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Health care strategies growing in importance to the missionary task

Leah Brown, affinity health strategy coach for the Americas, explains how water filters are advancing the IMB’s Revelation 7:9 vision during the Affinity Marathon. SWBTS Photo


FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – Richard and Emily Barfell came to the International Mission Board’s MedAdvance conference in the middle of their application process to serve as IMB missionaries. Richard is a doctor. Emily is a stay-at-home mom of two little girls.

Dr. Larry Pepper, an affinity health strategy coach with the IMB, shares with attendees some of the healthcare strategies being implemented in Sub-Saharan Africa. SWBTS Photo

Their most pressing question right now regarding their calling is where to serve. Because of the interactions they had with seasoned missionaries at the Aug. 5-7 conference, they left with more clarity and encouragement than they started with. 

“We are just open to where God wants us to go. We already said, ‘yes, we want to be missionaries,’” Richard said. “We’re hoping to be on the field soon, but we just don’t know where yet.”

MedAdvance is an annual conference for health care professionals, students and church leaders to:

  • connect with IMB missionaries and leaders for networking and questions;
  • discover how God is at work as health care missionaries share stories from around the world;
  • learn how to serve God’s mission at home and overseas using God-given talents, skills and experiences in the health care field.

The 2021 conference was hosted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Registration will remain open through Aug. 13 for those who’d like to view the recorded online version.

Dr. Rebekah Naylor explains the Affinity Marathon to MedAdvance attendees. In the Affinity Marathon, each of the IMB’s eight affinities shared with small groups how God is using health care missions to advance the Gospel in their area. SWBTS Photo

By the first evening of the conference, the Barfells had already met two IMB missionaries, both serving in the Middle East. One of them had recently been evacuated along with her husband and five children due to political unrest.

“My question to [the missionary] was, ‘How in the world did you with five kids end up in [this area of the Middle East],’” Richard said. “Her answer to me was, ‘God just told me we needed to go there. We were just going to be obedient. And we had peace because of that.’”

The Barfells met another worker in the Middle East who is from their town. They’re planning to connect with the couple soon.

“The two missionaries we’ve already met were just obviously placed in our lives by God,” Richard said. “We’re just praying for more of that and for God to work through those interactions.”

Claire Duncan is a labor and delivery nurse. She’s in school to become a midwife so she can practice more independently. She and her husband feel called to the nations.

“I’ve just been really passionate about women’s health forever,” she said. “I love my job. And I know my skills are needed. But I don’t know how to use them.”

She came to the conference to learn a little more about ways to put this passion to use overseas. Her goal is to pass  information on to her husband and hopefully hear him say, “Sounds good. Let’s go.”

ABCs of health care missions

Dr. Rebekah Naylor, IMB’s global health care strategies consultant and organizer of the MedAdvance conference, said her team emphasizes the ABCs of medical missions to complement the missionary task.

These ABCs (really ABCDEs) are Access, Behind Closed Doors, Caring for Needs, Disciple Making and Empowering the Church.

Naylor provided examples of how the IMB, through health care missions, is putting these ABCs into practice.

In a wealthy country, a doctor partnered with a for-profit clinic. Through that clinic, he has gained access to his primary people group of service from the local population. 

SWBTS President Adam W. Greenway challenged MedAdvance attendees to write down their commitment to medical missions and lay it on a map. SWBTS photo

In Central Asia, medical missionaries are granted access behind closed doors to Muslim women by providing pre- and post-natal care in the patients’ homes. While meeting physical needs, they “share Bible stories and truths as they visit in homes,” Naylor said.

In Africa, through hospice buckets, churches from the U.S. have been able to provide end-of-life care and dignity to terminally ill HIV patients living in horrific conditions.

As the U.S. churches partner with nationals, they care for needs. “This allows follow up by local churches. It is possible to express love and care to the patients and families, and it is possible to share the Good News,” Naylor said.

Through an electroencephalogram, care is given to epileptics who, in many cultures, are ostracized. A doctor in the U.S. reviews these scans, sent from a solar-powered system overseas, diagnoses and prescribes medicine through local partners, allowing him to train and disciple nationals. 

In East Asian factories, business owners have granted permission for health clinics to be set up for their workers. This is done in partnership with workers, national health care providers and local churches.

“They have found that the majority of patients they see opt to go to the Gospel sharing station. There people from the local church are the ones sharing the Good News. The response rate to the Gospel has been 10-50 percent. The nationals are fully trained to lead. They establish churches within the factories themselves,” Naylor said. In this manner, the local church is empowered.

This method of preaching and healing is what Jesus did during His ministry on earth, Naylor told attendees. The IMB’s health care strategies “address spiritual and mental needs, as well as put believers in contact with unbelievers.”

“Let’s reach the nations together by praying, giving, going and sending,” the doctor said, emphasizing the IMB’s Revelation 7:9 vision.

Health strategies advisory group

“The health care strategy network is the largest, most well-developed network we have in the IMB right now,” said Dr. Rick Dunbar, chairman of the IMB’s newly-formed health strategies advisory group.

The health strategies team has pulled together individuals from varied backgrounds, from health care to business professionals. to form an advisory group. Their goals, Dunbar said, are to:

  • promote health strategies within U.S. organizations such as hospitals, health care companies, seminaries, medical and allied health training programs;
  • advise and promote partnerships between U.S.-based organizations for support of health strategies such as education, exchange programs, community health, continuing education;  
  • advise and promote funding for health strategy projects;
  • advise and promote the globalization of health strategies.

One goal for the group is to bring awareness to medical professionals in the pews of Southern Baptist churches that their talents are crucial to reaching the nations, and they can partner with the IMB to use those skills.

“People are dying all over the world for lack of health care, and the majority of them are dying without even the opportunity of hearing of Jesus’ love and eternal salvation,” Dunbar said. “Health care gives credibility and opens many doors globally.

“When you see God at work, you better follow Him. And right now, we see health strategies as where God is working powerfully.

“We have more health care providers now than we’ve ever had in the history of the IMB. But we’re not satisfied; we want more.”

The need for more health care workers was reiterated by  IMB President Paul Chitwood shared in a video address to attendees.

Want more MedAdvance?

Attendance at MedAdvance was 325 people. Of those, 70 were students and 95 were IMB personnel. Registration will be open through Aug. 13 for others wishing to participate in the virtual track. It includes the breakouts and recorded sessions. For those who register, the virtual track will be available Aug. 20-Sept. 30 with a livestream Q&A session on Sept. 16.

To find out how you can be involved in health care missions, visit IMB.org/healthcare.

To help advance the Gospel through medical missions among the nations, visit IMB.org/give/project/preach-and-heal-through-medicine/.

Read more about the MedAdvance conference from Southwestern Seminary.