The opening of The Free Medical Clinic of the Ozarks (FMCO) on November 8, 2008 was the fulfillment of a vision God had given me at least 15 years earlier, and He had placed that same vision in the hearts of many others. One of the miraculous stories concerning its’ opening involved the position of Executive Director. In June 2008, the clinic board met and discussed the search for a man qualified to research and go through the legal and administrative hoops needed to establish such an undertaking, making certain the clinic followed all the necessary guidelines. The board then asked me to find that man! I had no idea where to start looking but just committed it to prayer along with Cathy and the board members. A week later on Sunday following the 11 am worship service, our Sunday school class was preparing for the monthly lunch we had at the church in the Fellowship Hall. Standing near the door to the kitchen and waiting for his wife to go home for their lunch was Ed Williams, a fellow choir member and good friend whose roots were in South Arkansas. Ed and Jackie had recently moved to Branson, and by their own admission, were not certain why they had chosen Branson. They had been married for only 17 years since this was the second marriage for both. Jackie’s husband died in an auto accident many years earlier while they were serving in the military in Germany. Ed’s wife Dixie was from El Dorado, and I knew her well since she was in my high school graduating class. Dixie had died from a malignant tumor several years before Ed and Jackie decided to join their lives together.
In the brief conversation with Ed that Sunday morning, Ed said to me, “Did you know that Dixie and I had a foster home in Russellville, Arkansas and had 7 or 8 foster children that we raised?” “I had no idea that you had done that,” I responded. “That had to take a lot of administrative skill to accomplish starting a foster home. Would you sit down for 5 minutes and let me tell you what God is doing regarding a free medical clinic in Branson?” In that short time I explained the clinic concept to Ed and told him that I believed he had the administrative skills, the heart and the wisdom to be the director of our proposed clinic. He thought for a minute and said, “John, you sure know how to ruin a man’s Sunday afternoon.” Ed called the next day and said that God had spoken to him, and that he would accept the position, but was frightened over the huge responsibilities he would have and needed our help and prayers. Within the next 4 months, Ed, the clinic board and many other Godly people were used by God to make the clinic a reality.
There were other amazing stories regarding the clinic’s beginning, but the fact it was organized and became operational in such a short time, testifies to God’s sovereign hand in it. Early in the planning I was hopeful we could have the clinic open at least one evening every other week and build on that to try to have clinic hours at least two nights each week. As I called one physician after another to request that they volunteer, their responses were amazing and soon there were 16 doctors who had agreed to serve. A larger number of nurses volunteered and an equally large number of other volunteers signed up. There were also 16 laymen and preachers who agreed to be trained as chaplains. We were astounded by the response and when the clinic opened we were scheduled to see patients on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6 to 9 PM. Patients are seen by appointments only so we can manage the number of patients who the physician sees at each clinic. In the beginning all of the physicians were in active family practices and after a long day in their respective work place coming to the Free Clinic for 3 additional hours made a long day even longer.
The servant work of the Free Clinic could not have been accomplished without the undergirding support of Skaggs Regional Medical Center. Not only does the hospital provide free lab tests and free X Rays, but has provided computer hardware and software, and allowed the clinic to use the Skaggs patient information website. In addition the Dietary Department provides box meals for the volunteers of each evening clinic. In July, 2012 Skaggs leased to the Free Clinic a beautiful office suite in the Medical Plaza in Hollister for one dollar per year! Again, we were all overwhelmed by the generosity poured out which has truly come from God’s hand through others.
Within the first year of the clinic operation Ed Williams believed God had used him to complete his administrative work at the clinic, and the job of Executive Director was assumed by Jerry Lilley on a “temporary” basis. Jerry and his wife Carolyn were founding owners of Lilley’s Landing, a lakeside fishing resort on Lake Taneycomo. His background was that he was the CEO of Labette County Medical Center in Parsons, Kansas for 30 years before his retirement and their move to Branson. Jerry’s expertise and wisdom in managing the clinic was profound, and I told him on more than one occasion that he needed to remain the “temporary director” until Jesus returns. In the latter part of 2011, Jerry was diagnosed with liver cancer and underwent multiple therapies throughout 2012, but his condition gradually worsened. Many days he came to the clinic and worked until he was almost too weak to stand. Jerry’s service for the Lord was completed and he departed this life on September 26, 2012. Tragically, one week prior to Jerry’s death, Ed Williams suffered a massive stroke and remained in a coma in Mercy Hospital in Springfield, where he departed this life on the day of Jerry’s burial, September 29, 2012. Two of the men God used to start and maintain the Free Clinic were called home to their Savior within a few days of each other.
In the second year of operation, we received a call from a retired physician from Effingham, Illinois who said he and his wife had a condominium in Branson and lived here for 2 or 3 months each year. He requested volunteering for 2 morning clinics on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We joyfully included Dr. Del Huelskoetter and his wife, Ann into our FMCO family, and within one or two clinics he became one of our most beloved doctors. His name was a bit of a challenge for most of us to pronounce, so he said, “Just call me, “Dr. Hulls!” Not long after he began his service with us, Ann was diagnosed with a head and neck malignancy, and he had to greatly reduce his time of service because of her continuing treatment regimen. When he finally had to stop his volunteer service, God raised up another retired physician, Dr. Bill Lauderdale who was able to maintain the Tuesday and Thursday morning clinics.
God never begins a work that He does not sustain and make succesful according to His sovereign purposes. I never dreamed our move to Branson would result in so many benefits for both Cathy and me. Having the joys of living near our Branson kids for these past 7 years have exceeded our expectations, and this was our primary reason for the move. The 7 years of work at the Wound Care Clinic was a wonderful climax to my surgical career as I retired from that work in November, 2011. The privilege of seeing the birth and growth of the faith-based Free Medical Clinic has been a highlight of my ministry life for the Lord Jesus. As the work is ongoing and the times are changing rapidly, the plans of Cathy and me are to continue our service for Him as long as He leads, and we serve with great joy and peace in our hearts.