Urban Ministry Through Public Health
- August 7, 2014
Typical Day in the Office
Jason Sanford ‘99 had been through this many times before. Even though it got easier with time, there is always some nervousness involved when sharing test results with a patient. As a city of Chicago public clinic worker, he has to share bad news with people quite often. Eventually, the young man whom Jason was expecting came in and was invited into the exam room. After some brief small talk Jason steered the conversation towards the test results and Jason calmly walked through the same facts that he had done with countless others, informing the young man that he tested positive for HIV. At this point in the conversation, Jason is trained to wait, observe the patient’s reaction, and continue when they have absorbed what was said. This particular young man was different; he didn’t have the ‘deer in the headlights’ look that Jason as used to. Instead, the young man displayed a surprising nonchalance. Jason, without a clear cue to go on, continued to encourage him that a full and satisfying life was still possible. While Jason was still talking, the young man suddenly left, much to Jason’s surprise.
Jason continued on with his day, expecting to contact the young man in a day or two to check up on him. However, the same young man suddenly came back into the clinic unannounced and unscheduled. Jason stopped what he was doing to welcome him in, happy to see that he had returned. Jason listened intently as the young man began to open up in a way that Jason will never forget. He shared with Jason how the last few hours were spent in a car, in front of Lake Michigan, contemplating ending his life by submerging his car into the water. The hope of a full life that Jason imparted to the young man is what finally convinced him to drive back to the clinic. Although not all cases were this dramatic, Jason loved being able to intersect people’s lives during some of their lowest moments and partnering with them to overcome health challenges and prevent further infection.
Surprising Turn of Events
Jason, graduating from Moody with an Urban Ministries degree, never imagined himself using his ministry training in the field of public health, as it is an area he had no background in.
Jason’s call to this line of work came very unexpectedly due in part to the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001. Jason was working in Chicago at the time as a Case Worker for Travelers and Immigrants Aid, and although Chicago wasn’t attacked, the streets were still hectic as police officers evacuated people from Chicago’s downtown areas. Not only was the atmosphere in Chicago shocking, but Jason was concerned for his disabled mother in Pennsylvania, where one of the airplanes crashed. He wasn’t sure how she would receive food and medical attention in a catastrophe since she cannot leave home by herself. Jason felt, as did the nation as a whole, that a sense of security was lost, and as he watched the second plane hit the second tower of the World Trade Center live on television, something was sparked inside of him to learn more about terrorism, the national security system, and prepare others for similar emergencies.
In the economic recession that occurred over the next year, Jason found himself without a job needing a way to support himself. He eventually took a position as the HIV Case Investigator with Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
(Jason in a contamination suit.)
A Growing Compassion
Jason developed a deep compassion for the youth that he encountered day after day through various health outreaches in the city. Jason became frustrated with how little education was needed to prevent huge population segments from contracting deadly diseases; and that frustration gave birth to Jason’s passion for medical advocacy. Being able to apply the skills Jason learned at Moody helped him realize that this was a ministry calling that God had been training him for.
Eventually Jason took a similar position with the city of Chicago as a Communicable Disease Control investigator and was later promoted to the role of Supervising Disease Investigator. While working for the city, Jason traced disease outbreaks to protect others from infection. Often Jason would get to dialogue about God and elements of faith with his patients when the topic was brought up. Jason continued his education while working full time by earning a Master’s in Public Health and Disaster Management in 2010, and a Master’s in Homeland Security a few years later.
(Jason being hosed down, simulating hospitals preparing for mass contamination.)
In 2013 Jason made a big move to serve as the Vulnerable Populations Coordinator for the state of Georgia. Jason now helps protect others on a larger scale by implementing strategies to ensure that unprotected people groups such as retirement communities, orphanages, hospital patients, and the homeless have easy access to healthcare in the event of statewide emergencies.
Even though Jason could not have imagined the paths that God would take him down in life, he knows that he could not do it without his foundation from Moody. “Looking back, going to Moody was the best decision I ever made.” Says Jason, “Without my Urban Ministry training, I would not have the foundation that helps me relate with and minister to others in the constantly changing circumstances that I have found myself in.”
(Jason teaching a seminar.)
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