Four Decades of Service in Haiti: Georgia Bates Award to honor Lila Foree
This April, the HPUMC chapter of the United Methodist Women will present the first ever Georgia Bates Award in honor of a woman who exemplifies a life of service.
Georgia Bates, a nurse sponsored by Highland Park United Methodist Church for over three decades, was known for providing care to the poor in West Dallas. Her legacy continues today through programs like the Visiting Nurse Association and Meals on Wheels.
It is fitting, that the first recipient of the award would also be known for leaving a lasting legacy on the mission field. Since becoming a member in 1967, Lila Foree has made significant contributions to HPUMC’s global outreach efforts, specifically in Haiti.
“In a church full of servant leaders, we have no finer example than Lila Foree,” says Senior Minister Paul Rasmussen. “Lila has been at the forefront of our longest standing global outreach effort – The Haiti Eye Clinic – since it’s inception.”
Foree was part of the first team of HPUMC members to travel to Haiti in October of 1976. The team was tasked with providing medical care to patients in Haiti, a region where proper treatment facilities are often scarce.
While her main job was to help keep records and supply lists updated, Foree says she was quickly tapped for a more hands-on role.
“I was asked to help the ophthalmologist in the operating room as his circulating nurse,” says Foree. “I got a quick course… then on-the-job training. It was an amazing and life-changing experience.”
Following the 1976 trip, the focus of mission work in Petit Goave, Haiti shifted to eye care. Because there was no eye care available in the surrounding area, thousands of people were needlessly going blind. The Methodist Eye Clinic was officially opened in October 1985. Since then, the Clinic has helped bring sight to over 35,000 people.
At each step of the way, Foree has remained a committed member of the medical missions team in Haiti. Decades after that initial visit, she credits the Haitian people for keeping her coming back year after year.
“There is nothing more moving than sharing that moment when bandages are removed following cataract surgery and a patient can see again after many years of being blind,” said Foree.
Foree says many of the patients treated at the Eye Clinic walk for miles from the surrounding villages, some leading or carrying their blind family members or friends.
“At the end of the week, there are many people yet to be seen,” says Foree. “That has kept us going back.
“The people of Haiti are good, kind, caring, and grateful people,” she adds, pointing to the story of a Haitian woman who once brought her a few pieces of handcrafted basketwork.
Foree says at first she was uncomfortable accepting the gift, because it represented a large portion of the woman’s income.
“The Haitian Methodist pastor who worked with us told me to accept the gift with grace,” Foree says. “He said they could never pay for the eyesight, but they could give what they had with pride and love.”
The impact of the Eye Clinic and the medical teams who have served in Petit Goave has long since expanded to other parts of the globe. Doctors who served at the Clinic have gone on to create similar clinics in countries around the world, while other team members have returned to Dallas to serve in local community clinics.
“The Eye Clinic has become a model for others in Haiti and elsewhere,” says Foree. “The feeling of using the talents God has blessed us with is a wonderful legacy of any outreach.”
It is precisely that rich legacy that led the UMW panel to honor Lila Foree as the first recipient of the Georgia Bates Award.
“It is fitting that Lila receive the first ever Georgia Bates Award, as she exhibits daily all that the award represents,” says Rev. Paul Rasmussen. “For 40 years, Lila has given selflessly of her time, compassion, and resources. Her simple, consistent dedication to the people of Haiti has given sight to thousands of people.”
“Lila values the dignity and worth of each person she serves,” adds HPUMC Outreach Director, Lisa Stewart. “She has nurtured the next generation of those leading the work of the clinic. The ministry would not exist without her.”
“I am grateful for everyone who has helped in this mission, through service, donations of supplies and equipment, financial support, and prayers,” says Foree. “They are all part of this very special award.”
Author: Alex Johnston
Meet Lila Foree
Lila was born in Lawrence, Kansas in 1934.
She became a member of HPUMC in 1967 and joined the church's staff in 1968.
In 1976, Lila helped organize and participated in the first medical trip to Haiti.
Lila met her husband, Dr. Kenneth Foree in 1978, when he joined the Haiti mission. They were married in 1985.