Sunday, August 7, 2011


It has been exactly one year since we left Red Bird Mission and returned to our Hoosier home. The anniversary fills my mind with memories of the people and places that inhabited that year. In some ways our mountain experiences were parenthetical in our lives, brief and intransigent. In other ways they were so integral to our lives that we cannot imagine our be-ing without them. My journal is necessarily incomplete; after all, one cannot write of every experience nor share every picture, person, or place that touched us. It struck me that I had forgotten some painful moments of the journey and thus did not include them. Moments like being robbed soon after our arrival, of aching loneliness for family and friends, for the deep sense of isolation caused by closely hemmed mountains and forests, for the pain of accusations from the community while Red Bird struggled for its footing, for the need to sometimes leave the mountains in order to breathe freely again. But the human soul is so flexible and the journey so wonderful that these moments gave way to remarkable peace and to deep gratitude for the privilege that we knew was ours. We may have left little mark on the mountains, but they left a big mark on us.

Red Bird has changed in the last year. Drs. Lynn and Sharon Fogleman saw their last patients at the Clinic on Friday, July 29. They will be leaving for Africa in early 2012 to bring health services to the community of Yei in South Sudan. Contracting the Clinic services provided a structure that allows them to leave as another physician steps in to continue care in a seamless manner; I feel good that this can happen so smoothly. Dr. Lamar Keiser, long-time dentist, retired at the end of June. He continues to come to Red Bird two days a week from his home in Danville to provide patient care. The Mission continues to recruit a dentist to fill his shoes chairside. The dental lab sits rather quiet and remains an opportunity as yet unfulfilled. The School continues in its K-12 format with a greatly reduced budget; music remains an integral part of student life there. All other services remain in place as Red Bird continues to regain its financial footing and looks for ways to continue meeting human needs. The mountains remain unmoved, mists still roll in and dissolve again along their edges, the elk roam freely, people still live and love in the shadows of the Daniel Boone. The Red Bird River still springs from its limestone bed and moves inexorably to the Kentucky River and the great waters beyond. The circle of life seems little changed, but for one brief moment we stepped into another stream and made a tiny ripple.

For more information about the work at Red Bird Mission visit their website at Better yet, go for a visit. Best of all, stay for a while and roll up your sleeves. You might notice a tiny ripple.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Many Thanks

A Red Bird workteam loaded us up in no time.
Only a child could have so much fun in the middle of a move. Grandson Noah played happily for hours in the tunnels and forts he created from our emptied boxes.
The mechanics of moving are always daunting. Our move to Kentucky meant downsizing considerably, so we sorted and then gave away, sold, or packed every one of our belongings. I've written elsewhere about the impact of seeing one's life laid out for sale on the front lawn; it's just not pretty either inside or out. The move back to Indiana reversed the process, but it was still much the same. We sorted and packed and enlisted the energies once again of a work team for loading and then relied again on friends to unload at our Indiana house. What kind friends we have! They handled this stuff twice in one year and never uttered a grumbling word. We settled back into our neighborhood as if we'd never left, rejoined our congregation without missing a beat, and gathered family around us in celebrations of love and joyfulness made even sweeter by our absence.

In our church we have a somewhat liturgical response that begins with our minister saying "God is good" to which the congregation replies "All the time." The minister then replies "all the time" to which the congregations responds "God is good."

And so the litany continues... God is good.

Leaving Red Bird

It became just as obvious that time was approaching for us to leave Kentucky, as it had been obvious that we should go. Neither decision is easily explainable. I was recruited for a particular work and what we believed would take about three years to accomplish was finished in one. Although I was offered jobs in the region, we knew that our time in Kentucky was finished.
Knowing that the Clinic would be in good hands, that Red Bird was restructuring and rebounding, that Alan had completed many improvement projects on the campus, and that our home remained unsold in Indiana, made the decision to return to Indiana inevitable. Just as completely as our gaze had turned to the mountains and to a task there, our gaze turned toward “home” and a return to our Indiana family. We made many friends at Red Bird, we enjoyed the camaraderie and acceptance of many local people, we enjoyed meaningful work, we experienced life among a unique culture, we grew to love the magnificent mountains and the beautiful natural surroundings. We even grew accustomed to the isolation of the location, the heat of the airless hollers, and the idiosyncracies of mountain people and life in the Cumberland.
Going to Red Bird was a step of faith…and yet it hardly seemed so. We were compelled by a Spirit beyond our understanding, sustained by that Spirit, and returned home again with Spirit’s blessing.

Red Bird Realities

We lived and worked at Red Bird Mission during what must surely be the most difficult year of its existence. The American economic implosion of 2008-2009 had a devastating effect on donations to the Mission, as well as to the cost of providing services. The truth is that Red Bird had been operating in an inflated position for some time, overextending its ability to provide K-12 education in the same way and draining its reserves in an effort to do so. The Board made one wrenching decision after another: close the elementary school, close the entire school, cut back on staff and expenses to barebones levels. The organization teetered on bankruptcy and pressure on leadership was enormous.

To its credit Red Bird School was able to quickly reorganize, remaining a K-12 facility with some combined classes and reduced amenities (the closure of little-used dorms and reduction in bus routes, for example). Every budget was reevaluated and adjusted; cuts became painful but services remained stable. For my part, it was clear that healthcare services could not be sustained as provided and drastic measures were needed to keep the Clinic in the mountains. Upcoming federal regulations, our reliance on uncertain grants and donations, the difficulty of recruiting medical professionals to Red Bird, and our inability to remain independent given our lack of efficiency of scale meant that Red Bird would need to partner or be contracted to an able provider.

Red Bird Clinic provided me with a wonderful challenge: to provide current services as profitably and lovingly as possible and to find a solution to its long-term viability. After several studies, conversations with possible partners, and listening to local people, we were able to take a proposal to Red Bird’s board for divestiture of its Clinic operations to the Adventist Health System. Medical Director Sharon Fogleman was in full agreement and was happy to let me while away my days working on the details of the plan. In July of 2010 the Red Bird Mission/Clinic Board voted unanimously to give up control of the health ministry it had overseen for 88 years. It had not been easy, but it was so worth it…the Clinic remained in place at Red Bird and the people of the Red Bird Valley continue to receive care there.

I had worked myself right out of a job.

Samaritan's Purse

The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina
Unloading medical supplies at Samaritan's Purse
Boxes waiting for shipment in time for Christmas
I’d been planning for weeks to do something about the pile of donations in the Clinic basement that we couldn’t use. Although we maintained an updated list of needs on our website, well-meaning folks still arrived at Red Bird with donations of medical supplies and equipment that we could not use. Much of the equipment was outdated, we had enough already (crutches), or patients could get a new one free of charge from Medicare (walkers, for example). There is a high cost to handling unneeded donations: the cost of storage, sorting, and disposal could be significant. For us, the solution meant volunteers made too many trips to a dumpster. The remaining supplies and equipment were verified as usable by Samaritan’s Purse, an international humanitarian organization with a medical supply arm headquartered in Boone, North Carolina (it’s director is Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham).
And so one weekend we loaded up a large van (and I mean loaded to the gills), and Alan and I set off for North Carolina to deliver the goods. The Blue Ridge Mountains were spectacular in their late spring greenery. And, yes, the humidity creates a bluish haze over the rolling hills. Samaritan’s Purse is tucked away in these ridges, a surprisingly large organization whose global reach touches children through its Operation Christmas Child, whose clean water and homebuilding services were working overtime after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, whose food was being shipped to hungry around the world, and whose healthcare supplies fill clinics and hospital worldwide. They welcomed our donations and gave us a personal tour of their operation. It was good to be able to share the overabundance that Red Bird Clinic had received, passing forward the gifts of others.


Berea was one of my favorite towns in Kentucky. Known for its liberal arts college, the town has been a hotbed of progressive attitudes and arts from its inception. Berea College has long been known for its work-study programs that allow Appalachian students to attend free of charge. It was the first de-segregated college in the South and has always championed diversity and racial reconciliation. Its efforts in peace-building, environmental responsibility, the arts, service to the marginalized, and high academic standards are widely known. Berea's long history with indigenous arts and crafts made it the natural location for the Kentucky Artisan Center. Boone Tavern is a popular hotel and restaurant (famous, too, for its corn-based Spoon Bread) and Warren May's famous dulcimer and handcrafted furniture shop is right around the corner. The town is alive with the arts, ranking in the top 25 U.S. arts destinations; music fills its town square weekly, community theater abounds, and a thriving community of artists make their homes there. Painted hands sprinkle the landscape (like the painted ponies of the desert southwest), welcoming visitors and symbolizing the 'work together' attitude of the community.

Red Bird Mission

This sign welcomes people to the Red Bird Mission campus.
Red Bird Mission fills a narrow hollow deep in the mountains of the Cumberland Plateau; it is surrounded by the Daniel Boone National Forest and follows the lines cut by the Red Bird River and Highway 66 in southeast Kentucky. The school is in the foreground with other Mission buildings around the corner and up the road.
Red Bird Mission
Although this blog has served me well in recording thoughts and experiences, it hasn’t yet shown readers the context of Red Bird Mission. Ok, so there’s been a picture of the Clinic and my office, of Alan working in a wood shop and with a team. Perhaps it sounded like we were single-handedly saving a community in Southeast Kentucky from poverty, disease and want. Nothing was further from the truth. We were, in fact, part of a community with a 90-year history of service in the Red Bird Valley.

Begun in 1921 with the arrival of two teachers and a preacher, Red Bird Mission was the answer to a prayer for a school for the children of mountain families too remote to benefit from county-seat schools. The geography in which these families lived was isolated and mountainous, the far-reaching back yards of three counties that came together near the tiny community of Beverly. A year later a nurse joined the group and soon a school, church, and hospital were thriving—today known as the Red Bird School, Red Bird Clinic, and Beverly United Methodist Church. With long ties to the United Methodist Church through its Evangelical United Brethern (EUB) roots (the EUB and Methodist Episcopal churches merged in 1968 to form the United Methodist Church), Red Bird Mission has been reliant on the goodwill of this denomination for all of its existence.
Today Red Bird Mission has expanded into five major components of service: education, health care, economic opportunity, community housing, and a broad range of services called community outreach. (Although Red Bird Clinic is its own legal entity, it shares the administrative services of the Mission and is governed by the same board of directors; here I include the Clinic when I speak of Red Bird Mission.) Although the Mission maintains historic ties with United Methodists and has many convoluted relationships with varied groups within the denomination, Red Bird Mission and Red Bird Clinic are governed solely by an independent board of directors organized under Kentucky law. The Beverly Church (mentioned above) and other United Methodist congregations in the region fall under a separate UM church structure called a Conference and are not governed by Red Bird Mission’s board. For all practical purposes, the churches and social service structures at Red Bird are completely separate, with Red Bird Mission and Red Bird Clinic governed by their board of directors and the churches falling under the United Methodist Red Bird Missionary Conference. With “Red Bird” in the names of all these entities and with their related histories, church ties, and geographical proximity (offices governing both sit side-by-side), it is very confusing for people from outside the area to recognize the distinctions.
The human side of the story is this: Red Bird Mission touches the lives of about 14,000 mountain people a year. The Mission has learned how to provide needed services in one of the most difficult environments and cultures in the United States today. Poverty and isolation still permeate mountain life; human need still outstrips the capacity of governments, industry, human services, and churches to provide. Red Bird Mission combines the best elements of all of these and somehow makes it work—not that the work is easy or complete—but it works.
The following pictures and text from the five ministry areas presents a most incomplete and unfinished story.
Dr. Lynn Fogleman works out a patient issue with business office manager, Winna Wagers.
It's never done till the paperwork's done!
Dr. Sharon Fogleman provided patient care for many.
Red Bird Clinic was a federally-designated Rural Health Center, providing a full range of primary care services on an outpatient basis. The Clinic included two board certified Family Practice physicians, a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, a lab/x-ray technician, two nurses, a nursing assistant, and office staff. Services also included a Public Health nurse and an independent on-site pharmacy.The Clinic saw about 500 patients each month on a budget of about $1.3 million, with patient revenues providing most of the operating budget. In addition, the Public Health nurse made over 600 home visits annually, as well as covered the needs of the school and some community health education.
Dr. Keiser and assistant, Ruth Ann, care for a patient.
Harry Brooks and students in the lab tech training program.
Dental Clinic
The Red Bird Dental Clinic sees about 150-200 patients a month. Serving an area of Appalachia with the national record for toothlessness meant that dental and dental hygiene needs were great. In 2008 a volunteer from Indiana (Harry Brooks) donated a modern dental appliance lab that provided low-cost dentures. In addition, he began training lab techs in the art in 2010. Without the services of a hygienist, dental hygiene students provided services annually under the direction of their instructors.
Meals on Wheels brought these women together.
The Christmas Room collects goods all year long.
Youth Summer Program--learning & fun on summr days.
Community Outreach
Community Outreach provides the most comprehensive range of human services, serving the elderly, women, children, the homeless, and community indigent. Its senior services include the DeWall Senior Center, Meals on Wheels and Home Care. Women and children benefit from MIHOW (Mothers & Infants Health Outreach Workers) and parenting classes, children attend its Early Childhood Development classes or spend summers in its Summer Youth program. Community Outreach also provides transitional housing & counseling for homeless families, transportation, low-income housing for disabled or senior residents, emergency food and clothing, adult education and GED preparation, a large Christmas program, and agriculture and gardening initiatives through Grow Appalachia.
On their day off dental hygiene volunteers worked on a campus building.
Lenny (NY) volunteers every year on community housing.
Community Housing
Community Housing provides a way for teams (and individuals) to work on housing repair projects for low-income residents in the Red Bird service area. Each year between 2,500 and 3,000 volunteers come to Red Bird for either the housing projects or to work on building maintenance around the campus. Staff oversee an extensive process of application and approval before projects are chosen, as well as management of the work and oversight of teams. Many youth teams come during the summer months, while spring and fall see adult groups generally.
Red Bird School provides K-12 education with extracurricular opportunities in music, sports, and foreign language. The school is known for its quality music program, which features choral and instrumental groups (a reflection of both a gifted instructor and a local culture of music).
At a craft fair in a Methodist church--this was only one of many tables of handmade crafts by Kentucky artisans (these from a Richmond potter). Baskets, rugs, weaving, cornhusk dolls, woodworking, jewelry, and dulcimers were also sold.
The Craft Store at Red Bird Mission featured many fine pieces of art.
The Community Store sorted, cleaned, and sold mountains of donations.
Economic Opportunities
This area of Red Bird Mission was its smallest and encompassed a Community Store (which sold donated clothing and some household goods, as well as provided basics for families whose homes burned), a Craft Store (which featured handmade crafts from Kentucky), and took craft shows to churches as a way of promoting Red Bird Mission and supporting artists from the region.