Natchez native offers glasses, good news on mission trips

Published 12:08 am Sunday, July 7, 2013

Illustration by Ben Hillyer

Illustration by Ben Hillyer

Giving a 73-year-old man his first pair of eyeglasses brought new meaning to John 9:25 for Dr. Pat McGivaren.

“Once they were blind, now they will see — He was a happy man after getting those glasses,” McGivaren said. “Most people start needing some kind of vision correction in their 40s, so I can’t imagine how he had made it so long without them.”

The Natchez native travels to Moldova, an Eastern European country located between Romania and Ukraine, annually with a group that represents eight Baptist churches throughout Georgia.

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“We’re just a loose knit organization that gets together and proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ,” McGivaren said. “What we do is bring encouragement to those people living in such a poor country that had such a hard time under communism and are slowly starting to bud out on their own.”

Pat McGivaren speaks to a group of Moldovans.

Pat McGivaren speaks to a group of Moldovans.

McGivaren was raised in Natchez and graduated from Natchez High School in 1961. He studied veterinary medicine at both Mississippi State University and Auburn University.

After serving a year in Vietnam with the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, McGivaren relocated to Atlanta and eventually to Rome, Ga., where he ran a veterinary practice for 32 years.

McGivaren began going overseas in 1994 with a group called Carpenters for Christ but slowly began branching out on his own.

“Instead of construction, we went on medical mission trips, taking medicines to the churches over there and distributing them along with nurses and doctors,” McGivaren said. “We kind of went off on our own and streamlined it to do our own evangelical work.”

Five years ago, the group received training and instruction to measure people for reading and distance glasses.

“Before that we would collect used eyeglasses from our various churches and take them over there, but now they’re donated by the manufactures, and we catalog them and distribute them accordingly,” McGivaren said. “It’s really gone over big there because people don’t have access to buying eyeglasses to improve their vision nor do they have the money to buy them.

“They show up in droves once a year, we preach the gospel, and tell them how to get a home in heaven, and they get a pair of eyeglasses.”

When Moldova was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, residents were persecuted for practicing Christianity, McGivaren said.

“There was so much persecution that a Bible was worth two cows, so you can imagine there weren’t any Bibles left after long,” McGivaren said. “If they would worship, it would be in secret out in the forest, and they would suddenly begin singing Happy Birthday if someone spotted them and act like it was a party.

“As they got their freedom, more and more people began learning about salvation and Jesus Christ.”

McGivaren said the impact of the spiritual message the group delivers can clearly be seen throughout the area.

“It’s unlike America where here we have a church every other block,” McGivaren said. “Over there they have one evangelical church for every four villages.

“When we began the ministry, they had one evangelical church for every eight villages, so we’re working it down.”

Another visible change, McGivaren said, that can be seen is the significant growth of the country itself over the years.

“Up until 10 years ago, it was like traveling back in the 40s or 50s in the U.S.A. so it was quite a culture shock,” McGivaren said. “Now people are carrying cell phones, and we see laptops and desktop computers, so they’ve really come a long way.”

With the group fitting more than 5,000 pairs of eyeglasses alone last year, McGivaren said he is looking forward to returning next year to continue the fulfilling work.

“When we measure them, and you see that heartfelt, pleasing look on their faces, that’s the best payoff,” McGivaren said. “It’s not unusual for men and women to kiss us on both cheeks and cry because they are very, very grateful to see again.”