By William Noel, July 18, 2016: The people of this West Virginia town have a fresh and very positive view of Adventists after the “pop-up mega-clinic” was held there last Wednesday through Friday. A total of 1,722 people received medical, dental and optical care along with haircuts and free clothing. It was primarily for those without health insurance coverage, the working poor, although no identification or status documentation was required.
The clinic was operated by 734 volunteers who paid their own travel expenses to come and work long, hard days. About 200 of these were from West Virginia, reported the Charleston Gazette-Mail. One of the local Adventist volunteers was 99-year-old Elda Campbell. Some of the volunteers were veterans of previous similar events in San Antonio and Los Angeles, but the majority were first-timers. One international volunteer drove 32 hours from her home in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico. Two others flew from Columbia and Poland specifically to learn how to replicate the ministry in their home countries.
While many of the volunteers were physicians, dentists, nurses or other health professionals, a large number performed supporting roles. “If you have a heartbeat and a smile, you can help,” said Dr. Lela Lewis, a key organizer. Men wearing reflective vests working security cheerfully greeted and chatted with the hundreds waiting in line, sometimes in the rain. Once inside, the Registration team helped patients fill-out necessary paperwork before directing them down the stairs into the domed arena. At Triage they received the colored arm bands indicating the service areas they would visit. It was common to see a person wearing five, six or even seven armbands. Patient Assistance and Transfer (PAT) volunteers escorted them to the different areas. After being treated, patients were routed through chaplaincy, lifestyle and exit stations before leaving.
When they had an appropriate opportunity, volunteers prayed with patients. “I’ve never been prayed for so many times in one place before! You people are amazing. You really care,” one woman declare with great emotion. “Everyone was so nice and polite,” said others. “The lines were long but you got us through quickly without making us feel like we were being rushed. Everyone took the time to pay special attention to us,” others commented.
Posters at different places invited people to share their story about the care they received on Facebook and other social media. In addition, a video crew was there to document their stories for posting on-line. By Sabbath morning, more than one million people around the world had viewed the reports and comments.
News media ran a number of stories about the event. including the Associated Press wire service. West Virginia Public Broadcasting and live, on-site reports by local television news. After getting what he needed for his story, a reporter for the local newspaper in Beckley got in line and registered to get the glasses he needed but could not afford.
At lunch time each day, patients were given the same sack lunches that were distributed to the volunteers. In addition, tickets were given out for the evening meal so that patients could hear a presentation on a health topic that included the Biblical basis for healthful living. Also during these evening meals, reports were delivered about the day’s activities and testimonies were heard from both volunteers and patients.
“I never heard of a Seventh-day Adventist before, but I already feel like I’m one of you,” a woman declared. “I don’t know who [Adventists] are, but I want to know more about you,” said others.
One dentist told of having left her practice at closing time the day before and arriving in Beckley around 11 p.m., then being at the clinic at 7 a.m. to begin seeing patients. She had pulled 22 teeth that day.
The greatest shortage of professionals was in the dental clinic where at any time half the work stations were empty. To reduce the number of people being turned-away, the dental staff worked past the 5 p.m. closing time with some of them working past 9 p.m. to see all the waiting patients.
“I’ve been to a lot of doctors but that was the first time I’ve had a doctor pray for me,” said the pastor of a local Pentecostal church. When he got to the chaplaincy station, he insisted on praying for the chaplains and the work they were doing! “You truly are the people of God and you are doing God’s work,” he told us.
A clothing distribution area was also visited frequently and a stream of people left carrying bags with needed items. Because flooding in the area two weeks before had left thousands homeless, some of the people coming to the clinic were flood victims.
Why was Beckley picked for this project? It is a small town with a population of about 17,000 in one of the smallest metropolitan areas in the United States. The single Adventist congregation in the town has only 102 members.
Lewis said they wanted to try a smaller city and see what lessons they might learn that could help local conferences and even local churches do similar projects on a smaller scale. “We’ve learned some lessons, for sure,” said Benny Moore, another key organizer.
One major player in the decision to go to Beckley was the Acceptance Sabbath School Class at the Collegedale (Tennessee) Adventist Church on the campus of Southern Adventist University where Moore is a member. The class was looking for a mission project and a number of class members were among the volunteers.
West Virginia is in the Appalachian region of America where there is considerable poverty. The state has one of the highest rates of Hepatitis B and C, opioid addiction and Type II diabetes in the country. Unemployment is high because coal mining, once a major industry in the area, has major environmental problems such as acid rain. Many people are without any health insurance or cannot afford the high deductibles their coverage requires.
The three-day clinic was held in the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center. It was organized and funded by Your Best Pathway to Health, a nonprofit health ministry that is a member of the Adventist-Laymen’s Services and Industries (ASI), in collaboration with the denomination’s Mountain View Conference, which include much of the state.
Pastor Larry Boggess, the conference president, said he was excited when he heard the organization wanted to come to Beckley. Both he and his staff were totally supportive, he said. “We’re doing this to get a bigger vision of how to combine the gospel ministry with health ministry and learn how the two can work together,” he said. The event last year in San Antonio led to the planting of a number of new churches, Boggess said. He did not expect the Beckley event would have such a large result because of the smaller population in this area. Still, on the second day he was so impressed by what he was seeing that he was already wishing to replicate the event in Charleston, the state’s capitol city.
“The medical care, the dental care, the optical care and the clothing distribution the people are receiving are just the beginning,” said Lewis. The connection between the event and the local church happens when patients come to the church a week later to pick up their lab reports and are invited to attend a number of follow-up classes teaching them to live more healthfully. Those classes will then culminate in an evangelism campaign.
What was it like being part of the Beckley project? When asked to give a one-word answer, a number of the volunteers used words like “awesome” and “amazing.” What they didn’t say, but which was painted on their faces each evening was “exhausting.” Through each day, walking on the concrete floors grew a tiredness in our feet and legs that turned into an ache sometimes rising to our hips and backs. Still, we smiled and kept going because we were on a mission for God and we wanted to represent Him positively.
My daughter was assigned to work in Patient Assistance and Transport (PAT) and I was assigned to venue services. We arrived about 5 p.m. on Monday and immediately were put to work helping deliver crates of equipment and supplies inside the arena and meeting rooms. We worked until 10 p.m. before a late check-in at our hotel and collapsed into bed. By 8 a.m. the next morning we were back at work and our numbers swelled through the day. Sometimes the person helping us unload a crate or erect the drapes was a physician, a lab technician, an engineer or a retiree. Everyone worked together in harmony with a single purpose that could only have come from the Holy Spirit.
Not everything went according to plan. On Monday, five of the seven long-haul trailers were there. A sixth arrived on Tuesday and a crew worked until near midnight, then some returned at 3:30 in the morning so the clinic could open on schedule. Trailer seven, the one carrying the X-ray machine, didn’t arrive until mid-morning on Wednesday after the clinic had opened.
When my daughter and I arrived at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, there were already about a hundred people waiting in line outside the front doors. The registration team set to work early so the first patients could be ready to be seen by 7 a.m. To my surprise, when I walked around the building at 8:30 a.m. the line had doubled in length.
On one of my trips to the dental clinic, I passed a man sitting on a chair who was looking rather miserable and biting on a wad of gauze after having a tooth pulled. When I stopped and asked if he was OK, he looked-up, gave me a one-sided smile and told me, “I’ll be OK. You don’t know what a relief it is to get that tooth out.”
Once when I was passing the laboratory area, I saw several of the technicians fussing over a frightened little boy who appeared to be about five or six as one of them was drawing blood. He was trying hard to be brave and when it was over, their cheers replaced his fear with a smile.
God used this project to touch the hearts of both volunteers and patients, sometimes in surprising ways. One such encounter that touched my heart happened in the parking lot when I crossed paths with a mother and her two young daughters searching for their car. Each was carrying a bag of clothes. I greeted them, and they told me of their appreciation for getting their eyes checked. “Did anything special happen?” I asked. The youngest, who appeared to be about six, turned to me and with a big smile declared, “I got some baby doll clothes for my teddy bear!”
William Noel is a regular reader of Adventist Today and volunteered to serve as our reporter for the Beckley project. He also provided the photo with this story, which shows the setup in the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center for the clinic. We thank him for his contributions.