Religion feature: Missionaries bring gift of sight

Missionaries George and Diana Franklin have provided free eye glasses to the needy in Africa for 15 years.

Courtesy photos: George and Diana Franklin

Diana Franklin adjusts glasses to fit an older gentleman in September 2009 in Atirir Village, Uganda.

Courtesy photos: George and Diana Franklin

Diana Franklin, top left, with missionary Andrea Burk as her interpreter evaluates a Dagara woman using diagnostic flippers in January in Didoro, Burkina Faso.

Courtesy photos: George and Diana Franklin

George Franklin has a patient read a card with his new glasses in September 2007 at the Mbale, Uganda Town Church.

After landing in an African nation with about 2,000 pairs of eye glasses it isn't long before the Franklins are hundreds of miles away from a big city doing what they love: Helping people see the world clearer.

The Franklins, who attend Living Stones Community Church, make a trip to an African nation once a year, where they conduct free clinics in rural villages to distribute glasses.

Their humanitarian effort is known as SEE Ministries. The acronym SEE means "sight for ever and ever." George, 73, said he and his wife have provided more than 30,000 glasses since 1997.

"I see people who are legally blind walk in led by their friends and they walk out seeing things," said George, a retired businessman. "It's really something to help somebody change their life. It's really exciting."

When they traveled to Africa in 1990 the Franklins were interested in missionary work of some sort.

While visiting the Texas Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center in Midland, Texas in 1996, the Franklins saw a way to help many people quickly. They picked up their first batch of glasses at the recycling center.

"We surrendered ourselves to God and doors started opening," George said. "We never considered doing humanitarian work. But once we were there (in Africa) doing it we never considered doing anything else."

In 1997 George traveled to Malawi with 24 pairs of used reading glasses. He said his effort was received well by residents.

After witnessing how their donations helped, the Franklins planned their next trip to Africa. A year later in 1998 the Franklins took 3,500 pairs of used glasses to Malawi.

In 2002 the Franklins started purchasing new glasses wholesale. This enabled them to help more people by providing short-sighted and far-sighted patients different types of glasses such as magnifiers and distance glasses.

Today they distribute around 2,000 pairs of glasses during their month-long trip to a third-world African nation. The Franklins pay for the glasses with money raised by presentations on their work in Africa given in the U.S. They also finance optical purchases with their money.

Diana, 67, said they distributed about 1,400 pairs of glasses during their last trip in January to Burkina Faso.

The Franklins work with a team of seven to 10 stationary missionaries in the villages.

Clinics last about three to four hours. During a clinic, a patient is given a simple vision test to determine if they are near-sighted or far-sighted and fitted with a pair of glasses. An interpreter is present most of the time.

"It's so immediate," Diana said. "You don't have to wait for six weeks to see if it worked. You put the glasses on them and you know you helped them. That's what's so neat about it."

Diana, a certified optician, had her first of many eye-opening experiences at their first clinic in Uganda. During the clinic, Diana said they saw a man with a walking stick being led in by two other men. She said the man fit the third pair of glasses she offered and he walked out by himself.

"He was a happy fellow," Diana said. "Stuff like that happens all the time."

The Franklins said they plan to continue their humanitarianism in Africa for as long as possible.

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