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Missionary surgeon: ‘God may be calling’

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. (BP)–When Rebekah Naylor answered God’s call to serve as a missionary surgeon in India 35 years ago, she faced a number of cultural and spiritual barriers. In addition to being a woman and a surgeon, she was a Westerner and a Christian -– in a predominantly Hindu nation.

Despite the incredible challenges, Naylor served 28 years at Bangalore Baptist Hospital. Since 1999, she has served on special assignment in South Asia for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, working as a strategy coordinator to millions of people unreached by the Gospel.

In a visit to Arkadelphia, Ark., where her father was pastor of First Baptist Church when she was an infant, Naylor spoke at the church and at an associational missions rally at Park Hill Baptist Church. At Ouachita Baptist University, Naylor spoke in chapel and in several science classes and missions classes. She was accompanied by Camille Lee Hornbeck, author of the new biography, “Rebekah Ann Naylor, M.D.: Missionary Surgeon in Changing Times” (Hannibal Books).

Naylor recounted to the OBU students that she first felt called to medical missions at age 13. After completing medical training, she was appointed to India as a missionary surgeon in 1974. Over the years, she also has served as a hospital administrator, teacher, church planter and in a variety of other leadership roles.

Noting that India has changed drastically over the years, Naylor said the city of Bangalore has grown from 1.5 million to 8 million people.

Although she was always in the minority as a female surgeon, Christian and Westerner, she said in an interview that “I never at any time felt any hostility from anyone. I also had the respect of colleagues and the community.”

Reflecting on highlights of her mission work, she emphasized it involved “people who were helped medically and physically, but more importantly those who were helped spiritually and came to know Jesus Christ.”

Concerning her interest in visiting Ouachita, Naylor said, “If we invest in young people, modeling for them, making them sensitive to God’s call, I feel that will leave a mark for the future.”

Young people today “have such an incredible opportunity to know about the world with communications and technology the way it is,” she said. “I think the visit here and the opportunity just to be with students is what it’s all about; it’s very invigorating.”

Challenging students “to really broaden their vision and horizon and know about the world,” Naylor said she encourages them “to know what is going on in the world, to learn about people who are unreached. That would allow them to pray very specifically, which they can certainly do quite effectively. I think it would also make them aware and ready to respond to opportunities for involvement, whether short-term or career” missions assignments.

Hornbeck noted that Naylor’s biography offers “a strong statement that Rebekah stayed true to God’s initial call to her to be involved in medical missions.”

Additionally, Hornbeck said, the book emphasizes that “as a result of her faithfulness in following God’s call, He used her in extraordinary ways. No matter how dark the days seemed, He had a plan and she was involved in the plan…. She is able to testify to God’s faithfulness, His sustaining power.”

Introducing Naylor as the chapel speaker Nov. 4, Ouachita President Rex Horne described her as “a great difference-maker” and a gifted leader “we would all do well to emulate.”

Describing cultural and religious life in India, Naylor told the chapel audience that millions of people worship idols and other false gods. She added that more than one-third of the population also lives with inadequate food, clothing and shelter.

Noting that “South Asia is home to the greatest lostness in our world,” Naylor said, “They do not know the truth. It is a false hope which they have.”

Even amid such challenges, “we have seen God moving in a marvelous way and we have seen many thousands of people come to faith in Jesus Christ,” she declared. “There are wonders and signs and miracles taking place.

“Where do we begin when we talk about taking the Gospel of Christ to all of the unreached people groups of the world?” Naylor asked. “Certainly the first step is prayer…. Pray for access to people groups who have never yet heard the Gospel. Pray that entire communities and peoples will choose to follow Jesus Christ.”

Naylor also urged students to “be available to be used in any possible way to reach people for Jesus Christ.” Citing various opportunities for short-term and long-term missions service, she noted, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few — and God may be calling you.”
Trennis Henderson is vice president for communications at Ouachita Baptist University.

    About the Author

  • Trennis Henderson

    Trennis Henderson is the national correspondent for WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union). A Baptist journalist for more than 35 years, Henderson is a former editor of the Western Recorder of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Arkansas Baptist News state convention newsjournal.

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