The middle-aged man walks on the floor of the Lucas Oil Stadium with a cell phone close to his right ear. He looks up and around the empty stands, talking as if he would like everyone else to hear.
“Yes, I am inside the stadium!” he proclaims to someone on the phone. “Yes, I am walking right on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium … and I am getting free health care!”
The man’s excitement is palpable, as a calm volunteer waits to usher him to the righthand corner that doubles as one of many makeshift waiting rooms.
It is April 18, the second day of the 2022 Pathway to Health Indianapolis mega-clinic. An untimely overnight spring flurry has held up some prospective patients. Not this man, who has reached the free clinic sponsored by several Seventh-day Adventist Church entities and ministries. He is one of many hoping to get treated and feel better by the time he leaves the venue.
Not everyone, however, is so excited to visit the clinic.
“I am so nervous,” a young boy tells his mom in Spanish as he and a little sister are led to their assigned chairs.
“What are you so nervous about?” the boy’s mom inquires as if she had no idea.
“The dentist, duh!” he tells her, with a look of reproach on his frightened face.
These are just a few of the thousands that have come to the clinic to get free health-care services in more than two dozen specialties, including audiology, dermatology, podiatry, and women’s health. Patients are also invited to attend health talks, get personalized lifestyle tips, and get a haircut and some free clothing if they desire it. There are children and seniors, people who walk briskly to their appointments, and those who wobble due to movement disabilities.
Everyone has one or more reasons to visit the pop-up clinic. Everyone hopes to start feeling better after they go the rounds getting the care they need.
Those Whom God Has Gathered
How patients found out about the Adventist-sponsored event varies a great deal. Marisol drove more than an hour from Richmond, a town near the Indiana-Ohio border. She woke her young son early to make it in time. “I have no medical insurance, so I’m thankful someone at the Adventist church I have begun to attend told me about the clinic,” she says.
Other patients mention ads they saw on TV or heard on local radio stations. An older couple said they found a flyer at their door advertising the clinic. Women mention a local women’s care center, where they were told about the Pathway to Health initiative. A man shares that a friend from California recently visited him in Indianapolis. After his friend left to go back home, he called him from California to tell him that among his papers, he had found information about a free clinic in downtown Indianapolis. “It is the reason I found out about it and decided to come,” he says.
Not a few have friends or acquaintances who are Seventh-day Adventists. They have come, so to say, by way of personal witnessing.
Take Jenny, for instance. Originally from Puno, Peru, she moved to the United States in 2015 and ended up in Indianapolis because she knew a man from her hometown who was already there. That man is a Seventh-day Adventist, she shares. On one of the occasions where they talked, he invited her to the clinic. “I am now attending his church,” Jenny says. “He provided me with the information so that I could come.”
Being a Blessing
But if some of the patients’ stories are intriguing, the Pathway to Health volunteers’ experiences seem even more so.
Jamie St. Marie, from Texas, volunteers at Eyecare Services. St. Marie, who says she feels “tired but blessed,” shares how she worked for two decades in the property management business until she felt “no spark left.” It made her wonder, “Why am I doing this? What difference am I making in the world?”
Through a church contact, she ended up working for a non-profit eyecare organization, offering services to communities in need around Dallas and beyond. “Several times a week, we drive around in an adapted RV providing diagnosis, treatment, and even glasses to the homeless and people below or just above the poverty line,” St. Marie says. “I have recovered the spark. I feel so happy.”
Then there’s registered nurse Iris Hockema, who works at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. She is one of several bilingual nurses assisting patients in the first steps before they get to see a dentist. Having volunteered at Pathway to Health Fort Worth in 2018 with a co-worker she had invited, both decided to volunteer for the second time in Indianapolis. “My co-worker friend enjoyed her first experience so much that she insisted on volunteering again,” Hockema says. “And she is not even a Christian!”
Originally from Vietnam, Hockema’s friend found other Vietnamese volunteers at Pathway to Health Indianapolis. “She was even chatting with an Adventist volunteer who shares her last name,” Hockema says. “She is so excited to be here!”
But while some volunteers have known each other for years, others, like the small team providing hydrotherapy services, have just met for the first time in Indianapolis. “Until a few days ago, we had never seen each other [before],” Kathy Sturgess, from Michigan, says. “But now we are serving together.” The small team includes another volunteer from California and two young women originally from Brazil.
A Faith-Building Enterprise
The experience of volunteering at Pathway to Health Indianapolis not only builds up others but helps Adventist participants to build and strengthen their faith, several of them say.
For Mindy Schumacher, a young massage therapy nurse from North Dakota, her first experience at Pathway to Health is an opportunity to do outreach on an unprecedented scale. “I attend a small [Adventist] church, and I don’t have many opportunities of doing mission work,” she says. “So, this is a wonderful opportunity because Pathway to Health is all about the mission!”
Spiritual Care and Spanish interpreter volunteer Moises Vigueras says he is glad to be serving God and neighbor. “For some time, I walked away from God, but I am happy that I returned to Him five years ago, and now I can work to build His kingdom,” he says.
Besides the friendships and the professional expertise the health initiative requires, volunteers agree that with God’s help, the Indianapolis program will not be an end in itself but will trigger connections and mission opportunities for God’s kingdom.
“We are planning follow-up activities, with centers with health programs followed by evangelistic meetings,” Wyatt Allen, a pastor in southern Indiana who volunteers in Spiritual Care, shares. “Not just health tips but a full health program,” he emphasizes. “We are very excited about the possibilities for ministry.”