Until 12 years ago, Sandpoint resident Janet Tuinstra had never heard of Swaziland—a country she and her husband Kal now call home. As part of the Sagle-based nonprofit, The Luke Commission (TLC), they help to make up part of the 150 full-time employees who come from all over the world.
Janet and Kal’s son-in-law and daughter, Harry and Echo VanderWal, founded The Luke Commission, named for Dr. Luke in the Bible, in 2005 after they visited the country the previous year. Although much of their operations have shifted overseas, the group’s United States headquarters are located in Sagle, just south of Sandpoint.
Harry and Echo serve as the executive directors and have six children.
“Kal and I live and serve with the VanderWal family in Swaziland,” said Janet. “Our son Joe and his family of four children, the youngest born here last month, came to Swaziland three years ago. Joe works as assets manager on Miracle Campus, The Luke Commission’s headquarters, and his wife Amanda is an administrative assistant and supervises The Luke Commission’s dental care.”
The Luke Commission is recognized as one of the leading mobile medical teams in Swaziland, traveling to isolated and underserved populations in Southern Africa. It partners with Swazi people and the Ministry of Health to bring free medical care to some of the poorest areas in this country of approximately 1.2 million.
Since first forming, The Luke Commission has provided medical services that total over 1.1 million. Just some of the services provided include the testing of blood sugar and blood pressure, sponsored surgeries, test and counsel patients for HIV, screening for TB, taking x-rays, removal of cataracts and much more.
Janet is the director of communications but said it’s truly a team on all levels.
“My responsibilities and joys extend into others areas, such as the pharmacy, patient interactions by the hundreds, teaching grandchildren, leading and participating staff development activities, training the younger women, learning from the younger women and more,” said Janet.
The nonprofit has approximately 150 volunteers from colleges, universities and medical schools that work with them each year. “Other individuals come to serve, each one paying his or her own way,” said Janet. “We value their contributions.”
The international staff of approximately 15 people gives two years or more of their time to the work in Swaziland. However, The Luke Commission’s focus is primarily to employ and teach as many as 150 Swazis at a time to reach their own people with the services offered by The Luke Commission Compassionate Medicine.
“Many of these staff members were orphaned when the country was in the worst of the HIV/AIDS crisis and therefore benefit from training in character, personal and leadership development as well as specific technical tasks,” explained Janet.
Swaziland, located in Southern Africa, is the last country in the world to be ruled by an absolute monarchy. “The king is loved by the nation,” said Janet.
The once peaceful country was devastated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and when the Luke Commission first came to help, they never imagined they would impact a whole nation with comprehensive, compassionate care.
“In the past decade, partnerships have developed with the Kingdom of Swaziland government, USAID, TOMS Shoes, Christian Blind Mission of Canada, Free Wheelchair Mission, Mobility Worldwide, as well as individuals and churches throughout the United States, Canada and Swaziland,” said Janet.
Just last year alone, The Luke Commission offered more than 350,000 free medical services.
“Our fleet of vehicles, medical supplies and personnel travel to all parts of the country setting up mobile hospitals in rural schools,” said Janet. “It’s something you have to see to believe.” There are videos on the website LukeCommission.org that will provide a glimpse.
Their mobile hospitals, referred to as “outreaches,” are a place where Janet finds great joy as she interacts with the people. There, she works in the pharmacy, handing out medications prescribed by the TLC medical team all day long and usually into the night. Janet shares that she has the privilege of giving away medicines—often ones we can buy over the counter in the U.S.—plus antibiotics, intestinal worm pills, blood pressure and diabetes medications to thousands of Swazis who seldom, if ever, see doctors and cannot afford medications.
“I have the honor of greeting every patient, many of them orphaned children, seeing in their eyes hope and expectation and, yes, sometimes pain and sickness. But always, it’s a great day when The Luke Commission comes to their rural community, and the atmosphere of help and healing prevails,” said Janet.
There are countless stories of hope. Janet shares that recently a man came to the gate at the Miracle Campus and told the guard, “My eye is bad. Something is growing on it. I heard that no one is turned away from The Luke Commission. Could that be so? I cannot find help anywhere.”
“Yes, I will call someone to help you,” the guard answered. The man smiled for the first time.
“The Luke Commission seeks to bring a smile to the faces of those often forgotten or overlooked. That’s what I get to be part of,” said Janet gratefully, adding that they repeatedly see God’s hand of favor on The Luke Commission. “It’s the why and the how of what we do.”
For more information on The Luke Commission, visit their website at LukeCommission.org.