April 30, 2016

Volunteers Go to Los Angeles to Bless but Leave Blessed

Updated May 3, 2016, with new figures and details about the next free clinics

Some 4,400 volunteers descended on Los Angeles in hope of making a difference in other people’s lives.

Instead, many said they had received the blessing at the Seventh-day Adventist-organized free mega-clinic that wrapped up Friday at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

“It makes a difference to see our church as the actual hands and feet of Christ and not just handing out literature — which is wonderful, don’t get me wrong,” said Debra Dehning, a social worker from Omaha, Nebraska, who worked as office manager in the mega-clinic’s cardiology section.

“But we’re actually doing what Christ has asked us to do: to get out there and serve the people, and it is on such a mega-scale,” Dehning said. “You feel that you are here to bless these people, but they are blessing us by allowing us to serve them like this.”

The mega-clinic, organized by the Your Best Pathway to Health organization in partnership with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is the largest ever organized in the United States, assisting 8,537 people from April 27 to 29. 

“This has been the largest number of patients Pathway to Health has ever served,” said Costin Jordache, communication director for the event. “We are thrilled to have been able to bring hope and healing to over 8,500 residents of this great city.”

Organizers had hoped to provide $30 million worth of free medical, dental, and others services to 10,000 people. But the event got off to a slow start, with attendance only swelling after a series of reports on local and national television.

Still the event easily surpassed its goal of providing 1,000 surgeries, Jordache said. A total of 1,504 people received general and minor surgical procedures at the convention center and another 41 people underwent major surgeries at the Glendale Adventist Medical Center and the White Memorial Medical Center. Another 376 people received obstetrics and gynecology procedures and surgeries.

The previous mega-clinic record, nearly 6,200 patients in three days, was reached in San Antonio, Texas, in April 2015. Mega-clinics also have been staged in Spokane, Washington, and in the California cities of San Francisco and Oakland. A fifth mega-clinic is scheduled for Beckley, West Virginia, on July 13 to 16, while others are being planned for Boston, New York, and Detroit, said Lela Lewis, president of Your Best Pathway to Health.

Patients traveled to the Los Angeles Convention Center from as far away as northern Idaho, and many offered heartfelt gratitude to the volunteers, the Adventist Church, and God for the care that they received.

Read also: Idaho Snowstorm Brings Patient to Free Clinic in Los Angeles

The volunteers —a mix of Adventist believers and others from across North America and beyond — also left an impression on convention center workers.

A female convention center employee told one volunteer that after other healthcare organizations use the facility, she has to clean up trash and cigarette butts in the loading area.

“But you people are different. None of that stuff was on the ground!” she said, according to Bill Krick, a mega-clinic volunteer who works as Literature Ministries director for the Adventist Church’s Central California Conference.

“So Many Hugs”

Bonnie Peebles, a sonographer from the Adventist-owned Kettering Medical Center in Ohio, was volunteering at her second mega-clinic after previously participating in San Antonio. She said she was overwhelmed by the gratitude of patients in the cardiology section.

“They are so grateful. I’ve gotten so many hugs,” Peebles said.

Seated nearby, Carrie Smith, also a sonographer from Kettering, nodded her head in agreement. She spoke of seeing crowds of people who desperately needed medical assistance during short-term mission trips abroad, and said she felt sad to see a similar situation at home.

Jordan Richards, a 15-year-old sophomore, joined about 70 classmates from Weimar academy in northern California as volunteers in Los Angeles. He ran errands for the Legal Clinic section, whose team of 10 lawyers and other volunteers assisted 50 to 80 people daily.

“What I think is cool about the whole event is helping people and seeing how … much people care,” Richards said.

Deborah Spicer, a psychiatric nurse, spoke of teaming up for a day with a fellow psychiatric nurse who works with mentally ill sex offenders in northern California.

“She had had no exposure whatsoever to Seventh-day Adventists other than having heard about them,” Spicer said. “She saw flyers and decided to volunteer.”

The woman only managed to get one day off work, and she drove 2 ½ hours to Los Angeles. She was astounded that the patients were so thankful for something as simple as a meal and a referral. Patients were provided box lunches at the mega-clinic.

“She kept saying to me, ‘I can’t believe it. I thought I was coming here to help them, and they’re the ones who are helping me,’” said Spicer, the great-granddaughter of Adventist pioneer W.A. Spicer.

The psychiatric nurse told Spicer: “I’m going home, and I am going to count my blessings. These people have nothing and they are loving, while I have everything and I grumble.”

A Meal and a Haircut

It was a meal that also touched the heart of Sandy Torres, who works for a pharmaceutical manufacturer in San Jose, California, and served as a lifestyle coach at the mega-clinic.

At lunchtime, Torres took three extra lunches outside the convention center with a prayer that God would show her someone who needed a meal. People who approached her got the first two lunches, and Torres wondered whether she was giving the meals to the right people. Then she spotted a frail woman with sad eyes looking in her direction.

When their eyes met, the woman’s face lit up, Torres said.

Torres walked over to her and asked, “Do you need a lunch?”

“Thank you,” the woman replied. “I am so hungry.”

Torres smiled as she remembered the moment.

“I hugged her, and she hugged me back,” she said.

“As I went back into the convention center, I just felt the presence of God and I just felt like that was the reason He sent me outside,” she said. “She was hungry, and the Lord made sure that she had food. It just really broke my heart.”

Over in the beauty salon section, Tabitha Escobat, a hair stylist from Brickings, Oregon, said she had worried that her contribution to the mega-clinic was small compared to that of medical doctors. But then she cut the hair of a Jamaican woman.

“She said this was the best day that she had ever had in America,” Escobat said, pausing from cleaning a pile of combs. “She said she has never felt such love and compassion. She said you could never go to a hospital and get this much love and compassion. And that made my day! It made me so happy that we could all come together and do this as a group.”

Escobat joined her parents and three sisters at the mega-clinic. Her mother had learned about it from an acquaintance at Weimar academy.

“We decided, ‘Let’s go and make a big old trip out of it,’” Escobat said.

In addition to cutting hair, she gave pedicures alongside her parents. About 70 people received pedicures on Thursday alone, she said.

“I love that I can be around so many Christians because you feel that you are being filled with the Holy Spirit,” she said with a bright smile. “I feel that there is such a happy presence here.”

Now she and her family are talking about how they can also make a difference back at home in Oregon.

“We are trying to come up with ideas on how to help our community,” she said.

Hope Channel (HopeTV.orgis broadcasting a 30-minute daily news program with highlights from event at 8 p.m. Eastern Time, Wednesday through Friday. A special Sabbath program will air at 10:30 a.m. The first two programs can be viewed below

Wednesday’s news broadcast from the mega-clinic in Los Angeles. (NAD)

Thursday’s news broadcast from the mega-clinic in Los Angeles. (NAD)