FORT WORTH—Rebekah Naylor devoted 36 years of her life to serving as a medical missionary in India through the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. When she retired in 2009 and returned home to Texas, though, she saw that the Lord was not finished using her skills for his glory.
In India, Naylor had seen firsthand what James wrote in the second chapter of his epistle:
“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)
“I understood well how meeting physical needs and sharing the gospel, leading people to faith, go together,” Naylor said.
She also noticed that the neighborhoods around her home church, Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, had grown increasingly populated by low-income families, many of whom spoke only Spanish. Naylor realized their access to health care, like many other basic needs, was lacking or non-existent—a situation not altogether different from that which she encountered in her international mission work.
“I felt that the church had an opportunity to meet health care needs even as they were already helping with food and other benevolence ministries,” Naylor said. “Thus, the vision of Mercy Clinic was born.”
Today, the Mercy Clinic, located on the Travis Avenue campus, has been fully operational for more than two years, offering free medical services and medications to residents of the 76110 zip code.
Adult residents can make appointments or walk in for care two nights a week for everything from diabetic issues to tooth aches. There is no cost to residents for the services, and clinic volunteers have the opportunity to share the gospel with patients after care has been administered.
Registered Nurse Peggy Leitch serves as the clinic’s executive director and echoed the idea that often the Lord leads Christians to minister to physical needs before explaining that Christ is the salve and answer to spiritual needs.
“You can hardly talk about Jesus when your mouth hurts so bad,” Leitch said, recalling a patient who came to the clinic with a bad toothache that left her unable to eat. “Once you’ve addressed that, they’re much more open to hearing from the Lord.”
In the office, patients not only hear the gospel from clinic workers but also receive Bibles, tracts about knowing Christ and invitations to church and to the Spanish service, Travis en Español. Patients were also invited this summer to bring their children to Travis Avenue’s Vacation Bible School, which was offered in both English and Spanish.
Neldalicia Calpillo has been living in Fort Worth since she was 6-years-old and says the Mercy Clinic has become a vital part of her community. She, along with a handful of other people from the neighborhood, had gathered on the clinic’s porch an hour before it opened in order to be seen by a doctor.
“It’s really important because not everybody can afford the insurance,” Calpillo said. “It’s a great opportunity to help a lot of people in need.”
Members of Travis Avenue find it an important ministry as well, and Leitch says a wide array of them have stepped up to serve at the clinic and at health fairs held throughout the year. Volunteers, she said, include the young, the old and the middle aged, those with doctorate degrees and those with life experience, those who work at home and those who work in the marketplace.
“It brings all these people together,” Leitch said. “It has been a great encouragement for a growing ministry to have such support from the congregation.”
The ministry also has the full support of the church’s leadership.
“Thousands of people around our church do not have access to basic healthcare,” Travis Avenue Pastor Michael Dean said. “The Mercy Clinic is one way for us to touch them with the loving heart and hand of Jesus. Through the clinic, we hope to be a blessing to our community.”
Naylor, who would encourage other churches to prayerfully consider similar ministries if the Lord leads, said the efforts put forth and resources pooled to establish the Mercy Clinic have proven fruitful and blessed of God. The most joyous aspects of the clinic’s development, she says, have been people professing faith in Christ, the church growing in unity, and patients displaying heartfelt gratitude.
“It has been more than worth the investment of time and money as we see people who are helped physically and experience the love of Jesus and then hear the gospel,” Naylor said.