RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The Southern Baptist International Mission Board is negotiating the transfer of Baptist Hospital in Jibla, Yemen, to an administration of Yemeni nationals, a move that will allow the board to focus healthcare ministries on critical needs in outlying areas.
The board will continue to provide medical personnel to the 35-year-old medical facility but be relieved of administrative obligations and $500,000 a year in financial support.
“We have conducted an effective medical ministry through the hospital for 35 years,” IMB President Jerry Rankin said. “It treats more than 40,000 patients a year, providing free care and medicine to those who cannot afford it. It has been able to respond to relief needs during earthquakes and famine.
“We have established a permanent witness to the love of God in Jibla, where it will continue to minister to thousands of people a year,” Rankin added. “A lot of good will has been built up for the hospital and its staff over the years.
“We are encouraging IMB personnel and other internationals working there to remain and keep modeling the love of Christ to the community,” he said. “Many of them have agreed to stay. They will continue to have the same rights to Christian witness they have always had.”
Staffing issues at the hospital have grown increasingly difficult, said John Brady, regional leader for IMB work in the northern Africa and Middle East region. The IMB has had 35 requests for medical personnel at Jibla on the books for four years, with only one response from medical workers. The hospital administrator, Bill Koehn, has set his retirement for October 2003, with no long-term replacement in sight.
Maintaining the hospital also has become very expensive — more than $500,000 a year, not including capital needs and salaries for overseas personnel. Paying medical workers from other countries and groups to sustain the hospital has consumed funds that could be used much more strategically to meet emerging opportunities.
In addition, two major claims have been made against the hospital in just the past six months. In one, a local tax official filed suit to collect $6.7 million for 30 years of taxes against the tax-exempt institution.
“We are not abandoning the hospital or closing it. We are not ‘giving it away’ because the facility has always belonged to the government and we just operated it under contract,” said Elias Moussa, the administrative associate for the region. “This is an effort to improve its future prospects.
“For several years, the hospital has been struggling, mainly due to the lack of medical personnel and partly due to lack of funding,” Brady said. “Efforts to secure a financial relationship with a hospital in the United States have been unsuccessful for several years.
“IMB personnel will continue to serve in Jibla and we will continue to send new personnel as people respond to God’s call, but we have felt very strongly for several years that change was needed to reach out to parts of the country where healthcare ministries are desperately needed, and we began to ask God to show us a way.”
Prayers about the transition were answered in July, when IMB leaders for the region were approached by a Yemeni doctor trained in Canada whose charity, the People’s Charitable Society, was interested in assuming administrative and financial responsibilities for the hospital. Leaders of the two groups met in August to begin negotiating the transfer.
“Dr. Kirbi appears to be the ‘man of influence’ we have been praying for,” Brady said. “He is the country’s minister of foreign affairs and is respected at both national and local levels of government.
“One of the first things he was able to do was get the court to drop the spurious suit to collect taxes,” Brady said.
IMB leaders are grateful for an answer to prayer that seems to meet both financial and strategic needs, Rankin said.
“On the one hand, the tremendous ministry and influence that Southern Baptists have built over the past 30 years will continue,” he said. “And at the same time, we can begin to reach out strategically to minister in Christ’s name to serious needs in parts of the country where healthcare just isn’t available.
“We need to initiate healthcare ministries in these villages and provide treatment that will alleviate suffering and save lives. People are dying from illnesses like diarrhea that can easily be prevented, in most cases, simply because they can’t find anyone to drive them to the hospital,” Rankin said.
“We need to reach out to people who probably will never hear about the love of God in Christ Jesus if we don’t step out in a new direction. We believe God is moving us out to the whole community in the name of Christ.”
The International Mission Board (http://www.imb.org) is a Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program (http://www.cpmissions.net) and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (http://ime.imb.org).