September 22 2010 by Dianna L. Cagle
, BR Asst. Managing Editor

    WINSTON-SALEM — Shade beneath the oaks did little to stop the sweat trickling down the forehead of a woman seated outside Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem on a recent Monday night in August.

    She had come for a free eye check at the church’s medical clinic. Another came about her blood pressure. The first 10 people or so arrived almost two hours before the clinic opened to make sure they were seen. The line grew behind them.

    A woman who works in fast food said her income does not cover expenses. “(The medical clinic) means a lot because we have no work,” said another.

    For four years, Old Town has run this clinic — each first, third and fifth Monday – from 7 p.m. until all are seen.

    Missions pastor Mark Harrison loves this ministry and the volunteers who range in age from youth to seniors.

    “There’s something for everybody,” Harrison said. “It’s an avenue for service … whether you have medical skills or not you can make a difference.”

    “The coolest thing about missions to me is it’s one of the greatest opportunities to do multi-generational ministry,” Harrison said.

    The church offers evangelism training members can apply while serving in the medical clinic and other church ministries.  

    Coordinating volunteers
    Debbie Parker serves as volunteer coordinator. A retired registered nurse, Parker communicates with around 100 people via e-mail and phone. Most volunteers are from Old Town but some come from other churches and the medical community. The clinic needs 35 to 40 people to operate.

    “We have a core group (of about 10) who are just always there,” Parker said. “Without them it would be hard to run the clinic.”

    With that baseline she feels comfortable that the rest will fall in place.

    “There are nights I ride down the road (toward the clinic) and I’m not sure how it’s all going to come together … but we’ve never had a clinic that hasn’t been balanced. God always provides enough people,” she said.

    The beginning of the school year is a busy time because of physicals.

    “I think the clinic was one thing God had in mind for me when I retired,” said Parker, who retired in 2006, several months before the church held a mock clinic to test the idea.

    Until she broke her ankle recently, Parker only missed one or two clinics a year.

    “For everybody that volunteers I think they enjoy being able to use the skills and abilities that God has given them to serve the community,” she said. “I know the patients that come are so grateful to be able to have free care.”

    Some patients come for ongoing medical needs like hypertension or diabetes.

    “If it weren’t for our clinic they would have a chronic disease that would kill them,” she said.  
    Eye care
    Dr. Van Teague sees “a ton of folks” each clinic. Old Town’s clinic is unique in offering eye exams. On a recent clinic Teague and his colleagues saw 17 patients within a couple of hours.

    Teague said the clinic relies on nonmedical volunteers like the translators, file runners and child care workers.

    BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle

    Dr. Susan Yee prepares for another eye exam at Old Town Baptist Church’s medical clinic. Yee, along with Dr. Van Teague, background, volunteer regularly to help people in the community. They check eye pressure and vision before writing prescriptions. See photo gallery and video.


    “Without our translators we are dead in the water,” Teague said. “A lot of people that come here have jobs but (don’t earn enough) for insurance.”

    For the number of people served each year, the budget is “ridiculously low,” Teague said, calling it a loaves and fishes ministry. “We always seem to have enough.”

    “What I would like is for other churches to do the same,” Teague said. “They have the resources. Let’s look at what Jesus did. He met physical needs.”

    Teague said Christians are to be the “salt and light of the world.”

    “If you have the capability and the means and don’t do it,” he said, “you’re missing out on a blessing.”  

    Hearing test
    Linda Mock, an audiologist for 25 years at Baptist Hospital, doesn’t come to every clinic. Her main job is to come in the fall when children need hearing tests for school.

    A member at a nearby Methodist church, she says her clients are about four or five years old.  She tests various decibel levels and frequencies to make sure they are ready for school.

    “There were a lot of kids not getting services anywhere else,” said Mock, who is in her third year volunteering at the church. “It’s an opportunity to give back to the community.”

    “This church has really supported this ministry,” she said. “They’ve really done a lot of work.” People at the clinic are the “nicest people to work with … They all have big hearts.”  

    How it began
    Old Town’s medical clinic began in the mind of member Jim Johnson, a physician assistant. He was inspired after reading Robert Foster’s The Sword and the Scalpel about a missionary physician in Africa.

    Johnson wondered “why people don’t get excited about local medical missions.”

    He began praying and planning with several people. They made a list of people with talents that could help at a medical clinic — from medical training to administrative. For three to four months they planned and asked other free clinics to share good and bad experiences.

    “We wanted to use medicine as a ministry tool,” Johnson said. “People who came through would also hear the gospel.”

    Johnson’s wife volunteers in the church pharmacy, which she helped get licensed in North Carolina as a fully functioning pharmacy. Of course, their stock is low compared to your average drug store.

    “Probably the most important thing to me is seeing God work in so many aspects,” Johnson said. “We try to be open, to be obedient.”

    The very first clinic they saw one patient … and it was a church member. But soon their numbers began to build. Now they average 25 each clinic.

    Initially the clinic shared space with Sunday School rooms so set up and take down for each clinic was laborious. Now, the clinic has its own space in the church’s former children’s wing.

    They started with commitments from two physicians and five to six physician assistants and nurse practitioners. That pool has expanded.

    “Seeing so many people getting to use their skills” in ministry is exciting, Johnson said. “They register the people to the glory of the Lord. They feel like they are fulfilling their call.”

    Clinic medical director Landon Weeks looks forward to each clinic, in which sees six or seven patients. Some come for routine refills.

    “So many folks work but don’t have money for a doctor,” Weeks said. “We see many working poor.”

    Weeks said that even if access to health care becomes mandatory, there will always be people who will fall through cracks of the system.

    Weeks said he had been involved in free clinics before his church started this one. They “petered out” fairly quickly. “These are dedicated people,” he said. “I just really love them.”  

    Acts 1:8 challenge
    The clinic’s budget is handled through a special offering through the church — Acts 1:8 offering. Harrison calls the offering the church’s “commitment to embrace all the mission fields … and to do it simultaneously.”

    Last year this offering collected more than $100,000, part of which went to pay for the clinic. The rest goes to other ministries like Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina and Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem.

    The offering is above the people’s regular gifts and is separate from other offerings.

    The church not only focuses on its immediate community but works in other areas as well. Harrison said they have partnerships with villages in India, Brazil and West Virginia. Members also recently spent time in Myanmar and Ukraine.

    “God can use whatever skill or abilities you have to demonstrate His love and passion for people,” Harrison said. “People are motivated to be a part of this (because they) get to see the difference it makes.”

    9/22/2010 7:28:00 AM by Dianna L. Cagle
, BR Asst. Managing Editor | with 12 comments




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