Cathy and I learned over the past 8-10 years to never make the following statement; “We will never make another move!” We are more convinced than ever God desires we keep everything in an open hand, including our place of residence. The Bible clearly teaches we are strangers and sojourners on this earth, and our responsibility to Him is to go where He leads. A pastor friend once told me he always kept his tent pegs loosely driven so they could be pulled-up easily and his tent quickly moved when the Master calls. True discernment is knowing it is the Master who is calling.
The desire to move from Fayetteville grew stronger as we considered the opportunities in Branson. The painful relationship reality was in moving away from Ginny and her family all of whom we dearly loved. In a very tearful exchange one evening, I told Ginny her Mom and I believed God was calling us to make this difficult move, but it would only be for a short while. Our plans were to spend 3 or 4 years in medical practice in Branson and return to Fayetteville following my retirement. I have not forgotten that promise made 7 years ago, nor will Ginny allow me to forget!
The decision was finalized, and we moved in November 2005 to Branson where I assumed the directorship of the Wound Care Clinic at Skaggs Regional Medical Center. We bought a wonderful home which was an easy 5 minutes drive from the hospital. This allowed me to come home for lunch, a luxury we had not previously enjoyed. The house was large enough to accommodate all of our kids and grandkids when they were able to visit. The Wound Clinic was staffed with outstanding nurses, all of whom had a heart for God, and we received permission from the hospital administration we could witness the love of Christ to all of our patients as it was appropriate. The clinic facilities were adequate but cramped for space, particularly the area where we had the large hyperbaric chambers. I advised the administration early on if they were serious about the clinic growing in patient population and revenue the facilities needed to be remodeled and expanded. Initially they were reluctant to invest the necessary capital until they were certain I was willing to work hard enough to bring that about. I was 66 years old at my hiring, but told them I would work for 4 or 5 more years, as long as my health allowed me. Within my third year, the hospital completed a major remodeling project, and the Wound Clinic was then a beautiful, large facility fully capable of continued growth.
Late in my second year at the clinic, I met a man named Don Rhoads who had an uncomplicated but annoying wound problem. He and his wife were planning a relatively long mission trip to Budapest, Hungary, and he didn’t want a continuing wound issue since he didn’t know what quality of medical care he would find there. As we talked about Budapest and the fact Cathy and I had been there several times on mission trips, I also told him a little about our experience in Florida and a faith-based medical clinic that for us was a failure. I saw him as a patient on one more occasion as follow-up, and his problem was quickly resolving. They were planning to go to Budapest in January, 2008 and I received a phone call from him in early December 2007 asking if I would consider meeting with him and a chaplain friend for lunch at Bob Evans Restaurant. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the start-up of a faith-based medical clinic in Branson. To say I was excited about the possibility of such a clinic would be like asking if there are any entertainment shows in Branson.
I met with Don and Richard McCool from Lake Eufala, Oklahoma at Bob Evans for a lunch meeting which was to change my future life ministry in Branson. Richard was a chaplain with an organization called Christian Resort Ministries whose ministry is to place chaplains in R.V. parks across the country, and also to help start faith-based medical clinics specifically for people without medical insurance. The purpose of the clinics was to provide quality medical care and medications free of charge, and to have each patient have a face to face meeting with a trained chaplain who would present the simple gospel and pray with each one. His organization (CRM) had started and was helping manage 2 other medical clinics. God had impressed them Branson was an ideal place for a similar clinic since there was a very large population of uninsured people. The entertainment industry work was seasonal and most of the shows do not provide medical insurance as a benefit. Richard said CRM was looking for a Christian physician with a heart for ministry who would take the lead in starting such a work. The preliminary organizational work in Branson began about 6 months prior to our meeting and had included several area pastors and church leaders from different denominations. The work was not to be tied to a specific denomination. Richard asked if I would consider praying about being the director of such a work to which I replied, “No, I don’t need to pray about it. God had given me the vision of my involvement in such a clinic about 15 years ago, and I believe this may be the fulfillment of that vision!” Within a week of our initial meeting, I met with Chaplain Dennis Maloney, President of CRM and our hearts immediately connected as I experienced the passion he exhibited for such a medical work in Branson.
Without going into the hours of hard work done by many people over the next 10 months The Free Medical Clinic of the Ozarks opened in Branson on November 8, 2008. The Executive Director of the clinic was Ed Williams, and the story of his involvement with the clinic will be recounted on another post. There was a board consisting of 6 other people beside me; a physician staff of 14; a nursing staff of 20; a trained chaplain staff of 16 and at least 30 other ancillary staff. All of these saints were volunteers as there were to be no paid staff positions. The physician, PA’s and nurses agreed to volunteer for at least one shift per month.
FMCO (Free Medical Clinic of the Ozarks) has been a work of God from its inception, and I have been privileged to experience His mighty hand through it. A number of people have referred to the clinic as “my clinic” when discussing the work with me. I have assured them all the clinic is definitely not “mine.” I was simply given the privilege of joining with a very large number of Christians who had heard from God and responded with a “yes” when He invited them to join in His work. — to be continued