J Lawton Smith Award Recipient

J Lawton Smith was one of the original founders of the COS.  He was globally well known as a neuroophthalmologist who was charismatic in practice and his faith!

The J Lawton Smith Award is given out each year at the COS Annual Meeting to an ophthalmologist who has shown a lifetime commmitment to serving the Lord through their personal practice of excellence in medicine, academic influence, and/or missionary dedication.

Van Joffrion’s story




Award Year:

“I’ve fought the good the fight, I’ve finished the race—I have kept the faith.” 

Interview by Marybeth Seal – 2009

            Dr. Van Joffrion was raised in the Cajun region of Louisiana.  He started college as a pre-ministry student but decided that wasn’t exactly what he wanted to do.  In 1960 he went to medical school at Louisiana State where he studied Tropical Medicine which in time led him to go to Haiti for twelve weeks.  He was not the same after observing the extreme poverty as he served in hospitals there.

            After finishing his last year of his med school, he went to Pakistan for one month where he worked with Dr. Noval E.Christy.  He decided at that time he wanted to serve somewhere full time in missions.  So, in 1972, he and his family went to Ethiopia for four years.  He worked in a city hospital there for the first two years and the second half of their time there he worked in an all African Leprosy Hospital.  “Leprosy has a very bad effect on eyes,” he stated.  He taught and trained others there in eye health care.

            During their time in Ethiopia, Emperor Highle Selassie was killed during a revolution.  Dr. Joffrion had the opportunity of meeting him once at a hospital prior to his death. “He was sympathetic to the Christian cause,” stated Dr. Joffrion. 

            On a trip to Eta, Kenya the border patrol stopped their vehicle at a road block and he was arrested along with the others on that trip.  The police at this station called the capital to find out about them and a Palestinian Christian doctor overheard them and vouched for them. Was it by coincidence that this doctor who vouched for them happened to be there at that time?  Dr. Joffrion believes it was God’s divine design.

            The revolution was in at its height when once they were confronted by tribes shaking spears and machetes at them as they drove through town.  This was in 1973.

            Just down the hill from their mission home in Ethiopia was a prison.  “My wife and three kids hit the floor when they heard all the gunfire.  They had gunned down eighty officials who were political prisoners,” he told me.  “I didn’t know anything about it until I arrived home and my wife said, “Where have you been!”

            After moving back to Louisiana, Dr. Joffrion went into private practice for six years.  And then, “Well, I don’t know if I like the word “call” or “felt called,” but I was urged again to missions.  Our two older children were attending college at Asbury and Wheaton Colleges and our youngest went to Rift Valley Academy in Africa to complete high school.

            He and his wife Margaret then spent three years from 1984-1987 on the island of Madagascar.  It is the fourth largest island per land mass, Borneo is third, New Guinea second and Greenland is the largest of all islands. They had been invited there by Christian Blind Mission to start an eye clinic.  There was only one in the capital city, and it wasn’t much of a clinic really and it was also very inaccessible to most people. 

            It was here that he trained three Mologuasy general practicioners to be eye doctors.  Dr. Paul Steinkuller and his wife came after the Joffrions’ left Madagascar and they trained five more which scattered over the island nation.  The Mologuasy doctors are still training others. 

            Both of the clinics in Ethiopia and Madagascar continue to this day.  The training and serving continue; fruits of successful mission efforts.

Dr. Joffrion states there are a few things that made their mission successful and believes these could make any kind of mission effort successful for others too.

  • We were invited to be there
  • We trained their people and had a timeline in which to accomplish this, thereby not enabling them to be helpless
  • We stayed in touch with church leadership
  • We formed relationships–particularly with the Dean of the Medical School in Madagascar
  • We went to serve and train their people

The Joffrions returned to the United States in 1987.  In January 1988 he was asked to be on the board of Christian Blind Mission and for the last ten years has been the Chairman of the Board for the United States branch.

“I’d like to hear God say at the end of my life, well done my good and faithful servant.”  “On my death bed, I would like to be able to say like the Apostle Paul, “I’ve fought the good the fight, I’ve finished the race—I have kept the faith.” 

II Tim. 4:7

Other amazing ophthalmologists to know . . .