Shift Ministry Models

Paying Off Medical Debt as an Act of Liberation

The story of a congregation that took seriously the call to forgive one another’s debts
by Rev. Minna Bothwell | May 23, 2022

In 2017, a member of our congregation who had come to the United States on a visa and was seeking asylum, needed emergency hospital care. She had no insurance, no job, no social security number, let alone a bank account. The bill came and was over $7,000.00 for one afternoon in the hospital—no surgery, no MRI, just simple blood tests and a conversation with a doctor that resulted in a prescription. The decision to go to the ER wasn’t taken lightly; days of pain had occurred with an inability to move or eat. She was diagnosed with a serious ulcer, which isn’t an emergency in the United States, according to the hospital’s financial guidelines. Our congregation worked with the hospital’s financial department to pay off the bill. 

Medical debt is one of the greatest burdens in the United States. According to some studies, between 25 and 30 percent of Americans struggle to afford the cost of medical care and medical debt contributes to a significant number of bankruptcies each year. Thousands of people make the decision every year not to seek medical care when they need it because of the cost.

Capitol Hill Lutheran Church has witnessed this narrative play out repeatedly. Our benevolence fund has paid for all kinds of medical bills, procedures and surgeries, prescriptions, and mental health counselors. Medical debt is debilitating. It prevents people from living as fully as God intends. Anytime a person has debts, their quality of life suffers. At Capitol Hill Lutheran Church, we believe God wants an abundant life for everyone, now. Because of this, we decided in 2020 that we would make that more of a priority and we took a risk to kick off a campaign partnering with RIP Medical Debt in hopes of boldly bearing witness to God’s abundance. 

Our campaign began with CHLC designating $8,000.00 towards a larger campaign of $15,000.00 with the hope of eliminating some medical debt in Iowa. It turns out you can buy hundreds of dollars of medical debt, for just $1.00! RIP Medical Debt purchases medical debt portfolios from secondary debt collectors and partners with organizations (like ours) to do this in order to forgive it. Our $8,000.00 was enough to buy all the medical debt available to RIP in Iowa. Because we had enough to buy all of Iowa’s medical debt, we decided to also purchase our neighbor, Missouri’s, medical debt. Our campaign was heard about around the world, and we raised over $42,000.00. Today, we still have money from our campaign and every time medical debt comes available to RIP in Iowa, we buy it, and forgive it. 

To date CHLC has purchased a total of $1,433,750.11 of medical debt and forgiven it. We continue to proclaim our calling as Christians to eliminate barriers that oppress people. By way of the campaign, we have helped set free from crushing medical debt, 828 families in Iowa and Missouri. You know, the good news of Jesus will always be that of liberation…of setting people free. Just imagine how many tangible ways we can do that today. 

Here are the steps we took to initiate our campaign. 

How to Partner with RIP Medical Debt

  1. Go to
  2. Click on Campaigns and “Start a Campaign”. 
  3. Fill out the information and click “Propose a Campaign”. 
  4. A Development Associate will email and begin to work with your organization.
About the Author

Rev. Minna Bothwell

Rev. Minna Bothwell has been the pastor of Capitol Hill Lutheran Church in Des Moines, IA since 2014 when she graduated from Wartburg Seminary. She is married to Rev. Nat Bothwell and they have a daughter, Ada. She continues to be grateful for her calling to CHLC and their life together.

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