By Melissa Hinnen *

In the heart of uptown New Orleans, historic Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church had its steeple destroyed and sanctuary badly damaged from Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Working with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the church has been deeply involved in the rebuilding of the City of New Orleans, hosting hundreds of volunteers.

In the midst of rebuilding the church and its ministries, the congregation recognized a need for more than bricks and mortar support in their community. Medical issues, compounded by the stress of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, along with the rising population of uninsured and underinsured residents (many of whom are now homeless), were creating an excessive burden on an already fragile infrastructure.

More Than Medical Care

The Rev. Carol Winn Crawford of Rayne Memorial, had visited Clinic with a Heart, a free clinic at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Nebraska and was motivated to create something similar in New Orleans. “Most of our hospitals are still closed, many doctors have not returned and in the entire city, there are only seven psychiatrists,” Crawford explained, “the number of homeless individuals and families has skyrocketed and helping people find mental stability is key to helping them begin to restore their lives. So while we are still helping homeowners rebuild, it is equally important for us to provide appropriate healthcare.”

Working with UMCOR, Crawford had access to resources and consultants as well as funding. Ted Warnock, a Global Ministries missionary assigned to UMCOR, played a significant role in planning for and organizing the clinic. His expertise in legal and operational issues was especially appreciated. He spent months working with the Louisiana Annual Conference, District, and local church leadership personnel in a consulting and advisory capacity. After consulting other free medical clinics and conducting extensive research, Warnock developed a pre-operational feasibility study. This study (along with the development of operational policies, organizational manuals, budget drafts, and other operational forms) led to the development of a legal entity to operate the free medical clinic. With the formal creation of the Board, and approval of the initial operational budget to open and operate a free medical clinic, Warnock turned over all of the information accumulated to these visionary leaders.

The initial funding came through a grant from the Louisiana United Methodist Health Systems Foundation, allowing UMCOR funding to stretch further in the rebuilding of individual houses. Rayne Memorial and individuals also contributed to the initial funding, with Mt. Zion United Methodist Church housing the clinic.

“The collaboration of Rayne Memorial and Mt. Zion United Methodist Church is an example of a ministry that saw a need in the community and reached out beyond the traditional model of congregational health,” said Patricia Magyar, executive for Global Ministries’ Health and Welfare unit. “They maximized the resources available to them and partnered with community groups to develop a holistic approach to serving the needs of those most vulnerable.”

After much preparation and hard work, Luke’s House, a free weekly clinic, opened in November 2007, and has served hundreds of people including pregnant women and children. The clinic is housed in Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. Every Tuesday evening, from 5:00-6:00, the clinic serves the homeless with refreshments, clothing, personal hygiene items and vouchers for a night in the shelter, a hot shower and two meals. They are encouraged to stay and see a doctor but many are concerned they will miss the meal being served at 6:00 in the shelter. “Imagine having to make the choice between receiving a meal and seeing a doctor. We want people to understand they have access to both through our clinic,” Crawford said. The staff has worked out a plan with the shelter to save a dinner for clients who seek medical care.

The free clinic is open to the community from 6:00-8:00 pm and clients have access not only to doctors, but also a pastor, psychologist and social worker. “I think of the man who came to us with a foot infection,” said Jiselle Bock, the clinic’s executive director. “As he filled out his paperwork, it became clear that he was also suffering from anxiety and hopelessness. Our approach treats the whole person – mind, body and spirit. We were able to treat his infection but also help him through some of his responses to everyday problems.”

Connecting With Local Organizations

Bock explained that the struggles to rebuild New Orleans are so great that organizations and individuals have formed a complex network out of necessity. “Before Katrina, an organization would see a problem and perhaps try to fix it alone. Now, the problems are so vast that there is a huge network of people and organizations working together to each take a piece of the problem and meet the need with excellence. We know we cannot do it alone,” Bock reflects.

“Disasters cause Christian people to think creatively in the midst of overwhelming needs. Luke’s House is one of those creative initiatives that grew in the hearts of hurricane survivors who saw the needs ofthose who were in worse circumstances. Luke’s House follows in the Wesleyan tradition of meeting the needs around us,” explains Dr. Don Cottrill, head of Connectional Ministries for the Louisiana Conference.

Crawford and Bock are working with Volunteers in Mission through the Louisiana Conference to expand the clinic. By the summer, they hope to be able to host mission teams of trained and licensed medical staff to run three-day clinics.

“What we are doing is in the spirit of hope. When I saw the man with the foot infection leave with a prescription voucher, a bag of clothes and a smile on his face, I was reminded that we are acting as the hands and feet of Jesus to care for those in need, no matter what their economic situation, “Bock stated.

UMCOR Continues Working Through Local Partners

UMCOR highlights the ongoing work of its local partners in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida as they work to rebuild the lives of individuals and families. For more stories about rebuilding lives and hope, read the BrightSpots newsletter.

* Melissa Hinnen is the staff writer for UMCOR communications