It’s getting to be cold and flu season again. A man comes in with a hacking cough and feeling like there’s something in his lungs that he just can’t expel. He’s afraid he has pneumonia or maybe something even worse. Nurse John listens to the man’s lungs with a stethoscope. His lungs are clear; it’s just a nasty chest cold. The Health Ministry gives the man some medicine to break up the mucus in his lungs and cough it up so he can breathe easier, literally and emotionally. Something as simple as a dose of cough medicine can be out of reach for many of our neighbors who are homeless, low-income, struggling with mental illness, or for some other reason simply cannot walk into a store and buy a simple over-the-counter medication. Even generic brands of cold medicine can be pricey, so the Sozo Health Ministry provides basic over-the-counter health supplies to our guests free of charge. We may not have a cure for the common cold, but at least we can help people not suffer from it so much.
Nurse John is driving a client to an extremely important appointment. The client has a storied history with health care in this town. She has been discharged from multiple doctors, especially mental health providers, for inappropriate behavior. This appointment is with a psychiatrist, possibly the last one in a 50-mile radius who will agree to see this client. John accompanies her into the session. Mostly, he doesn’t say much. However, when the client feels she is not being heard by the doctor, John is there to help clarify and facilitate communication. When the client starts raising her voice and gesticulating vigorously, John intervenes with a brief, calming word to keep her behavior from escalating into something inappropriate. The session concludes and as they are walking out to the car, the client says to John, “I like this doctor. I think this will work out.”
A man sheepishly peeks around the door frame and looks into the office. He sees John inside and says in a soft, almost apologetic voice, “Hey, pastor. Do you have a minute?” John sits down with the man in a private corner of the main room and they start talking. The man is having some mental health issues that are connected to his employment situation. He is feeling incredible guilt and shame. He thinks that God may be punishing him or “teaching” him a lesson. A company just hired the man for a good job, but now he is wondering if he is really worthy of it and wondering if maybe God is somehow telling him to quit. John listens intently to the man, asks questions, and tries gently to lead the man’s thoughts away from guilt and punishment and toward God’s love and acceptance. The conversation comes to a close. The man tells John that even though he is still feeling a lot of those negative emotions, he will try to keep the job. He says he will also try to remember that God loves him and wants the best for him.
Healing is wholistic. It takes a tapestry of small things—of listening with a stethoscope and reassuring a fearful man that it’s just a chest cold, of one little pill to break up the mucus, of driving someone to an appointment of last hope, of being present to make sure a client doesn’t get discharged for inappropriate behavior, of reminding a man of how much God loves him so he keeps his job and keeps trying to get better—to truly heal. These are the small threads that we strive to weave together in the Sozo Health Ministry to help our neighbors create health and wholeness for themselves.
The Sozo Health Ministry promotes health and wholeness through weekly health screenings, education, advocacy, non-emergency medical transportation, and spiritual care. It is coordinated by Rev. John Rich, RN. Last year, it provided 758 total health encounters for 331 total clients. Services included 71 instances of transporting clients to medical appointments, 479 checks of blood pressure, and 139 instances of medical supplies distributed. They also included 8 occasions in which staff identified emergency health situations in clients and 911 was called or the client was transported to an ER.