Kansas megachurch helps to relieve $4.7M in medical debt; faring well amid COVID-19 shutdown

Fellowship Bible Church
Fellowship Bible Church, a nondenominational congregation based in Topeka, Kansas. |

A Kansas-based megachurch has helped to relieve approximately $4.7 million in medical debt, having raised the funds in advance of the coronavirus pandemic.

Fellowship Bible Church of Topeka is a nondenominational congregation which, before shutting down in-person worship to curb the spread of the coronavirus, averaged around 3,000 worship attendees at its two campuses.

The church recently announced that they raised money in partnership with a nonprofit called RIP Medical Debt, which the nonprofit used to purchase $4.7 million in medical debt.

Fellowship Bible Lead Pastor Joe Hishmeh told The Christian Post that his church decided to partner with RIP Medical Debt after a member heard about a church in Missouri taking part.

“We heard about RIP when a church member heard a message from a church in Columbia, Missouri, who paid a significant amount of debt for their region,” Hishmeh said.

“The capacity of a comparatively small amount to cover such a great amount of debt intrigued us and so we began to research them.”

Hishmeh told CP that his church decided to not learn the specific names of those who benefit from their charitable effort “because we did not want to communicate in any way that what we did would be conditional on them connecting with us.”

“We simply wanted to help them out in a difficult time in the name of Jesus,” he continued. “What we discovered is that it will cover the debt for people in every county in the state of Kansas and some in southern Nebraska.”

“Using the averages of what RIP has been able to negotiate nationally for these efforts, we estimate that over 2,000 individuals will have their medical debt covered by this.”

‘A day of liberation’

RIP Medical Debt was founded in 2014. It gained widespread attention in 2016 when it was positively featured on comedian John Oliver’s HBO series “Last Week Tonight."

The nonprofit frequently works with churches to buy medical debt for pennies on the dollar via the collection system and then to forgive said debt so that those indebted incur no expenses.

Last September, it partnered with The Crossing of Columbia, Missouri, to help eliminate approximately $43 million in medical debt after raising $431,597.30.

Pastors Keith Simon and Patrick Miller of The Crossing said in a statement that they saw their effort as a Jubilee, in homage to the practice in Ancient Israel in which every 50 years all debts were forgiven.

“It was called the Jubilee. A day of liberation. Debts forgiven. Indentured servants released. Mortgaged property returned. And on this same day everyone’s sins were forgiven,” they stated last September.

‘Doing well amidst the crisis’

The medical debt relief that Fellowship Bible contributed to comes at a time when many are experiencing economic hardships due to closures that are part of the effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Like the vast majority of churches in the United States, Fellowship Bible has stopped holding in-person services for the time being, providing online worship gatherings instead.

Hishmeh told CP that, financially speaking, his congregation was “doing well amidst the crisis,” with around 80 percent of their giving being received online.

“We have clearly communicated our priorities during this crisis and called everyone to give generously,” he explained.

“We also have redirected resources used in gathering on the weekends and other ministries and projects to help people in our church family financially with rent, food and utilities.”

Hishmeh added that they “are currently reaching more people with our weekend online worship services than were coming to our church before we went fully online.” 

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