by Ron Spencer

Ask Me Why I Hurt: The Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor Who Heals Them

By Randy Christensen, M.D., with Rene Denfeld
Broadway Books (Random House) 2011, 265 pages, Hardbound, $24.99 (available for as low as $12.99).

Reviewed by Ron Spencer
Submitted January 3, 2012

In a world where “survival” has become the buzzword of fantastical Darwinian-style media games and contests, the publishing of a nonfiction narrative on the lives of quieter survivors, husband-and-wife Randy and Amy Christensen and their decade-long (ongoing) treatment of 7,000 homeless children and youth in Phoenix, Arizona, comes as a respite.

Using limited resources from both private and government sectors, pediatric physician Randy Christensen at age 33 (in 2000) brought together a team that converted an old recreational van into a rolling clinic known as the “Crews’n Healthmobile.” The result is an inspiring, if culturally eccentric, first-person narrative of his experience with the street children of Phoenix and New Orleans (in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina). The author resists the temptation to inject comedy into a book rife with such opportunities; he remains reverent in tone and eschews swearing and gutter language, while often invoking the slightly ungrammatical speech of the streets, even in his own transcribed conversations. Readers’ tears will be shed, especially near the end, as the focus turns more and more to the fate (and in one case death) of four young patients.

The book will appeal particularly to younger professionals or pre-professionals interested in effectively supporting themselves (however modestly) in a world of ministry to the needy and downtrodden in the First World and even abroad. The book is extremely highly rated by readers.

The narrative weaves through the soiled tapestry of the lives of several featured patients: Mary—a pre-adolescent who lives in a self-described “cozy, safe” hideaway in the city sewer system, where she can fend off human predators and other dangers; Donald, a young brain-damaged adolescent whose violent father bought him a bus ticket to a fictitious Phoenix address to get the boy out of his life; Nicole, a 19-year-old grotesquely abused woman with multiple personalities who spends most of her time impersonating an eight-year-old; Sugar, a teen prostitute since age 12, who drops in from time to time for exams and medications, as her youth and hope ebb away. Each character, though real, would seem “unbelievable” as a fictional inhabitant in novels by bestsellers such as John Grisham.
Crews’n Healthmobile is not overtly Christian (though the founders are practicing Christians), but faith-based groups will do well to study the methods used in this van ministry. The Christensens intend to expand their outreach to other American cities and welcome contacts from readers who may wish to be involved.