In Kensington, the Freedom to Serve God Boldly

A Report of the 2019 Philadelphia Summer Medical Institute

by Holly Favino September 17, 2019

I pulled my car to the front of the church building and saw that the police had already arrived. Nick stood on the sidewalk talking to the pastor, both looking at Nick’s car with its window broken, shattered glass filling the driver’s seat, sidewalk and curb. Nick, a Philadelphia medical student and participant in the Summer Medical Institute (SMI), had parked his car beside the church the night before, and it had been broken into and his spare tire and jack stolen.

SMI, an annual evangelistic medical outreach that was held June 22-July 13, is a joint project of Medical Campus Outreach (MCO) and Esperanza Health Center, a local Christian clinic. This year it involved 16 Christian health care students and over 40 rotating volunteer “faculty” (Christian medical professionals). They provided free door-to-door health screens and medical referrals in Kensington, and participants shared the love of Christ through conversation and prayer with those they met.  The students lived in the community, attended local churches, worked with interpreters for Spanish-speaking households and referred those who were interested to three local church partners for follow-up. 

I was grieved when I saw the broken window. To my knowledge, we had never had this happen during 27 years of SMI’s existence. Several questions ran through my mind: who had done this? How soon could we fix it? A camera captured video of the crime, but the young man’s identity was unknown. As the morning unfolded, however, we saw the initially jarring situation become whole. Victor, a church member, quickly brought out a vacuum and broom and cleaned up the glass. A Christian physician working with us volunteered to cover the cost of the insurance deductible for MCO, which had volunteered to cover it for Nick. A local auto glass shop was able to fix the window that same day. Nick was struck by the kindness of so many, including the SMI participants who prayed for him and the man who had committed the crime. “I’m glad that no one was hurt and the damage was just to things that could be fixed,” he said.

The incident ended well for Nick, buoyed by God’s provision and encouragement from the other believers around him, but I couldn’t help pondering the contrast of the everyday realities in Kensington, which are not so easily fixed. For many years Kensington has been ravaged by the opioid epidemic, and the local churches face the challenges of continuing their regular ministry while caring for the wounds and the wounded in their community.

One church partner has many ministries to those on the streets, but at the same time has to contend with keeping the addicts from camping out and getting high in front of their building, which prevents neighborhood children from coming to their daytime programs. Another congregation has had to be vigilant about keeping the sidewalk behind the church clear of human feces, which is a side issue of homelessness or addiction withdrawal.

During SMI the students studied the book of Galatians, where Paul writes, “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’.” The students were able to see firsthand how many faithful believers and churches in the community serve as salt and light to reach people for God. One church gladly welcomed strangers who had been invited by the SMI students to a weeknight potluck the church hosted.  Students met an Esperanza staff member who had taken in a young mother and her baby and was helping her get on her feet. Members of our team helped escort an addict seeking help to a church that could direct him to a rehab program and support services. And they had daily opportunities to share their faith as they provided health screens and education to the community. “SMI has given me the confidence to love and serve my future patients boldly as a follower of Jesus,” said Tiffany, a medical student from Maryland.

Praise God for the work accomplished, detailed below:

SMI students, faculty and interpreters knocked on 2,488 doors

  • 551 individuals received screens
  • 493 blood pressure screens were performed
  • 446 blood glucose screens were performed
  • 143 new positives for hypertension were indicated
  • 77 new positives for diabetes were indicated
  • 32 HIV tests were performed
  • 565 people were prayed with and 13 prayed to receive Christ 
  • 35 asked to receive spiritual follow-up from a church partner

We are exceedingly grateful to all of the faculty, volunteers, and those who prayed for and financially supported SMI, making it possible for our participants to learn lifelong lessons on centering their identity in Christ and integrating their faith and career. While we may never know who broke into Nick’s car, we are reminded to pray for the young man, because Christ is able to redeem him from his sin, just as he has redeemed us from ours.