Desperation Church to pay medical debts of needy in 5 counties

Desperation Church Senior Pastor Andy Heis (with Desperation’s Arab campus Pastor Jake Hendon in the background) speaks Sunday morning. (Screen capture/Desperation Church)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Desperation Church is attempting to teach people forgiveness involves one person’s willingness to accept another’s debt, and announced it is going to do it in a very real, tangible way. 

Desperation Senior Pastor Andy Heis on Sunday morning told his congregation that the church is taking on the challenge of paying off the medical debts of needy families and individuals in Walker, Winston, Cullman, Blount and Marshall Counties, saying, “We are looking at, as a church, paying off the medical debt that people have in their lives, that are underneath the poverty line; our church, today, is we’re going to pay off medical debt in people’s lives that’s holding them back from being who, who God has called them to be. Alright, so our church is going to do that today, in a large way.”

Heis went on to explain that the debt in question, reportedly $1.7 million, can be purchased for “pennies on the dollar” through a partnership with a medical debt nonprofit. In a statement on the Desperation Church website, that amount was clarified as “just 1 penny on the dollar.”

Heis: “Here’s the big picture: God’s called us as a church to rebuild, revive and restore our communities. And so, we’re going to do that in Walker County, do it in Marshall County, Winston County, Blount County, we’re going to do it in Cullman County. We’re going to pay off medical debt. We’re going to start this; it’s going to make a big, big impact in a family’s lives, and you’re going to get to be part of it, we’re going to get to be part of it.”

Heis turned to Desperation’s Arab campus Pastor Jake Hendon, who noted the congregation’s history of community service days and community meals, then explained, “And so, as of today, we’re starting a new partnership in our missions lane with a company called RIP Debt (The actual name is RIP Medical Debt). And so, basically, we are going to take the five counties that we just listed, and every single person who lives under the poverty line, who has medical debt, we’re going to be able to pay that, to purchase that debt for pennies on the dollar like Pastor Andy was talking about, and then we’re just going to forgive that debt.”

Hendon went on to clarify specifics of the program. Recipients of the debt forgiveness must:

  • have income below two times the national poverty level
  • have medical debt payments requiring more than 5% of their income
  • be financially insolvent


Hendon stated that the church is taking on debts by county and zip code, will not pay for selected individuals, and cannot take specific requests for assistance. Those should be directed to RIP Medical Debt.

RIP Medical Debt

Nonprofit RIP Medical Debt’s mission statement reads, “RIP Medical Debt empowers donors to forgive billions in oppressive medical debt. We are dedicated to removing the burden of medical debt for individuals and families and veterans across America.”

The organization offers this program explanation on its website:

Medical debt destroys the financial stability of large segments of America’s most vulnerable communities: the sick, the elderly, the poor, and veterans. It also targets the middle class, driving many families who are barely getting along into poverty. Medical debt isn’t the result of bad decisions. It’s a debt of necessity.

By forgiving this debt we strive to give struggling individuals, and their families, a fresh start. We hope to give those affected the ability to seek the continued medical care they need and help them back towards financial stability.

Every day, we receive messages from people who suffer under crushing debt far beyond their financial means to pay—from the son of a stroke survivor in Kentucky whose family could not keep up with their mortgage payments, to the cancer patient in Florida whose debts made it impossible for her to continue with necessary treatment. Rising healthcare costs and endless bills are leaving families with nowhere to turn.

RIP uses donors’ funds to wipe out medical debt from the neediest cases up. 

Once we’ve pinpointed the portfolios for those in or near the poverty level, we buy up their debt and forgive it. Then we send forgiveness notices to the benefiting families, and subsequently help the recipients repair their credit reports—renewing their access to opportunities and resources that will allow them to rebuild and recover.

North Alabama falls within RIP Medical Debt’s Appalachia region, about which the non-profit says:

More than 60% of bankruptcies in America have medical debt as a root cause, and the situation is especially dire in Appalachia.

A recent study showed that in Appalachia, out-of-pocket healthcare costs are 40% higher than the national average, and this year almost every state in Appalachia suffered a decline in insurance coverage—sure to make things worse.

Nearly one in five people in Appalachia are in poverty, and medical debt makes that poverty impossible to escape. Medical debt destroys a family’s credit rating; denying access to loans, an apartment, and even a job. People in medical debt are less likely to seek medical care or fill prescriptions so that, in the end, medical debt not only destroys well-being and economic security, it can kill.

With its strong work ethic and abundant natural resources, Appalachia fueled America’s prosperity. From the Great Smoky Mountains to Davy Crockett, Appalachia has formed America’s cultural image. Musicians like Ralph Stanley and Dolly Parton defined American music. 

While medical debt has affected all of America, it is especially tragic that the medical debt crisis has hit Appalachia so hard; an area that has given so much to the country. 

Why do it?

Hendon explained, “I think a lot of times it’s really difficult for people who don’t know Jesus to understand the level of payment, the free gift that’s been given to them, and this is going to be an opportunity for us to do that.”

Hendon shared his own family’s story of dealing with overwhelming medical debt, then told the congregation, “What’s going to happen is that there’s going to be people who are under the poverty line and, in most of the time, it’s the people who are already the most vulnerable: it’s people who already have chronic illnesses, it’s people who are single moms, it’s people who are veterans, and all of the time, it’s always affecting people so much. 

“You know that the number one cause of marriage problems, most of the time, is financial. You think about just the added stress of finances and then the mental health of that, and you add that onto people that are already struggling. 

“And then, not only that, but you take hits to your credit, so it’s harder to get a job and it’s harder to get a loan, and your loans increase and the rates go up, and there’s just so much. It’s like a snowball that just keeps going.

“And so, what’s going to happen is that there’s going to be people that are going to get a letter in the mail, and it’s going to say, ‘Hey, your debt’s been forgiven,’ but it’s not going to say ‘because of an insurance company.’ It’s going to say, ‘Your debt’s been forgiven by the generosity of Desperation Church.’ And it’s going to change people’s lives.

“In order for us to pay off $1.7 million worth of medical debt- that’s all five counties, every single person who hits that criteria- in order to do that, it’s going to cost us $17,000. What that means is that together we can do a lot, that together we are a force for good. By myself, I can do a little bit, but together we can do a lot.”

Hendon stated that the debt could be covered by gifts averaging $9 per member across Desperation’s campuses.

The Arab campus pastor explained about the people Desperation Church is trying to help, “It wasn’t just that they did something wrong; it wasn’t just something that they made poor choices. There’s people who are trying to do the right thing and they’re in this place, and we’re going to get to give a helping hand to help get them out of that, so that they can have their physical needs met, so that eventually we can meet their spiritual needs. What they will know at the end of this is, they’ll know that you love them, and because they know that you love them, they’ll know that Jesus loves them, and they’ll be able to encounter that in an incredible way.”

A special page has been set up on the Desperation Church website to explain the program and accept online donations. The program description includes the following statements:

“Each person will receive a letter letting them know their medical debt has been cleared by an act of generosity from Desperation Church. Plus, RIP medical debt will then work with the credit unions to repair the credit damage from the medical debt thereby lifting the credit score of each person. As they recover from their illness, the improved score will make it easier for them to get a job, get an apartment, and help them get back on their feet, and avoid homelessness.”

“This is an act of biblical justice and generosity on behalf of the poor done in Jesus’ name. People affected in the 5 counties will get letters with the good news.

“To the communities of Walker, Winston, Cullman, Blount, and Marshall county – You Are Loved.  This simple act of kindness from your friends at Desperation Church has no strings attached. It is just a reminder that Jesus loves you, and so do we.

For more information about Desperation Church’s medical debt relief, visit The page includes a link for online donations, and a link to RIP Medical Debt for those wanting to learn more about that organization, wanting to inquire about having their medical debts forgiven. 

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W.C. Mann