United Church of Christ

Conference Minister has lived with debt, is 'thrilled to be part of a solution'

The Rev. Justo Gonzalez saw debt collectors harass his family when he was growing up in a barrio in Buffalo, N.Y. Now a regional leader in the United Church of Christ, he is thrilled to be part of a UCC effort that is relieving thousands of families of medical debt.

The interim conference minister of the UCC Illinois Conference shared his story on Oct. 20 after participating in a news conference at Trinity UCC, Chicago. There, he and other UCC leaders announced that donations by local, Conference and national UCC bodies and partners had erased $5.3 million in medical debt for 5,888 Chicago families.

With the Chicago debt buy, the UCC launched what it plans to be a series of similar debt-relief efforts in other areas of the country. The next will be announced soon. Future (or 2020) buys will be funded, in part, with gifts collected on Giving Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. Information and updates are at this web page.

"It was not uncommon at times that our phone would ring and people would be harassing us, harassing my mother and family," Gonzalez said, recalling his childhood. "Poverty [was] a reality, including medical debt."

Even today, "I know people who get harassed on a regular basis because they can't afford to pay their medical debt," Gonzalez said. "In America that should be unacceptable. Certainly it is to me. And that's why it's so thrilling to be part of a solution, … to be able to say, 'We bless you with taking care of your medical debt. We honor who you are. … On this day, we say you are blessed. Your debt is forgiven."

 


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