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Caring people performing sacred work

This is where He would be.

If Jesus walked the Earth today, this is where he would be.

He would be here, with hard-luck spirits on broken streets. He would be here, on Doat and Genesee streets, near the grim heart of the city's East Side. He would be here, where the need is great and help is hard to find.

He would not hang his healer shingle in a plush suburb or on a city street lined with BMWs. He would come to a place where few of wealth and power venture, but many of lesser means live. It does not matter if the coat is tattered cloth or finest silk, or if the shirt is frayed or custom-fitted. A human heart beats underneath all of it, of equal worth in the eye of God.

It is why Charles "Chick" Biegner, as pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church, staked out this corner for the past three decades. It is why, piece by piece, the pastor who tawkslike Jimmy Cagney and acts like Mother Teresa turned a foothold into an oasis of helping.

A few years ago, Biegner brought in a free medical clinic, run by UB. Then came a doctor's office, led by Myron Glick. Now there are counseling and chiropractic and dental clinics. Where once was little, now is a lot. More than 3,000 people from hard streets came through the doors the past year. And were helped.

Where Biegner led, others followed. Yuk Ming Liu is a UB med student from Manhattan's no-excuses Lower East Side. She is one of dozens of UB docs-in-training who come Wednesday nights to work at the free clinic. She comes to learn and to learn how to give.

"A lot of doctors, as medical students, are filled with ideals," said Liu, sharp eyes peering from behind round wire-rimmed glasses. "At some point, a lot of them lose them. This is something that keeps that core feeling."

She found on broken streets not chaos, but a need for care.

"It looks bad, but when you come here you see that this is a community," said Liu. "It's mostly families, like anywhere."

On a recent 20-degree night, a cluster of folks waited for the clinic door to open.

"This is definitely needed," said Evelyn Barnes, a friendly woman who lives nearby. "Everyone can't get medical insurance. Even with insurance, you have your co-pays. Here, that's taken care of."

"We don't have many doctors' offices in this neighborhood," added Barnes, who works a minimum-wage job. "If you go to an ER, you wait for hours."

Sometimes it seems like the clinic is in a Third World backwater, not an American city. One patient's eye was completely red. Untreated hypertension burst the blood vessels. Another man had burns from a grease fire. He self-medicated for three days before coming in. A woman complained of pain in the uterus. The on-staff doctor, UB's Raghu Ram, extracted a tampon. Toxic shock syndrome is not a household phrase in some of these households.

"It could have led," said Ram, "to a severe infection."

The doctors and med students followed different paths to the same place.

"They are all people of faith, but of different faiths," said Biegner, now retired but still present. "We have Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish. We were set up to be a Christian witness, but it has gone beyond that."

They can't handle big problems. But they handle a lot, find insurance for many and patch up the rest.

"Even helping people get jobs or play high school sports [by giving free physical exams]," said Biegner, "affects the community's health."

Heal the sick, help the poor. Biegner opened the door. Others like him -- doctors, med students, dentists, counselors -- followed. In a small way, each of them walks in Hisfootsteps, follows the path Hechose, carries on the work Hewould do, were He here.

Maybe He is.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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