The World at Our Doorstep

When the nations come knocking


“Mrs. E” was alone and frightened. On her way to a housecleaning job, she was headed toward the subway when she suddenly lost her footing. She had regained consciousness in an unknown place, surrounded by lights, equipment and medical personnel. But the first thoughts that rushed through her mind were not related to her medical condition. How will I pay for this? What will happen to my sons if I am deported?

One of Mrs. E’s sons had attended New Life Fellowship, an afflliated Alliance church in Queens, N.Y., for a few years and was involved in a small group that encouraged each member to invite nonbelievers. A year before his mother’s accident, he had invited two women (one his sister-in-law) to church, and they both accepted Christ in the first Bible study they attended. Their conversions led to a deeper connection between church members and Mrs. E and her family.

Fresh Start

Since 1987, when New Life Fellowship began as one of The Alliance’s Easter 100 church plants, its members have been surrounded by the overwhelming needs of immigrants and the poor in Queens. Elmhurst, our church’s neighborhood, is considered the most diverse neighborhood in the world—167,000 people representing more than 130 nationalities live in a 2.4-square-mile area.

The first small group the church started in the fall of 1987 was composed primarily of immigrant medical personnel who had come to New York City to fill the nursing shortage. These nurses worked at the city hospital in Elmhurst. Over the years, more healthcare professionals gravitated to the church, drawn by its heart for serving the community in practical ways and its desire to promote missions in many of the countries where they had been born and still had family.

This concentration of medical workers inspired us to send a short-term missions team to the Philippines in 1996. However, it became apparent that developing medical teams for short-term missions would be difficult—and it was becoming increasingly clear that the world was all around us right here in Elmhurst. As the needs of our “neighbors” literally fell on the doorsteps of the church’s offices, we began Bridge to Life Homeless Ministry and New Life Learning Academy to reach out to members of the community who needed food, clothing and English lessons. But we began to feel that we should do more with the gifts of the people in our congregation.

Using all of Us

Our church’s Asian ministry leaders began wrestling with what it looked like to serve and steward everything that God had entrusted to us. Their spiritual struggle helped us to realize that beyond financial resources, the acquired skills and life experiences that God had allowed us were also to be given back to Him. Many in the group were not going to preach, lead Bible studies or sing in the worship team or choir. But they had other skills, gifts and talents to bring to the Kingdom of God to be used for fulfilling the Great Commission.

As the church members read through the gospels, it was hard to miss the fact that physical needs, specifically those related to health, were central to Jesus’ ministry. He healed the sick and raised the dead, many times using their physical situations as a way to address the bigger issue of spiritual health. These encounters also provided opportunities for Jesus to touch the family and friends who surrounded those who were sick.

Being There

Just as the church began to look at ways we could use all of ourselves to help our community, Mrs. E fell down the subway stairs. As with the people we read about in the gospels, the spiritual needs of Mrs. E’s family exceeded the bleak physical circumstances in which they lived. One of the family members had experienced divorce, there was drug use among them, one struggled with sexual identity and a daughter-in-law had had two miscarriages within a short time. Added to these concerns were the poverty of Mrs. E’s children and grandchildren who remained in Southeast Asia, expired immigration papers and no health insurance.

Mirroring the love of Jesus, the nurses who attended our church came to Mrs. E’s aid at the hospital. They comforted her in the post-op room and assured her that they would take care of her. After Mrs. E was discharged, the nurses attended to her physical needs, and over time, she recovered from her head injury and broken leg.

During the next year New Life members had more opportunities to both live out and speak the gospel to Mrs. E and her family. We found out that she had cancer and was not given much hope for survival. Without health insurance and with expired immigration documents, her options were limited. Mrs. E wanted to see her children and grandchildren and be buried in her homeland, so her family had a large party and wished her well as she returned to Southeast Asia. Within a month, she passed away.

Going Further

Mrs. E’s story is repeated in many immigrant families in Elmhurst. It is not by chance that God placed our church here. The latest statistics from the Department of Health rank our community as having the highest percentage of uninsured individuals in all of New York City. Forty-two percent of the children born in Elmhurst have very late or no prenatal care. With so many members of New Life Fellowship employed in the medical field—and in light of our experience with Mrs. E and her family—we felt that God was calling us to steward these skills through outreach to Elmhurst.

In the spring of 2000 we discovered an organization called the Christian Community Health Fellowship, which encourages faith-based community health centers among the poor. Several church members attended the organization’s annual conference and began meeting and praying to discern what God would have us do. A team of 15 individuals planned our first community health fair in January 2001. Early that summer, we held an outdoor health fair in the parking lot of the building the church was renting, and by mid-summer we had moved the health fairs to several local parks.

The commitment continues as we hold six outdoor community health fairs annually in the local parks. These events have served more than 2,500 immigrants from 50 countries. Three years ago, after renting for 17 years, our church finally was able to purchase a facility. The old commercial kitchen on the first floor of this 50,000-square-foot facility is being converted into a Christian community health center.

Phase I of construction of the health center is completed and includes three exam rooms (one for pediatrics) and a nurses’ station. Phases II and III are under way and will include a dental exam room, social work office, pharmacy, lab space and an X-ray room, as well as a pastoral counseling room. We have a free drop-in clinic on Tuesday evenings and Saturdays, operated by volunteer health professionals. A large group of business people, a graphic artist, construction workers, computer and phone technicians, marketing professionals, administrative professionals and homemakers have used their gifts to make this ministry a reality. Services and goods have been donated, including hundreds of hours of construction labor.

“I’ll Take a Prayer”

From the start of this ministry, we said that we didn’t need to build a Christian community health center as long as we continued to share the love of Christ with individuals like Mrs. E through our park ministry. But God wanted both, and by His grace, the health center is nearly complete.

God is using New Life Fellowship to share His love and healing touch with many individuals in our community whom the church may never reach otherwise. We have seen Jews, Muslims, Hindus and atheists stand in line for health professionals to take their blood pressure, test their blood sugar levels and perform basic eye exams. One Jewish gentleman made it very clear that he was not interested in religion. But by the time he was finished with the health screening, he said, “Well, I’ll take one of those prayers.”

Faraway So Close

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31–32). Doctors and nurses have a great opportunity to share the love of Christ and the healing power of the gospel. In the years to come, we hope that many more young people from New Life Fellowship and other Alliance churches will choose occupations in the medical field and see their professions as a calling to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Every summer, New Life Fellowship uses volunteers to assist with the community health fairs. Over the years, health fairs have blossomed into a ministry through which more than 75 volunteers have cared for more than 3,000 people from 50 nations. “I have been amazed how Jesus Christ has come alive to so many people over these past seven years through the ministry of the health center. At the same time, it has been incredible how God has touched, and in some cases brought to first-time faith, nurses, doctors and others who have come to help serve!” says Pete Scazzero, senior pastor of New Life Fellowship.

Doctors and nurses are always welcome, but we also need nonmedical personnel to help set up tables and tents, handle registration, provide drinks and guide people through our “Salvation Survey.” If you have a heart for the nations, contact New Life Community Health Center at nlchc@optonline.net or 1-718-565-9844.

—David Jennings

Past Alliance Life Issues


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