Richard Marx remembers treating patients at a medical clinic held under a sheet in the slums of some remote village somewhere in North Africa.
The sun bore down on them while children begged for water and needed care. For Marx, a physician and veteran medical missions volunteer from Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, it was a tough environment to hold a clinic.
Medical professionals treat a young boy during a medical mission clinic. Medical skills can open up opportunities to share the gospel in some of the toughest places in the world. Healthcare professionals gathered March 3 in Winston-Salem for a one-day conference.
A few days later, a local believer followed up with a woman who visited the clinic. The woman suffered from chronic breathing trouble and mentioned she noticed something different about the volunteers, whom she said seemed more interested in her than payment.
“They touched me,” the woman said. That day she accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior.
Marx shared this story during the Medical Mission One Day conference March 3 at Calvary Baptist Church. The event was co-sponsored by IMB (International Mission Board) and its Southern Baptist partner BGR (Baptist Global Response).
About 35 to 40 medical professionals from around the area gathered during the event to learn how their medical skills can open up opportunities to share the gospel in some of the toughest places in the world.
“When you return you will be a changed person,” Marx said. “Like most of those who have been on a medical mission trip you will be anxious to go back to the field again. You will be hooked.”
If handled well, medical missions can be one of the most powerful frontline weapons for reaching people with the gospel. IMB staff were quick to point out the need for more medical volunteers.
“There is the idea that IMB doesn’t do medical missions anymore,” said Scott Holste, IMB’s associate vice president of global strategy. “It’s a widespread myth.
“The truth is we actually have more medical potential today serving with us in more countries than ever before, ever in our history.”
Medical missions is biblical, it is Southern Baptist and it is strategic, he added.
“[Jesus] proclaimed the good news and demonstrated the gospel, healed the sick,” Holste said.
“Jesus is asking disciples to do the same.”
For Southern Baptists, medical missions goes back to the beginning of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. Holste read reports from pioneers of Southern Baptist medical missions that were written in the days when chloroform and “other drugs” were used to perform surgery.
Today, younger generations continue to look for opportunities to meet both physical and spiritual needs.
“We have a rich heritage to share with [younger generations],” Holste said.
Through the years, however, there has been an “unfortunate divorce” with many organizations on the issue of “the proclamation of the gospel and demonstration of the gospel.”
“With some [agencies] there is the thought that proclaiming the gospel in the midst of demonstrating the gospel somehow taints that demonstration, that act of goodness,” Holste said.
“I think that is unfortunate.”
Medical missions has become a strategic tool in gaining access to difficult and hard-to-reach places.
At one time, most governments allowed missionaries in any part of the world, Holste said. Today, most have a closed-door policy to missionary work.
That’s where medical missions can help break down cultural barriers and gain access to areas most missionaries are unable to openly travel.
According to IMB research, about a billion people worldwide – most who live in these difficult areas – have inadequate access to food and are undernourished. Over a billion people lack access to safe drinking water.
More than 8 million children die each year under the age of 5, primarily from preventable disease. Three million die from Malaria each year.
In addition to providing health care, medical volunteers have opportunities to work alongside missionaries and local believers to help make disciples and empower the church or start one.
Of the more than 11,500 people groups, 6,628 of these are unreached with less than 2 percent who are evangelical. And 3,501 of these groups are unengaged – no evangelical church, no evangelical agency, no one trying to start a church, no known evangelical presence.
“It’s a command,” said Jason, a medical missionary in an area of the world with restricted access. “We need to do it.
“As healthcare professionals, our comfort zone is caring for people, but if we neglect preaching the gospel … I believe we get a little out of balance.”
For more information on specific projects and to learn more about how you can become involved in medical projects overseas, go to gobgr.org and click on “Health Care Connections” or call them at (866) 974-5623.