The ministry began as a partnership with a fellow Southern Baptist church, First Baptist Church Arnold in the St. Louis area, which had already been hosting eyeglass clinics for several years. Like Gutierrez’s church, FBC Arnold is located in an area with a high refugee population. Four years ago, Gutierrez reached out to FBC Arnold’s staff to ask about expanding the ministry to the Denver area.
Since then, FBC Arnold has sent several volunteers, including an ophthalmologist, to Aurora for each clinic. Gutierrez and his team promote the clinics by putting up signs on the church lawn and encouraging partner organizations—an elementary school, an African-community coalition, apartment complexes and area churches—to spread the word in the community. Since launching the clinics, Gutierrez says it hasn’t been difficult to find willing partners, both Christian and secular.
“One of the things I’ve discovered is that, as we reach our community here in Aurora,” Gutierrez says, “there are other churches and government agencies and organizations that look for opportunities like this to meet a very real need in the communities they’re trying to reach.”
FBC Aurora has an ongoing drive for prescription and reading glasses, and the team from Missouri also brings several boxes of new glasses they receive from Oasis International, a refugee-services organization. Before each clinic, the glasses are organized into bags and labeled for easy distribution.
During the clinic, volunteers measure participants’ visual acuity with an E chart and then determine what type of glasses they need. Those who require prescription glasses go through a second screening, in which a machine examines their eyes and matches them to a pair of glasses in the clinic’s inventory.
“We like to have three or four options for them to pick from,” Gutierrez says. “At the end of the day, everyone goes home with a pair of eyeglasses that they need.”
In addition to the volunteers FBC Arnold provides, Gutierrez enlists volunteers of his own, and a total of 20 to 30 adults serve at the clinics, helping with setup and teardown, assisting in the exams and ministering to the people who are waiting to receive their glasses. Many participants hear the gospel and go home with Bibles in their own language.
“We’ve held the clinic at places where we’re explicitly told that we cannot share the gospel, but they tell us that if people ask, then we can,” Gutierrez says. “And we’ve done it. We’ve given out gospel tracts. We’ve prayed with people who ask. We are intentional. We want people to know Jesus. And so whenever we’re given the opportunity, that’s what we do.”
Because of the refugee presence, it’s not unusual for Muslims to go through the lines at FBC’s clinics. During one clinic, a group of Buddhist monks showed up. The tangible expression of the gospel is often surprising to those outside the church.
“A lot of them ask, ‘Why are you here? Why are you doing this? We’ve not heard of any group doing this in our community,’” Gutierrez says. “And we just say, ‘Because Jesus loves you, and we love Jesus, and we want you to know that.’
“That’s really where the exciting part kicks in,” he adds. “No matter how long and difficult these clinics are, that’s when we realize it’s all worth it.”
In the fitting area, Gutierrez has participants read John 3:16 in different sizes, forming a direct connection between their physical sight and spiritual understanding. He says one of his favorite moments is when people—especially children—put on their glasses and see clearly for the first time.
“Most of them have been told that they’re slow learners,” Gutierrez says. “But then they discover that their problem isn’t something mental, but something very physical. It’s that they cannot see what’s on the board at school, so they can’t read very well. And in that moment when they try on their new glasses, their eyes grow big and there is a smile on their face. Something clicks.”
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF AURORA
Senior Pastor: Rico Gutierrez
Weekend Attendance: 300