Justice Stories

Bridges to Life

by Bill Carter in Justice Stories

A faith commitment can be like a stone tossed into water, sending out ripples that spread wide into God’s world.  Anne Mund has had that experience.  As an active member of St. John’s UMC-Austin, Anne has felt led to social justice ministries.  One of these, the Texas Coalition Against the Death Penalty (TDACP), works to move the criminal justice system beyond execution and mass incarceration toward more humane and rational approaches to crime prevention.  That group, in turn, introduced Anne to the restorative justice work of Bridges to Life (B2L).
At a TCADP gathering, Anne saw a documentary film about a mediation between a convicted murderer and the mother and daughter of the woman he killed.  The professional mediator in the film was a woman named Ellen Halbert.  “That documentary was so powerful.  Some time later I was on a committee to plan a TCADP quarterly meeting, and we decided to show the documentary and invite Ellen to lead the discussion afterwards.  It was held at Trinity UMC in May of 2012.  That’s when Ellen talked about Bridges to Life. “
The spiritual mission of this Houston-based non-profit group is “to minister to victims and offenders in an effort to show them the transforming power of God’s love and forgiveness.”  B2L teams go into prisons to help violent offenders come to understand their actions and leave prison better prepared for life on the outsde.  A key part of their experience is getting to know B2L volunteers who are the victims of violent crimes or the loved ones of victims.
As Anne heard about Bridges to Life, she found herself tremendously impressed. “I don’t know if I would be able to do what these people do if I were in their place,” she thought.  But she resonated with the example of those who chose to get past rage and retribution and work for healing.
Anne followed up by observing a weekly meeting that was part of a 14-week program B2L conducts in prisons.  Ellen Halbert was the speaker and told about her own experience as a victim of terrible violence; the prisoners then talked in small groups about her presentation. Anne and others from St. John’s also attended a graduation ceremony in Kyle for those who completed the program; only about 2% of those who graduate from B2L return to prison.
“Bridges to Life is always looking for more volunteers,” Anne says. The website www.bridgestolife.org provides information about this ministry and volunteer opportunities.   Ellen Halbert, who works in the Victim’s Witness program in the Travis County District Attorney’s office, speaks on the subject of restorative justice; so does another B2L volunteer, Linda White, who keeps in touch with her daughter’s killer and encourages him in his new life. For Anne Mund, the example of those who put Jesus’ teachings into practice has deepened her own faith and commitment to justice ministries.
Submitted by Linda Elford

Please send us your justice story!

by Bill Carter in Justice Stories

Email bbillccarter@netscape.net with your own story of how you or your faith community has organized and/or taken action to address an injustice.

Human suffering and other injustices call for two kinds of Christian responses. The first and most familiar is mercy or charity, which is the compassionate action to relieve the suffering, bind up the wounds, and provide comfort and safety and healing for the victims. The second and equally necessary response is justice, which is to find the root causes of the injustice and to take action to stop it from claiming more victims. These two kinds of response are not an either/or — they are both part of the same ministry. Getting involved in mercy calls forth compassion, and provides motivation and preparation for getting involved in advocating and taking action for justice.

A Health Care Ordeal

by brooks schuelke in Justice Stories

“Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. In Ezekiel 34:4a, God points out the failures of the leadership of Israel to care for the weak: ‘You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured.’”     
From The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, III. The Social Community, v. Right to Health Care

“Colleen,” a part of the family at Parker Lane United Methodist Church, has raised three grown children and has a 10-year old.  Colleen has worked most of her life, and for over 20 years her employer provided her with health insurance.  Unfortunately, after working for 20 years Colleen got very sick and was diagnosed with Lupus (for more information see: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).  She became very ill and lost her job and, after three months, her health insurance as well.  She is now working on a very part time basis. Her youngest child’s father has a job in construction but that income is not constant and neither of their jobs carries health insurance. Like roughly 30% of the adults in Texas (according to TexMed), she finds herself with very limited access to health care.

Colleen lives just outside the Austin city limits. Her house does not have water service, so she has a big tank at her house with a pump. Periodically she has to fill the tank from a neighbor’s water hose . One day, while filling her tank, she was startled by a dog, fell, and broke her arm.  She went to Brackenridge Hospital, where they took an X-ray, confirmed that she had chipped her elbow, and then splinted her arm (her arm was too swollen to cast).  They told her to come back on Monday to get a cast.

When she returned on Monday they told her that, since she didn’t have insurance or the cash to pay for the cast and because she lived outside the city limits, they couldn’t help her.  They directed her to another agency in an adjoining county to apply for an “indigent care” card. She did but was denied.  A medical doctor, who is a friend of Parker Lane UMC, called to try and get her services but couldn’t.  Colleen went to St. David’s because she had been assured that they could help and would schedule payments for her treatment but that wasn’t true. Once again she was turned away.

After about three weeks of this she knew something was really wrong because the  pain had not abated in any way and in fact was getting worse. She went back to the Brackenridge emergency room, but they thought she was just seeking pain medication so they sent her away.  Actually she still had several unused pain tablets in her possession. Eventually she found a doctor who took pity on her, and against all the rules, he took off the temporary cast and found that the pain was being caused by a skin infection which had caused increased swelling. He cleaned the wound and treated the skin but still couldn’t cast it. He re-splinted her arm and sent her on her way.  Her arm took a long time to heal and we still aren’t sure it healed correctly.

This has been very hard on Colleen because she is a hard worker, and had always had insurance. She was amazed that even though she had connections to the health industry she couldn’t get her broken arm treated.

There is a commonly held belief that everyone can get access to health care, but there are big gaps. An illness can cause a financial crisis that results in the loss of health insurance. Access to the emergency room only provides crisis care — it often does not get you all the way to healing.

Parker Lane UMC houses a nonprofit clinic called “Auxanomen” to help fill those gaps.  This clinic operates one day a week and has a doctor in attendance who sees patients without health insurance and who are not on Social Security disability or old enough to be on Social Security. (Social Security disability makes you eligible for Medicaid and Social Security makes you eligible for Medicare at age 65.)  The Auxanomen Clinic does not treat folks who are eligible for a “MAP” card which is a program to assist the very poor in getting health care. MAP is funded through various counties to help defray the cost of providing care through emergency rooms.  In other words, Auxanomen treats folks like Colleen — who don’t have health insurance, and are not very very poor.  The Auxanomen clinic is currently funded through donations.  To give to Auxanomen Clinic you can donate online at: www.parkerlane.org (note Auxaonmen in the notes when you donate) or you can write a check to Auxanomen and send it to: 2105 Parker Lane Austin TX 78741.

Treating uninsured folks on an ability-to-pay basis at Auxanomen Clinic is an act of charity or mercy. The justice aspect of this ministry is the written and spoken testimony provided by Parker Lane UMC and the Auxanomen physician, board and volunteers to legislators and policy makers. In addition to telling the stories of those suffering from lack of health care, they deliver the message is that as a nation and as a community we are failing to hear the cry of the needy — to provide for the health care needs of those falling through the cracks in the system.