Markle church hoping to help many cut medical debt for those in need

Aaron McClary, lead minister at Markle Church of Christ, holds a letter sent to more than 1,600 families, informing them of a Christmastime donation that forgave them of medical debts. The church was one of three area congregations that pooled their resources to purchase and redeem the debts.
Aaron McClary, lead minister at Markle Church of Christ, holds a letter sent to more than 1,600 families, informing them of a Christmastime donation that forgave them of medical debts. The church was one of three area congregations that pooled their resources to purchase and redeem the debts. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Three local churches, including one in Markle, are hoping their 2019 “Christmas Offering” causes a ripple effect of redemption through the area and inspires other congregations to follow their lead to eliminate thousands of dollars of medical debt for those who can’t afford to pay the bills.

Together, Markle Church of Christ, First Church of Christ in Bluffton and Bachelor Creek Church of Christ in Wabash pooled monetary gifts from their members totaling $15,000 and used it to eliminate more than $2 million in debt for residents in eight counties, including 129 families in Huntington County.

The Christmas Offering project began back in the fall of 2019, when Aaron McClary, lead minister at Markle Church of Christ, was looking for a good way to bless the community during the upcoming holiday season.

“Each Christmas we try to do some type of offering,” he explains. “Sometimes those dollars that we raise go internally to the church for various projects and ministry initiatives. And others go outside of the church.”

McClary says he came across a company called RIP Medical Debt, a 501(c)(3) non-profit company that works with churches, donors and organizations to negotiate and buy medical debts in bundled portfolios, millions of dollars at a time at a fraction of the original cost. Those debts are then forgiven. RIP Medical has abolished over $1 billion in medical debt since it was founded in 2014, helping more than 520,000 individuals and families.

Markle Church of Christ then reached out to the other two churches, partnering with them to combine their resources. In total they raised $15,000 to make a financial impact for 1,683 families in Adams, Blackford, Grant, Huntington, Jay, Wabash, Wells and Whitley counties. To the churches’ delight, RIP Medical used the donation to abolish a total of $2,091,635.43 in medical debts for them, whom McClary described as those who make less than two times the national poverty rate.

“They (RIP) have a pretty robust set of parameters for the families and individual debt holders that they are looking for,” he explains. “They are looking for those who are disproportionately burdened with medical debt due to their income.”

Families whose debts were redeemed received a letter from RIP Medical Debt announcing they no longer owed the balance on the bills. The letter states, “our forgiveness of the amount you owe is a no-strings-attached gift.” In addition, because the debt was canceled by a 501(c)(3) charity they owed no taxes on the “cancellation of debt” income.

While the names of the three churches are listed at the end of the letter, McClary says no one has contacted them to offer thanks or provide other feedback from what the letter called a “random act of kindness.” However, he says the Markle church congregation is undaunted by the lack of response.

“It would be nice if we did, but we didn’t do this in order to hear from anyone, necessarily,” he says. “We have a desire to be generous as a church, and I think the church in general does, which is why these other two were so quick to jump on board. This is bigger than just Markle Church.

“We’re living in a climate in which there is a lot of tension and division, and so any opportunity that we have to show kindness and to extend generosity is a good thing, and is something that we want to do.”

McClary says redeeming the debts of so many people fulfills commandments of what Christ wants his church to achieve on earth.

“The quintessential message of the Gospel that we teach and believe is that Jesus came to pay a debt that we owed,” he adds. “So, in terms of a gift that we can give to our communities that represented the gift we received, it would be hard to beat – the forgiveness of debt as a gesture of God’s love, and our love as well.”

Members of the Markle church have seen the fruit of their giving in several ways, such as how being a part of the churches’ generosity has made them feel.

“For our congregation, and I think I can speak for the other congregations as well, having the opportunity to be a part of something like this was a real joy and a gift to us, to be completely honest,” McClary says.

While Markle Church of Christ may decide to use their annual Christmas gift-giving in another direction next year, they hope what they have been able to achieve will produce a “ripple effect” through the Christian community in challenging other congregations to take the initiative to help others.

“I think we would hope that not only those who received the letters would be encouraged and blessed by it, but that anyone who hears about this story would just be inspired to think of ways they could be generous,” McClary says. “Whether it’s financially, I think the most fundamental idea is just being aware of the needs around you, and being thoughtful about how you might be able to meet those. I wouldn’t say that what we did was anything wild and crazy. We just knew there was a need and we felt like we could be a part of helping to meet it.”

To learn more information about RIP Medical Debt, visit the organization’s website at ripmedicaldebt.org.