The Rich History of CCHF
In the late 1970s, a white pharmacist and a black pastor in New Hebron, Mississippi approached John Perkins, an evangelical preacher and civil rights leader about the need for a health clinic that would treat black people in their town. At that time the closest place an African American could receive basic healthcare was over 50 miles away in Jackson. John had a growing awareness of the need for healthcare and was seeing it as both a justice issue and as part of the gospel, largely through coming to an understanding of his own family history, and through the involvement of his wife who was working with young pregnant girls in rural Mississippi.
John did not know anything about starting or running a clinic, but he was a great preacher, and he talked about the need wherever he went. He recruited a young Christian community development student from California named H. Spees, and Dr. Lance Loberg, a family medicine doctor straight out of residency. H. and Lance moved to New Hebron and opened The New Hebron Clinic.
After several months, Spees and Loberg approached John and said, “Med school did not prepare us for what we are dealing with. Our patients have multiple chronic issues that are complex and difficult to manage. Resources are scarce. Patients cannot access specialists they need or get prescriptions they need. There are cultural issues that we are probably not as sensitive to as we should be. And we just don’t know if Biblically we are doing things right or not.” John suggested that they reach out to find others who were doing this type of work from a Christian gospel motivation, and to see if they could learn from one another.
About that time a handful of pioneers were also trying to figure out what Christian healthcare for the poor should look like. While there have always been Christians in healthcare who have served the poor, it was in the 1970’s that a number of them began asking the question, “Is there a difference between being a Christian in healthcare, and practicing Christian healthcare?” “If Jesus had come in 1970 as a physician or a PA instead of as a carpenter, would he have practiced differently than the way we are trained to practice?”
Almost every Christian clinic can trace influential roots back to one of four groups who set out to explore what “distinctively Christian” healthcare might look like.
- There was a group in the Mississippi Delta that had roots in the Luke Society. Those involved there included Peter Boelens, Dave Bosscher, Carolyn “Care” Newhoff, Grace Tazelaar and others. Peter had written a book called “Delta Doctor”, that influenced a number of Christian works including what John Perkins, H. Spees and Lance Loberg were doing in New Hebron.
- Deep in Appalachia there were several small groups working at clinics that were patterned largely after some of the medical missions in undeveloped nations in Africa. Red Bird Mission and other small medical missions served the isolated coal towns of eastern Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Doctors like J. D. Miller, and Lynn and Sharon Fogleman were some of the early Christian pioneers in Appalachia.
- In Rochester, NY, the birthplace of family medicine as a specialty, Dr. Bill Morehouse opened a clinic called His Branches. He and his wife, Susan, quickly recognized the importance of making a broader community development effort in addressing healthcare from a Christian gospel, whole-person perspective. They moved into the community they were serving. Bill took care of the medical clinic, and Susan helped foster a number of outreach and community focused initiatives. They trained students and residents from the area medical schools, and influenced pioneers like Dave Hall, who founded East Liberty Family Community Health in Pittsburg.
- And in Washington, DC, Dr. Janelle Goetcheus and her husband, Allen, started a work targeting DC’s homeless population. With the support of their local church they founded Columbia Road Health Services. A few years later they built Christ House, an in-patient “boarding house” for homeless men too sick to be on the street but not able to get admitted in a hospital. Other ministries in Washington spun off from their work, including Joseph’s House, a hospice home for men dying of AIDS and other terminal illnesses, a number of shelter clinics through the Healthcare for the Homeless initiatives, and ultimately Unity Health Care. Janelle has mentored countless young people during their medical training years that have gone on to pioneer significant clinics in Richmond, Memphis, Philadelphia and Cincinnati.
Spees and Loberg, through the encouragement of John Perkins, started CCHF in 1979 to serve two primary purposes.
- CCHF was to be a connection point for Christian health professionals to learn from each other, and to explore together what it means to live out the gospel through healthcare among the poor. It would be a fellowship where we could share, encourage and support one another. We were asking the question, “What does distinctively Christian healthcare look like”, and “How can we be more faithful to practice and provide healthcare in a way that reflects what we see in the ministry of Christ and his gospel of the kingdom?” We are still asking those questions.
- The second purpose of CCHF was to raise a prophetic call to the Christian community about our need to recover an integrated view of care for people – body and soul, and especially for those who are poor. CCHF was created to be a platform to speak to our responsibility to see physical and spiritual health as part of our commission from Christ. The focus was to reach out to Christian health profession students and to Christian church leaders, to educate them about the titanic needs in our own backyards for compassionate and holistic healthcare, and to mobilize God’s people to choose daily to minister healing in marginalized communities in the name of Jesus.
Shortly after incorporating CCHF in the early 1980's, CCHF held its first conference in 1982 in Washington, DC. Dr. Janelle Goetcheus and John Perkins were the platform speakers of this significant conference, which was organized largely by a small handful of medical students led by John Umhau. CCHF also began publishing a journal called Health & Development, which shared the stories and insights of practitioners who were exploring this idea of gospel driven healthcare among the domestic poor.
In early 1985 CCHF moved its headquarters to Philadelphia, where it remained until the late 1990s. It moved to Chicago, and then to Memphis in January of 2008. CCHF continues to publish Health & Development (H&D), which can be accessed on-line through this website. And CCHF continues to hold annual conferences, usually in the late spring. Approximately 300 Christian clinics identify as part of the CCHF community, as well as thousands of Christian health professionals who work in both faith-driven organizations, and non-faith-based organizations – but always with a missional sense to express the gospel of Christ and the values of his kingdom through healthcare in the way we care for those who live most on the margins of society.
Virtually all of the early pioneers named in this brief history of CCHF are still engaged in the mission of healthcare among the poor. John Perkins is now in his mid 80’s, and still attends and teaches at every CCHF conference. Janelle and Allen Goetcheus have lived in Christ House since 1985 with the homeless men they love and serve. Dr. Goetcheus is the CMO for Unity Health Care, one of the largest community health organizations in America. Bill Morehouse still works with his less privileged neighbors in Rochester. J. D. Miller is training medical students in eastern Kentucky to provide distinctively Christian care in rural settings. Lynn and Sharon Fogleman recently moved from Appalachia to work in the horn of Africa, doing there what they have done here for so many years.
CCHF is a vibrant, growing community founded on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ, and built on the living foundation of men and women who faithfully uphold the vision of Christ-driven, compassionate, gospel-centered healthcare to the broken and hurting.
That is our history. You are our future. Where will you take us?