Medicine, missions get together at IMB summit
Don Graham, Baptist Press
July 23, 2010

Medicine, missions get together at IMB summit

Medicine, missions get together at IMB summit
Don Graham, Baptist Press
July 23, 2010

AUGUSTA, Ga. — All he wanted

was a vacation — Yellowstone National Park sounded nice. Instead, Dale Twilley

wound up pulling teeth in Venezuela. It was the Toccoa, Ga., dentist’s first

time out of the country, and more importantly, his first medical missions trip.

Before he knew it, Twilley was hooked. Now 61, he’s made 13 short-term mission

trips to six different countries over the past 12 years, traversing four

continents, extracting more than 5,000 teeth and personally leading at least

250 people to Jesus along the way.

The journey sounds a little like a dentist’s version of an Indiana Jones movie.

Machete in hand, Twilley has traveled up the Amazon River, bushwhacking his way

through dense jungle to reach remote indigenous villages. He’s pulled teeth in

Brazilian prisons and diagnosed gum disease in Rio de Janeiro’s infamous slums.

And he’s crossed Mongolia’s steppe and stood on China’s Great Wall — all to

make Christ’s name known.

Dale Twilley, in one of his 13 mission trips as a medical volunteer, treats a patient in Mongolia, one of six countries where the Georgia dentist has conducted clinics.

But more recently Twilley’s passion for both medicine and the gospel took him

somewhere closer to home — Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., host of the

International Mission Board’s (IMB) Medical Missions Mobilization Summit.

The July 8-11 event brought medical professionals and members of Southern

Baptist churches from across the United States together with IMB missionaries

serving around the world to explore medical missions opportunities.

Roger Henderson, Warren Baptist’s missions and mobilization pastor, said the

idea is to “expand people’s horizons about what medical missions can do. If we

bring people here — whether they’re a doctor, a nurse, a dentist, a student, a

resident — and they are inspired and are called into short- or long-term

missions from this, what an impact.”

Twilley’s own commitment to missions came while doing dental work for a group

of missionary patients who visited his office during stateside assignment.

“They had a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment and purpose in their lives

that I didn’t have,” he said. “I had a good practice, I was very active in my

church, chairman of the deacons … but they had that something that I wanted

and I found out what it was — their involvement in missions work.

“It’s just given me a new reason for living; instead of winding down and

burning out, I just stepped it up a gear.”

Twilley adds that his missions work doubles as a way to share Christ with his

patients back home in Toccoa. He’s frequently asked about his mission trips —

where’s he been, what he did and why, and where he’s going next.

Biblical model

One of the summit’s key themes was the biblical mandate for medical missions.

Scott Holste, IMB associate vice president for global strategy, emphasized the

organization’s commitment to pursue and expand medical missions work and

lamented evangelicals’ past failings concerning human needs strategies.

“Medical missions provides us access that many of our other personnel simply do

not have. It gives them the opportunity for that life-on-life experience to be

able to … share again and again,” Holste said.

“One of the great weaknesses in evangelical thought and practice over the last

40 years has been the divorce of the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel,”

Holste added. “Proclamation without demonstration looks empty. Demonstration

without proclamation can be very ambiguous; nobody knows why you do what you


Summit speakers also addressed a damaging misconception that many evangelicals —

including Southern Baptists — hold about medical missions.

“Early on (I saw) medicine only as a way to get the door cracked to do

evangelism,” said Rick Donlon, a doctor who runs a medical clinic for the urban

poor in Memphis, Tenn. “(But) it’s not just an excuse to share the gospel with

people. Jesus didn’t need to take time to do all of the physical healing He did

in the New Testament if it wasn’t really important — if loving people and trying

to address their needs in a real way wasn’t crucial to who He is…. We’ve got

to care about poverty and justice. That’s what we do in Memphis. We try to

provide the same health care for our poor, inner-city neighbors that we would

want for our own families.”

The need and the risk

To convey the need for medical missionaries, IMB leaders gave summit

participants a look at the scope of lostness around the world — more than 6,400

unreached people groups — and talked about the dangers involved in reaching

some of them.

In Central Asia, for example, all of the region’s 612 people groups are

unreached. At 99.9 percent Muslim, less than one-tenth of 1 percent are


Twilley said his wife used to worry about his safety on mission trips. She

would even cook his favorite meal the night before he left as if it would be

his last. They jokingly called the tradition the “last supper.”

But Twilley’s wife finally came to grips with her husband’s missions call.

When she asked what she should tell their children if he ever was killed on one

of these trips, he said, “You just look them straight in the eye and say, ‘Your

daddy died doing the most important thing in the world to him.’”

Plans are under way for the IMB’s 2012 Medical Missions Mobilization Summit,

date and location to be announced. To learn more about medical missions

opportunities with the IMB, e-mail [email protected] or call (800) 999-3113.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.)