Ricardo, 59, is from Guatemala, and he makes me think about heaven.*
When I meet him, his face is etched with lines of care. He nods quickly when I ask to take his picture but doesn’t try to smile when I hold up the camera.
Three years ago, after immigrating to the United States, Ricardo suffered a stroke that left him in a coma. When he woke up in his hospital bed, he could not find his green card anywhere. Since then, he has lived day to day without the security of a steady income and without the use of the left side of his body. Without a green card, he cannot receive unemployment and food stamps.
Situations like Ricardo’s are not uncommon at Your Best Pathway to Health, which has provided free care to thousands of people, many unable to afford medical, dental, and vision services otherwise. The line for services forms overnight, some even camping in front of the Los Angeles Convention Center in order to secure their spot.
On Thursday, health professionals, pastors, and other volunteers treated 3,334 patients on the second day of the Pathway to Health Los Angeles event. Combined with the patients treated on Wednesday, so far the organization has served 5,893 and hopes to treat up to 10,000 by the time the event closes at 1 p.m. on Friday afternoon.
Juanita, a registered dietician who speaks Spanish, met Ricardo in the lifestyle section of the clinic, where patients learn about health and wellness based on NEWSTART principles. When Juanita shared information about healthy eating, Ricardo responded that he had only a few coins left for his bus fare, much less groceries. As he often does, he would return to an empty fridge.
There is something profoundly saddening about Ricardo’s story. As I walk through the high-ceilinged Los Angeles Convention Center, I think about the other thousands of individuals who come into this building bearing the burdens of life.
Ricardo’s story repeats itself in the stories of hundreds of patients at Pathway to Health, who come to have their needs met by more than 4,000 volunteers at the expo. Twenty-eight clinics offer a broad range of services, from pediatric care to dental services to legal assistance. Through careful planning, individuals like Ricardo also leave the expo with information about follow-up cooking classes, diabetes education classes, and other events that keep them connected to churches where they can continue to receive support and care.
In many ways, the follow-up will be just as important as the event.
But for now, and for all the need that is here, there is something heavenly about this event. This feeling seems jarring in comparison to the physical, spiritual, and mental needs represented here. Yet needs like Ricardo’s can be answered only with the self-sacrificing love that heaven—that Jesus—can inspire. At Pathway to Health, patients receive a touch of that love.
Doctors listen attentively as patients describe their symptoms. Translators summon all their energy to convey the information that patients and providers need. Chaplains draw individuals aside for prayer and counseling. Forgetting tiredness and hunger, young and old pour themselves out, and then again.
In the book Education, Ellen White writes that true education “prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come” (13).
Heaven, we are told, is all about service. But as Pathway has shown, that service can start here.
*Name changed for privacy.