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On a gray Tuesday morning in March, in the sanctuary of Loudon Avenue Christian Church in Roanoke, Va., 10 people sit scattered among the pews, intently listening to the Rev. William Lee D’78. Visitors from a Baptist church in Richmond, they want to find out how Lee and his Disciples of Christ congregation did it—how they built a health care ministry that is transforming lives throughout some of the poorest neighborhoods in Roanoke.

Photo By: Bob Wells

 Rev.William Lee in his office at Loudon Avenue Christian

For the next 45 minutes, in a talk that’s part sermon, part political primer, Lee briefs them about the various health and wellness programs Loudon Avenue has created:

  • A parish nursing program that provides health education and screening to church and community members;

  • The Faith in Action project, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to help guide seniors through the confusing maze of modern medical and social services; and

  • Most ambitious of all, a separate, nonprofit community health clinic that provides primary care to the poor and uninsured in the most medically under-served areas of Roanoke.

If they want to start a similar program at their own church—particularly if they want to start a clinic—it’s going to require a lot of hard work, Lee warns the folks from Richmond.

“You’ve got to have somebody with energy and passion,” he says. “If you’re not willing to do the sweating and grunting and praying and crying, then don’t do it.”

Underscoring the point, Lee asks a question that leaves his listeners shifting in their seats, laughing nervously.

“I thought ‘Here we are in one of the richest countries in the world and poor people can’t get health care.’ There’s no reason for a black man, or a white man, or a pink man to die like this.”

“Who in this organization is willing to die for this cause?” he asks. “Who here is willing to die to make this happen?”

As the visitors steal glances at one another, you can almost see the thought balloons floating above their heads, all with the same question: “Is he for real?”

He is.

“We’re in the season of Lent,” Lee adds. “It says in the Bible, from this time forward the Son of Man must suffer and be betrayed. Remember, when Jesus says ‘Pick up your cross and follow me,’ the last place you follow Him is to a blood-stained cross.”

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DIVINITY Online Edition :: Spring 2004 Volume 3 Number 3 Duke Divinity School