ROCKVILLE, Va. (BP)–Cheryl Simonson and her volunteer missions team were only halfway through their weeklong trip to the mountains of Peru when they ran out of medical supplies. Fortunately a Baptist missionary was there to help track down a pharmacy with the needed medications.
Before the week was over, the team from Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., treated 580 people. One of them was a 93-year-old woman with Parkinson’s disease who gave her life to Christ.
Simonson credits the 2007 Global Medical Alliance Conference with helping make her church’s first overseas medical mission trip happen -— even if she did underestimate the amount of supplies the team needed.
“Last year, I came not knowing really anything except that our church wanted to do medical missions,” Simonson said, remembering all the questions running through her mind.
“How do you get a team together?”
“What kind of training do you do?”
“What kind of equipment do you need?”
Simonson returned this summer with her daughter Rachael to the International Mission Board’s second annual Global Medical Alliance Conference, July 15-20 in Rockville, Va. — two of nearly 200 Southern Baptist medical professionals, missionaries and other partners who attended the event. The purpose of the conference was to inspire, educate and mobilize more people to use medical missions overseas.
“They had a lot of nuts and bolts workshops,” Simonson said, but the conference went beyond logistics and medical clinics.
“It’s not just about handing out pills and doing that type of work,” she said. “It’s about reaching the lost with the Gospel.”
Inspiration for that came during time to network with medical professionals and hear stories about medical missions impacting lives for Christ.
Tom Kent, a missionary for 34 years, shared how working with mobile medical clinics, which sometimes involves navigating rough roads into remote villages, has led many to the Lord in Paraguay. In June a volunteer team from the United States treated more than 2,000 patients -— 350 of whom also embraced the opportunity to follow Jesus Christ.
Years ago during one of Kent’s first mobile clinics, he recalled one man saying, “You know, all my life I’ve heard about God’s love, but this is the first time we’ve seen it in action.”
Attendees learned that medical mission trips aren’t just for professionals. Hospice care, free reading glasses and simple counseling are just a few examples of services that do not require much medical skill.
Those who attended the event received the newly published book “Preach and Heal: A Biblical Model for Missions” by Charles Fielding, a medical professional overseas. In the book Fielding shows how Jesus taught His disciples to meet both physical and spiritual needs wherever they went and suggests that Christians today are not exempt from following His lead.
“Ordinarily we think, ‘Well if I’m a doctor, I’m going to be a doctor. If I’m a preacher, I’m going to preach,'” said Brandon Cochran*, an IMB regional health strategy consultant for North Africa and the Middle East.
“We’ve got to throw this out the window,” he said. “Doctors have got to preach. Preachers have got to heal. Every disciple of Jesus has to preach and heal. No one is exempt from this command.”
Sometimes just showing up can have a positive impact on a person in need, said Rebekah Naylor, who has served with the IMB as a medical missionary in India for 35 years and will retire in January 2009. Her ministry is profiled in a new book, “Rebekah Ann Naylor, M.D.: Missionary Surgeon in Changing Times” by Camille Lee Hornbeck.
“It is very possible to communicate caring and compassion to people just by presence and by touch even when you cannot speak the language —- [your] very presence shows [you] care,” Naylor said.
“We can utilize anyone who feels God leading them into short-term partnership.”
In a world full of political instability, natural disasters and economic uncertainty, even more people are needed to fill these opportunities, IMB President Jerry Rankin said.
“You know why medical ministries are such a high priority?” he asked. “Medical workers [are] immersed with the people and their needs.
“[It’s] an opportunity to show and demonstrate the compassion and love of Christ.”
Next year’s Global Medical Alliance Conferences will be July 7-12 for field personnel and July 9-12 for stateside partners at the IMB’s International Learning Center.
*Name changed for security reasons. Shawn Hendricks is a writer for the International Mission Board. For information on ordering “Preach and Heal: A Biblical Model for Missions” by Charles Fielding, go to http://imbresources.org/index.cfm/fa/store.prod/ProdID/2300.cfm. For information on “Rebekah Ann Naylor, M.D.: Missionary Surgeon in Changing Times” by Camille Lee Hornbeck, go to www.hannibalbooks.com.