Remembering Dr. Peter Boelens
Dr. Peter Boelens is a name that many of you will not know. Dr. Boelens founded a little health center deep in the Mississippi Delta in the early 1970s that became a model for Christian clinics around the country. If you have ever worked in a CCHF clinic, it was likely influenced by a clinic that had its roots in the work of Dr. Boelens, or one of three other pioneers who are still with us today. These men and women merely sought to be obedient to the gospel that they believed, and set out to practice medicine in a way that more reflected the values of Christ and His kingdom than the way healthcare has otherwise developed. They saw medicine as ministry – an opportunity to demonstrate and proclaim the gospel (and still do), and not merely as a career. They had no great ambitions of being a model for anything, or having an influence beyond the small circle of people they began to serve. But they became the living foundations of our movement – a movement that grew slowly at first, but is now growing exponentially. In many ways, Dr. Boelens was first among these foundational disciples.
It has been my great privilege to know most of them personally. I can testify that they embody the values that guide this movement. They continue to tirelessly serve Christ, and do so with great humility. No one showed them the way. They were true pioneers. And through their initiatives, they created a space for you and I to walk out our calling as ambassadors of Christ among the poor and to this amazing but broken institution of medicine. We have built on their foundations, and we have improved their models. We have shown others a way forward in this work, and have validated to one generation, and now a second, their contributions. They have helped us define what Christian healthcare means. I am grateful to them.
Earlier this month Peter Boelens succumbed to cancer, and graduated to become part of "the great cloud of witnesses". He is among those described in Hebrews 11 who “were living by faith when they died”, and who now encourage us to be faithful, to stay in the race, and to hasten the day the Lord through lives devoted to His purpose. If the death of His saints is precious to the Lord, it should be to us as well.
The ministry that Peter and his wife, Eleanor, started in the Mississippi Delta is called Cary Christian Center. He wrote about his experiences in a little paperback called "Delta Doctor", which is a book that inspired thousands of physicians and medical students, many of whom lead CCHF clinics today, or serve as medical missionaries around the world. Cary Christian Center was founded to serve Sharkey and Issaquena Counties which in the '70s had the highest infant mortality in Mississippi. Today, through the efforts of those who have carried on that work, those two counties have the lowest infant mortality rates in Mississippi, and are among the lowest infant mortality in the nation. CCC continues to be a distinctively Christ-centered ministry that extends the love of Jesus to the poor, and has become a national model for community health approaches to infant mortality. Several board members and CCHF stakeholders came from that ministry: "Care" Newhoff, Dave Bossher and Grace Tazelaar to name a few. The clinic that John Perkins, H. Spees and Lance Loberg started in New Hebron, MS was inspired in large part by Dr. Boelens work in Cary. Those men went on to found CCHF in the late 1970s.
I spoke with Peter a few months ago. He was starting chemo for his last bout with cancer. But at 83 he was still active in seeing the gospel demonstrated through healthcare for the sick and especially for the poor. He spent the last season of his life documenting the impact of intercessory and healing prayer on the sick and mentally ill. I am inspired by his life, by his drive, by his marriage, and most of all by his faithfulness in finishing his race well.
Here was his published obituary:
Peter A. Boelens, M.D. (83) of Vicksburg, Mississippi, went to his heavenly home on June 9, 2017, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Born in Lansing, Illinois, Peter began his career as a medical missionary in South Korea. He continued his work in Mississippi, developing the Cary Christian Health Center. Then, as executive director of the Luke Society, he launched 22 Christian medical-evangelistic programs in various countries around the world. In retirement, Peter and wife Eleanor began a prayer ministry and published a research study showing the healing power of prayer in transforming the lives of over 60 participants suffering from anxiety and depression. In addition, he published a groundbreaking study with Baylor Medical Center using fMRI that showed significant brain changes following healing prayer. He and Eleanor produced three books: Delta Doc, Where Next Lord?, and Released to Soar. Peter enjoyed fishing, photography, and, more recently, brain research. Fueled by his deep love for God, he was passionate that everyone would experience the power and healing touch of Jesus in their lives.
Peter finished his well-run race. The baton is now passed on to new pioneers and a new generation. I have faith that we will advance the cause of Christ in our generation as Peter did in his if we remain faithful to uphold the vision.
Steve Noblett, Executive Director, Christian Community Health Fellowship