Cathy and I learned over the years to never make the statement; “We will never make another move!” We are fully convinced God desires we keep everything in an open hand including our place of residence. The Bible teaches we are strangers and sojourners on this earth, and our responsibility is to go where He leads. A pastor friend once said he 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 calling.
The desire to move from Fayetteville grew stronger as we considered the opportunities in Branson. The most painful reality was moving away from Ginny and her family 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 move, but it would only be for a short while. Our plans were to spend three or four years in Branson and return to Fayetteville following my retirement. I have not forgotten the promise made years ago nor will Ginny allow me to forget!
The decision was finalized, and we moved to Branson in November, 2005 for me to begin the directorship of the Wound Care Clinic at Skaggs Regional Medical Center. We bought a large, beautiful home which was an easy five minutes drive to 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 to 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 which had three hyperbaric oxygen chambers. I advised the administration early on if they were serious about clinic growth the facilities needed to be remodeled and expanded. Initially there was reluctance to invest the necessary capital until they were more certain I was was going to stay and work hard. I was sixty-six years old, but told them I would work four or five more years as long as my health allowed. Within the third year the hospital completed a major remodeling project, and the Wound Clinic was a beautiful, large facility capable of continued growth.
Late into my second year, 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 the quality of medical care there. As we talked about Budapest I told him Cathy and I had been there several times on mission trips. I also told him a little about our Florida experience with the faith-based medical clinic. I saw him in the clinic on one more occasion for follow-up, and his problem was quickly resolving. They were planning to leave for Budapest in January, 2008, and I received a phone call from him in early December, 2007 asking if I would meet with him and a chaplain friend for lunch. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a faith-based medical clinic in Branson. To ask if 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 Restaurant for a meeting which was about to change our future life ministry in Branson. Richard was a chaplain with an organization called Christian Resort Ministries whose goals are to place chaplains in R.V. parks across the country, and to assist in the start-up of faith-based medical clinics for the medically uninsured. The purpose of each clinic was to provide quality medical care and medicines free of charge, and for each patient have a face to face meeting with a trained chaplain who would present the gospel and pray with them. His organization (CRM) had started and was helping manage two other medical clinics. God had impressed them Branson was an ideal place for a such a 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. Richard said CRM was looking for a Christian physician with a heart for ministry who would be willing to take the lead for such a work. The preliminary organizational work had began six months prior and included several area pastors and church leaders from different denominations. The clinic was not to be tied to a specific church or denomination. Richard asked if I would consider praying about becoming the director to which I replied, “No, I don’t need to pray about it. God had given me the vision of of such a clinic fifteen years ago.” Within a week of our initial meeting, I met with Chaplain Dennis Maloney, President of CRM and our hearts immediately connected. I saw the passion he had for such a medical and spiritual work in Branson, and I was thrilled to get started.
Many hours of hard work were done by some faithful people over the next ten months, and The Free Medical Clinic of the Ozarks opened on November 8, 2008. The Executive Director of the clinic was Ed Williams, and the story of his involvement in the work will be recounted in another post. The board for the clinic consisting of seven people including me; a physician staff of fourteen; a nursing staff of twenty; a chaplain staff of sixteen and at least thirty ancillary staff. All of the staff were volunteers as there were to be no paid 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. Many people have referred to the clinic as belonging to me, but I have assured them the clinic is definitely not mine. I was given the privilege of joining a large number of Christians who heard from God and responded with “yes” when invited to join in His work. For me FMCO was the fulfillment of a vision from a faithful God.