Fuente medical clinic in Cusco, Peru, which is focused on serving the poor. People walk in blind from cataracts, and leave able to see.

“It’s really amazing,” said Nathan. “And it opens up tremendous opportunities to share the gospel.”

Now, MTW Cusco is starting a new project that has the potential to make even more of an impact: a laser refractive surgery program.

“When we first started thinking about this idea, everybody said: ‘This is crazy. You’re going to do LASIK for poor people?’” Nathan said. “But as we thought and prayed about it, we began to realize that this was a unique opportunity.”

Changing the Lives of the Poor
According to Nathan, the number one cause of visual impairment across the globe is refractive error—basically, needing glasses to see. And glasses, as Nathan knows all too well, have a cost. La Fuente makes all their own glasses. Particularly with strong prescription lenses, the materials needed to make glasses can cost hundreds of dollars. Because La Fuente seeks to serve the poor, they often give those glasses away to needy patients. When the patients return to their rural mountain homes, they sometimes lose or break the glasses. Then they come back for more—a constant cycle that hurts the clinic financially and is a burden to patients logistically.

Quechua woman in hat

Other times patients have come to the clinic from far away, and when they lose or break their glasses they simply don’t have the time or ability to return again, and they’re stuck back where they started, unable to see. Providing LASIK to these poor patients would provide a permanent solution. Though we typically think of laser surgery as a luxury for the wealthy, its greatest potential for life-changing impact lies with the poor.

“If you think about correcting vision for a professional who sits behind a desk, that changes their quality of life, but it probably won’t change their future,” Nathan explained. “But if you think about correcting the vision of a truck driver or someone who wants to go into the military, or even manual laborers, you could change someone’s life by taking away their need for glasses. There have been some studies that show that if a person in a developing context has their vision corrected at a young age and doesn’t need glasses, they can earn an additional $30,000 over 20 years, due to job opportunities and other factors.”

Thirty thousand dollars over 20 years may not sound like a fortune to us, but in a developing world context that amount of money can change someone’s life trajectory—paying for a college education or a piece of land that can be passed down from generation to generation.

One of Nathan’s first refractive surgery patients, a young man named Miguel, hopes to go into the military—a job for which he needs perfect vision without glasses or contacts. Currently, Miguel makes around $300 per month. If he gets into the military, he will make $1000 per month—and his eyesight is the only thing standing in the way.

“His salary triples from a procedure we can do in about seven minutes,” said Nathan.

An Innovative Missions Funding Model
The new laser refractive surgery program also will function as a business as mission enterprise, generating significant income that the team can use to support and expand ministries in Cusco and beyond.

As Cusco has grown and developed, a burgeoning middle and upper class has emerged. La Fuente has tapped into that market, treating wealthier patients who pay on a tiered scale and using the profits to support their overall mission of caring for the poor. As a result, the clinic reached 100% sustainability last year. The market demand for high quality medical care exists and is only growing in Cusco—and it makes for an amazing opportunity.

As Nathan and the rest of the team started looking into business as mission models for the refractive surgery program, they discovered a model in the U.S. in which ophthalmologists buy a laser and use it for their own practice, and then also rent it out to other physicians for a fee. Besides Nathan, there are 16 other ophthalmologists in the Cusco region serving about 1.2 million people. Once he has trained them sufficiently to provide quality results, he plans to rent out the laser to them to generate additional revenue.

Machine posing

According to their financial projections, if just 10 of those 16 surgeons do two surgeries a week, the clinic will generate about $40,000 per month, or $500,000 per year. Doing more surgeries than that is quite realistic, and the potential income is significant. That kind of revenue, says Nathan, can be used to fund not only the team’s clinic, orphanage, and church plant in Cusco, but many other missions projects as well.

“We’re talking about creating a missions generator,” Nathan said. “We could expand the orphanage work for the children. We could do more student activities, retreats, build churches, schools, you name it. We can do as much as your mind can think of, without having to have external funding. … Our hope is that this will be a new model for missions.”

The team’s hope is that once they are able to prove the concept of this model, they will be able to look around the world for other communities with similar market opportunities and plant teams to do the same thing—changing lives and raising funds for missions all at the same time.

dark surgery

Extravagant Love
A common reaction Nathan has gotten to the laser program is: “This is too nice.” After all, he’s talking about taking the best laser system in the world to serve the poor. Is that really being a good steward of God’s resources?

According to Nathan, yes it is.

“I believe that we should offer the best for the poor because God loves the poor, and because we must remember the extravagant way that God has loved us,” Nathan said. “We should see ourselves in the poor, because we’re spiritually bankrupt and we needed God to intervene on our behalf. God didn’t just forgive our sins at the cost of the death of his own Son, He invited us to be part of the royal family as adopted children and coheirs with Christ. That’s ‘too nice’ … In our clinic, we want to provide people the best care we can. If we can give them better care, we’re going to try to give them better care. We’re going to try to get them the best technology and medical care available.”

waiting room

In the waiting room at La Fuente, the upper crust of Cusco society, millionaires and business magnates sit side by side with Quechua ladies, their shoes made of old car tires, with barely a penny to their name. Some people tell the MTW team: ‘Don’t do that. You’re going to scare away your paying patients.’ But they do it on purpose. It doesn’t matter where their patients come from, rich or poor, they’ll love them all the same, because that’s how Jesus loves us.

Now, with laser surgery technology and an innovative funding model, they’ll be able to care for and share the gospel with even more people. The fruits of this labor of love will expand beyond the walls of the clinic, perhaps even beyond Cusco, and the kingdom of God will move forward.

*Name has been changed.

Make an online donation to the La Fuente Centro de Salud Integral clinic below. 

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

La Fuente Centro de Salud Integral
Project # 94777
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Pray for church planting efforts in Cusco, Peru, where many know about Christ, but few know Him personally.

Pray for our ministry in Cusco, Peru, as they put MTW values into action among the Quechua through the church, a medical clinic, discipling medical students, an orphanage, and community outreach.

Pray for the church plant and medical clinic in Cusco, Peru. Pray that believers would grow in Christ and catch a vision for reaching their city.

Pray for the the Medical Campus Outreach team in Cusco, Peru, and for the medical and students at the clinic who are learning to practice medicine and hearing the gospel.

Pray for Radio Amauta and its efforts to help train leaders in the Quechua Church in the Andes Mountains of Peru.

Last year, a group of MTW RADD-Hispanic leaders went to Peru on a prayer journey vision trip. Pray for continued unity and mobilization efforts of our RADD Hispanic team!

Pray for the children and staff of The Josephine House in Cusco, Peru. The orphanage is currently home to 18 children, many with special needs. 

Pray for the success of a new laser surgery business as missions ministry in Cusco, Peru, giving sight to those who need it most.

Pray today for the Quechua in Peru, that God would draw them to Himself. Pray for the missionaries working with them and for relationships being built. 

Pray for the abandoned and disabled children living at The Josephine House in Cusco, Peru. Pray that they will grow in the knowledge of Christ and be adopted into godly homes. 


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