Building Bridges to Health
Approximately 600 Adventist volunteers participated in Bridges to Health, an outreach event in California that brought free medical and dental services to nearly 3,000 people at the San Francisco Armory on April 23 and 24 and the Oakland Coliseum on April 25, 2014. Community members lined up overnight to make sure they could receive care over a three-day period. In all, more than $5.2 million worth of medical services were provided.
This unique “medical mission trip” was organized and sponsored by the Pacific Union Chapter of Adventist-laymen’s Services & Industries. The Pacific Union, Central California, and Northern California Conferences served as co-sponsors. Many organizations within the Adventist church, including Adventist Health, were also involved in the event.
A VISIT TO THE CLINIC
Each morning, volunteers provided visitors with forms to fill out as they approached the doors. Once inside the doors, the potential patients received help from assistants in filling out the forms, then were directed to a medical triage station to get their vital signs checked. From triage, the visitors went to various clinical areas to receive medical and dental services.
Dentistry was the most requested service. “The need for dental services is just as great right here in our own country as it is in many of the 25 other developing countries I’ve done mission dental trips in,” said Dr. Peter Nelson, a dentist from San Luis Obispo, California.
One patient asked Dr. Ted McDow, a dentist from Modesto, what the volunteers were getting for doing their work. McDow told him that they were followers of Jesus and wanted to do what He did. The patient responded that he hoped he could go to heaven.“I was able to tell him just how easy it is,” said McDow, who prayed with the man. He later told McDow that he planned to visit an Adventist church in the area.
Eye care was the second most requested service. While nurse Gertie Warnick, from Martinez, California, was performing eye exams, she met a 71-year-old man who hadn’t had new glasses in 20 years. Warnick was moved by the gratitude displayed by the patients. “They all were very thankful,” she said.
Other medical services included primary care, women’s health, pediatrics, mental health, HIV/STD screening, X-rays, lab tests, and minor surgeries. One man had a grapefruit-sized lipoma removed from his back. A number of the caregivers commented that they enjoyed serving patients in this venue because they could take extra time to make connections. “It was very freeing to work without the usual time constraints,” said occupational therapist Teresita Davis, also from Martinez.
In the women’s health area, physician Melinda Skau from Oroville, California, examined a woman who was unhappy with the 70 pounds she had gained. “We spent about 30 minutes handling the four issues that added to her weight,” said Skau. “At the close of our visit, when I asked if we could pray together, she responded excitedly, ‘Jesus helped me quit drugs, and now He is going to help me get healthy!’”
Throughout the event, pharmacists dispensed medications prescribed by the physicians. There were also extra touches designed to give the patients a positive experience. Massage therapists gave chair massages to many surprised and grateful patients, while students from Weimar and Fountainview Academies serenaded them throughout the day with choral and instrumental music. Each of the patients was offered a healthy free meal. At various stations, children were introduced to the eight laws of health, and before going home each child received a coloring book, a storybook, and a stuffed animal.
After their exams and treatments, patients met with lifestyle counselors. The counselors reviewed surveys the patients had completed to document their lifestyle practices. They then talked with the patients about the eight laws of health, suggesting ways they could improve their health through lifestyle changes and giving them a magazine about NEWSTART principles.
Just before leaving, each patient was offered a chance to meet individually with a chaplain. “We told them they are healthier when they are connected to a faith community, and we asked, ‘Do you have one?’” said Teresa Nelson, chaplain at Sonora Regional Medical Center. The chaplains offered to pray with the patients. “Most people said yes to prayer,” said Weimar College English instructor Cosmin Ritivoiu, who served as a chaplain.
Paul Crampton, assistant vice president for mission and spiritual care at Adventist Health in Roseville, California, began talking with a couple waiting in line, and the woman burst into tears. “It’s been so long since someone has treated us with dignity that I couldn’t contain my emotions. Thank you so much!” she said. At the end of the day, Crampton saw the couple again. “They told me, ‘I’ve heard it said many times that God is love, but today we experienced it through you people.’” They requested a referral to a local church.
A YEAR IN THE MAKING
The idea for Bridges to Health began last year at the 2013 ASI Pacific Union Conference. Don Mackintosh, HEALTH director and campus chaplain for Weimar Institute, challenged conference attendees to plan a project for their next convention that would be in accordance with ASI’s motto, “Sharing Christ in the marketplace.”
“The Holy Spirit very much inspired the board and me: this is definitely what God wants us to do,” said Lela Lewis, president of ASI Pacific Union. The ASI Pacific Union board members had decided to host a large medical outreach event in either Los Angeles or San Francisco. They’d sent proposals to the mayors’ offices in both cities, praying that the Lord would direct the mayors’ responses. The San Francisco mayor’s office responded enthusiastically.
“The called, basically begging us to come,” said Lewis. “We took it as a sign that God wanted us to go to San Fransisco.” Later she discovered that the Central and Northern California Conferences were planning joint evangelism work in the Bay Area. The ASI medical event fit well into the conferences’ over all goals, and the organizations joined forces. They eventually decided to offer help on both sides of the Bay by adding a day of medical outreach in Oakland.
THE NEED IS GREAT
The need is great for future events like Bridges to Health. Northern California Conference president Jim Pedersen and Central California Conference president Ramiro Cano want their two conferences to continue to reach people in these cities through a joint conference program called Bridges: Bay Area for Jesus. “This medical event was just the beginning,” said Pedersen.
Lewis hopes that Bridges to Health will serve as a model for others interested in this type of mission work. “There is no reason this can’t be replicated everywhere in cities across the nation,” she said. Plans are in the works to bring a similar event to San Antonio, Texas, prior to the General Conference Session, which will be held there in 2015.
Lewis acknowledges that all recognition for the event’s success belongs to God. “I believe with all my heart that God blessed in such a mighty way because we sought to do His will and present His love, without wanting a specific result. We sought to follow His blueprint according to the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, which implores each of us as Seventh-day Adventists to go out and do these humanitarian efforts on a local level—to do work just as Christ did for those in need.”