By Chris Blount
My former pastor, John Case, once said to me that he loves the many examples in the Bible of ordinary people through whom God brings about something extraordinary.
His point was that we can truly relate to those characters. Most were just “regular folk” of their day, people in the pews with ability and potential, through whom God radically changed their world because they were willing vessels.
Well, the fact is that God hasn’t changed. We can be world changers too; the key is our faith and motivation.
Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson is one of those “change the world” stories – and it is a distinctively Methodist story. It came about because a few Methodist “people in the pews” saw a huge need, and with God’s help, are meeting that need in extraordinary ways. You know the old adage, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one.” This is a sermon to see.
I have the privilege of directing The Wilson Research Foundation at Methodist Rehab.
Our supporters give to this ministry because it’s a legacy that changes lives, helping people recover ability and recover hope. At Methodist Rehab, we understand the urgency to connect state-of-the-art research to state-of-the-art patient care. And this has meant that patients like Nicole Marquez of Jackson have real hope of being healed. Nicole survived a six-story fall from a building in New York City in August 2008, and her recovery at Methodist Rehab has been incredible and inspirational.
“It’s amazing to see how they can discover where her weaknesses are so that they can focus on them,” said Nicole’s mother, Susan Marquez. “The research done at Methodist Rehab is so important to not only Nicole’s situation, but for the people who will unfortunately follow her. The time she spends in the research lab is her small way of giving back, and paying it forward at the same time.”
The Wilson Foundation was started by Mac and Mary Ann McCarty to honor the late Earl R. Wilson, founding chairman of Methodist Rehab and his wife, Martha Lyles Wilson.
Earl was the heart and soul of Methodist Rehab; he and Martha were charter members of Briarwood United Methodist Church of Jackson, and Martha continues as a pillar of that church. The Wilsons have a deep, abiding love for Methodism, from their local church to the connectional ministry. Their faith and commitment to Methodism, and that of our other founders and current leaders, is the cornerstone of this rehab center.
Of course, faith is good, but it’s not transformative without action. Sometimes action requires a wakeup call, a personal experience that touches our hearts – or perhaps makes us mad. All of this came together for Earl Wilson over a period of years. He knew firsthand how families are affected by a loved one’s disabling injury or illness. His father suffered a stroke at a young age, and his family’s struggle opened Earl’s eyes to the appalling lack of rehabilitation services in our state at the time.
As he traveled across Mississippi as a businessman, Earl saw his family’s predicament repeated. Victims of devastating stroke, brain and spinal cord injuries mostly languished at home, unable to gain the skills to live more independently. Those needs kindled a passion, nurtured a vision.
Earl (below, right) always insisted building this hospital was a team effort, but everyone I’ve talked to says Earl was team captain and coach. In a rare feat of diplomacy and business acumen, Earl was the key lay leader who worked with our annual conference, the Department of Vocational Rehab (state and federal), University Medical Center, state legislators and others. What resulted was the opening in 1975 of a world class not-for-profit rehabilitation hospital that has helped more than 40,000 patients recover abilities, plus hundreds of thousands more helped as outpatients and as beneficiaries of our community services.
Though we serve patients regardless of faith tradition, the majority of our leaders and volunteers are United Methodists. It was important to our founders and the conference that this would be an expression of faith, a catalyst for United Methodist lay and clergy to join in health care ministry. That’s why we bear the name “Methodist” Rehab Center.
The result? Methodist Rehab is the only hospital in Mississippi ever to be named to U.S. News and World Report’s Best Hospitals list – and we achieved that honor twice this decade. Many of our patients come to us with the most severe injuries and illnesses – yet we return an amazing 80 percent to home or independent living.
Consider the impact of this! What started with the vision and passion of Earl Wilson and a handful of other faithful Methodist business leaders, most with no healthcare experience, has resulted in tens of thousands returning to productive lives rather than being dependent on the state or others. And don’t miss the wonderful pragmatism in that statement. Earl and the other founders did approach this from a faith perspective as they wanted to serve and help people. But equally important was that they were Christian persons of business, motivated to return people to meaningful, productive lives.
Faith and business motives need not be exclusive – God gives the body of Christ an array of gifts, including administrative gifts. And when a successful businessman or woman is faithfully motivated, watch out. God can truly move mountains through such vessels.
Methodist Rehab’s physical, emotional, spiritual and economic benefit to Mississippi cannot be overstated, and since it is a Methodist story and ministry, it is something every United Methodist in Mississippi ought to know about and be proud of.
As part of this United Methodist connection, we need your prayers, volunteer service and witness – we need you to help us get the word out about this incredible center. When a friend or loved one suffers a stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury or orthopedic condition, call us, get us involved.
We also appreciate your support of the Wilson Foundation as we are funding a vibrant research program that makes Methodist Rehab truly distinctive. Our researchers work directly with patients and therapists to insure more accurate diagnosis and progress evaluation, and to translate research immediately into innovative and effective therapies. Through research, we are improving walking, talking and swallowing; cognitive and psychological recovery; and offering computer assistive technologies that open up a whole new world to severely disabled persons. And we publish important research findings that lead to improvements worldwide in physical medicine.
Gene Delcomyn, regional president of BankPlus and a Wilson Foundation board member, said, “After suffering a stroke, my dad credited Methodist Rehab for restoring his ability to walk, so I have seen first hand the difference made by this center. Realizing the importance to fund research and education, I am proud to live in a state that offers a place like Methodist Rehabilitation Center. I hope that I or those I love never need the services provided there, however, I want to do my part to insure those services are always available.”
If you would like to hear more about us, I would love to give your group a tour of our main hospital, research labs and residential center for severely disabled persons. Or, I will gladly come to your church to share more about this ministry in words and pictures. We want to connect with Methodists statewide and for you to share in the joy of this ministry of recovery and hope.
May God bless you all, and may God continue to guide and bless Methodist Rehab Center.
Blount is executive director of The Wilson Research Foundation. Contact him at 601-364-3598 or visit www.methodistonline.org.