Real People. Stihl People.

Rural Missouri Magazine
Working for the least of these
Jeanie Leeper founded a ministry to help those who fall through the cracks of society's safety nets

by Jeff Joiner

After years of frustration and anger over watching people in her care fall through the cracks, Jeanie Leeper finally decided to do something. It’s a decision that changed the course of her life.

Jeanie Leeper decided to do something about the plight of many rural elderly and poor in Morgan County by creating Matthew 25 Ministries.

A registered nurse, Jeanie worked for years on the front lines of health care and watched as changes in Medicare and Medicaid hurt many of her patients, the rural elderly and the poor living around Versailles and the Lake of the Ozarks. In 1999 she took her frustrations to her local United Methodist Church pastor.

"I would just go in and vent and ask if there was anything the church could do to help,” Jeanie says. “We believe that the church goes beyond the four walls and that the church should help people that are not members of our church but are members of our community.”

The pastor suggested that perhaps Jeanie could do something about the problem herself, with the help of the church. The suggestion completely surprised her.

“But I think God was speaking to me that day. ‘Hey, I trained you as a nurse. I’ve given you the knowledge and I’ve given you the passion for this. Maybe this is what you should be doing.’ I had never once considered it before that.”

Jeanie applied to work as a missionary for the Church and Community Ministries of the Methodist Church, a program that brings help to people close to home. Jeanie quit her job as a home health and hospice nurse and founded Matthew 25 Ministries.

Jeanie takes verse 40 from that chapter of the Bible as spiritual inspiration for her work, “. . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” Jesus is quoted as saying.

“We’re directed to help the poor and the oppressed,” says Jeanie. “And there are people in Morgan County who may not be oppressed by wars or dictators, but they are oppressed by society and poverty.” Those are the people she’s trying to help, she says.

Jeanie began Matthew 25 Ministries as a health care outreach for anyone in Morgan County who fell through the cracks of the health care system. She works with the chronically ill and the poor and not-so-poor who still cannot afford health insurance or can’t qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. Jeanie says many of the people she works with are hard working but can’t escape their situations. Jeanie says these people are forgotten.

“We have families with six and eight kids living on $11,000 a year. They may not have the best car in the world and the kids may not have the best clothes, but some of these people have enough dignity and enough honesty within themselves that they’re going to survive,” says Jeanie.

"And they’re not the people that hit on the welfare system. They work. It’s tough, but they’ve done it for so long that they know no other way. And some are very happy because they have their dignity and their independence. They’re very strong people.”

Soon Jeanie expanded her work beyond nursing services to help people obtain medication and medical equipment, provide transportation to the elderly and temporarily relieve people caring for chronically ill homebound patients. Now Matthew 25 Ministries is joining forces with local doctors and nurses in the Versailles area to offer a free medical clinic.

Jeanie also began a program to help people released from the Morgan County jail. She started the program to help those like the young man she helped this winter.

The man, originally from Versailles, was arrested in Arizona for failing to pay child support. He was brought back to Missouri in January wearing shorts and a T-shirt and then released a few weeks later. He walked out the door without so much as a jacket to wear and no way to get back to Arizona.

Matthew 25 Ministries gave him warm clothes, put him up in a hotel for a few days and put him on a bus home.
“He walked out of the jail with nothing and no one to help him,” says Jeanie. “Many of us don’t realize there are people out there like this who have real needs.”

Jeanie works with a dedicated group of volunteers representing all the churches of Versailles. But, she says, she can always use more help. And though her salary is paid by the United Methodist Church, all other costs associated with the ministry come from donations. The ministry doesn’t charge for any services, though donations are accepted from those able to pay something.

Jeanie says she is able to help care for people as a nurse far better now than she could when she once worked for the old Memorial Hospital in Jefferson City. She says she’s able to help the whole person rather than just the physical.

“When a nurse walks into a hospital room patients don’t really welcome you,” says Jeanie, who worked with intensive care patients. “You’re usually bringing them a shot or you’re changing their IV or you’re doing something that causes them to lose their dignity and independence. But when you go into someone’s home you become a friend and you get to know someone and what’s going on in their lives. Because you’re treating the whole person — the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical — you’re helping them get well in every aspect of their lives.”

Jeanie’s message in her ministry is to not forget those around us who struggle every day with illness, poverty and isolation. She reminds us that there are people in every community who have fallen through the cracks of society’s safety net. And when that happens, caring people need to step in and help any way they can.

For information about Matthew 25 Ministries call Jeanie at (573) 378-5211 or e-mail her at jeanieleeper@yahoo.com. Jeanie can also be reached at the Versailles United Methodist Church at (573) 378-4042.

Rural Missouri magazine - November 2014
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