by Chris Meehan
Vancouver-Portland branch members are playing a big role in helping to organize a day-long free health clinic for their north Portland neighbors. It is an ecumenical collaboration bringing together community members and members of a wide range of north Portland churches. Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Presbyterians and Roman Catholics are among those represented.
On August 4, north Portland residents can come to Roosevelt High School to receive free medical, dental and eye exams, chiropractic care and other services. Event planners are following a template created by Compassion Connect, a Christian nonprofit organization that has been a resource for similar clinics around Portland for more than five years.
"This is a unique opportunity for us to connect with and love our neighbors in north Portland as Christ in a very practical way," says principal branch coordinator Charlie Fraga. Seven or eight hundred neighbors and volunteers are expected to participate.
Branch members are hard at work, as leaders of seven of the 15 task forces that are planning and implementing the clinic. Ann Martinez is recruiting translators who speak Spanish, Russian and a host of other languages. Jerome Devlaeminck and Charlie are serving on the finance team. Steve Hansen and Erin Davis are leading a team that will transport and set up medical and dental equipment. Luke Glover and Andrew Ridenour are responsible for security. Liz Cole is lining up childcare and Linda Jo Devlaeminck is organizing a social services fair that will take place during the clinic. Many other branch members are working on these and other task forces.
Fred Dang is organizing transportation for patients to satellite sites--offices of dentists who want to participate but can't set up shop at the high school. "I hope to accomplish this with much prayer, fasting and being open to the Holy Spirit," he says, noting that the time guests spend riding between sites will be a prime time for establishing Christian relationships with them.
The branch has been doing city-building work in north Portland since 2006. The area is now home to 35 adult branch members. Trinity Academy, a school the branch started last fall, and Direct Development, a business that Charlie leads and which employs several community members, are also located in north Portland.
The genesis of the health clinic project dates to the fall of 2010, when branch members living in north Portland were seeking new ways that they could connect with their neighbors in Christ. In that process, Eric Shreves heard about Compassion Connect's efforts in other Portland neighborhoods. He discussed the idea of organizing a north Portland clinic with Charlie and the other branch coordinators. They presented it to the branch for consideration at a January, 2011, community meeting. After researching the idea some more, the branch decided to pursue being a catalyst for launching a north Portland neighborhood clinic.
Fred Dang and several others worked to find pastors to cosponsor the clinic, but they had little success at first. A breakthrough came late in the summer of 2011, when branch members were looking around for space for Trinity Academy and came across Northminster Presbyterian Church. “Not only was the pastor open to having our school at his facility,” says Charlie, “but he liked the idea of the clinic. He introduced us to a group of 30 or so ministers he met with regularly who had real interest in working to bring tangible benefits of the kingdom of God to the area. Several of them had heard about Compassion Connect, but none had been able to devote as much time to investigate it as we had.”
Charlie, Fred and six of the pastors and other Christian leaders agreed to form an executive committee to launch and oversee the clinic. They recently sponsored an official kick-off gathering to attract the 300 to 400 volunteers it will take to care for the expected crowd of 400 on the big day. Nearly all of the 175 attendees signed up as volunteers. The executive director of the Compassion Connect resource center in Portland said that this was by far the most highly attended kickoff event he had ever seen.
"Being a big player in the organization of a clinic like this is new territory for our branch," says Charlie. "We expect some glitches and time crunches along the way, but we are excited to reach out to our neighbors in love and to have the chance to build relationships with them. We ask the whole community to join us in prayer for this effort."