Debbie Moss To Retire After 20 Years Of Faithful Service

If you know Debbie Moss, Dawson's Minister of Health and Wellness, you know that there are many words that would describe her. She is energetic, creative, gregarious, and spunky, to name a few. She is also a brilliant teacher, an esteemed leader, and a loyal friend. While all of those words are true, one word, devoted, may fit her best of all. Debbie has spent almost her entire life devoted to Jesus and devoted to making Him known through loving and caring for others.

Debbie was born in Memphis and grew up in Northeast Tennessee where she accepted Christ as her Savior at the age of seven. Coming from a very close-knit family, Debbie learned the importance of being there for one another.

“I have memories of my Mom sitting with me after school, always ready with a bottle of Coke and cheese and crackers, wanting to hear about my day. Those conversations continued into adulthood and I often refer to her as my best friend. She always said that I could do anything that I put my mind to. I credit my Dad with my love of the outdoors—camping and gardening. He had the best garden in the community and I would see him bagging vegetables and sharing them with others. He had the most incredible work ethic."

"Both of my parents played basketball in school. So, my brother, Ronnie, and I grew up loving the game. Ronnie was 2½ years older and I wanted to do whatever he was doing. Can you imagine how annoying that was for a little sister to be following you around? As youngsters, teams were being selected for our neighborhood baseball, and no one wanted a girl on their team. Fortunately for me, my brother was a good athlete. He would say, “If my sister can’t play, I won’t play.” He has gone to bat for me my whole life. To this day, Ronnie and I call each other every day just to check in."

Debbie decided to go to college at Samford University where her brother, Ronnie, was also attending. While she and her Mom were driving to Samford to begin her freshman year, an event happened that had a huge impact on her life. As she sat wide-eyed and ready to begin a new chapter, they came upon an accident on Highway 280 where a young child had just been struck after getting off of a school bus. Debbie and her Mom were the first ones on the scene, so Debbie quickly got out of the car to see what she could do to help. Sadly, the child had died from the collision.

“The mother came running out of her house and grabbed me while crying, “Do something!” I still remember how I felt in that moment. I wanted to help her but I was only 18 years old and I did not know what to do. I recall praying at the scene and asking God to please prepare me, that if something like this happened again, I would know what to do. I soon declared nursing as my major. Nursing became my ministry and my effort to serve the Lord through it.”

Debbie received her BS in Nursing at Samford in 1976. (Shortly thereafter, Ronnie would become a doctor and marry Debbie’s college roommate, Nancy.) Debbie's love for people and for sharing the Gospel led her to take her first mission trip to Nigeria in 1980 at the age of 26. This may have been her first mission trip, but it definitely would not be the last one.

The experience of that mission trip would leave a lifelong impression on Debbie, however, the call to combine nursing and the work of the church would come years later. Debbie spent the next 25 years working in local hospitals in Critical Care Units and Cardiology before retiring. Shortly thereafter, Debbie began a new career of ministry at Dawson.

Dawson's Health and Wellness Ministry began when Dr. Gary Fenton commissioned Debbie and the new ministry in front of the congregation on September 1, 2001. Debbie’s vision for the ministry was to provide a variety of opportunities for promoting optimal physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Many of the initiatives Debbie implemented had never been provided before. One of these was a check-out program of durable medical equipment (i.e. wheel chairs, crutches, scooters). Not only did it provide a needed service for church members, but it also gave Debbie a chance to pray with each recipient. Local hospitals would call on behalf of non-church members who were in need.

Debbie was integral in Dawson becoming a Disaster Relief location for the Red Cross, even adding the distinction of pet shelter at a later date. You may also remember the LensCrafter’s Vision Van when school kids came to Dawson, each leaving with a new pair of eye glasses, and the Volleyball Tournament held here in 2010 for the Special Olympics.

Over the years, Debbie has trained and worked with over 185 volunteers serving on the Health & Wellness Ministry team. To date, over 35,178 blood pressures have been recorded. This simple weekly service proved to be more than just a “check in” for some members.

Debbie knows the importance of educating individuals about the relationship between their lifestyle, attitudes, faith, and well-being. Because of this, Debbie has worked hard to make sure that opportunities to be informed were available at Dawson through programs and classes. For the past 15 years, Debbie has provided the Healthy Lifestyle Weight Loss program at the start of each new year. This three-month nutrition and exercise program was designed for anyone interested in becoming healthier through simple lifestyle changes. Two different studies have been published using the program as a sample group.

Each month Debbie's "Lunch and Learn" seminars welcomed accomplished speakers who covered topics from head to toe.
Debbie wanted these classes to be informative, fun, and engaging. People loved them so much that they would come back every month. Another favorite was the weekly Strength and Balance class for senior adults with the perfect amount of physical and mental activity. This class would exercise together, laugh together, and pray for one another. Other classes that have been offered include certification courses for First Aid, AED, and CPR, as well as, cooking classes meant to provide quick and easy recipes for healthy eating. Dawson also hosted health screenings for skin cancer, vaccine clinics, and blood drives, and sponsored various support groups including one for Caregivers, Breast Cancer, and the "Unforgettable Choir" for participants with dementia.

One of the most beloved aspects of Debbie's job has been recruiting, training, and leading mission endeavors all over the world. A peek inside her home reveals a personal collection of handmade nativities brought back from countries near and far, although Debbie’s favorite is a large ceramic nativity made by her mother. The nativities sit beside unique artifacts and souvenirs collected over the years, including spears from the Dinka tribe in South Sudan and a ceremonial baby carrier from Ethiopia. So far, Debbie has set foot in 44 different countries all with one goal in mind—sharing the Gospel and serving the Lord through the medical field. These mission projects have included medical clinics, seminars on preventative healthcare, launching mobile medical clinics with local medical teams, and more. One trip in particular was instrumental in beginning a multi-year partnership with Dawson that impacted the village of Kajo Keji, South Sudan. Debbie has experienced many exciting adventures (few people can say that they were proposed to by an African chieftain) but none would compare to the experience of celebrating on Easter Sunday in a refugee camp in Uganda.

“In 2017, my Easter was spent in a Ugandan Refugee Camp located 6 miles from South Sudan. Many of the people we had worked with for years in South Sudan were now refugees in these camps. One of the pastors, and a long-time personal friend, Pastor Edward Dima, got word to me at Dawson that they were not receiving enough food aid. My heart was just broken for the people. My decision was an easy one. With Pastor Edward as my liaison, I would fly to Uganda, mobilize trucks, purchase food in the local markets, and coordinate with people we knew and trusted in the refugee camps to meet me and help distribute the food to those in need. We gave away a total of 13,376 pounds of food. On Easter morning, the churches that had formed inside the camps came together and met under a tree for worship. We made a 7-foot cross and placed it under the tree. The music was glorious. Thirty-nine people prayed to receive Christ that day. After worship, an Easter lunch was prepared for 400+ individuals over an open fire. Those images from that day will forever be in my mind.”

Over the past 20 years, Dawson’s Health & Wellness Ministry, through Debbie's leadership, has been a bridge builder for our community, as well as an unstoppable force in sharing God's love. One of the most impactful ministries, both on and off our campus, has been the Adult Special Education Ministry­—better known as the Happy Class. Every Sunday the class gathers together for their Life Group as one big family. Before the day's Bible lesson is taught, the members sing out with such joy that the "Happy Singers" were created. (The group can be heard performing at Christmastime on the front steps of the church.) From playing together in Miracle League Softball games to dressing up and celebrating at "Night to Shine" events, the love and gratitude on every face in attendance is unmistakable. Everyone is filled with such joy. Debbie most of all.

As a highly regarded member in her field, Debbie was recognized in 2012 by the Samford School of Nursing as a recipient of the Living Legacy Award. The legacy that Debbie leaves now is one of devoted discipleship. It would be impossible to share all that Debbie has accomplished and to recount the lives impacted by her ministry these past 20 years, but she's not done quite yet. Debbie already has plans to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse, Alabama Disaster Relief, Grace Klein Community, and the Birmingham Humane Society as she enters into "retirement." There will also be lots of traveling and gardening. When asked about her time at Dawson, Debbie's response is, "It has been the honor of my life to serve on Dawson's staff. I've been blessed beyond measure." Thank you for your faithful service and friendship, Debbie. Dawson has been truly blessed by you!

Shortly after Debbie started the blood pressure checks I decided to take advantage of that service.

For me, it was a lifesaver. I’d have my BP taken each week and it slowly started going up. Debbie told me to check with my doctor, which I did. After a series of tests
I was told that I was in great shape. The next year my BP started going up again, and it got to the high 140s and 150s. My doctor did multiple tests and still didn’t see a problem. However, the last test he did, putting a camera in the heart to check things out, he said that there was good news and bad news. The good news was that they had found the problem. The bad news was that I would have to spend the night in the hospital and do open heart surgery the next day. I had 90% blockage in one artery, the widow maker, and 80% in the others. They did five bypasses that day.

I felt the strong presence of the Lord. I had open-heart surgery on a Tuesday and had originally planned to fly out that Friday to run a marathon, so that was life-saving timing. That was 12 years ago, and I’ve had great success with my heart ever since. I continue to run to this day.

Debbie’s encouragement has made all the difference in the world. She created a spiritual culture around the health and wellness ministry at Dawson. I’m going to really miss her and I appreciate the love she has shown for my health in such a personal way by being a Christ-centered person at the church. She’s been a friend, a counselor, and a spiritual advisor for my own personal health and wellness.

Mike Hathorne

I knew Debbie through singing with her on the praise team before she was a member of the staff. When my first child was born, I decided to take one of Debbie’s infant CPR classes.
I actually ended up taking 3 or 4 of her CPR classes in total so I could stay up to date on my CPR skills while I had infants.

They were very helpful and I was thankful that they were offered. In fact, my youngest child choked twice as a toddler and everything Debbie had taught came into play. Another thing that was so helpful is when Debbie would bring in health and wellness speakers. One was a dermatologist. Since I have a lot of skin cancer in my family, it was great to learn what to look for and also to make a connection with a new doctor.

Debbie is one of the most loving and welcoming people I know. I have loved walking through the foyer between services and seeing her smile while giving out hugs. She always asks how you and your family are doing. She’s just the kind of person that whenever you see her (even after some years) she treats you the exact same as always and is truly glad to
see you.

Lani Meek