RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — Lynn Carter* always wanted to serve in missions somewhere in Africa but after attending the MedAdvance Conference in Rockville, Va., that may be changing.
The registered nurse from Milford, N.J., read about the conference in several newsletters and decided to attend, even though it was on her birthday. By lunch on the second day of the conference, she was questioning whether Africa was the only place she wanted to serve.
“Now, I’m thinking about Central Asia,” Carter said.
During the MedAdvance Helping Hands, Healing Hearts Conference, July 17-19 at IMB’s International Learning Center, 144 healthcare professionals and students from across the United States came together to learn how IMB is active in health care missions, how health care strategies are being used to share the Gospel across the world and how they can get involved.
Scott Holste, IMB vice president for global strategic mobilization, stressed why IMB is dedicated to health care missions: “It’s the biblical thing to do … it’s the Southern Baptist thing to do … and it’s the strategic thing to do,” Holste said during one of the sessions.
Holste cited Matthew 4:23-24 and Luke 10:1-3 to illustrate how the Bible calls for healing as well as preaching. He also referred to letters from the 19th century written by IMB missionaries who used health care in their ministries to show how the organization has been involved in health care missions from its beginning.
Skills in the medical field can provide access to people and places where traditional approaches are restricted, Holste said, adding that 40 percent of the countries in the world fall into that category.
“I really believe God has gifted each individual — whether they are a doctor, or a businessman, or a dentist — and sometimes He calls people out of their professions, but I think a lot of times, He wants to build on the passions and talents He gave them,” Holste said.
Attendees also heard from 34 of the more than 300 International Mission Board missionaries currently using health care strategies to reach their people groups. The missionaries from various affinity groups across the globe each held 20-minute sessions, telling attendees about their ministries using health care strategies and presenting them with opportunities to serve in that area of the world.
“When you are face to face and hear how God is using them, and they’re so fearless, it’s amazing,” Carter said.
One of the conference’s themes was the relationship between human needs and spiritual needs. Throughout the conference, including in 13 break-out sessions, attendees were presented with models and ideas of how they can use their medical skills to serve both people’s physical needs and spiritual needs.
“The greatest spiritual needs and the greatest health needs in the world are usually one and the same,” said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response (BGR), a key IMB partner in health care initiatives.
In addition to healthcare professionals, this year’s conference also included an unprecedented number of students. Participating were 30 students from schools across the country, such as Avalon University (Ohio) and the University of West Florida.
MedAdvance “is a really good way to connect students like me with people already on the field,” medical student Olivia Mak said.
Mak, a student from Campbell University (North Carolina), has been thinking about international missions for a while.
“I can’t think of any other way (I want to) to use my skills other than to share the Gospel,” Mak said.
Originally from East Asia, she said she was encouraged when she met several family doctors serving in that region.
At the close of the conference, IMB President Tom Elliff stressed the importance of health care missions.
“A health need is just an invitation to come share Jesus,” Elliff, addressing the group, said. “God has placed in your heart and hand a tool that can get to them like nobody else that I know of.”
Attendees were given an opportunity to commit to pray for health care missions, to go on a short-term health care missions trip and to explore the possibility of career missions. Marking commitment cards, 131 attendees placed their cards on a world map, with 41 of them expressing an interest in career service.
To learn more about medical missions opportunities, email [email protected].
*Name changed. Ariana Castro Acuña served as an IMB summer intern. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).