New Life Community Health Center: Touching the Nations through Health Services
(Learn more about the Health Center at www.nlchc.org)
Compelled by Christian faith, in partnership with New Life Fellowship, New Life Community Development Corporation and others, we seek to see lives transformed through the provision of ongoing excellence in health care oriented to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of immigrants and the under-insured of west/central Queens in New York City .
- To promote health awareness and provide preventative health education to immigrant and under-insured families
- Encourage health care professionals to work among the under-served and immigrant population in Central Queens
- Establish and develop a primary care facility in Central Queens targeted to serving immigrants and the under-insured
- Promote and encourage health care professions to indigenous young people from within the community by providing them with mentoring, scholarships, internships and career counseling
History – seeds that led to the health center launch
Mrs. B 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. B’s sons had attended New Life Fellowship for a few years and was involved in a small group that encouraged each member to invite non-believers. A year before his mother’s accident, he had invited two women (one his sister-in-law) to the small group, and they both accepted Christ that first night. Their conversions led to a deeper connection between church members and Mrs. B and her family.
Since 1987, when New Life Fellowship was founded, its members have been surrounded by the overwhelming needs of immigrants and the poor in Queens, N.Y. Elmhurst, our church’s neighborhood, is considered the most diverse neighborhood in the world where167,000 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 Cityto 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 thePhilippinesin 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 Academyto 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 Kingdomof Godto 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.
Just as the church began to look at ways we could use all of ourselves to help our community, Mrs. B fell down the subway stairs. As with the people we read about in the gospels, the spiritual needs of Mrs. B’s family exceeded the bleak physical circumstances in which they lived. Added to these concerns were the poverty of her 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. B’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. B. 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 Fellowship Churchmembers had more opportunities to both live out and speak the gospel to Mrs. B 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. B 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.
Mrs. B’s story is repeated in many immigrant families in Elmhurst. It is not by chance that God placed our church in this community. 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 Elmhursthave 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 ministering to Mrs. B and her family, we felt that God was calling us to steward these skills through outreach to Elmhurst.
In the spring of 2000 we found 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 to eight community outdoor health fairs annually in the local parks. These outdoor health fairs have served more than 3,500 immigrants from 80 plus countries of origin. In December of 2003, 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 has been converted into a Christian community health center.
Three phases of construction were completed over six years. The health center now consist of four exam rooms (one for pediatrics), two dental exam rooms, a social work office, pharmacy, lab space, medical workers room, pastoral counseling office, and bathroom with shower area for our homeless clients. Our free drop-in clinic on Tuesday evenings and Saturdays is 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 thousands 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. B through our park ministry. But God wanted both, and by His grace, the health center is nearly complete.
God is using New Life Community Health Center to share His love and healing touch to 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 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.”