Some ten years ago, Gary Tribett and Milan Homala, pastors at Clear Creek Community Church in Gresham, felt a burden to go beyond the walls and the programing of their local church, and offer loving service to their neighbors in Jesus’ name. From their holy inquietude and vision the Compassion Clinic movement was born.
Compassion Clinics are free medical / dental clinics organized by coalitions of local churches and staffed by professional volunteers and ordinary followers of Jesus who want to demonstrate the love of God concretely. The first Compassion Clinic was planned and carried out by a small group of pastors and laity in the Rockwood neighborhood of East Portland in April, 2006. Since then, the movement has grown to some twenty clinics each year in metro Portland, Arizona, Idaho and the model has been exported and modified for effective duplication in Africa and India. Compassion Connect is a 501C-3 nonprofit which offers guidance to local leaders, promotes training events, maintains medical records and makes technical equipment available to local clinics. But the clinics are still planned and carried out by teams of volunteers recruited and deployed by local churches.
In early 2009, I engaged Milan Homala in conversation about the possibility of offering a Compassion Clinic to the many economically stressed residents of downtown Portland. The first exploratory meetings for “Downtown Compassion” were actually planned and carried out in a meeting room at Portland City Hall. Later, the emerging leadership team began to meet here at First Baptist Church. Coach Jerry Glanville put us in touch with the athletic director at Portland State University and we began to explore locating a clinic at the Peter Stott Athletic Center on campus.
After several months of negotiation, including the setting of the date for the first clinic, the University pulled the plug on us at the last minute. Enter Christian networker and activist par excellence Kevin Palau, who knew somebody on the inside at the Portland Memorial Coliseum. Saturday, September 19, 2010 was free; the city gave us a reduced rent for the Coliseum, and the first Downtown Compassion Clinic became a reality.
Melissa Nelson, a Providence Health administrator who had grown up at First Baptist Church and Rev. Ed Kelly, a tentmaking pastor who is part of Crosswords Church in NE Portland, joined me to form a leadership troika. Almost 400 volunteers from over twenty churches welcomed 1000 guests to the first clinic that September. Since then, we have had four more clinics at the Coliseum. From the beginning, a number of churches, including First Baptist, Bridgetown (formerly Solid Rock), City Bible Church, Fathers House Ministries and First United Methodist have supported this event with funds and volunteers.
Downtown Compassion is still a big event, but with some additional access to medical services for Downtown / Old Town residents, we found ourselves swallowed up by the Coliseum and stymied by the expense of renting it and insuring it for the day. Also, the Coliseum worked better when Trimet still had a free fare zone in the urban core. So this year our leadership, with the gracious assent of our First Baptist Church diaconate, decided to see if we could fit the entire event into FBC. And this is our plan, for Saturday, October 10.
Our estimated 500-700 guests will avail themselves of medical, dental, visual, foot care and chiropractic services; enjoy a spaghetti luncheon prepared and served on site, and browse the resources of a social services fair with more than twenty agencies represented. All of this is our attempt to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a concrete way, in the spirit of Matthew 25. Pray for leadership and volunteers. Pray for those who will be our guests. Find out more at www.downtowncompassion.org.
—Dr. David L. Wheeler