Ep. 264

The following transcript is intended to aid in your study. However, while we try to go through the transcript, our transcripts are primarily computer-generated and often contain errors. Please forgive the transcripts’ imperfections.


[00:00:00] Morgan Jones Pearson: It is a belief that every individual has infinite worth and potential that carries Dr. John Welling, a cornea, cataract, and refractive surgery specialist from Oregon all the way to Africa to partner with local government, medical, and community leaders to bring site restoring cataract surgeries to communities where the surgery is able to be truly transformative.

As he puts it, watching another human being. Step out of the shadows of blindness and into the light of a new day has been one of the most joyful experiences of my life. The experience though has caused him to ponder the idea of spiritual blindness and the impacts it has on our society. On today's episode, we will discuss physical and spiritual blindness and the opportunity to participate in the healing of both.

As a young man, John Welling spent two transformative years as a missionary in Southern California. In Africa. Upon his return, he knew he wanted to pursue a medical path that would lead him back to Africa. Years later. As a medical student, he witnessed the miracle of site restoring cataract surgery for the first time and knew he had found his path.

After completing medical school and residency at D Ohio State University, Dr. Welling completed a cornea fellowship at Emory Eye Center. He then spent an additional year in Africa and Asia as the John A. Moran Eye Center. Hemal. and cataract project international fellow, where he underwent intensive hands on training in the delivery of high quality, low cost eye care in some of the most underserved places on earth.

He currently serves as lead instructor for cataract surgery course at the American society of cataract. and refractive surgery. He also sits on the ASCRS Surgical Skills Transfer Committee. He is the co founder of the Daybreak Vision Project.

This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Pearson, and I am so excited to have John Welling on the line with me today. John, welcome.

[00:02:13] John Welling: Thank you so much, Morgan. I'm delighted to be here and really honored.

Thank you so much for the invitation.

[00:02:18] Morgan Jones Pearson: Well, I feel like I owe John quite a bit and that's not the reason that I asked him to come on this podcast. The reason that I asked is because John, I've thought of your name so many times, but when I was expecting our baby, there was some concern due to a genetic condition that our baby might have.

a problem with its eyes. And John was able to connect me with someone that was incredibly helpful. And so I just am really grateful to you, John, and I am excited to learn more about what you do through Daybreak. First question for you is, I wondered if you could start by just telling us a bit about what exactly cataracts are.

I feel like that's something that we hear. And you know, you don't want that to happen to your eyes, but I don't know a ton about what exactly that means.

[00:03:09] John Welling: Yeah, absolutely. I think you're not alone in that. It's one of those words that we hear all the time, but we would have a, we would have a hard time defining that.

I think for, for most people, a cataract is basically a clouding of the natural lens inside the eye. And this is something It's primarily age related. Basically, everybody will develop a cataract if they live long enough, but it's also possible to develop cataracts. Uh, even babies can develop them, children, young, young adults.

And so there's a variety of factors that can contribute to that. Especially in the developing world, things like malnutrition, trauma, genetics can all contribute to people developing cataracts earlier in life. Basically a cataract, you know, develops layer by layer. The lens inside your eye has different proteins and over time those proteins begin to break down.

The lens becomes more cloudy, eventually it darkens, it becomes hard. And so a mature cataract can basically be as black as a coffee bean and as hard as a rock. It's hard to imagine, you know, living life looking through something like that, but that's what millions of people deal with. Cataract is the leading cause of blindness worldwide.

There's 93 million people who are either blind or visually impaired from cataracts, and so it's a huge problem. And it's significant to note, too, that 90 percent of those blinded by cataracts live in under resourced parts of the world. So, in places where they're least likely to have access for care.

Maybe the craziest part of all of this is that cataract blindness is completely unnecessary. Cataracts can be cured essentially overnight with a 10 minute procedure that can be done at a material cost of 25, which is pretty amazing. Within 24 hours of surgery, patients typically will, you know, be seeing well enough to drive a car and really enable them to get their life back, provide for their family, provide for their loved ones.

And so a huge problem that has a clear and straightforward solution.

[00:05:13] Morgan Jones Pearson: Wow, that's so interesting. I can't imagine, you said, you can imagine looking through that. I, that is. It's hard to imagine, I feel like, for somebody that has been blessed with decent eyesight with the help of contact lenses. Um, but I'm, I'm also curious, you go over and help people in Africa who are struggling with cataract blindness.

Tell me about the prevalence of this particular issue in Africa, and what are the impacts on individuals and on communities at large?

[00:05:47] John Welling: Yeah, cataract blindness is a huge problem in Africa, and Africa really carries a disproportionate of the world's blindness burden. Some of the published rates of prevalence of cataract blindness have been as high as 1 percent in certain African countries.

But when you get out to the rural communities, it's really hard to measure. And what we find is that it's probably underestimated just how prevalent blindness is. As an example, we'll go to a community. And do a big outreach, you know, a thousand site restoring surgeries. And then six months later, you can go back to that same site and do another thousand and six months later, another thousand.

There's just, there are so many people who are blind by cataracts in that part of the world. And so it's, it's pretty hard to quantify. You asked about the, the impact it's huge. And it's huge, not just for the individual. I mean, obviously that's a huge impact, but there's a ripple effect. So every blind person has to have a caregiver.

And sometimes that caregiver is another adult. And so that makes two people, usually in the same family who are out of the workforce. Obviously that has a devastating financial impact, especially in a place like Africa where, where survival sometimes can be day to day. Sometimes the caregiver is a child, and so this could be, you know, a young person who's being kept out of school, which obviously, you know, that, uh, barrier to education has a, has a generational impact.

And so it has a big impact on the individual, their family, their community. Some of the, some of the studies that we look at as far as impact show, you know, really high correlation with severe between blindness and severe poverty, depression, anxiety. loss of social standing. One of the heart wrenching ones is a five times higher rate of spousal separation within a year of blindness.

And in terms of life expectancy, life expectancy for the blind in Africa is in rural Africa, I should say is one third of that for their age matched peers. And so there really is an impact on survival. And, and in some of these places, it can be a matter of life and death. And so, yeah, the impacts are huge.

I think that the really good news is that the studies also show that these negative impacts can almost all be reversed with sight restoring cataract surgery and that those gains that are achieved through surgery are sustained in the long term. Just a few examples. So patients who have lost their job due to blindness.

Almost universally are able to regain employment after cataract surgery. And there's a paper that shows that on average within the first year after cataract surgery, that those patients who have received their site will earn 1500 percent the cost of the surgery. And so the World Bank has called cataract surgery one of the most cost effective public health interventions available.

And it's, it's easy to see why.

[00:08:39] Morgan Jones Pearson: Wow. Okay, John. So how did you initially become introduced to this problem?

[00:08:47] John Welling: So when I was a first year medical student, my brother was a couple of years ahead of me in medical school. And he, he shared a link with me to a national geographic video that he had come across. And it was two doctors, Dr.

Jeff Tabin and Dr. Sandik Ruit. From this organization called the Himalayan Cataract Project and Dr. Root is Nepali and Dr. Uh, Dr. Tabin and Dr. Root were doing an excursion, a cataract outreach camp up in the, up in the Himalayas and, um, National Geographic followed them and. It showed these patients, some of whom had been blind for like 10 plus years, having cataract surgery, having their patches come off the next morning.

And they were just, you know, out of their minds with excitement and celebrating and dancing and singing. And when I saw that, it just, you know, really, uh, I was, I was, it blew my mind. I had no idea that there was any medical intervention out there that could have that immediate of an impact and that significant of an impact.

And so I think that's what really got my attention.

[00:09:55] Morgan Jones Pearson: Okay, and then when did you start to think like that you could do something like those doctors that you saw in the video or that you could make a difference? I guess sometimes the reason, one of the reasons I wanted to ask this question is sometimes I think, Oh, like you see these people doing these incredible things and you think, well, I could probably not do anything more than what.

These people are doing. So how did you start to think, Oh, I could actually have an impact as far as this problem goes.

[00:10:30] John Welling: Yeah, that's a good question. I, I think for me, it just started with a desire. I don't, I don't think I, I necessarily knew that I could do anything about it or that I could have the same type of impact that they were having, but I wanted to.

And when I, when I saw that video, I, I immediately emailed Dr. Tabin, who at that time was at the University of Utah, and I just said, hey, I just watched this video and I can't believe how amazing that is. Could I come and do research with you? Could I help you in any way? Can I carry your stuff around for you?

Can I do anything to get involved with this? And, um, you know, I was a random first year medical student on the other side of the country from where he was and he graciously responded and said, yeah, come on out. Let's do some research together. Come on out over the summer. And so I drove out to Utah the summer between my first and second year.

And eventually had the chance to take a year off between my second and third year and went and did some more prolonged research on the economic impact of blindness in Africa. And so I think just step by step, it was more just like following this desire that I had and then really gracious mentors and friends and, and, and the also like little assurances from the spirit that like.

You know, you're on the right path and, and just kind of one step in front of the other got illuminated along the way. And so there, there's always self doubt. And there were definitely times where I asked myself, you know, am I going to make it? Cause some, some of the climb required to, you know, get into medical school and ophthalmology and all that stuff.

Some of that can be a pretty steep climb. And I, I wasn't, I'm not the smartest person out there and I'm not, I'm someone that has to work really hard to, to do well on tests and someone that has to work really hard to, you know, do the things that need to be done to get there. And I just felt like I had a ton of help.

And so, yeah, I, I think that the main thing is just following where your, where your heart leads and, and, and trying to be sensitive to the spirit.

[00:12:33] Morgan Jones Pearson: Okay. And you also, you said that there were some other kind of small miracles along the way that kind of pushed you in this direction. Do you mind sharing a couple of those?

[00:12:46] John Welling: Yeah, sure. I think, you know, one of the things that I think gave me a sense that, um, medical training and that, you know, those years and years of preparation could come back to an ultimate good that could change people's lives was just spending some time with my dad. So my dad is a, A neuro otologist, so an inner ear surgeon.

And when I was a teenager, I had the chance to spend some time with him and watch him doing surgery. And one of the surgeries that he does, it's called a scapodectomy and it's a surgery where the patient goes to sleep deaf. And then after the surgery, when, as they're waking up, You can, you know, the surgeon whispers in their ear and they can hear again.

And it's a pretty joyful moment. And so I got to, I got to watch my dad do that with some patients. And so I think I, you know, I had this sense that, you know, there's, um, certain pathways that you can pursue that can really make a huge difference. And so that was one inspiring thing. And when, when I was a freshman at BYU.

I also, um, took a introduction to health professions class, and I remember a couple things about that class. I remember it was at 7 a. m., which was just brutal. I think that was one of their ways to weed people out. The other thing that I recall, um, there was. They would bring in surgeons and different, you know, different people from health professions to talk about what they do to try to give students an idea of what they might be interested in.

And there was a surgeon who came in who talked about some outreach work that he had done in underserved parts of the world with cleft palate. And he showed the before and the after pictures of these kids that had pretty significant facial deformities. And he talked about all of the things that that surgery would do for them in terms of, you know, just their ability to get a job and to be integrated socially, to have a family, to get married.

And those things were hard to do with a major facial deformity. And man, as he sat there and showed all these pictures and talked about the impact, I just remember having just kind of a feeling wash over me, like that's incredible. And I want to do something like that. And then being in South Africa. Uh, for my mission.

So, uh, shortly after that health professions class, I got called on a mission to South Africa where my grandma was from as a dream come true for me to go back to where she grew up and saw people, you know, out in the townships who were blind. And I didn't necessarily know what a cataract was, but I could see that they had a white reflection in their eyes.

We met some people who, who struggled with cataract blindness there. So I think all of those things were kind of touchstones along the way. I knew that when I came back from my mission that I really, really, really wanted to do something in medicine that would take me back to Africa. I knew that I wanted to do something that would have a positive impact on people's lives.

And then when, you know, I saw that national geographic video a few years later, um, during medical school. And then, then when I learned that, uh, the Himalayan cataract project was going to expand their operations outside of Nepal to, to Africa. That was sort of it for me. And then over time, you know, Dr.

Table was a super gracious mentor and I eventually had the opportunity to spend a full year with him and Dr. Ruit and some other incredible mentors, including my current practice partner, Matt Oliva, and spend a year with them in Africa and Asia and just get connected with these amazing doctors there and learn the high volume, um, low cost cataract surgery techniques that we use today.

[00:16:19] Morgan Jones Pearson: Okay, so in 2020, you started Daybreak Vision Project. I wondered if you could tell me a little bit about how this project got its name.

[00:16:31] John Welling: Yeah, sure. So we were wanting to capture what we call the daybreak moment, and for us that, so, so blindness has been described as a long night of darkness and a night, a night of darkness so long that there's no sunrise.

Um, we've all been in situations where it's dark. Um, we've all been, um, in, you know, the forest camping or been been someplace where it's super dark, but, you know, the sun's gonna come up eventually and, and you know, that. Um, light will, will come around, but it's difficult for us to imagine a situation where, um, there, there is no light and it's, it's just dark and there's not a lot of hope for anything more than that.

And so for us, daybreak is that moment when light first penetrates the darkness of night. And it's symbolic of that moment when a formerly blind patient first realizes that their sight has been restored. And to see that in person is incredibly joyful and powerful. And just to see, you know, sight, life, hope, all of those things restored in a short period of time.

And so that's what we were, we were hoping to capture with that name.

[00:17:43] Morgan Jones Pearson: I love that. So tell me a little bit about Daybreak's mission and how you have approached trying to help people.

[00:17:52] John Welling: Yeah, thanks, Morgan. So Daybreak's mission is to bring sight restoring cataract surgery to those in greatest need. And when we think about those in greatest need, we think about the people that are most difficult to reach, those who have the least access to care.

Those who are most likely to, you know, remain blind to live and die blind, unless somebody reaches out to them. And, um, we also, you know, so our, our first priority is to provide, you know, to reach these patients to provide site restoring cataract surgery and give each patient their best possible outcome.

We also try to do that at the lowest possible cost, which enables us to help as many patients as possible. So I think the first thing is, is really urgent, high volume cataract outreach, which we call direct care. And then the second major component of what we do is the longterm capacity building, which is, you know, the training, um, of local teams.

We feel like Um, training really is at the heart of sustainability and as if we can train the rising generation of surgeons and nurses to provide high quality cataract surgery, that that is really the most important thing we can do. We feel like that's really the compound interest that will grow over time.

For example, if you train one young doctor, one, one young resident, who's going to do tens of thousands of cataract surgeries out throughout the course of their career to do really high quality surgery and to be really engaged in outreach. And then you multiply that times, you know, a hundred residents who work with us, then you start looking at having an impact on hundreds of thousands.

And so training is really a huge part of what we do. And one of the most fun parts of what we do, we love interacting with the resident trainees. And then we, we also try to help develop infrastructure by providing necessary equipment to carry out the mission of the organization. We work with our partners in the various places we work, primarily Ghana and Zambia to do that.

We also work with a big group of medical students, residents, fellows, and also practice. practicing ophthalmologists in the US and Africa to conduct research projects, quality improvement projects, and to try to expand, you know, what's known about the problems that we're trying to overcome and how we can do that more effectively.

[00:20:14] Morgan Jones Pearson: Well, one thing that you all have done that I think is super cool, and It's honestly, I watched one of these videos probably over a year ago now and have not been able to get it out of my head entirely. But you all have captured some of the stories of these patients and they're on YouTube. If people want to go look them up.

But I wondered if maybe just to kind of humanize this experience, if you could tell listeners maybe in the interest of time about one, person whose life you have seen transformed through this gift of healing.

[00:20:51] John Welling: Yeah, sure. I'd be happy to do that. One of our priorities is to tell what we call these 360 patient stories that capture the experience of the patient before they go to the outreach.

So we go and interview them in their homes when possible. Find out, you know, what, how blindness has impacted their life personally, and as a family, and then follow them through the outreach process, and then go back home with them and, and, and interview them after they're reunited with family and friends.

And, you know, they can see and interact with their surroundings. One of my favorite stories personally is a man named Suli Su who is a 46 year old man that we met in Tamle, Ghana, about a year and a half ago, um, father of three children who went blind in both eyes from cataracts about three years before we met him.

He had had a life of adversity. He was albino. And so, you know, he had white skin, despite the fact that he was African. And so obviously he, he stood out and, and in certain cultures, those kids can be a little bit marginalized. And there's sometimes there's some, You know, meaning attached to those types of things in certain communities that, you know, where kids can be isolated and, and made fun of.

So he had, he'd had a challenging life, but despite all of those social challenges, he had been somebody who had persevered. He had built a successful carpentry business. He got married, he had kids. And then in his early forties, he starts to go blind. And then, um, just two months before we met him, his wife passed away unexpectedly.

So now he's blind. He's by himself. He's got three kids to take care of, and he can't even take care of himself. And so the story as he tells it is that he was laying on his bed, just totally desperate and depressed. And, and he heard a radio announcement that there would be a free cataract outreach at the local teaching hospital.

And he just felt something inside like, Hey, I've got to do whatever I can to, to get there. And so he went, my partner, Dr. Akwesi Ahmed, um, who's a Ghanaian surgeon. Did his cataract surgery, got his sight back the next day. It was just so excited and took us back to his home, uh, introduced us to his friends and family and showed us the bed that he was laying on when he heard the radio announcement and, and just, you know, it was just full of optimism talking about restarting his carpentry business, taking care of his kids, sending him to school, all this stuff.

And so Yeah. These stories are kind of the stories that, um, we can't get enough of personally. And we feel like, you know, if you mobilized all of those resources, if you, you know, put all of the effort in and you only helped one person like Sue Elise, you, then the entire outreach would have been worth it.

Right. And, um, the fact that you can multiply that joy over hundreds of patients in a short period of time is awesome.

[00:23:46] Morgan Jones Pearson: That's so cool. Such a great story. Um, okay. So one thing that I learned as I was preparing for this interview is that you have this opportunity to offer people this gift. Like you said, that guy heard the ad on the radio, knew that there was an opportunity, and yet there are many who choose not to receive it.

And I think that there are probably some pretty Big parallels to the gospel of Jesus Christ with this. Why is it that some people choose not to receive this gift of healing? And what have you learned from offering something that you know would bless others, but it's not received?

[00:24:24] John Welling: Yes. Such a good question, Morgan.

Yeah. So when we send out our screening teams out to the villages ahead of an outreach, generally we send them out a couple of weeks ahead of time. We know that in order to do say X number of surgeries, if we're going to do a thousand surgeries, that we have to screen and sign up basically 12 to 1300 patients.

Cause we know that about 25 percent of patients won't come and there've been studies that. Have looked at, you know, why, why that is, what are the main barriers and, and fear is far and away the, the number one barrier and fear of going to an unfamiliar place, fear of having surgery, and also fear if they're aware of someone who's gone for surgery and has not had the desired outcome, who's had a bad outcome.

And unfortunately, in some of the places where we work, there is kind of a history of poor quality surgery. And so that's something that we just have to overcome. Um, but what we find. Is that, you know, if, if the teams are doing really good, high quality surgery, those patients go back to their villages, then those patients who held back on the first round, they'll come in the future.

And they're, they're kind of the first in line cause they've seen, uh, the impact of good quality surgery. And so that's why, you know, focusing on quality is so important and it helps to overcome that fear barrier.

[00:25:45] Morgan Jones Pearson: John, I wondered. As I, as I thought about this, this idea that, you know, you're offering this gift of healing and people have to make efforts to receive it.

Um, the scriptures talk a lot about having the faith to be healed. What does that mean to you in light of your experiences?

[00:26:05] John Welling: Yeah, we, we meet so many incredible patients over there and there's so many that I could, I could think of or talk about that, um, had exhibited that type of Almost childlike faith to be healed.

And there's one in particular that I, I think of who's, his name is Kiti and he was someone that we met on our most recent outreach to Zambia. This is a guy who somehow I think through a radio ad heard about the outreach, but he lived really, really far away. We were in the Western province of Zambia and he was like.

A three days walk near the Angola border. And, you know, he shows up, we don't know who he is. Don't know his story. He has a surgery. He does well the next day. He's super excited and wants to talk. And so we, you know, we had him, we set him up with our media team to do an interview and he tells us that he's walked for three days to come and to, to have this surgery.

And he's totally, he was totally blind for, I don't know, five, 10 years. And so he obviously came with a friend or a family member or something, but. to have that kind of faith or a lot of our other patients, you know, they'll be invited to come and they'll be the invite. It's kind of a big ask. It's like you can hop on a bus with 50 people from your region.

It's going to be an eight hour bus ride. You may or may, we can't promise that you'll see better, but we hope you will. And so there, you know, there's, there's risks to, you know, to take into account. And we're open with all the patients about that. There's risks of surgery and not everybody will be helped and et cetera, et cetera.

Thankfully, most people can be helped, but. Yeah, I honestly don't know if I would go. I mean, it's, it's a huge, it's a huge leap of faith. And I think that as a, as a team, we consider that trust and that hope that patients place in us to be a sacred trust. We feel like that's a huge weight and that every, every, I, you know, represent somebody's life and that it's our job to treat them like a family member and really just to make sure we give them their best outcome for, for their future.

But I would say that like when we're talking about the connection between this type of healing and spiritual healing, this is really where the analogy breaks down because obviously what Jesus Christ, the master healer is able to offer us is so, so, so much more than what any mortal physician could ever offer.

Obviously, any healing that's offered by mortal physicians, there's limitations, there's risk of complication, there's no guaranteed outcomes, and even the best outcomes are in essence temporary because at some point our bodies are all going to give out, um, and in contrast, the healing that Christ offers us is perfect and complete and eternal and really the only delay, uh, or I should say the only risk.

It is in our delay of giving ourselves fully to Him. Um, this verse from Alma encapsulates that for me. It says, yea, I would that you would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer. For behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation. And therefore, if you will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.

I love that part immediately. And so, you know, the moment that we decide to look to him, the moment that we decide to turn to him. The moment we decide to repent, um, that, that immediately the, the great plan gets put into action and, and he starts to bless us right away. And um, that's, that's pretty incredible.

[00:29:42] Morgan Jones Pearson: Well, it's, it seems like such an incredible thing to be a part of. Another thing that the scriptures talk a lot about is spiritual blindness. I was just reading in the Book of Mormon the other day and it was talking about having eyes to see. Um, and I wondered, have you seen similarities between physical blindness and spiritual blindness?

[00:30:07] John Welling: Yeah, I mean, as, as you point out, the scriptures are just full of, you know, so many, uh, references to light and to dark, to vision, to blindness and, um, both physical and, and spiritual. And so there's so much there. Just over the last few years, as I've really thought about this and focus more, more time on that, I've felt like, you know, the more you dig, the more you realize there's just so much there that, and you're just scratching the surface.

I think, you know, in thinking about this question, one of the things that really stuck out to me is that spiritual vision is a choice. I think sometimes we. Think, you know, that there's certain people who are really good at living their life by revelation, or there's, there's certain people that have that gene that, you know, enable them to be, you know, quote unquote, you know, spiritual or, or revelatory.

But in reality, that's not what the scriptures teach. That's not what the prophets teach. They, they teach that, um, when it comes to spiritual blindness versus spiritual vision that we really do get to choose. And president Nelson in this quote that we're pretty familiar with from a recent general conference talk, he said, I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation, for the Lord has promised that if thou shalt seek, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and the peaceable things, that which bringeth joy and that which bringeth life eternal.

And I love that promise from the Lord. I mean, peace, joy, eternal life. If I could choose only three things for my family, I would be very happy to have those three things. And, you know, as I think about like, what are my biggest concerns in life? It's like my kids and, and, and the direction of their lives and will they have peace?

Will they have joy? And can we all make it back and have eternal life? And this, this blanket promise that the Lord makes to all of us, seek me. And I'll show you things as they really are. I'll show you things as they will be. And I feel like In essence, he's saying to all of us what he said to the children of Israel.

He's saying, look to me and live. But we, we have to look, we have to seek, and we have to really desire that vision and the healing that he promises to us. I just feel like we definitely live in a time when we have more spiritual truth at our fingertips than Has ever been available to anybody in the history of the world.

And I think the question is just, you know, how, how diligently do we seek that light? Do we, you know, put Christ first in our lives? And it's, it's hard. It's very easy to be distracted. We probably have more distractions than ever in the history of the world too. Um, Elder Maxwell talked a lot about meekness and one of his amazing, uh, talks on that.

I think it was at a BYU devotional. He said that the education of our desires might be the most important form of continuing education. And he talks about how the Lord really does give us what we want in the end. Which at first sounds amazing, you're like, all right, anything I want, but then when we consider like what it is that we truly want, the question is, you know, are those things of eternal significance?

And, um, you know, so making sure that we're educating those desires is pretty critical. The Savior in the New Testament talked about how people received his words and some, you know, heard it and saw it and some didn't and there's this, these verses from Matthew 13 that I love. It says, therefore, speak I to them in parables because they seem not Are they seeing?

See not. And they hearing? Hear not. Neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand. In seeing ye shall see, but not perceive. For this people's heart is wax gross, their ears are dull of hearing, their eyes they have closed.

Lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. That's just, those are amazing verses and the way that he connects, you know, first of all, it's a choice. You know, people either choose to see or they choose to hear or they choose not to.

And he then connects that with, you know, understanding and conversion and healing. And basically, you know, it's, it's up to us if we're going to accept that or not. One of the connected or related themes that, that I see with this, you know, where he talks about, you know, the heart waxing gross. I think we, you know, we think about pride.

Elder Kim B. Clark, who was the president of BYU Idaho gave such an amazing talk called Beware of Pride. One of the best talks I've ever heard. And he said, you Beware of pride. This is the warning voice of the Lord to us now in our day. We've obtained so much control over the resources of the earth, so much understanding of the biology of life, so much capacity to travel and to communicate instantly that we have become puffed up in our learning and our apparent control and power.

Pride in its children, materialism, envy, arrogance, greed, thirst for recognition, and lust for control and dominion. Have become rampant in our culture and society. Modern Babylon is awash in pride. I think like pretty, pretty insightful. And I think we can see a little bit of that in ourselves. He goes on to say that pride comes upon us little by little over time.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, I want to be really proud and spiritually blind today, but it comes upon us little by little. He says, pride and its effects are like a thin film of darkness that begins to settle on the soul layer by layer, year by year. Until the light of the gospel grows dim, such people become hardened in their heart, selfish in their behavior and puffed up in the pride of their eyes.

And so I, I can't help, but as I hear that description, just think, man, that sounds like very similar to the development of physical blindness through a cataract layer by layer, getting popped up, getting dark. It's just, it's a pretty cool, pretty cool connection there. I think that, yeah, there's so many cool spiritual connections and, and so many things that can be drawn out.

And, and, you know, there's books and books that could be, could be written about all those connections, I think. For sure.

[00:36:23] Morgan Jones Pearson: Um, what have you learned about how we can better see with our spiritual eyes and overcome spiritual blindness? Because I think you're, I think you're spot on that pride tends to be the root, but it's also, I feel like pride is so much a part of the natural man.

So how do we kind of overcome that and, and seek to better see?

[00:36:48] John Welling: Yeah. Yeah. That's, that's the big question. Right. And. I mentioned Elder Maxwell earlier. He, he gave a talk and said that just as meekness is in all of our virtues, so is pride in all of our sins. And so if we flip that and say, okay, we know that pride is an issue for all of us and we're all affected by it.

Meekness is the anecdote and meekness is a gateway virtue, just like pride is a gateway vice. And again, so much easier to talk about than to practice. So that question of, you know, how do we make sure that, that we like Christ's disciples in ancient times can actually see him for who he is, how can we have the courage to come on to him, how can we not be the people who are shutting our eyes, shutting our ears, and I think it all comes back to that condition of our hearts.

There's a few scriptures here that I just wanted to show so Mormon 744 says for none is acceptable before God save the meek and lowly in heart That's a pretty bold statement. And then when Christ talks about meekness in Matthew He says take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am meek and lowly in heart and you shall find rest unto your Souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

I just think of like all of the God like characteristics that Christ possessed. He possessed all of them, but he chose I am meek and lowly at heart is the most powerful person to ever live chose to describe himself that way. And I think it's significant for us because he's saying, you know, be like me and that's obviously super, super hard to do, but a powerful invitation.

But with whenever he gives, you know, hard invitations or whenever he extends things that seem impossible, like be therefore perfect, even as I, or my father in heaven, he also provides a way and it provides promises to help us take courage. One of those, one of my favorites are some verses from Ezekiel where he says, a new heart will I give unto you and a new spirit will I put within you.

And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh. And I will give you a heart of flesh. And again, so many, you know, corollaries with, um, you know, blindness and, and vision and, um, new, new site. And so like, you know, I think just like he invites us to, you know, turn in our hard hearts for a soft heart.

And he, Invites us to give away our, our pride and the things that blind us and have a nice singletons glory. He promises to do that for us. It's not something that we can do for ourselves. Like you say, Morgan, like the natural man is so like deeply ingrained in each one of us. Like, it has to be something that he does for us over time.

And we have to be willing to undergo the operation.

[00:39:28] Morgan Jones Pearson: Well, it's so interesting thinking about how John, you go over to Africa. You mentioned like that. These cataracts have far reaching effects on their family life and their livelihood and their survival. And I couldn't help but think as you were talking, like, what are the far reaching effects of spiritual blindness, of pride, and Which is worse, you know, having physical blindness or having spiritual blindness, and no doubt both would be terrible.

But anyway, you just got me thinking. So I appreciate, I appreciate this conversation so much. I wonder, John, how have you been changed by your participation in this work?

[00:40:14] John Welling: Yeah, that was a hard question for me. I, I, I, even though you were gracious to give me these in advance, I, that's one that I don't know that I've, I've been able to answer for myself, but maybe less about like how, I guess, maybe how has it blessed my life.

It just brings me incredible joy. I'm fortunate to get to do this with good friends. So my co founders are people that I've been friends with for, A lifetime basically, and one that I was a mission companion with and one that I grew up with since I was in third grade, one that I played sports with in college.

And then to get to do this kind of work with friends and bring family in as well is, is, is incredible. Um, but the joy that you feel when you're in this sort of an environment you're working with. teams from all over the world. Our last outreach, I think we had 10 different countries represented on our medical team, most of them from African countries.

Um, but local teams do 99 percent of the clinical work. So we don't bring doctors or nurses. I'm the only one that comes from the U S we bring some volunteers to help move patients through, but all of the, all the work is done by local teams. And so you get this incredible feeling of working together with people from all walks of life, from all over the world.

And there's no, Clayton Christensen has this phrase when he talks about in the gospel help, how we help each other. And he said that the strong helped the weak and the weak helped the strong and nobody thinks about who's weak and who's strong. And I love that. And I think that that describes really well.

But sometimes our, our perceptions about who is weak and who is strong, those things get flipped upside down a little bit. And like you said, Morgan, you look around and in a place like that and you're like, wow, I am the weak one here. And, and, um, so yeah, it's, it's strengthened me. It's inspired me. It's brought me so much joy.

And I just feel, I think more than anything, just super, super grateful for the experiences that we have over there.

[00:42:15] Morgan Jones Pearson: Well, I, I think it sounds like such a rewarding opportunity and also. I, you've given me a lot to think about. I think I'll be thinking and kind of noodling on that idea of, of spiritual blindness and, and pride for a while.

Um, so thank you so much. My last question for you is what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

[00:42:41] John Welling: Yeah. I love this question so much and have been just so inspired by previous guests that you've had on and there's been so many incredible answers. And I think just kind of referencing what we've been talking about today and, and you know, the, the topics that we've been discussing to me being all in the gospel of Jesus Christ means to come, come to a place where we see Jesus Christ for who he is as.

Someone that loves us perfectly, someone that knows us perfectly and someone on whom we're, we're completely dependent for every good thing that we have and for all of our hope for the future and for all of the healing that we need and. Also seeing ourselves as we are, um, through his eyes and knowing that although we're, we're really nothing without him, that we're everything to him and believing that and embracing that and then turning around and, and being able to see our brothers and sisters from all walks of life in that same light as divine sons and daughters of God, sons and daughters of heavenly parents with a limitless potential.

And then just trying to treat each other accordingly and finding joy and growth in that process.

[00:43:55] Morgan Jones Pearson: So well said. Thank you so much, John. Good luck with everything. We'll, uh, we'll be rooting for you.

[00:44:01] John Welling: Thank you so much, Morgan. Thanks for the opportunity.

[00:44:07] Morgan Jones Pearson: A huge thanks to John Welling for joining us on today's episode. You can learn more about the Daybreak Vision Project by visiting daybreakvisionproject. org. Huge thanks as always to Derek Campbell of Mix At 6 Studios for his help with this episode and thank you so much for listening. We hope you have a wonderful week and we'll look forward to being with you again next week.