By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
CLEVELAND — Pastor Jay McCluskey of North Cleveland Baptist Church here has always had a great appreciation for the former Baptist Hospital of East Tennessee in Knoxville.
He was born at the hospital and even worked there for a brief period between his college and seminary years.
Now, he has seen his church benefit from the hospital’s legacy.
In 2007 the Baptist Healthcare System of East Tennessee merged with St. Mary’s Hospital and ceased to be affiliated with Tennessee Baptists. As part of the merger agreement a total of $2 million was provided to the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention to be used to support medical missions.
Since then, TBC churches have been able to apply for grants from the Baptist Hospital of East Tennessee Medical Missions Fund.
In 2012, McCluskey was leaving for vacation and tossed the latest copy of the Baptist and Reflector into his bag.
While relaxing he opened the paper and read an article about the grant program. His church was already in process of planning a medical missions trip to Brazil the following year to work with two International Mission Board missionaries who were reared in North Cleveland Baptist Church — Chris and Lori Heil and their two sons, Marcus and Fisher.
Members of the mission team were going to pay most of their expenses with some help from the church but they did not have the funds needed for medical supplies.
After reading the article, McCluskey applied for the grant after returning from vacation and the church received $6,000 from the BHET Medical Mission Fund.
The grant was “a great blessing” to the church, McCluskey said. “It was such a relief because we could take care of the other expenses,” he recalled.
Two years later the church decided to take another team and applied for the grant once again. The church was awarded $3,000 this time which worked because the team was much smaller, McCluskey said. Once again the grant was “an answered prayer for us,” the pastor added.
This year’s team served last month among an unreached people group in Brazil. “The residents we served have little or no evangelical presence,” McCluskey observed.
“Ministries of healing and compassion opened doors for clear presentations of the gospel and paved the way for future work with this people group,” he said.
“Earning trust and building relationships is a key to earning the right to share the gospel,” McCluskey observed.
This year’s team included a veterinarian which proved to be a blessing, McCluskey said.
Although he did not use any supplies provided by the BHET grant money, Howard Hamilton (the vet) was able to provide needed care for scores of animals, including some belonging to the chief of one village. “He was a great asset,” the pastor said.
The relationship with the chief is important in the remote villages of Brazil because his permission is needed to allow teams to serve in the village, McCluskey shared.
He is thankful for the help provided to his teams. “We wish to express our appreciation to the Executive Board that oversees the allocation of these funds. We are grateful that this group saw fit to award these funds to us.”