Acknowledge Their Poverty, Empathize with Their Plight

This missions story is told by Kay Johnson, who serves with her husband, Michael, through Out of Nazareth in Pennsylvania.


“The SWAT team was so quiet it would have been easy to ignore. I might have overlooked it, except there was a disheveled young woman at the office door at the same time. She looked to be in her late 30s or early 40s and seemed desperate. She sort of cried out, ‘I really need to see a psychiatrist.’ To make sure I heard her clearly, she repeated, ‘I really need to see a psychiatrist. Do you have one here?’

“She seemed completely unaware of the scenario the police were staging behind her. I tried to be sincere and compassionate in my response, hiding behind her so that she could deflect any projectiles heading my way from a possible firefight while at the same time still curious about the action plan of the police. She is not bulletproof, so I must think quickly. It does not appear the police are after her, so it should be safe to admit her. But then again, I thought, do I open the door or do I keep it closed and hide behind the desk to avoid a stray bullet?

“It’s a tough decision to make at 10:00 a.m. The choices became even more difficult when a middle-aged, haggard looking man and woman walked up and stood behind her. They looked tired and confused, but, like the woman, uncaring about the SWAT team. I knew this couple. They had begged for food from us before. There was no way around it; I had to open the door. I did so slightly and advised the woman that we could not accommodate for mental health services for the day but to return another day when the doctors were available. I then let the hungry couple inside and hurriedly closed the door.

“‘Mrs. Johnson, thank you for helping us. We only had a can of corn to share together,’ the man said. ‘And she,’ he went on pointing at his silent companion, ‘does not like corn, so only I ate last night.’

“I thought to myself, this does not require a deep executive decision or committee meeting. After all, I am here, and, for now, I am Miriam Medical Clinics. We learned in Kenya: never interview the hungry, just feed them. We had some food left from another church event, and I gave it to them. Knowing it would not last beyond a few days, I took some money from the office petty cash, and they were content for now. After they left, I closed the door and again turned my attention to the SWAT team.

“The odd thing about the police was that they were moving so quietly. There were several of them dressed in what looked like less than tactical gear. In my opinion, some of them should have been looking for illegally parked cars and writing tickets based upon their casual gait. Their counterparts, however, were in full gear with helmets, face shields, and Kevlar® vests. After a few of them ran around on foot, either pursuing or cornering a culprit, the whole scene concluded as quietly as it had started. No fireworks were required this time. This is much better than television.

“These are difficult decisions to make before noon. The doctors were not scheduled to arrive that day, and I was hoping for some time to catch up on all the necessary paperwork. Such mundane things as applying for medical billing for insurance companies, catching up on patient demographics, and making sure we have adequate paper supplies—that is the nature of this ministry.

“Miriam Medical Clinics has been tasked with the mission of providing compassionate community care. The people we serve recognize that they are considered undeserving by many in our society. It is difficult for them to access public services without feeling embarrassed. It is impossible for them to feel deserving of those services deemed only for the middle and upper class. We have had to learn to acknowledge their poverty as well as empathize with their plight.

“Healthcare programs that meet clinical mandates and fiscal deadlines will always fail because they miss the humanity of the people they serve. Miriam Medical Clinics has as its primary mandate providing ‘hope disguised as help.’ That is, we recognize that more important than having good laboratory reports and normal body mass index, people want to feel valued.

“In the two years that MMC has been serving in Philadelphia, we have learned that our most important role is to encourage those we serve that there is hope within reach—it is as near as a whisper, thought, and even silent prayer. Our staff recognizes that in order to explain the biometrics and chemical markers of illness, we must first allow the person before us to share what is really causing their disease. The word is dis-ease, because it is a state of being out of ease with oneself, one’s environment, and ultimately the Creator.

“People come to MMC not because they don’t know where to find a doctor, but, more importantly, they want to find someone who offers hope. They won’t confess that hope is what they need, but they will profess that hope is what they find.

“Our mandate is to not only acknowledge the poverty of the people we serve but also to empathize with their plight. In doing so, we take more than the allotted 15 minutes the third-party providers allow. Our team consists of dedicated pharmacists, physicians, physician’s assistants, nurses, dentists, and podiatrists. We also have access to counselors and Christian spiritual advisers and can help our clients and patients navigate through an often confusing and hostile system to get the necessary care.

“As we expand within the Philadelphia metropolitan area, our task will be to maintain the quality of care at each new site. Offering ‘hope disguised as help’ is our calling. Join us!”

WGM can help you get connected with the Johnsons’ ministries in Pennsylvania:

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