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.
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.
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.)