The head of a Southern California-based medical missions group is being accused of mismanaging and grossly misrepresenting the aims of a September mission to China, a move that may jeopardize future missions work in the country.
Participants in the two-week mission claim that Mel Alexander, president of the 33-year-old Christian Medical Association (CMA), failed to deliver on promises to Chinese authorities that he would provide $3.5 million in medical supplies to two cities in southern China.
Members of the 89-person team report that much of the medical equipment was unusable or damaged beyond repair and that most of the medicine had passed its expiration date. CMA is unrelated to the Christian Medical and Dental Association.
Thomas Wu, president of the agency that arranged the mission's travel, said some of the boxes shipped by CMA contained "cooking magazines, old Encyclopedia Britannicas, and used clothing." James Ng, an Irvine, California, dentist, said three boxes contained "used prescription spectacles [that] no one in the United States would want to use."
"The Chinese had a lot of high expectations," says Calvin Howe, a physician's assistant. "They were absolutely irate. We didn't know if we were going to end up behind bars." Participants place the value of the goods at no more than $50,000.
Alexander denies he misrepresented the trip's aims. He asserts the trip was sabotaged from the start by power-hungry team members and nonevangelical participants who disagreed with the project's Christian emphasis. He is threatening a lawsuit against participants who ousted him from leadership two days into the trip.
"A kangaroo court, with no notice or permission, was conducted to expel the captain and assume unauthorized leadership and control CMA project assets," he says. "All involved will be made to explain for their actions in U.S. Federal Court."
Alexander says the medicine was delivered before its expiration date and was supposed to be distributed immediately-before the team's September arrival. However, Chinese authorities refused to distribute it, Alexander says, due to a Chinese regulation that medicines must be administered at least six months prior to their expiration date. Alexander says he had not been made aware of the regulations until his arrival in China.
Team members also claim Alexander lured them into the mission with ultimately unfulfilled promises. Among his claims: he had secured permission from the Chinese government to distribute Bibles, and junior participants could earn credit toward medical qualifications through a Continuing Medical Education (CME) program.
According to Carroll Stone, a Mississippi doctor, several participants "had gone with the expectation they'd receive CME credit. They were not told until [arrival in Asia] that there would not be any." He adds, Chinese authorities became very upset over team members distributing Bibles.
The botched trip could bode ill for future missions work in China. Mark Publow, of World Vision Relief and Development, said the trip has had a "high ripple effect to many other Christian organizations in China."
Despite a rocky beginning, the trip ultimately was a success, say several participants. "We became a united group … and gave our hearts unconditionally and really got to touch people's lives," says Howe.
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