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SILER CITY , N.C.– Under a clear blue North Carolina sky, Martín V. proudly points to rows of ripening peppers, melons, herbs and tomatoes that he lovingly tends in a formerly empty lot near Chatham Hospital.

Photo by William E. Pike

 A native of Guatemala, 58-year-old Martín V. in the vegetable garden tended by volunteers as part of Chatham Hospital’s Immigrant Health Initiative in Siler City. In tribute to the many hours he works there, it’s known as Martín’s Garden.

Martín fled his homeland of Guatemala 14 years ago after his farm was destroyed by guerilla soldiers. Unable to speak English and without family or friends in this country, he settled in Chatham County, where farm jobs have attracted thousands of Hispanic immigrants seeking work. Now 58 and an AIDS patient, Martín spends much of his time at the hospital. But he receives much more than traditional healthcare.

“Working in the garden makes me feel very healthy,” Martín says in Spanish interpreted by his nurse, Linda Soto. An employee of the Chatham Hospital-based Immigrant Health Initiative (IHI), Soto is just one of many people Martín now calls his “family.”

This extended group includes parishioners from area Catholic, Baptist and United Methodist churches who have joined with Chatham Hospital to form a health ministry, providing much-needed care for the rural county’s burgeoning immigrant population. Together they have provided Martín with a bed, sheets, food, transportation, help with his medication, and most importantly, friendship— with neighbors and with God.

Health ministries are designed to care for the whole person—physically, emotionally and spiritually. This model is one that Dr. Keith Meador D’86, director of Theology and Medicine Program at Duke Divinity School, has promoted through the school’s Caring Communities Program since its inception in 2002.

“Caring Communities assists congregations in understanding their role as healing communities through worship and service,” says Meador, who is professor of the practice of pastoral theology and medicine and holds joint appointments at Duke University School of Medicine and Duke Divinity School. “We also help to give health care institutions a broader vision for their role in nurturing the health of a community in collaboration with faith communities.”

With support from The Duke Endowment, Caring Communities serves as a clearinghouse of information and resources, a facilitator of transforming relationships, and a champion of health ministries in North and South Carolina. Caring Communities also administers more than $900,000 in annual grants from The Duke Endowment to a dozen innovative health ministries throughout the Carolinas.

Photo by William E. Pike

 Michaila Russell, 8, helps stock the food pantry at Ashe County Outreach Ministry in Clifton, N.C. Volunteers are renovating the former deli into a restaurant they hope will help fund the ministry, which provides mobile meals for the homebound.

Reaching Out

More than $230,000 went this year to three South Carolina-based ministries, including one called Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength. This joint project of the S.C. UMC Annual Conference, Midlands Health Ministry Council and the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health received $97,950 for statewide outreach to the elderly. In Greenville, S.C., The Watchman Program received $34,866 to train volunteers from area churches to work with the dying in rural and underserved areas.

Grantees in North Carolina span the state and include both urban and rural areas. In populous Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, 23 churches have partnered with Carolinas HealthCare System as Interfaith Care Links to assist the chronically ill and their caregivers through a network of trained care teams.

Clifton United Methodist Church in rural Ashe County, N.C., where more than a fifth of children live in poverty and one out of nine adults is unemployed, received a $100,000 grant to support its work with Ashe County Outreach Ministry. This ecumenical coalition of volunteers is feeding the malnourished, staffing a teen suicide prevention hotline, aiding the elderly during emergencies, and supporting the isolated and destitute.

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DIVINITY Online Edition :: Fall 2004 Volume 4 Number 1 Duke Divinity School