When Connie Nguyen’s abdominal pain persisted, she imagined the worst. Her physical symptoms added to the stress she was already feeling – raising small children, she and her husband both working hard but neither with health insurance, the recent death of both her parents. A friend told Connie about Bethesda Health Clinic, but she was hesitant.
“I didn’t know anything about this place. I didn’t know what it was like. I didn’t know if they would accept me,” she remembers. When Connie arrived at the clinic, she was crying, but within just a few minutes, she knew she was in the right place. “The volunteer at the front desk, the first face I saw, was so kind and welcoming. ‘Don’t worry,’ the volunteer said, ‘we can help you.’ And they did! When I got home, I told my husband, ‘I can’t believe there are people who will help us, people we don’t even know!’”
Fast forward a few years, and life looks much different for Connie and her family. At Tyler Junior College and U.T. Tyler, Connie became an RN and then earned her Bachelor’s degree in nursing. Now employed in the cardiac unit at UT Health East Texas, she has a good job and good health insurance. Her husband has followed her into the nursing field, recently receiving his RN and now working on his Bachelor’s degree in nursing. Their busy household includes three generations, her mother and father-in-law, children ages 8 and 9, as well as Connie and her husband. Connie loves her career in nursing, loves the opportunities it has given her to learn and grow. Working 12 hour shifts, she puts in long hours, but she has every other Tuesday off work. What does Connie do with that one precious week day all to herself while her children are in school and her husband is working? She volunteers at Bethesda! “This place is awesome for me. Really there are not words to describe how I feel about Bethesda,” she says. “Nothing I can say will show how grateful I am for what Bethesda did for me. I’d rather “DO something,” and the thing I can DO is volunteer.”
“This place is God’s blessing,” says Connie, her eyes brimming with tears. “I feel warmth in this place. The first time I came, I felt so awkward, but the people at Bethesda helped me feel accepted and that’s why I came back. That’s why I was healed.”
“It’s not what we say, it’s what we do,” Connie emphasizes, “We show what is important to us by sacrificing. This is my way of showing my love for Bethesda and what they do here to help so many people.”
When we think about the mission field, most of us think of faraway places, lands with different cultures and languages, eager for God’s word. The truth is that there are many ways and many places to serve the Lord in the mission field. Missionary Ricky McClenton found his calling and his mission field right here at home in East Texas.
Feeding the homeless in Tyler and Dallas, visiting patients in nursing homes, and writing a monthly “encouragement” newsletter that goes to 500 recipients are just a few of the ways Missionary Ricky McClenton serves the Lord. With non-stop motion, enthusiasm, and deep love, Missionary Ricky ministers whenever and wherever he can, his infectious laugh and kindness full of the joy he finds in his faith and in his call to serve.
To make a living and to finance his many ministries, Missionary Ricky works as a caretaker, serving the same Tyler family for more than 30 years. He is devoted to them, and they to him for the loving care and attention he has faithfully provided for so long.
Missionary Ricky has been so busy caring for others through the years that he neglected his own health. “I was busy, busy and I just wasn’t paying attention. I ate too much, and I was overweight and I just didn’t feel good,” he says. That’s when a fellow church member told Ricky about Bethesda Health Clinic.
“What a GODSEND they have been!” Ricky asserts. Diagnosed with diabetes, Ricky decided it was time to get a hold of himself. “I went to Weight Watchers, and I’ve lost 85 POUNDS! 85 pounds! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?” he exclaims. “My diabetes is under control now, and I FEEL LIKE A NEW PERSON!”
Missionary Ricky gives all the credit for his turnaround to the Lord – and to Bethesda Health Clinic. “I LOVE THIS PLACE” he says, practically shouting. “EVERYONE here is so NICE! There is SCRIPTURE on the walls, which encourages me every time I come. The staff and volunteers are so WELCOMING. I can’t thank them ENOUGH!”
Thanks to the help he received at Bethesda, Missionary Ricky is still in the mission field going full force, with perhaps even more contagious enthusiasm than ever before. “God has BLESSED me more than I EVER thought POSSIBLE,” he exclaims. “I give thanks to HIM and to BETHESDA HEALTH CLINIC!”
Flora Johnson has been a patient at Bethesda Health Clinic since the very early days, and remarkably, she’s been a volunteer at Bethesda just about as long.
“I was driving a school bus,” says Flora, “and it was work I loved. I had to love it! I did it for 35 years! But I couldn’t afford health insurance.” A friend told her about Bethesda and, from the beginning, Flora knew she’d found the medical home she’d wanted for so long. “Everyone was so kind to me. The doctors were so good and gave me very, very good care. And I loved that I have to pay something for my care. I didn’t want to go to a free clinic. Now I don’t have to worry. I can afford to care for myself!”
A diabetic, Flora has some special health issues, and the insulin necessary to control her disease is very expensive. Through a Bethesda program that connects patients with drug companies, Flora can get her insulin for free.
“I was so grateful to be a patient at Bethesda that I wanted to give back,” says Flora. “I started volunteering right away because I appreciate what happens here so very much.” Flora volunteers each Tuesday at the clinic when chiropractor Dr. Mark Hembree volunteers. She helps get paperwork done, and also with packaging and labeling medications.
Flora loves everyone she works with at Bethesda, but she has a special heart for Dr. John English, Bethesda’s medical director. “Oh, that Dr. English, he’s the best!” says Flora. “He’s my friend, and I just love to tease him and mess with him all the time!”
“Bethesda is good for me, and I’m good for Bethesda,” asserts Flora. “I love that it’s accessible to anyone, and that it’s affordable. No matter your medical problem, even if you need to see a specialist, you can get help here.”
When Maricela first came to Bethesda about eight years ago, it was to establish a medical home for basic health care. A hard-working housekeeper, who has had the same clients for more than a decade, she had no health insurance and just needed a check up and a referral for a mammogram. But that first visit began a long relationship that touched Maricela’s family in extraordinary and life-changing ways.
Some years later, Maricela’s son, Jose, who had long wanted to serve his country as a member of the armed services, fulfilled his dream by enlisting. His very first physical exam turned his life around: the poor vision in one of his eyes was more serious than he had thought. He was losing his vision completely. Maricella recalls: “When Jose called to tell me the bad news, I said, Don’t worry. Jesus has other good things in store for you. Just come home.” Maricella made him an appointment at Bethesda.
After several visits with specialists, all arranged by Bethesda, the news was serious. Jose needed a cornea transplant. Bethesda sent him and Maricela to Houston for an appointment with the Houston Eye Foundation. After eight months on the waiting list, a donor was found and the transplant completed at no cost. Now, Jose has 20/20 vision in that eye, and his gratitude is immense. “Bethesda Health Clinic literally gave me a future. With my eyesight restored, I am back on my feet and working. One day I hope to give back to Bethesda.”
“This is a place that helps,” says Maricela. “It doesn’t matter who you are, what your race is, where you come from, they will help you. And if they can’t help you themselves, they will find someone who can. Look what they did for my family!”
Maricela became a US citizen five years ago, and her journey to improving her life continues. Although she is a high school graduate in her native Mexico, she hopes to receive her GED in the US educational system.
She has completed her certificate as a Certified Medical Assistant. Her goal? “To help Bethesda Health Clinic,” Maricela says emphatically. “I had a very high score on the Certified Medical Assistant test, and I know why. I took the classes with my heart. And my heart is to help Bethesda.” “I want to help Bethesda because they helped me. And they helped my son. I have done all my paperwork to be a volunteer. I can’t help with money, but I can help with my time, on the weekends when I’m not working. It’s my goal. It’s my dream is to help Bethesda.”
There are many ways to give to Bethesda’s mission, many ways to support the work of the clinic. Every gift is important, and every gift matters. But there are gifts from the heart, like Maricela’s, that touch us deeply and which we hope will inspire others to help Bethesda continue to serve our hard-working, much-deserving friends and neighbors.
Through grace, Jamie has found her way back to health, wholeness and her faith from a deep abyss, a well of darkness of her own making. “I made horrible choices, and almost destroyed my life with my own hands,” she confesses. Years of anorexia and addiction were destroying Jamie’s body, and lawless behavior landed her in jail – for 76 long days.
“God never leaves you. You leave Him,” Jamie asserts. While in jail, her heart opened to God once again. “I heard Him very clearly. ‘If you will be honest, I will give you grace,’ He said. He did. And He has kept His promise.”
Jamie had known about Bethesda for many years. She was a patient at the Clinic even during the dark times.
“But on my last visit, Dr. John English fired me as a patient,” she says. “He took his oath as a physician and as a believer seriously. He knew I was lying and he knew I was abusing my medication. He told me I couldn’t come back. That’s when the snowball started, the snowball that lead me to the bottom and then back up again.”
After time in jail, Jamie was court-ordered to a treatment facility, Son Shine Lighthouse, where she spent a year getting her life back on track physically, mentally and spiritually. “I began to feel God working on me. You know, God works within you, and He starts working around you, and He sets you up for where you should go next.”
As a resident of Son Shine Lighthouse, Jamie came back to Bethesda for both medical and dental care. “I had to face Dr. English again, and that was humbling, but he actually welcomed me. The heart of Bethesda is compassion. It’s not just the care that’s given,” says Jamie. “It’s how you’re treated when you walk through the door. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. God’s tender, loving care and mercy are in the heart of Dr. English and every one of the volunteers and employees.”
Now living on her own, Jamie has a full time job but no health insurance coverage. Bethesda is still her medical home, where she’s now proudly receiving preventative care. She’s learning, as she says, “to treat my body as a temple. God’s kingdom lies within me. I have to take care of it!”
Jamie’s new passion is helping other women see their value and find the strength and faith she has found. “God deepened my faith by breaking me to strengthen me,” she asserts. “The woman of old is dead and gone, and I have confidence in who God created me to be.”
Jamie has begun to publicly share her testimony and her remarkable story of recovery with an open heart and without fear or shame. She believes it will lead to something big: “You change a culture by speaking to the heart of a woman,” Jamie proclaims. The pain in one woman’s life, the transformation brought about by God’s grace, the promise of new life found in Him, can indeed be a powerful change agent for our time.
Jamie’s description of Bethesda Health Clinic simply as “grace” is perhaps the most succinct and accurate description of our ministry. Your support of this work creates a vehicle through which we can extend God’s grace, welcoming Jamie and so many others who are hurt and broken, extending to them the grace we have also received and which none of us deserve. It is a great gift, unexpected, unmerited and life-changing.
Darla’s medical history is complex and complicated. She had seen doctor after doctor her entire life, but no one had been able to put the pieces together. Repeatedly misdiagnosed and inappropriately treated, Darla found her life diminished by the sudden and inexplicable attacks that left her unable to breathe. She knew she had food allergies, but that didn’t explain the paralyzing severity of her problems. Often she was unable to work. She could rarely go into public places. “I’m a mother, a wife, a hair dresser. I own my own business. I knew something had to change,” Darla said.
Something did change when Darla found Bethesda Health Clinic. After being seen by Bethesda’s doctors
she was referred to two specialists and underwent test after test. When she came back to Bethesda for the results, Dr. English said to her, “Let’s talk about your asthma.” “I NEVER knew I was asthmatic!” said Darla. “Then he said, ‘Let’s talk about your diabetes.’ WHAT? No one had ever told me I was diabetic either!”
Dr. English had Darla meet with Pam Van Meter, Bethesda’s Wellness and Nutrition Director. “That’s when the light finally went on,” said Darla. “I could connect all the dots. My allergies were causing the asthma. Being overweight was contributing to my diabetes. I UNDERSTOOD!” Pam helped Darla with a diet and a system for checking her blood sugar and taught her to read product labels, searching for even the tiniest hint of ingredients that could trigger her allergies. Armed with her new knowledge, Darla was off and running, watching her diet, keeping a chart and checking her blood sugar. Within just a few weeks, her weight dropped dramatically, as did her blood pressure. She has not had an asthma attack in months and she has been able to stop taking her blood pressure and sleeping medicines. She has also been able to cut her diabetes medicine by a third. Darla is hopeful that she can gradually get off all the medicines she has been prescribed.
Pam is quick to praise Darla’s efforts. “She can now participate in her health. Darla has the power to change her life, and she is using it.”
Darla’s praise for Pam and everyone at Bethesda is reciprocal. “How I wish I had met someone like Pam years ago,” she asserts. “Bethesda has been a Godsend to me. Everyone takes the time to listen, and they listen deeply. They genuinely care about me, and I’m not a number. I wish I could come here every day!”
Light comes in many forms at Bethesda. In our work, in this place, we openly acknowledge that Christ is the Light within us, leading us in the way we ought to go. When His light shines through the people of Bethesda, it bathes our work and the lives of our patients with His love. The light of that love became the light of understanding for Darla, a light that is leading her to a new life, out of the darkness of illness and into a new life of health and wellness.
Gihan has two pieces of jewelry she wears with pride… a cross around her neck and a sparkly red, white and blue “USA” pin on her shoulder. They shine as bright as her smile, and that she is able to wear them openly, every day, is a source of great joy, symbolic of the life her family now leads.
It was not always so for Gihan’s family. Though her husband, Mokhlus, built a successful business in their native Egypt, and though they were surrounded by a large and loving extended family, Mokhlus dreamed of immigrating to the United States. In the “land of opportunity,” he thought he could build an even better business, but more than that, he wanted his family to be able to openly live their Christian faith that was the center of their lives.
For years, religious persecution had escalated for Christians in Egypt. They were often taunted, even spit upon in the streets, their churches terrorized by bomb threats. It was not a climate in which Gihan and Mokhlus wanted to raise their four boys.
For eighteen years, Mokhlus applied for a resident visa, granted through a lottery each year in which only a few thousand are issued. Each year, the family was not chosen. Meanwhile, his business thrived, and his family lived well, with a beautiful home, and all that came with financial success and security. Still, Mokhlus and Gihan continued to pray for their dream. As Gihan describes it, their prayers were different. “My husband always pushed God to do what he wanted. ‘You can take away half my money,’ he would pray, ‘but give us a visa!’ My prayer was for God to do it in His way, in His time, His choice.”
And then came 2009. The family’s assets plummeted along with the world’s markets. Their beautiful home in a historic area of the city was taken by imminent domain so that an ancient roadway between two temples could be excavated for a museum site. Gihan survived a horrific kitchen fire, miraculously escaping without a burn, and Mokhlus survived a terrible car wreck. The final blow came one night with the sinking of a cruise ship on the
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