You know you are entering a different stage of life when you get asked to respond to the question, “What has kept you going in“ over the decades?” I wish in retrospect I had kept a diary that recorded yearly responses to that question. The answer would have changed markedly over the years. I helped start Lawndale Christian Health Center as soon as I finished my cardiology fellowship in 1984 and have never had a desire to move on. hat is not to say that I have not struggled and been discouraged over the years, but I have always ruff"? sensed a clear call to the work on Chicago’s west side.
I was motivated in LCHC’s early years equally by the clear demonstration of God’s provision as well as my fear of failure. I was the only one in my internal medicine residency group at the University of Chicago who did not pursue a career in academic medicine. I was told that I was going to waste a promising career. Faculty insisted that if my passion was to improve health care for the medically indigent, I could best achieve this from the prestige of a university appointment. When we averaged less than ten patient visits per day in LCHC’s initial few months, I was motivated to stick it out not to be proven wrong.
Fortunately, God was much more interested in the ministry than my ego. He provided for our safety and material needs in ways that made it clear that if we were to be successful, it would be because of His provision, and not my ambition or ability. There were literally days when the work of rehabbing a condemned former Cadillac dealership into the health center, gym and worship area, could not have gone forward if that day’s mail didn’t include a check to purchase supplies. These things also could not have been accomplished without the daily stream of volunteers from both within and outside our community who were motivated by their faith to make the dream a reality.
After surviving the early start-up years, motivation to persevere came from a combination of sources. I have always been intellectually challenged to find creative ways of finding the resources to care for a consistently growing number of medically uninsured patients. I have been challenged by the transition from just providing access to care to making a positive impact in the physical, mental, social and spiritual aspects of our patients’ lives. I have been motivated by working side-by-side with a staff of committed Christians who have put our ministry above selfish desires for more income or prestige. The longer I practice medicine, the more the excitement of making an unusual and insightful diagnosis is replaced by the growing friendship I have with my patients and their families.
But I am often reminded of what really sustains me on days when discouragements at work outweigh the of practicing medicine at Lawndale: it is seeing the impact of being part of the church ministry (not just the health ministry) over a long period of time. I am sustained by the experiences and friendships that would not have been possible if I just drove into the community to practice medicine and then returned to a suburb at the end of the day. This is a very tempting way of life for those of us in the “helping professions” who decide to work among the poor. Fortunately, I was influenced by john Perkins and his 3 R’s (Relocation, Reconciliation and Redistribution) in the late 1970’s. John knew that relocation would be essential for me to be effective in this ministry and encouraged me both personally and through his writings. Lawndale Community Church founding pastor, Wayne Gordon, and his wife Anne, showed my wife Linda and me that it was possible to establish a home in North Lawndale.
Relocation made me vulnerable and dependent, an uncomfortable feeling for a health professional. This decision has resulted in some hard times, like break-ins and robberies, but strangely even these experiences have served to sustain me. In retrospect, God utilized early robberies to demonstrate to the neighborhood that we were here to stay no matter what. Later robberies prompted our neighbors to come to our aid, catch those responsible, and then inform them that they were stealing from friends and neighbors, not the “white man.” Relocation and local church attendance has allowed me to see families form, grow and resist the pressures to split apart. For nearly 30 years I have seen children grow up to be stable and influential community leaders, including leaders at our own health center. It is sustaining to realize that you are a part of something much bigger than yourself or even your health center.
Someday God may drag me away from Lawndale (it would take that for me to leave). I can’t imagine starting over somewhere else. I don’t dream of retiring out in nature or on some beach; I dream of living out my days among friends, being a proudgrandparent of hundreds of “adopted grandchildren” and counting myself blessed to have lived my life in Lawndale.
Art Jones, MD, and his wife Linda are charter members of the Lawndale Community Church since 1978. He is the CEO and a practicing physician at the Lawndale Christian Health Center since it opened in 1984. He and his family have lived in North Lawndale on Chicago’s West side since 1980. He has been a member of CCHF since 1979 and has served on its board of directors. He can be contacted at aguentherjones [at] yahoo [dot] com.