Church prescribes impact with health clinics
The neighborhood surrounding Fair Park Boulevard in Little Rock, Ark., is as hard as the stone walls of Oak Forest United Methodist Church. “You hear bullets sometimes,” says the church’s pastor, the Rev. Russ Breshears. But the “little stone church with the big heart” is proving small congregations anywhere can make a huge impact.
In the 1940s and 1950s, “the boulevard” was the place to be. There was wealth and power. In the decades since, poverty and crime have taken up residence. In 2006, Oak Forest United Methodist Church began working to take back the neighborhood.
When Breshears became pastor five years ago, the church was faced with a decision. The old parsonage needed to be renovated or demolished. Armed with little more than an idea and a partnership with Fellowship Bible Church, the group decided to open a free medical clinic for poor, uninsured workers. The clinic would be based on the model of the Church Health Center in Memphis, Tenn., created by Dr. Scott Morris, a United Methodist pastor and medical doctor.
Word traveled fast. Soon, the group installed donated medical equipment from a retiring physician’s office in the old building.
“When it first started, we only had two or three patients because the neighborhood just didn’t know who we were,” said Breshears. Five years later, a team of volunteering medical professionals, translators and citizens has treated more than 2,500 patients, many of whom now use the clinic as their primary-care facility.
The church opened its heart and doors to even greater possibilities. After the death of a church member, who lived next door, the church purchased her home. “In less than one year, we had the house paid for and we had renovated it into a dental clinic,” said Breshears.
Late last year, the church simply advertised on their marquee: "Help us open a vision clinic in 2011." An article ran in the newspaper. A short time later, Walmart donated optical equipment from a local store that was moving locations. By March, members and volunteers had turned two of the church’s basement rooms into Bart’s Place, named after Bartimaeus, the man whose sight Jesus restored in Mark 10.
“We know we can’t change the whole world, but we are offering Christ and changing the neighborhood one person at a time,” said Breshears. “We want to become partners with the poor. The idea is not to make poor people the objects of our charity, but to empower them and let the working poor be our partners in ministry.”
-By Natalie BannonOriginally Posted: May 27, 2011