Dr. Todd Guthrie is a board certified orthopedic surgeon, practicing in Mt. Shasta, California. Dr. Guthrie sees AMEN as a catalyst to further facilitate the bringing together of the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14:6–12 and the Adventist health message. He firmly believes that medical missionary evangelism will open hearts in preparation for and in conjunction with the outpouring of God’s Spirit in the final days of earth’s history. Dr. Guthrie, his wife, Patti, and their four children have been involved for years in ministry in their local church and abroad.
Blue Ridge, Georgia, population 1,264 (when everybody is back from vacation) is a small resort town surrounded by great natural beauty. It boasts the proud history of a hardworking farming community and some limited industry.
In the last half century there have been great changes in the population, with many retirees moving into the area from Florida. Industry has moved overseas. Jobs are scarce, opportunities are limited, drug use is on the rise, and poverty is great.
This situation was foreseen by God and I believe He strategically placed our little church, with its average attendance under 60, in the midst of this great need.
In surveying the needs of the county it became readily apparent that there is great ignorance of basic health principles by many. There is also pressing poverty with many unable to afford the most basic healthcare services. We knew from past experience that the community responded well to cooking schools and health classes put on by our church. However, this time we wanted to do something else to reach others in the community. As we considered the local needs and the limitations of our resources, we were tempted to exclaim with the disciple Philip, “Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little” (John 6:7). We wondered what we should do to further minister to the needs all around us.
When Jesus fed the 5,000, it was a young person that provided the key—five loaves and two fishes. And God again used young people to provide the key to helping our community. The church youth group, under the direction of AMEN member and dentist Ronnie Hold, were inspired by their participation in the San Antonio free clinic. After their return to Blue Ridge the young people asked, “Why can’t we hold a free clinic for our own community?” It was an important question. Indeed, why couldn’t we do a free clinic in our little town? It would be on a small scale, but it would meet an important need. It was decided to hold the clinic on Friday so that patients and staff could enjoy true Sabbath rest after a week of work and service.
Professionals in the church quickly volunteered to assist in this medical missionary endeavor. Dentists, an optometrist, a dermatologist, an ER specialist, a family practice physician, chiropractors, a massage therapist, a clinical psychologist, an ultrasound technician, and a number of nurses arranged their schedules so they could serve. As others in the community heard about the project they too volunteered. A lawyer offered to provide free legal advice. Youth volunteered to check sick computers for viruses and remove them. A mechanic in the church offered to give free car evaluations.
So, the little project quickly mushroomed. A local building owned by the Baptists and approved by the state for free medical care was offered for this venture. This was important and providential as the state of Georgia provides protection from lawsuits if free clinics are done in an approved facility.
Area newspapers and a local, live television program promoted the clinic. The community hospital gave immense help with coordination and providing lab testing, physical therapy evaluations, and social service assistance for patients to receive Medicaid or insurance as part of the Affordable Care Act. Local churches put up posters and announcements in their church bulletins on Sundays leading up to the event.
In place of the “first come, first serve” of the large clinics, with resultant frustration and long delays, it was decided to schedule patients. This proved to be a strategically important decision. It made pre-screening possible to provide assurance to the state that patients met Georgia’s poverty criteria for such a clinic. It also helped our planning so that we would have more staff where there was more demand.
As expected, the highest need was in dentistry, optometry, and dermatology. It is less efficient to see patients in a free clinic setting and we scheduled accordingly. We scheduled all patients in blocks of two hours. That is, groups of patients would be scheduled to see a provider at 8 am, 10 am, or 12 noon. This meant the maximal wait was two hours. Volunteers provided activities that easily occupied patients during their waiting time.
The pre-scheduling approach eliminated the disappointments and complaints so often heard at the larger clinics where people waited for hours or days and then were not able to be seen.
We decided to run a Better Living Clinic in the evenings during the clinic to provide further opportunity to engage with the patients. Blue Ridge, Georgia is a long way from Maine, but Dr. Tim Howe and his wife Lyn came in to provide free health education each evening for the Better Living Clinic. Dr. Howe opened the Free Clinic event with a Thursday evening lecture that was well attended and each evening more came to listen to his lectures.
Friday morning the clinic began at 7:00 am with worship, prayer, and instruction. After this peaceful beginning the rush of activity began.
A tent had been pitched for the patients to sign in, complete the forms, and be directed to the care providers. It was chilly, but the tent volunteers had warm hearts and good coats!
Away from the tents and inside the building, blood was drawn, physical therapy evaluations and instruction, ultrasound, medical, dental, chiropractic evaluations and a host of other health related activities were performed.
Over 150 people were treated. Two skin cancers were found. And hearts were touched. One participant wrote, “It saved my life when no one else would. God bless you all.”
Another said, “Coming to this clinic has meant EVERYTHING to us! I was able to get my eyes checked and receive glasses after 7 years. Dr. Pitman really put me at ease about some health fears. Thank you all so much!”
Because of donated labor, supplies, and the facility, the cost for this free clinic was under $1,500 which included the airfare for our guest speakers. Through this experience I learned that a simple, smallscale, free health clinic is a very practical way to help the community. It mobilized our church. Prejudice was broken down and friendships developed.
It was medical missionary work that Jesus used to reach the heart. Jesus even utilized it in an effort to reach Judas. “He had an opportunity to see the benefit which it was in his power to impart to others. He felt the satisfaction that always comes in service to God. He helped to bring the sick and suffering from among the multitude to Christ. He saw what relief, what joy and gladness, come to human hearts through the healing power of the Restorer. He might have comprehended the methods of Christ. But he was blinded by his own selfish desires.” (DA 718). Unfortunately, Judas ultimately tried to pervert this method as a way to advance his own selfish agenda. I pray that we as AMEN members will never repeat Judas’ mistake. Let us pray that we will never lose sight of the real purpose of our medical missionary work.