“Is that man from your church too?”
An older man sitting in a chair turns to question the young man beside him, as he points to a Pathway to Health volunteer walking slowly away.
“Yes,” he says. “He’s an Adventist too.”
Talking to each other in Spanish, the two men have just made it to the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, United States, on April 17, the first day of the 2022 Pathway to Health free mega-clinic sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Now they wait for their personal and health data forms to be checked and entered before they can proceed to the dentistry services section.
The man walking away from them is a chaplain in a distinctive brown Pathway to Health shirt, who had just approached them. He had greeted them and welcomed them to the clinic. He congratulated them for deciding to come, and told them that he hopes all their health concerns are answered and their issues solved. The chaplain left them with a word of comfort and blessing before moving on to another person.
It is a scene that repeats across the main floor and beyond. The chaplain might change, and the language used might be different too. Sometimes, the exchange involves a prayer; other times, it’s a smile and a few comforting words. Often, volunteer interpreters are involved in facilitating the communication. But the result is the same: wary newcomers smile and sigh with relief as they wait for the next step in the process.
Giving Love to People
When Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White suggested a “beehive” of activity to reach those who need physical and spiritual healing, she might have envisioned one of the Pathway to Health mega-clinics. Even though it is Easter Sunday, in the hours before the official opening, hundreds of volunteers had been walking around, giving the final touches to the makeshift health-care complex. They are placing scores of signs; making sure supplies are labeled and in their proper place; discussing procedures and last-minute changes; giving instructions to their respective teams; and praying for the people they are planning to meet after the door opens.
“Your job is to go around, giving love to people,” Tony Anobile, North American Division vice-president for multilingual ministries, tells a group of chaplains listening to him in a corner. “It is to be attentive to their needs.”
In another section of the hulking venue, pediatrician Lee Meadows from Maryland makes sure his plush Easter bunny is ready to be deployed. He smiles as he gives final instructions to his team. They also commit to making their little patients’ lives better by providing the care they need.
Against the stands on one side, dozens of professionals and volunteers serving in the extensive vision section make the final touches to the table, which displays free glasses to be offered to those who need them. “Remember to repeat our motto from time to time,” the team leader reminds her team. “Now, say it with me, ‘Who cares? Eye care!’ Say it louder, ‘Who cares? Eye care!’ ”
Close to the western entrance of the building, volunteer interpreters pin their distinctive signs to their t-shirts as they get ready to serve. Most of the signs read “Spanish,” but there are also “Portuguese,” “French,” and “Burmese” signs, among others. In a stand dozens of feet above ground level, local volunteer Francesca Prophete waits to be called to serve. Originally from Haiti, she studied in Taiwan. At the clinic, she offers interpreting assistance in French, Creole, and Chinese.
‘A Fire Has Been Reported’
The massive logistical operation seems to be running smoothly. But just as everyone gets ready to start letting people in, a fire alarm goes off. The stadium speakers command everyone repeatedly to walk to the nearest exit and leave the building. There is no room to bargain. Everyone immediately complies.
Outside the stadium, the volunteers find a chilly April morning. Not every one had time to grab a jacket. They chat calmly, wondering if it’s a drill or if there is an actual fire. But then, someone begins to lead in a spiritual tune. “He’s able, He’s able, I know He’s able, I know my Lord is able to carry me through,” she sings. Many follow.
Registered nurse volunteer Donna Hales-Teat, from South Bend, Indiana, soon becomes the unappointed leader of the diverse army of volunteers.
“This is no time for small talk, people,” she rallies with a voice that overpowers all the mutter and mumble. “It’s time to praise the Lord, and it’s time to pray. Someone doesn’t want us to do this ministry today, to meet all the people who will come. Remember, this is a war,” she says.
After 15 minutes, volunteers and leaders are allowed back into the stadium, which feels cozy, welcoming, and even embracing.
Cozy, welcoming, and embracing. Another kind of fire. Just what patients need as they search for better health and more perfect hope.