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
Missions pastor Mark
Harrison loves this ministry and the volunteers who range in age from youth to
“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
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.
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
Teague said the clinic
relies on nonmedical volunteers like the translators, file runners and child
“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.”
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
“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
“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
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
“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
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
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