Dr. Bill & June Ghrist
Dr. Bill Ghrist was a successful ophthalmologist in a private practice in Glendale, CA in the early 1960’s. He and his wife, June, rededicated their lives to the Lord and began growing in a small evangelical Church in Glendale. He also began doing short term mission trips to Mexico and then for a summer to a small mission hospital in eastern Kenya. In 1966 they decided to sell the practice and move their family of 4 children, Chris (14), Tim (12), Doug (9) and Bonnie (2), to Kenya to become missionaries.
Moving to Mombasa
He worked part time as an ophthalmologist and partly as a general surgeon as the second doctor at the mission hospital. By 1969 they decided that to continue in ophthalmology Bill would need to move to a major city as rural medicine mainly needed general medicine and not a specialist. Nairobi, the capital already had several eye doctors, but Mombasa only had one older eye doctor so they decided that God was leading them to the Coastal city of Mombasa. After arriving they began to look for a location and chose the present Lighthouse site because it was near a General Hospital (and he never wanted to deliver a middle of the night baby again!), it was near the old harbor where there is a regular lovely sea breeze, and it was on a major street—so easily accessible.
Flying Surgery Center
Later in 1969, he opened a small eye clinic and he wanted to make it accessible to everyone. He soon became a part of a flying eye service that did eye camps all over Eastern Africa, and even travelled once to South Africa and did cataract surgery on a local royalty there! Surgery was done 2 afternoons a week, and at that time they pioneered the idea of a outpatient surgery center which was only done in one or two other places in the world, finding it an ideal solution to do cataract surgery on a shoestring! The clinic progressed well and became recognized as a major eye clinic and surgery centre for the whole country.
Sharing the Gospel
Dr. Bill or June would open each clinic with a Gospel talk and tell the patients of all faiths and religions that Jesus came to this world 2,000 years ago to live a perfect life and then die a sinners death on the cross to save us from our sins. He would use flannel graph presentations, film strips, and preach each day, seeing many of the patients responding by placing their faith in God. Soon some of those who responded began to come to a Sunday School they had in the clinic waiting room, and soon this became the first Lighthouse for Christ Mission church. Soon young men were coming to be trained by the good doctor on Wednesday afternoons and were taught to go out and share their faith on the nearby streets. Soon these young men were being trained to start small churches of their own and by the late 1970’s, five small churches had been planted.
Dr. Bill’s Later Years
In 1976, Dr. Bill had a first occurrence of a very fast growing cancer in his leg and he went back to California for treatment, radiation and chemotherapy. He prayed to the Lord for a little more time for his daughter to graduate college, to find someone to come continue the work, and for him to care for the poor. Amazingly, the cancer did disappear and for another 5 years he returned and served the Lord in Mombasa. But in early 1983 the cancer returned after over 5 years of remission. This was the year his youngest, Bonnie, was to graduate, and the first year his second born son, Tim, could come out to keep the work going as a pastor. In just 5 months Bill died in the City of Hope in California, with his family surrounding him.
The Legacy Continues
Later that year, his son, Tim, and his son’s wife, Toni, with their 3 boys arrived in Mombasa to continue the work. Within a year, Dr. Bill Johnstone came out to keep the clinic open followed the next year by Dr. Dean Larson, a close friend of Bill Ghrist. Dr. Dean Larson sold his practice that year. For the next 16 years he kept the Lighthouse for Christ Eye Centre open and growing. Starting in 2000, excellent Kenyan ophthalmologists have overseen and directed the eye clinic. First Dr. Dan Kiage, and then in 2005 our present Medical Director Dr. Ibrahim Matende. Every year has been bigger leading us to see over 30,000 patents a year. Those 5 small churches have now grown to over 70+ churches and the simple Bible teaching on Wednesday afternoon has now become a Bible School training young people and pastors to know the Lord and the Bible well.