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Medicine on mission is not one size fits all

A volunteer medical student prepares to operate on a Fulani woman at the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu, Ghana.

John Dina’s job description isn’t medicine as missions, but he sees his work in community development in Mozambique as one way of doing healthcare missions.

Dina has spent more than 30 years on the mission field and now serves as a missionary leader in Africa. This summer, his team completed construction of a well to bring clean water to a school and the surrounding community. This was just one of many water wells Dina has been a part of installing. These sources of clean water have a direct effect on the health of villagers, who can now avoid water-borne illnesses.

Mozambicans gather around a well installed by John Dina’s team. These wells help protect the community from water-born illnesses, and Dina sees this a form of healthcare missions. IMB photo

Not only is his team focused on meeting essential needs, they use their work to spread the Gospel. On each well the team of missionaries and national believers builds, they inscribe in Portuguese – the official language of Mozambique – “God loves you.” But more than leaving the words on the well, the team shows that they love the people too.

“Anytime I show up or the well team shows up,” Dina said, “we have total access and great rapport because we’ve provided this. There’s a lot of credit that comes when someone does something for them.”

While one part of the team works on the well, others evangelize or focus on discipleship.

Another non-conventional form of healthcare Dina’s team uses to show God’s love is hospice buckets. The team delivers buckets containing basic items like a toothbrush, toothpaste, sheets, towels, straws that bend, and gloves to equip the family of someone dying (usually of HIV or AIDS) to be able to take care of their loved one.

John Dina

Dina always explains that his team brought the bucket, “because God changed my life and I want them to know His love,” before sharing the Gospel story.

“When you show up and show care for their dying loved ones, you can go back any day of the week and say, ‘Can I care for you?’ Love is what conquered all,” he said.

Quoting John 13:35, Dina added, “’By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ How do you show the love of Christ? You want to get to the message, but really, love opens the door to the message.”

Secular degree for gospel impact

Thinking of unique ways to open doors for the Gospel is what led Aaron and Olivia Bragg* toward medical missions.

Olivia was in college studying to be a physical therapist when she felt the Lord leading her to missions. Her husband-to-be was studying accounting.

Their church during and after college discipled them well, and during that period, they caught the Revelation 7:9 vision for reaching the nations. All along, “I had this tension in my heart of whether I should go to seminary or continue with [physical therapy] school,” Olivia said.

A few years ago at a Send Conference hosted by the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board, the Lord clarified the direction He wanted the Braggs to go.

At the conference, IMB’s message that marketplace skills can be used as an inroad to the Gospel took root in their hearts.

“We were college kids. We were still immature, and we wanted to go and do something for the world,” Olivia said. “That’s the heart the Lord often gives students in that stage of life. And it’s very fruitful if it’s discipled in the right way.”

She had the desire to “just drop everything for missions and go to Africa or wherever it may be.” But that conference convinced her not to drop out of school.

“We need businesspeople to reach the businesspeople. We need healthcare workers to reach the healthcare workers,” they heard.

She said she realized for the first time, “There is such a strategy with healthcare for you to go and enter into these places that other people with only seminary degrees couldn’t get into.

“That was pivotal for us – a breath of fresh air. I could go to a secular school and get a secular degree for the glory of God.”

Aaron feels called to use his degree in accounting in a similar way, to gain access to hard-to-reach places through his trade. Although the couple is still waiting for God to direct them in their calling, they’re excited about the opportunities open to them because of their vocations.

Don’t quit your day job

Rick Dunbar, an emergency room doctor and chairman of the IMB’s newly formed health strategies advisory group, has found his way of using medicine as missions while keeping his day job. Dunbar frequently goes overseas and conducts health clinics. Sometimes those are for IMB personnel and families. Other times, he’s aiding existing IMB work and conducting clinics for the community.

Rick Dunbar

He’s been doing it since 1993 when “God called me to go back to medical school and take care of people,” he said.

He wants others to join in on the many opportunities that exist to use their medical careers for God’s glory as well.

To find out more about how to leverage a healthcare calling to reach the nations on a short-term trip, click here.

To learn more about how the IMB is using healthcare as missions, visit imb.org/healthcare.

To give to healthcare missions strategies, visit IMB.org/give/project/preach-and-heal-through-medicine/.