In the last LDS General Conference, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ, Thomas S. Monson, gave an address entitled “What Have I Done For Someone Today?” Much of his talk came from an article written by Dr. Jack McConnell about how he came out of retirement to help those in need of healthcare but couldn’t afford it. Dr McConnell went on to establish the organization, Volunteers in Medicine, that now has centers all over the country with volunteer medical staff to help those in need.
As I read about and watched Dr McConnell’s vision and how the VIM came about, I was very inspired by Dr McConnell’s generosity and thought I’d share a quote from the Jacksonville VIM clinic’s website about how the VIM came about.
The storm of the night had not quite finished. It was continuing to pelt the Low Country with a soft but constant rain, reminding us who was in charge of the weather. It turned the dirt roads and the paths into mud. As I drove out the back gate from the development where Mary Ellen and I had built our retirement home, I noticed a native Islander striding down the path alongside the road.I was not surprised to see he had no umbrella, for that would have been uncommon and unmanly. He did not have a raincoat either. But he did have a mission. He was a man going somewhere with a purpose. I slowed down as I approached him and asked if he would like a ride. He peered in and hesitated for a moment or two and then looked at the sky as if he were reading the weather. Apparently having come to an unsatisfactory evaluation of the climate and a satisfactory evaluation of me, he said, “yes, I would”, and got in. After he settled in and we were underway, I suggested he fasten his seat belt. But then we rode along without speaking for a mile or so. I wondered who would break the silence.”Where are you going?” I asked finally, unable to keep the silence any longer. “To look for a job”, he replied, staring straight ahead. “Any particular place I can drop you off?” “No”, he answered, apparently leaving the choice to me. “Do you live around here?” “Yes, I live just back down the road.” “What kind of job are you looking for?” “Any kind I can get,” he said, followed by a long pause. I somehow knew he wanted to say more and gave him a moment to gather his thoughts.
“I have a wife and two children and we are expecting another and I just got laid off from a construction job.” I could not resist asking, “Does she have access to medical care?” “No.”, he replied. “Ain’t none of us does.” “Have you ever had access to medical care?” “Yeah, when I was in the army.” “Is that the only time?” “Yeah. We have to take care of ourselves. Ain’t no one else goin’ to help us.”
About that time I turned down the main road of Hilton Head Island and headed south with no particular destination in mind. We soon passed a construction site and he wondered out loud if he might be able to get a job there. I suggested we wouldn’t know if we didn’t stop, so I pulled in the parking lot where the on-site trailer was located. Before entering, I asked my rider his name – James – and together we climbed the stairs to the Manager’s office. He told the Manager he needed work. The man eyed James for a while then said someone had failed to show up and if he could stay he could have some work for the next few days. They settled on a wage and he accepted the offer.
We shook hands and James turned to go but stopped in mid-turn. My new friend looked me in the eye for the first time and reached out and gave me a bone-crushing hug while he whispered into my ear, “I thank God for you, brother.” We held each other by the shoulders for a moment and as he started to pull away he said, “You have been a big help to me. Why did you do it?”
The question stopped me in my tracks. I could not immediately reply. It was a simple but very powerful question. Possibly the power lay in the simplicity. I had no ready answer, so I said slowly, ” I don’t know.”
In fact, I did know. Over time I realized the answer, in one respect, was that I could not do otherwise. My faith gives me an unconscious desire and need to understand and help others. But in truth I expect it was, at a deeper level, my desire and need to understand and help myself.
Throughout the whole of my life I have learned and relearned that it is only in service to others that we find and begin to understand ourselves. Until everyone is healthy and whole, none of us can obtain health and wholeness. In medicine it is that pursuit of health and wholeness for everyone which drives more of our decisions than we understand or like to admit.
Robert Frost tells us that every poem starts with a lump in the throat. I might add that it is also the way to start a clinic for the medically under-served. Or at least that is how the Volunteers In Medicine (“VIM”) Clinic on Hilton Head Island, SC, began – with a serendipitous meeting on a rainy day that transformed a rather routine retirement into one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life.
- Dr. Jack B. McConnell, M.D.
VIM Clinic Founder
I hope this story was as inspiring to you as it was to me. It’s amazing to see how God will work and use our talents if we listen and follow the promptings of His Spirit.
I hope this Thanksgiving we can not only reflect on the blessings we have, but ponder what we can do to be a blessing to the lives of those around us.