What one Kansas church did to wipe out medical debt, loaves and fishes style


The leaders of Pathway Church on the outskirts of Wichita, Kan., set out only to help people nearby pay off some medical debt, recalled Larry Wren, Pathway’s executive pastor. But then they learned that, like a modern-day loaves-and-fishes story, their $22,000 collective donation could wipe out $2.2 million in debt not only for neighbors in the Wichita area but for every Kansan facing imminent insolvency because of medical expenses they could not afford to pay—1,600 people in all.

As Mr. Wren thought about the Easter message of redemption, things clicked. “Being able to do this provides an opportunity to illustrate what it means to have a debt paid that they could never pay themselves,” he said. “It just was a great fit.”


Churches in Maryland, Illinois, Virginia, Texas and elsewhere have been reaching the same conclusion. RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit organization based in Rye, N.Y., arranges the debt payoffs. It reports a surge in participation, primarily from Christian places of worship.

The mountain of bills they are trying to clear is high. Medical debt contributes to two-thirds of U.S. bankruptcies. When a person cannot pay a bill, that debt is often packaged with other people’s debt and sold to bill collectors for some fraction of the total amount of the bill. RIP Medical Debt buys debt portfolios on this secondary market for pennies on the dollar with money from its donors. But instead of collecting the debt, RIP forgives it. RIP reports that since 2018, 18 churches have been able to abolish $34.4 million in medical debt that had been hanging over their neighbors.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Jeanne Devine
10 months ago

As a former Kansan, I'm so glad to know about this story. The church at its best.


The latest from america

An elderly woman wears a protective face mask as she walks with shopping bags during the COVID-19 pandemic in Barcelona, Spain, April 1, 2020. (CNS photo/Nacho Doce, Reuters)
In Europe, there is a broad consensus that the elderly have suffered the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic—some have called it a “silent massacre.”
Melissa VidaMay 25, 2020
A solitary customer in a restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 28. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
The Swedish approach to Covid-19 has been to suggest rather than mandate social distancing, reports the pastor of a small island parish in the Baltic. So far that has meant a higher death toll than in other Nordic countries.
Charles TalleyMay 25, 2020
We should not forget to mourn as the country begins to decide how to most prudently restart life.
The EditorsMay 24, 2020
Francis called for reflection on the encyclical in which he “sought to draw attention to the cry of the earth and of the poor.”
Gerard O’ConnellMay 24, 2020