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The Jericho Road Foundation

An interview with Dr. Bill Crevier

Today's Christian Doctor - Winter 2000

In 1981, while still a medical student, Bill Crevier helped create a course at his medical school on healthcare delivery to the poor. In 1993, Dr. Bill Crevier launched the Roseland Christian Health Ministries to serve the poor in one area of Chicago. Soon thereafter, Crevier established the Jericho Road Foundation to help like-minded groups establish similar clinics nationwide. Today’s Christian Doctor recently interviewed this innovator.

Today’s Christian Doctor: Bill, what motivates you and gives shape to the work you’ve done?

Crevier: It’s really difficult to know where to begin with this story — maybe we need to begin from the end. That is to say, God has allowed me to learn several beautiful truths about Himself, His work and my purpose in life, and none of these lessons are a result of what I’ve done but rather the result of where He has taken me.

I’ve been involved with Christian healthcare to the poor for my entire professional life. But it has only been during the past few years that I’ve begun to understand my place in all this and the real purpose to which I’ve been called. Simply put, I’ve come to see that my purpose is to bring glory to God. Maybe a second purpose is to apply Scripture broadly to all of life.

Today’s Christian Doctor: This is basic theology, but in your case, it has had profound consequences.

Crevier: A key passage for me in understanding this is Ephesians 2:8-10: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (NASB).

We often read that we’re saved by faith and that this is a gift. In accepting this gift and living lives of grateful obedience in thanks, it is important to recognize God’s purposes, and His work in us and through us. Whatever work God calls us to do, we are to recognize it as His, and glorify Him for it.

Christianity is a life system, not a Sunday phenomenon. As Christians we can all take solace in the fact that God works in us and through us to achieve His purposes for His glory, and that as the people He has chosen, we are being conformed more and more to the image of His Son. We also need to recognize that there are consequences of our obedience or disobedience. We can expect His blessing as a result of our obedience—even though this may not materialize in a tangible or immediate way—and we can expect His judgment as a result of our disobedience—even though this may not occur immediately, either.

Today’s Christian Doctor: So, what are some practical applications of Christianity as a life system, especially for people in healthcare?

Crevier: Well, if Christ claims all of life as His, then Bible-based Christianity is comprehensive in that it applies, practically, to all of living. Scripture is sufficient. It’s like a lens that helps us bring into focus what’s going on around us. God’s Word does not return void. By "sufficient" I mean that it is possible to discern foundational principles in Scripture to inform us (though it often takes a lot of wrestling on our part) about how to think about issues like Christian healthcare. It’s a matter of prayerful discernment.

Unfortunately, there’s a tendency—driven by our training—among many Christian healthcare-givers to turn to the insights of disciplines like psychology and sociology as sources of truth, while the Bible is ignored. The Bible isn’t a textbook, of course, but God speaks and works through it. Grappling with God’s Word and His sovereignty helps us to understand the human condition, to prioritize among needs, to love our neighbor wisely and to approach challenges so that our means for resolving them honor God.

Today’s Christian Doctor: How have you seen God’s sovereignty worked out in your career in healthcare?

Crevier: Well, I can trace it all the way back to my days at the University of Chicago medical school, where I started out intimidated, feeling like everyone there knew what their purpose was in being a doctor. I was so unclear about these issues that I found myself envying the janitor, who at least had a productive job and knew it. But then I got involved with LaSalle Street Church, where Bill Leslie was pastor.

During this time, I came to discern a call to work among the poor. It began as I developed a course on healthcare for the poor at the University. (By the way, this interdisciplinary course is now in its eighteenth year, and has been taken by over 600 students in the graduate schools of law, social work, public policy and medicine.) Outsiders are surprised that such a thing would ever succeed at the University of Chicago, given the school’s intense focus on research. I can only say that God gave me the courage to try. The results were up to Him.

Then there was starting Roseland Christian Health Ministries. When we began, I didn’t have a clue about practice management, fundraising, or any of the fundamentals of starting a Christian clinic. God was so gracious, so perfectly in control in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. For instance, one of our University of Chicago lectures was taught by Mary Guggenheim. She later became program officer at the Chicago Community Trust and as such helped us with our first grant. In addition, her sister-in-law was Executive director of the Polk Brothers Foundation. Mary was on the board of the Sprague Foundation, and on and on. Roseland Christian Health Ministries was a work that God had prepared, beforehand, for us to do, to His glory. Christian entrepreneurialism and risk-taking is a faith venture that for me at least is made possible because of a recognition of God’s sovereignty.

Today’s Christian Doctor: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in providing healthcare for the poor?

Crevier: First, and this is crucial, we must recognize and resist the temptation, as we work among the poor, to embrace any ideological framework to the point that we end up just fighting for the needs of the poor. If we’re not extremely careful in this regard, we will end up promoting the cause of access, or justice or whatever. This advocacy then becomes the cause we identify with, which later defines our work and our purposes in life. Soon we’re leading others in our cause against "uninsurance" or something else and it doesn’t matter who joins us as long as they call themselves Christians and they, too, are caring for the poor.

Today’s Christian Doctor: What’s the alternative?

Crevier: We must avoid the pattern of biblical interpretation known as eisegesis—where we form an opinion and then find the verses to prove it. I think instead we have to hunger constantly for regeneration and look for it in God’s ordinary means of grace: the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit and the sacraments. And we have to point our patients toward these means of grace, too, as opportunity allows.

We also have to avoid romanticizing the poor and their struggles. I think that over the past several generations there has been an "evangelical drift" in America in which Christians often blur distinctions just for the sake of unity, and modern churches often present a false choice—either think like theological nerds or be loving. But passages like 1 Corinthians 14:20 call us to both think maturely and to love our neighbor. We need sound doctrine along with loving our neighbor. It’s both/and, not either/or.

Today’s Christian Doctor: Is there a framework that guides you in how to both think and act responsibly?

Crevier: The framework we’ve been aiming for has been how to think and act "Christianly" in healthcare, especially with regard to the poor. Thinking "Christianly" to us means doing so in the light of Scripture. I’ve found that people may disagree about a number of particular passages, but core biblical themes are pretty clear, and we’ve come to recognize and accept that they’re sufficient to govern our insight into what’s going on around us as well as our vision for what we need to do. We’re finding that our Christian worldview makes a significant difference in terms of clinic governance, management, finance and program.

In our daily work, as well as in our individual hearts, this is all about sanctification—the process whereby the Holy Spirit, in and through the people of God, purifies Creation from sin on the basis of Christ’s atonement and victory. That purifying activity, that making holy, is a process that brings about an inner renewal and revitalization of God’s creatures. The spirit of holiness seeks to permeate our creaturely lives, making a qualitative difference in the internal workings of family, art, government . . . and healthcare.

Today’s Christian Doctor: So what’s the bottom line, then?

Crevier: The Gospel ultimately is not about health and healing, or caring for the poor.

The Gospel is necessary because God is holy and we’re sinners, and we can’t fix that or overcome that difference. Only Christ can give life to us and restore our relationship with God. His work in us causes us to repent from sin and turn to Him in faith.

The Gospel is good news for everyone—insured or uninsured, the working poor, the indigent and the rich. Domestic missions is about showing people the way to living fellowship with Christ and His body, the church, as an integral component of the practice of medicine.

Today’s Christian Doctor: Even for people like you?

Crevier: My only brother, Jim, is dying of ALS and there is nothing I can do to stop that. It is a terrible disease. There are no words to say how painful it is for me and my family to see what Jim is suffering. Although I don’t understand the why’s of this, knowing that God is in control is a great comfort.

Today’s Christian Doctor: Would this not apply to your patients, as well?

Crevier: Whenever possible, I pray with my patients. Trying to see four patients an hour creates a pressure to stay focused just on purely medical issues, but prayer is an important part of healing. My experience is that when prayer is employed in a medical practice, it creates strong bonds among nurses, physicians and patients that lead to better listening and better compliance all around.

I’ve also seen how worthwhile it is for a staff to pray together. Starting this practice can feel awkward at first, but that feeling goes away quickly once you take the plunge. It’s amazing what a difference it can make.

Today’s Christian Doctor: So you find that open faith really matters in a practice or clinical setting?

Crevier: Yes, BUT. Many of us in CMDA have seen dramatic improvements in health outcomes for patients who have made significant lifestyle changes that go along with submission to the Lordship of Christ. For example, being enabled to pull back from substance abuse, better coping with stress, better eating habits and personal care are all results of seeing health as a good gift and your body as God’s temple.

Faith openly expressed by clinicians should also make a difference in how we run our clinics and practices. A lot of that is subtle. For example, a heightened commitment to patient service follows naturally from openly acknowledging them as image-bearers of God, and that can lead to priorities like trying to reduce wait-times. Just as naturally, staff professional development is often more encouraged in the context of a Christian practice as we acknowledge different, complementary gifts, build one another up and prod one another to good works.

Still, here’s the BUT. I’m uncomfortable with a "therapeutic gospel" that values faith because it somehow "works." The true motivation here, for both doctor and patient, must be to seek first the kingdom of God, in which case all these other things will be added as God’s gracious gifts, according to His will.

Today’s Christian Doctor: Did you foresee such a broad involvement in "domestic missions?"

Crevier: I think my calling to this developed over time. Almost immediately after we founded Roseland Christian Health Ministries, we started getting calls from doctors, nurses, business executives and churches asking how to start a primary care ministry. To try to help, we created the Jericho Road Foundation to provide technical assistance for the start-up of church-related clinics. Our objective has been to try to help establish five health centers per year. Last year we came close to meeting that goal. For example, Aurora Christian Health Services [Illinois] received a physician and over $250,000 in local support from a local hospital. This clinic saw several thousand patients during its first year of operation.

Using the term "domestic missions" reminds me of how grateful we are to God for the partnership that we’ve established with CMDA with a view toward identifying  potential sites, recruiting physician leadership and helping those centers get started. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has identified some 2,000 "medically underserved areas" by census tract, and many of these have the potential for viable ministries. The Domestic Missions Commission is key to this, and I hope people will contact us for help, and to help.

Today’s Christian Doctor: How would you define "viable ministries?"

Crevier: I would include a constellation of factors—locally governed and managed, nonprofit legal status, qualified professional staff, high quality facilities, effective information technology, linkages to churches and a network of specialists and hospitals, financial stability through a combination of patient-based revenue such as medicare and medicaid and a fundraising program so that income and expenses can be matched.

Today’s Christian Doctor: What specific goals do you have in mind?

Crevier: Over the next few years, in partnership with CMDA and the Domestic Missions Commission, Jericho Road Foundation would like to participate in the launch of as many as 50 new clinics. With as many of these efforts as possible we’d like to develop deep, continuing relationships that go beyond just the initial start-up phase. There are many potential benefits of linking together formally. Tracking the fast pace of change in managed care is one example. Information technology that integrates clinical, financial, scheduling and record-keeping is another opportunity area for cost-saving and excellence. There is also significant potential for national-level fundraising. Continuous improvement and the quest for improved clinical practices is another area where working together is to everyone’s benefit.

As one example, we’ve already started down this path in our work with Family Christian Health Center in Harvey, Illinois, where I’m now serving as executive director and two Jericho Road Foundation board members are also on the board, one as chair. This center has the potential to serve as a platform for a regional health ministry for parts of Chicago and Northwest Indiana. With today’s electronic communications, a much broader nationwide scope is also possible.

Today’s Christian Doctor: If you had just one thing to communicate to all CMDA members, what would it be?

Crevier: The Christian life is a great adventure, full of surprises and growth. In view of God’s sovereignty and the good works He has prepared for us to do, I encourage readers to prayerfully seek God’s will regarding the use of their gifts in serving "the least of these" among us. And I hope that those who hear God’s call in this regard will seek out and network with others who can help, so they can avoid "reinventing the wheel" and also sidestep mistakes. With Him, all things are possible. 

Today’s Christian Doctor gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Mr. Robert Kamphuis in the preparation of this article.