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Health care professionals learn to fit in God’s mission at MedAdvance 2023

Willie Breaux, Jr., (left) attended MedAdvance for the first time. The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary student is excited to see how his calling into mental healthcare can be utilized in reaching the nations. IMB Photo

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP) – Doctors, dietitians, nurses, community health workers and more bustled around the large church near Nashville. They were greeted warmly by International Mission Board personnel. Old friends reunited in what felt like a family reunion, someone described.

As they walked the halls, they were given opportunities to connect with IMB missionaries serving all over the world, doctors who set up practice in the United States and use their free time to meet medical needs on short-term trips overseas, and nurses from Baptist Nursing Fellowship – an organization committed to missions.

They came to learn how the IMB is using global health care strategies as part of strategic missions among the lost.

Medical students connect while attending MedAdvance 2023. More than 60 of the 300-plus attendees at the conference near Nashville, Tenn., were students. IMB Photo

The week was full of quiet conversations over meals, with participants encouraging each other in the Lord and in their profession. It was also full of information on how a health care professional – neurologist, emergency room doctor, biblical counselor, nurse, ophthalmologist or undecided medical student – could use his or her gifts to create Gospel access that leads to Gospel belief and church planting and multiplication globally.

These connections are why Willie Breaux, Jr., came to MedAdvance 2023 from New Orleans. The seminary student attended the event alongside more than 300 other attendees and many IMB medical personnel. MedAdvance 2023, hosted by Brentwood Baptist Church near Nashville, is a conference for believers interested in using health care strategies to open doors to a hurting world and gain access to unreached peoples and places in unique ways.

Breaux, a marriage and family therapy student, heard from a recent New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary graduate and IMB employee that MedAdvance was a great place to see how his gifts can be utilized on the field. He came expecting to do just that – connect with missionaries, see their hearts, and learn how they’re using their unique skills on the field.

By the end of the conference, Breaux’s expectations had been exceeded. He heard the nitty gritty of missionary life – being in places without clean water or having to relocate because where they served was no longer safe. He was happy to hear “just how far God carries us when we’re being faithful to the Great Commission and His will,” he said.

As Breaux walked away from the conference, he was prayerful. He saw that his skills in the mental health field can be applied to the missionary task. He now knows that he can serve missionaries by supporting their mental health, or he could meet mental health needs of people in need of the Gospel. He said he’s excited to see how God will use him in the future.

Shelia Gerkin already had entire careers as an accountant and then a lawyer. Now her version of enjoying retirement is going back to school for degrees in general dietetics, nutrition and public health.

Dr. Rebekah Naylor addresses attendees at MedAdvance 2023. Dr. Naylor, who is retiring this year, started the conference in 2007 as part of the IMB’s global healthcare strategies. IMB Photo

She came to MedAdvance expecting to find out how she can use her skills and education to promote the Gospel. A member of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky., Gerkin wanted to learn if there was a need for dietetics in serving those on the field as missionaries and the lost around the globe.

As she spoke with IMB personnel at booths and attended the affinity marathon, she was excited to learn about the locations, the people, the needs and the missionaries themselves. Connecting with field staff was the highlight for her. She left with ideas for how she can fit into the missionary task in the future. She saw where the needs are, and as she looks toward short-term mission trips, she said she’s confident she’s on the right track.

‘Rescue those who are being taken away to death’

Being a part of God’s work is a privilege, IMB President Paul Chitwood told MedAdvance attendees during his keynote address. IMB health care strategy is vital. It’s a way that IMB missionaries obey Christ’s command to love those who need love.

“The physical problems your profession allows you to address are not the only problems,” Chitwood reminded MedAdvance. With all the brokenness in the world, there is only one eternal problem. That’s spiritual lostness, and that’s the world’s greatest problem. While the IMB doesn’t dismiss other problems in the world, Chitwood reminded all attendees that this greatest problem is personal to everyone.

He told attendees, “It’s our problem as much as it is anyone else’s problem,” and “Once we have experienced the solution, we are called to be a part of the solution.”

Chitwood asked attendees to consider how God is calling them to be part of the solution. Maybe He’s calling them to go short-term or long-term. Maybe He’s calling them to be a mobilizer – to pray and give and send.

“Whichever of these two roles God is calling you to, His word is clear,” Chitwood said.

Quoting Proverbs 24:11-12, he continued, “’Rescue those who are being taken away to death,’ those who still face their greatest problem. They are lost. ‘Hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.’”

The end of an era

The event marked the last MedAdvance presided over by Dr. Rebekah Naylor in her role as the IMB’s global health care strategist.

“I’m looking forward to enjoying the next one with no responsibility,” Naylor said with a laugh.

She’s been leading the conference since its inception in 2007 and is thankful for its impact, as evidenced by the stories from attendees, such as one health care volunteer sharing at this conference that his first real moment to realize his role in medical missions was at MedAdvance. The most recent MedAdvance event was the largest in its history.

Paul Chitwood, IMB president, reminded MedAdvance attendees that what they do as medical missionaries creates access for the gospel, the solution to the greatest problem in the world – lostness. IMB Photo

As Naylor steps out of her role, she’s optimistic about the future of IMB health care strategies. “I think it’s going to be bigger and better and more diverse. Even as our world changes, I think our strategies will just multiply.”

Dr. Tom Hicks, a pediatric nephrologist who has served 27 years as a medical missionary in Asia, is assuming the role of global health care strategist. During his time on the field, he and his vascular surgeon wife have had the opportunity to put almost every health care strategy under the sun to the test.  

“I think of IMB health care strategies as a snowball. It’s just getting bigger and bigger,” Hicks said. Currently 11 percent of IMB personnel use health care strategies in the missionary task.

“Post pandemic, there’s an awareness of the importance of health. As countries close, there’s a great opportunity to use health care to meet needs that people can’t deny that they have. We can come in and meet those needs, build relationships, share the Gospel with them, and reach lostness.”

Hicks said he doesn’t see any of that changing. “There are Southern Baptists with health care backgrounds, and they’re going to find ways to go,” he said. “I think that we give an opportunity to partner with them to connect them to places they can go strategically.”

Throughout the weekend, the over 300 attendees spent time with missionaries. More than 60 participants were students. Attendees had the opportunity to sit down for a meal with IMB medical missionaries and learn how they’re using their skills to address lostness. From the stage, conference leaders shared about some of the IMB’s treasured health care missionaries throughout the years. Participants learned they’re following in the footsteps of missionary legends who blazed trails for them.

Another component of the weekend was focused prayer for unreached people, led by Eleanor Witcher, retired director of the IMB’s prayer office.

A highlight of the conference was the affinity marathon. In each session, participants heard strategic details about work in each of IMB’s eight affinities.

The conference offered breakouts as well, where participants were informed and equipped to engage refugees, reach Muslims, Hindus, Orthodox and others through health care strategies, get to the mission field, and utilize telemedicine in strategic ways.

Are you a medical professional wanting to learn how you can use your skills and giftings to help solve the world’s greatest problem? Visit imb.org/healthcare. Next year’s MedAdvance will be held Sept. 12-14, 2024, at Houston First Baptist Church.