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Volunteer missions, repentance teach ‘God’s timing’ to Arkansa

BENTON, Ark. (BP)–Warren Burleson tells the story of a young radiologist on staff at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas, in the early 1970s: “This guy was on staff at Parkland and there was a young resident who was in her first year of residency in general surgery.
“This young doctor was the first female to go through the general surgery residency program, which is one of the most elite in the nation,” explained Burleson, a member of First Baptist Church in Benton. ” She was sharp. Parkland can pick from the top three percent of graduates of medical schools.”
The staff radiologist at Parkland, however, noticed “a difference” in the young resident. “He could tell there was something different about her. He talked with her about how she wanted to be a medical missionary.
“He literally laughed at her,” Burleson recalled. “Here was someone who could make thousands of dollars as a surgeon. If she was good enough for Parkland, she could go anywhere. But she said she wanted to be a medical missionary in India.”
Over the few years that the radiologist and surgery resident worked together, the radiologist continued to “laugh at her, make fun of her and what she wanted to do. He wasn’t a Christian at the time.”
Burleson knows the story well. He is the radiologist. The resident, a young woman named Rebekah Naylor, went on to fulfill her dream of being a medical missionary. For 25 years, she has served as a surgeon at Bangalore Baptist Hospital in Bangalore, India, and as a Southern Baptist international missionary.
God’s timing and plans have changed a lot of things in Burleson’s life. He later accepted Christ and began to feel called to volunteer missions work. He volunteered for mission trips in Central and South America. He became Central Association’s Brotherhood director. He retired early from his work as a radiologist at the Little Rock Veteran’s Administration Medical Center to “do what God wanted me to do.”
But he would also be haunted by the memory of past actions.
“I began to get literature from Southern Baptists and, every time I opened it up, there would be ‘Dr. Rebekah Naylor,'” he explained. “Her name would be in this or that article. Being the slow learner I am, I said, ‘God, are you trying to tell me something here?’
“In my spirit, He said, ‘You need to go to India and apologize to her for making fun of Christianity and tell her she made an impact on you,'” Burleson recounted, admitting that “of all the residents, she’s the only one I really remembered.”
Heeding God’s command, he traveled to India last year as a missions volunteer — and to make a long-needed apology.
“While I was there, I taught in the school of radiology, assisting in surgery and teaching surgery techniques,” he said. “On Thursday nights, we had our prayer meeting where the Americans get together for fellowship and Bible study.
“They asked me if I would like to give my testimony,” Burleson said. “Part of that was to apologize to her. She was so gracious in accepting it. It was a great time. One of the other missionaries came to me and said it was also a time of encouragement to her. The Indian government was giving her problems about renewing her license. God’s timing is perfect.”
The apology and the teaching began a volunteer partnership that was again put into practice this year as Burleson and his wife, Joslyn, traveled to India as International Mission Board short-term volunteers Nov. 14-23. The couple took medical supplies and equipment to the hospital and provided training to medical staff there.
It also proved to be another lesson in God’s timing, he noted.
“We were traveling with expensive medical equipment and supplies,” he said. “Satan put the fear into our face that Indian customs would try to charge us an enormous amount of duty on the supplies.
“We sat there and waited and waited for our four bags,” he recalled. “Joslyn would hold up her hand and just say, ‘His timing is perfect.’ She did that two or three times. Each time, an unbelievable peace would come over me and I was resigned that God would work it out.
“God spoke to her and she said, ‘God is wearing down customs, not us.’ We finally got the fourth bag and started approaching the customs lines when a customs agent walked up to me and asked me if I had anything besides clothes in the bags. I said I had medical equipment. He said, ‘Go on through.'”
During the trip, Burleson taught techniques in radiology (the study of x-ray technology) to the Indians. “They need updating. For example, they still do hand developing of x-rays. Most people in the States haven’t done that in 20 to 30 years.
“What I’ve been doing is getting them ready for an auto processor, teaching them to be more precise in their technical factors and giving them a baseline to start using when they get an auto processor,” he explained. “They have to understand the physics.”
Burleson noted that he is proud of Naylor’s work in India and of the hospital’s ministry in Bangalore. “India wrote the book on poverty. There is so much of it. Bangalore is a city of five million people.” He noted that a fifth of the city’s population lives in dilapidated shacks.
“The Baptist hospital gives them affordable medical care in that they are screened to see how much they can pay and are charged accordingly,” he said. “If they have zero income, they are charged zero.
“Second, someone, at some point in time — and they average 420 people a day in their clinics — is going to present the gospel to them, so it’s a two-fold ministry,” he added. “They are meeting people’s needs right where they are and that’s the way you’re going to reach the world.”
In addition to aiding Naylor’s work, Naylor, in turn, has helped Burleson understand God’s call to missions, he said. “I did not understand what she meant in the early 1970s, but I really can understand now how God can move in a heart for a lost and dying world — why people would go to India and make it a life’s work.
“If someone is special, it is our missionaries that God has chosen to go to these places,” he declared. “That’s how it affects Warren.”

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  • Russell N. Dilday