by Andrew McChesney, news editor, Adventist Review
SPOKANE, Wash., August 4, 20015 - The first patient got in line on Saturday afternoon.
Justy Jenkins, a disabled U.S. military veteran, heard at the veterans hospital in Spokane, Washington, that a mega-clinic would provide $8 million in free Seventh-day Adventist healthcare on Aug. 3 and 4, and she was sitting in a lawn chair at the head of a crowd of about 500 people when the clinic’s doors opened at 7 a.m. Monday.
“I can’t believe that they are doing this for us,” Jenkins said several hours later as she took a break during a dental procedure for a much-needed crown in the expo center at the Spokane County Fairgrounds.
She said her government medical coverage was excellent but she received no assistance for dental care.
Jenkins, a former military specialist in Germany, said she hadn’t slept since her arrival to the fairgrounds on Saturday and was exhausted. But she said the wait was worth it. She spent several hours alone, but the line had swelled to about a dozen people by Sunday afternoon.
“They brought us water and food,” she said of volunteers who were setting up the clinic. “They are so nice.”
More than 1,600 doctors, nurses, dentists, massage therapists, chaplains, and other volunteers assisted 1,485 people on the first day of the “Your Best Pathway to Health” event. The mega-clinic, the third of its kind in the United States in two years, aims to show Jesus’ love in action to 3,000 people.
The expo center was humming Monday as arriving patients filled out forms before being directed to chairs in waiting areas. In curtained booths, volunteers provided a range of services, including primary medical care, minor surgeries by appointment, dental care, vision, mental health, women's health, physical and occupational therapy, nutrition and lifestyle coaching, haircuts, and free clothing such as men’s suits and wedding dresses. Chaplains and other volunteers were praying with patients before they left.
Similarly long lines of people greeted the two previous Your Best Pathway to Health events in the larger cities of Oakland and San Francisco, California, in April 2014 and San Antonio, Texas, in April 2015. But organizers said the high turnout in Spokane, with a population of only about 209,000, reflected a local need couple with major media coverage.
In the weeks before the clinic, the office of Spokane Mayor David Condon took the extra step of contacting media organizations individually, rather than simply sending out news releases, said Costin Jordache, director of communication for the event. Local newspapers and television stations carried reports before the free clinic opened, and three news crews and their satellite trucks were parked outside the expo center early Monday morning.
“The city of Spokane has gone above and beyond what any other city has done,” Jordache said.
Condon, who toured the clinic with a trio of aides on Monday, thanked the Seventh-day Adventist Church for offering healing to so many Spokane residents.
“It’s amazing and such a blessing that you’ve brought to our community,” he said in a short, lunchtime speech to volunteers.
By closing time at 4 p.m., 555 people had received dental care, 490 had received medical care, and 440 had received vision care.
On the floor of the vast expo center, volunteers brimmed with an eagerness to serve and share their love for Jesus.
Kathy Folkes, a nurse from a town near Spokane, introduced herself to a passing reporter moments before the clinic opened and, upon hearing that the stranger was a reporter, exclaimed, “What do you want to know? I’ll tell you!”
Folkes, who volunteered after learning about the event in her church, said she hoped to show the love of Christ by being friendly, helpful, compassionate, and nonjudgmental.
John McVay, president of Walla Walla University, located a three-hour drive south of Spokane, brought 26 volunteers from the Adventist institution to Spokane. As he received a name badge at the registration office, he conceded that he didn’t know his duties yet but said he was eager to start.
Paul Hoover, president of the Adventist Church’s Upper Columbia Conference, whose territory includes Spokane, was volunteering as a chaplain. He said the sight of so many people in line was wonderful and tragic at the same time.
“We are hoping that the healing ministry of Christ will impact them,” he said. “We are hoping that this will be the beginning of something that will truly alter their destinies.”
The clinic’s effort to provide both physical and spiritual healing struck a special chord with Hoover, who accepted Jesus and became an Adventist about 30 years ago as he struggled with addictions to alcohol, tobacco, and other substances.
“God began a process of healing me,” he said. “I hope people can start a similar journey today.”
Evangelist Mark Finley, who was helping manage the flow of patients, said the goal was not to give Bible studies to people in line but to serve in practical ways that went beyond healthcare.
“If they need water, we bring it. If they need an umbrella for shade, we do it,” Finley said. “The goal is to do whatever we can to make people comfortable and give them a positive experience.”
The experience appeared to be positive, sometimes even overwhelming, to patients.
“It’s awesome that they are providing this service,” said a mother whose husband showed up at 2 a.m. to save a spot in the dental line for their adult son.
The son, a stocky man with a long reddish beard, suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident in February and doesn’t have any income or dental insurance.
A married couple presented volunteers with a homemade card of gratitude. The cover of the card read, “How do you thank someone who gives you something and asks for nothing in return?” Inside, the couple wrote: “You don’t know the issues that drew us here today to utilize your offered medical care, but we thank you wholeheartedly.”