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After very rocky start, Lions eye mission to Mexico makes big comeback

For the first time, area Lions clubs decided to add a second eye care mission to Mexico earlier this year.

But after bad luck followed by more bad luck, at one point, the group thought they might be in for a vacation rather than a goodwill mission.

After holding eye care missions in Mazatlan five times, the group added a trip to Cabo San Lucas in February.

"We had no idea what was there," Armand Radke said. Radke and his wife, Mari, are the organizers of the trips. "Even though we were there twice to set up, you never know until you're hands on."

Thus began the adventure.

Feb. 3 they stepped off the airplane in Cabo and were stopped in immigration because of the boxes of glasses they had brought with them. Besides the boxes, Radke happened to have one bag of luggage filled with glasses as well. Immigration wouldn't allow the boxes through though, so of the 1,200 glasses they brought, they ended up with only the 400 in his luggage for their mission.

Because the Lions didn't have the right documents to get the glasses into the country, they were not allowed to partner with Friends of Children, the organization they were to work with while in Mexico.

When they were ready to leave the airport, they found the transportation company they were to ride to the hotel. As everyone boarded, Radke said he realized one piece of luggage had been left behind and he returned to get it. When he came back to the bus, everyone was exiting the vehicle. The drivers said it was not paid for yet.

After phone calls to the hotel, the issue was cleared up and the Lions were able to re-board the vehicles.

Radke said by that time, they were beginning to think, "Man, it sure feels like we shouldn't be here."

Once they met with the Lions of Cabo, they found out that not only was the club much smaller than expected -- there were only 22 members coming from the 250,000population city, compared to 45 members in Detroit Lakes with its 8,000 population -- but the president of the club had been hurt in an accident two months earlier and was still in the hospital. With nothing organized, the American Lions thought they might just be on a seven-day vacation at this point.

By now it was Ash Wednesday, and the Radkes and a few other members of the group visited a Catholic church to receive ashes. They were late and came in contact with a nun not willing to serve those who were late. She sent them to a sister church elsewhere in town -- something that turned out to be the group's saving grace.

They met the priest at the new church and got to talking about what they had come to Cabo for and their experiences thus far.

"I have a place for you to work," the priest told them.

The priest explained that he had set up eye care clinics in the past but could never get the doctors to show. Enter Dr. Radke and team.

The priest led the group to a mission called Many Faces -- which happened to be the same name as the mission in Mazatlan they had worked in the past -- where they served 500 people in two days just from word of mouth.

In the meantime, a Friends of Children member called the Radkes to see how things were going. They told the member where they ended up. The Friends of Children member couldn't believe it.

Many Faces was the exact mission Friends of Children had lined up for the Lions group to work at before the paperwork fiasco canceled them working together.

"Everything fell together," Radke said.

Along the way, the Cabo Lions found boxes with 800 glasses they had from previous clinics. With those extra glasses, the American Lions were able to go into the school and see 500 more people.

About a month later, the trip to Mazatlan was much more organized -- for the most part anyway -- with the group having been there five times before.

The March 8-19 trip began well, with the Lions Club members zipping through immigration. But they were stopped at customs because of the glasses once again.

This time, Mari Radke approached the situation differently. Radke said his wife told the official at customs that the Lions were there to help her people, if she didn't let them into the country with the glasses, it was hurting her country.

After a 10-minute lecture on what to do next year with the glasses -- which will mean getting more documentation next time -- the woman let them through. With all of their pairs of eyeglasses.

The group worked out of a place called The Cave, a building four times the size of the Pavilion, Radke said.

The government brought people to the Lions to have their eyes checked. They saw over 1,500 people on the trip and gave away over 1,000 pairs of glasses.

"We had to quit because we ran out of glasses," Radke said.

During the two trips, there were 10 area Lions Clubs represented -- Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Wolf Lake, Otter Tail, Perham, Park Rapids, Pelican Rapids, Parkers Prairie, Underwood and Palisade. Some have already signed up for next year's missions.

Although the Cabo San Lucas trip was a bit unorganized, Radke said the Lions plan to visit there again next year, as well as make a trip to Mazatlan.

To raise money for the two trips, the lions Club will be selling 12-inch pots of geraniums for $25 now through May 2, with delivery in time for Mother's Day. Plants can be purchased from any Lions Club member or by calling Radke at 847-8406.