By Morgan Thompson
Most people don’t see a flu shot as anything more than routine. In the Mississippi Delta, however, flu shots are being used to spread the Gospel. Brother Joe Young, coordinator of Mississippi River Ministries in Mississippi, heads up this project in the Delta, where he has been ministering for 37 years.
Young, a pastor since 1969, became a bivocational pastor and Spanish teacher in 1979, and God used that to open doors for Hispanic ministry years later. In 1998, he started a clinic as a way to “get our foot in the door to spread the Gospel.” This free clinic meets once a month at the Spanish mission in Sunflower, Miss. Last year, the clinic gave out approximately 100 shots and this year they are looking to double that number. Volunteer doctors and nurses bring the flu shots that are provided by the Margaret Lackey State Mission Offering to facilities throughout the Delta, where they are administered to those who cannot afford them otherwise.
Young said that about 95 percent of the recipients of the shots are Hispanic. The hope is to not only to help the Hispanic people and the uninsured to be physically healthy, but to target their spiritual health as well. Following Jesus’ example, this ministry attends to people’s physical needs in order to meet their spiritual needs.
This ministry opens a door to share the Gospel with them. Young gets the word out about the shots by asking pastors to announce for a few weeks in Spanish services that they will be giving flu shots in certain locations.
“I believe that everyone should have an opportunity to hear the Gospel, and the vaccinations are a tool to building a relationship with them. These friendships become bridges that lead others to Christ. We had a daddy who came to church in Greenwood with his family for the first time, just because of the shots,” he said.
The vaccinations gave another father, Roberto Montemayor, a practical way that he could reach out to his own people.
“I wish you could have heard Roberto yesterday, a new Christian himself whose 13-year-old daughter was recently baptized at the Cleveland mission. Of course he was happy over his daughter’s salvation, but he was excited that next week we will be giving the flu shots, thanks to Margaret Lackey. He was planning to invite everybody he knows to come to the church to receive the shot. It’s given him a handle on how to witness,” Young said.
With the financial assistance of the Margaret Lackey offering, there are many stories such as these where dollars are being used to transform lives in Mississippi communities.
“I had the joy of accompanying two nurses and my wife to Grenada, where we vaccinated 12 very grateful people against the flu in the back of a Mexican restaurant. There were almost no customers, but eight Mexicans, two Guatemalans, a Hindu man, and an Italian immigrant working in the restaurant were overwhelmed and began asking about when we could offer another English class. Each received a gospel tract and a lollipop along with their vaccination,” Young said.
“Brother Joe takes the vaccine to different areas that have volunteer nurses and uses it to get new people to come in and deliver the Gospel to the Delta,” said Gail Fondren, an RN in Greenwood ho assists in administering the shots. “I have been a part of life-changing experiences that have occurred because of these shots,” she said.
“We choose our locations based on where we perceive that God is working, places that have potential for new church starts or for a wider evangelization,” he said.
The hope is that out of the relationships that are built through the vaccinations, the Gospel can be presented and people will come to the Lord. This year, the Margaret Lackey Offering provided $2,000 for flu shots to be distributed among the Hispanic population of the Delta. Currently the shots have been given out in Cleveland, Batesville, Greenwood, Grenada, Sunflower, Clarksdale, Lyons, and rural Sunflower County. For more information about the MLSMO, visit www.mbcb.org.