Patrick Sawyer called it a divine appointment.
When he came on staff at Valleydale Church, Birmingham, as community connections pastor in summer 2019, he thought health screenings might be a great way to bless the community.
“But I had no clue where to go from there,” Sawyer said.
So he started doing some research, and what he found was a local health care provider who was on the exact same page.
Justin R. Johnston, executive director of the Community of Hope Health Clinic (CHHC), had been leading a team of volunteer doctors, nurses and interpreters for years at their clinic in Pelham, serving in large part the Spanish-speaking community there.
“Our goal at Community of Hope is to give primary care access to the residents of Shelby County who are at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, have no access to government programs such as Medicaid or Medicare or have private health insurance,” said Johnston, a member of NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville.
Sawyer’s goal was to connect those same people to a faith community.
So in November, the two held their first collaborative event — a one-day health clinic with doctors, optometrists and other health care providers. They prescribed glasses, administered flu shots and performed blood sugar and blood pressure checks, all at no cost to participants.
A couple of doctors from Valleydale Church participated, as well as many general volunteers including Andres Pardo, pastor of the church’s Hispanic congregation, Iglesia Valleydale.
“He’s got a heart for evangelism,” Sawyer said. “He met with pretty much all of the people who came through, invited them to church and shared the gospel with them.”
At the event, volunteers distributed bags with hygiene and first-aid items, as well as a gospel tract and church information in Spanish and information on how to become a patient at CHHC.
Then after the event, when the glasses arrived, Pardo was able to meet with the families and take them their glasses, which they received free of charge.
“Some of the families are coming regularly on Sundays now,” Sawyer said.
Before, the Spanish service at Iglesia Valleydale might have 10 in attendance at most — now they’re running between 35 and 50.
“It’s just taken off,” Sawyer said. “We’re seeing it explode, and we give all the glory to God.”
For CHHC, the partnership was a shot in the arm too, Johnston said. They’ve continued to work with other churches and are planning to replicate the model soon with Shelby Baptist Association in another part of Shelby County.
And Johnston’s team plans to conduct a second health screening day with Valleydale Church at the Express Oil Change and Tire Engineers’ training center. The date and times will be confirmed once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
“We want to blend gospel proclamation with gospel demonstration,” Sawyer said. “This is a perfect way for us to do that.