|edical missionary work, it seems, is no longer restricted to what many people in North America might term poor countries.
In July 60 Minutes reaired a report about a U.S. relief organization called Remote Area Medical—RAM, for short. RAM is known for setting up free short-term medical clinics in the jungles of the Amazon and other areas where the needs are pressing.
“But these days that’s not the Amazon,” cites a CBS news report about the program.* “This charity founded to help people who can’t reach medical care finds itself throwing America a lifeline.”
RAM founder Stan Brock, 72, goes beyond the usual understanding of the word “dedicated.” He receives no salary for his work, and at the time of the 60 Minutes report he lived, with the city’s permission, in an abandoned school building in Knoxville, Tennessee. And he’s a popular man with those in the region who can’t afford health care.
On a weekend last winter, RAM took over an exhibit hall in the city and set up its 524th clinic. During those two days, 276 volunteers from 11 states, including medical doctors, dentists, and optometrists, “saw 920 patients, made 500 pairs of glasses, did 94 mammograms, extracted 1,066 teeth, and did 567 fillings.” And even after helping so many people, in the end, 400 had to be turned away.
Individuals and families drove as many as 200 miles and waited in their cars in 27-degree weather in hopes of receiving the medical care they needed.
“This has truly been a godsend to us. To me and my family. And to all the hundreds of people that’s here,” one man told the CBS reporter. “I see the faces. The relief in the faces. This has been a wonderful thing.”
Even though RAM was designed for remote places in Third World countries, about 60 percent of its work is now being done in America, cites the report. And it doesn’t appear that will change in the near future—the number of uninsured in this country is teetering at 50 million, and growing.
For many Christians in North America the word “mission” evokes the stereotypical image of remote world regions across the seas where we provide food, clothing, and basic medical needs to those who can barely boast the necessities of life. We share with them our finances, our skills, and, most important, the love of a Savior who died for every one of us. But even though the Adventist Church has certainly never neglected to help those in need in North America, the story of Brock and the other hundreds of volunteers committing their time and expertise to assist the destitute in America as well as abroad has reformed my view on the need for humanitarian work right in our own backyard.
Thousands of church members throughout the U.S. faithfully serve others in their neighborhoods through some 1,500 local Adventist Community Services centers. Adventist Disaster Response volunteers—including hundreds of young adults—move quickly to areas where storm devastation has sometimes cost survivors everything they own. And many—if not most—of us do what we can to provide a helping hand when needed to those who might live just down the street or even right next door.
But during this time in the U.S. of record-high gas prices, countless home foreclosures, escalating inflation, and the increasing number of families who can no longer afford health insurance, perhaps we need to reemphasize the call to be the hands and feet of Jesus, not only abroad but also in America.
Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question “Who is my neighbor?” basically was—everyone (Luke 10:29-37). It was a call for His disciples not to callously walk by those who are injured, ill, hungry, or in despair. It was a command for those who call the Lord “Father” to follow His example of love and compassion by serving others whenever and wherever possible.
Perhaps we should rethink our priorities. We might be unable to routinely commit large blocks of time to community service work, but isn’t there something each of us could do—even in a small way?
Check with your church’s Community Services center or another aid organization in your area. Chances are, they can use your help.
Or even just look around you. Dire needs are abundantly evident.
Sandra Blackmer is assistant editor of the Adventist Review.