Dealing with international refugees may be all over today’s news, but Pastor Neil Tomba says his congregation at Northwest Bible Church in Preston Hollow has been doing it for years.
At Friday’s grand opening of the Healing Hands Ministries satellite clinic, located within the Northwest Community Center in Vickery Meadows, Tomba told of his parishioner who answered a late-night call 14 years ago to pick up an African refugee from the airport.
“That one person turned out to be seven people,” said Tomba, “because there were aunts and cousins and uncles, and they all spent the night.”
After that, different Northwest families began connecting with refugees, including some who opted to live among the dense refugee population in the apartments at Vickery Meadows.
“[Outreach Minister] Brian Newby and his wife lived there for a while, and our church began to become involved without a formal program and I began to dream about what it would look like to have some kind of relational space where refugees could come and we could take care of them and their needs – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and educational.
“My wife, Vela, and I got more intimately acquainted with the refugee community when our daughter, Sheree, moved into the Vickery Meadows area with her husband, Jesse, and developed an afterschool program and taught art there. I would come over sometimes and help, then we started having refugees at our house at Thanksgiving and holidays. My small group adopted a family, and I would get phone calls that went like this, ‘Pastor Neil, I’m embarrassed to ask you this, but do you know a doctor I could talk to, because I’ve been tested positive for TB (or Hepatitis C, or whatever).’ Then I’d start calling doctors.”
“Today is the fulfillment of a dream to care for the whole person,” continued Tomba. “When Jesus came, he didn’t just say, ‘I want to take care of your spiritual needs.’ He touched people. He healed people. He fed people. There’s one word that’s used to describe Jesus’ emotional life more than any other in the New Testament: compassion. The Greek word is a medical term. Jesus actually couldn’t stop himself. He had to touch and heal.”
Dr. Chris Barry, medical director at Healing Hands, said 5,000 additional patients will be served at the new clinic – patients like the refugee he recently treated from Afghanistan.
The man was suffering from a constellation of symptoms, said Barry, including anxiety, insomnia – even hallucinations. He was no longer able to work or even interact with his family successfully. The man was an Iraqi who had served alongside U.S. forces as an interpreter, experiencing all of the same trauma – even wearing the same uniform – as American soldiers. Roadside bombings and loss of friends on the battlefield combined with the trauma of being targeted by Al Qaeda in Iraq (now ISIS) to bring on what was clearly PTSD.
Berry reflected on the beauty of seeing all the complicated pieces come together to help the man.
“In the end,” he said, “besides the high quality medical care he received, he was also able, I hope, to receive spiritual confirmation that he matters, and more than that, he is beloved.”
A $737,162 grant by the North Texas Specialty Physicians Charitable Fund recently ensured no debt to get the clinic opened.
“I’d like to add my heartfelt thanks to our many valuable partners,” Barry told me. “Healing Hands Ministries leadership, Dr. Mark Presley and his foundation, Texas Health Resources and Northwest Bible Church, for creating the opportunity for medical providers who are compelled to care for the refugee population to actually have a place to work long term.”
If you or your organization would like to make a contribution, you may contact Healing Hands founder and President Janna Gardner at the Healing Hands headquarters, 214-221-0855, or via the Healing Hands website here.
You can view my photos of the Healing Hands Clinic opening celebration here. You can view Advocate photographer Danny Fulgencio’s (much better) photos from the Northwest Center’s opening here.
The clinic and the center are located at 5950 Pineland.