What’s a better way to start off 2020 than to know all or part of your medical debt is paid off? Knowing that Jesus died on the cross so that your sins could be forgiven. This new year, Cowboy Fellowship has partnered with RIP Medical Debt to pay off $6,177,702.84 in medical debt for 2,112 Atascosa County residents.
RIP Medical Debt was founded in 2014 by two former debt collections executives, Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton. They used their expertise and compassion to create a unique way to forgive medical debt: they would use donations to buy large bundles of medical debt and then forgive that debt with no tax consequences to donors or recipients. From this idea came RIP Medical Debt, a New York based 501(C) (3). The results have been spectacular— $1,020,232,792 billion in medical debts eradicated so far, providing financial relief for over 520,000 individuals and families.
Pastor Pete, the staff and other lay leaders in the congregation started praying about this project in the summer of 2019. The project was announced to the congregation this fall and within just two weeks of collecting donations, Cowboy Fellowship raised around $60,000 between their two campuses. That has allowed for RIP to pay off this huge amount of medical debt for Atascosa County residents. Likewise, RIP is also working in Wilson County through Cowboy Fellowship’s satellite campus, they will pay off $492,091.96 in medical debt affecting 173 people. Ultimately, RIP will abolish a total $6,669,794.80 between Atascosa and Wilson County paying off 2,285 people’s medical debt.
Cowboy Fellowship Pastor Pete Pawelek stated, “As great as that is, it doesn’t even compare with the debt that Jesus paid for all of us for our sins. And so, we just hope this will be an expression of love and an expression of generosity and an expression of the gospel.”
It is imperative to know if you receive a yellow envelope in the mail with a return address to Cowboy Fellowship, or RIP, do NOT throw it away. That’s your letter informing you that RIP has paid off all or a part of your medical debt.
“We want people to know, number one, if they get a yellow envelope with our return address, don’t throw it away. They should open it, because that’s going to give them all the information about what was paid, how much was paid and everything else they will need to know. That’s really the big thing. I just don’t want people to go, ‘Another piece of junk mail,’ and throw it out,” said Pastor Pete.
RIP selects the fortunate people at random who will have their debt paid through an algorithm starting with people two times below the poverty level, then people one time below the poverty level, veterans, people facing bankruptcy because of their medical debt. “If the system works the way they say it does, this money is going to those in real need of it,” said Pastor Pete. “I wish we could pay everybody’s medical debt off and just wave a magic wand and make everyone’s medical debt go away, but at least for these 2,000 people, we can do that.”
The Cowboy Fellowship Church has no say in where the money goes or who gets their debt paid. This is a random act of kindness made possible by the generosity of church members from the congregation. Even if you are not one of the lucky ones that get their debt paid, the hope is that this great act of kindness will trickle out into the community bringing joy, prosperity and random acts of kindness.
Pastor Pete said, “At the center of the Gospel is our sins being paid for, our debts being paid and totally forgiven by Christ. And I believe Jesus calls us to be generous in every area of our lives and that’s why we wanted to do this for our community. It’s not something that we’re trying to do to just impact our church. Since 2003, we have really worked hard to impact our community in unique and meaningful ways. The amazing people in our congregation just love to do things that impact the community. Because again, at the heart of the Gospel is generosity.”
Some staggering facts about medical debt: Every day 79,000,000 Americans choose between paying their medical bills and basic needs like food and shelter. Sixty-six percent of all US bankruptcies are tied to medical debt issues. Twenty-five percent of all U.S. credit card debt is medical debt. To avoid high costs, one in two individuals don’t go to the doctor when they’re sick. Thankfully for over 2,000 individuals and families in our community that will no longer be their story.
Residents should start looking for yellow envelopes with the Cowboy Fellowship return address in their mail in a few weeks. If you would like to share a testimony of how this project impacted your family you can contact the church through their website www.cowboyfellowship.org or by downloading their free app.