“In our church, we want to be involved in reaching the Lost, not distracted by doing medical missions.” This was the viewpoint the church leader shared with me when we talked about opportunities to serve on the foreign mission field in health strategies.
The truth is that though our nation and the world face tremendous physical, emotional, and moral problems, the world’s greatest problem is spiritual lostness. Estimates are that more than 157,000 people around the world die daily without Jesus.1 Reaching the lost is the call on all followers of Jesus Christ. In that light, are medical missions and in the broader context, health strategies and mercy ministries relevant in the call to follow Christ? Does engaging in healthcare missions contribute to making and baptizing disciples? Does it follow the command to teach them to obey all that He has commanded?
Scriptural basis for engagement in healthcare ministries
Jesus is our primary example in all ministry. He practiced a seamless ministry of mercy and proclaimed the Good News of The Kingdom.
- And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every affliction. Matthew 9:35 (ESV)
Jesus sent the Apostles to the lost sheep of Israel to proclaim The Kingdom and heal.
- proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Matthew 10:7-8a (ESV)
Jesus appointed the 72 disciples to go two-by-two and pray, heal and preach The Kingdom.
- After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ Luke 10:1-2, 9 (ESV)
The ministry of evangelism, healing and demonstrating mercy continues in the book of Acts and The Apostles’ letters to the churches.
Strategic basis for healthcare missions
In his book, Preach and Heal, A Biblical Model for Missions, Dr. Charles Fielding describes and explains the ABCs of healthcare missions.2
Access. Gain sustained access to places others cannot go. The challenge of sending to many countries around the world grows yearly. There are barriers to entry visas to some of the most difficult to reach places of the world. All segments of a nation’s population from country leaders to the poorest of the poor need healthcare of one type or another. Where missionary and tourist visas are not possible, often entry through medicine, health education and provision of other humanitarian care are welcome.
As an example, work in English language medical continuing education in a place with high restrictions both to Christian work and Westerners in the Middle East has enthusiastically welcomed a team to live and network. They are providing much desired education and medical English training while finding open doors to sharing spiritual truth.
Behind Closed Doors. Go where spiritual conversations can occur without threat to the hearer. A majority of the world population live in countries where persecution of believers is now very high to extreme.3 Healthcare remains a need in those countries. Healthcare providers can enter into intentional conversation about spiritual matters in the natural course of providing care. Not only is there prohibition to evangelize in many places, but even the hearers can come under persecution for listening to Gospel messages publicly. Those providing care to individuals can share the message of Christ’s love with persons, families and friends at a point of need and openness to the mercy that He provides.
In a restricted Islamic part of a country in Africa, a team is providing care at a center for special needs children. These children and families are often marginalized in that culture. The individuals providing care for autistic children and those with disabilities are able to provide therapy and share the Gospel with family members in need of hope where it is not accessible in the community.
Caring for Needs and Communicating the Gospel. Meet needs the community views as priorities. Before the war in Ukraine, churches opened their doors to volunteer medical teams in order to minister to internally displaced people from the troubled Eastern area of the country. Needed medical care and screening was provided by volunteer teams and Ukrainian medical partners. Each visitor heard the Gospel presented as they enjoyed cookies and tea while waiting for prescriptions at the end of the visit. People responded to the Good News and continued to be nurtured by Ukrainian Baptists. This work has recently restarted even during the war through a mobile clinic and telemedicine specialist volunteers supporting the work of a believing Ukrainian physician helping the displaced.
Discipling-Making. Train new believers to obey Christ’s commands and multiply. In many cultures where literacy is low or there is limited or no access to the Bible, the Gospel is communicated through stories. Story sets that communicate the Gospel from creation to the cross are being used to minister to East African refugees facing trauma when forcibly ejected from their homes because of ethnic tension. Groups are formed where stories are shared and memorized. Obedience to Christ is emphasized. New believers share stories with family, neighbors, and friends. Subsequently other groups form, eventually becoming churches.
Empowering The Church. Train and equip leaders to plant healthy churches. An American neurologist has designed a solar powered EEG system and trained local believers along with non-medical background IMB missionaries to place leads and record the tracings. These are transmitted back to the neurologist in the US, who reads, diagnoses, and prescribes medications to treat seizure disorders. People have been saved and discipled by local believers, lives have been changed, and access to new places opened by local believers as a result.
Variety of Healthcare Missions
Traditionally we think of healthcare missions as occurring in clinics and hospitals. This is one type of healthcare ministry. There are other ways that healthcare professionals gain access to demonstrate care and proclaim the love of Christ.
- Community health education is a large area where missionaries can reach the Lost. A project in Southeast Asia has participated with local believers to teach the Bible to children along with hygiene training. They produced videos early in the Covid pandemic to teach about reducing the spread of the disease and promoting spread of the Gospel.
- Medical continuing education including medical English gives opportunity not only to teach clinical principles, but also ethics founded on the Bible to professionals.
- Mental health and trauma healing are growing areas of opportunity to share about comfort in Christ.
- Telemedicine supports the clinical and evangelical work of local Christian healthcare providers.
- Health strategies can be utilized by missionaries from non-healthcare backgrounds to accomplish church planting goals.
How can I participate in Healthcare Missions?
There are multiple ways to partner in health strategies through the IMB. Specific ways to pray, give to projects, send and go as a volunteer or as an IMB healthcare missionary are available. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to reach the IMB Health Strategies Team to learn more or ask questions.
For further reading
Preach and Heal, A Biblical Model for Missions, Dr. Charles Fielding. (2006) International Mission Board, Richmond, VA. (Available on Amazon)
So You Want to Dig a Well in Africa, Jeff Palmer, (2020) West Bow Press. (Available on Amazon)
- Preach and Heal, A Biblical Model for Missions, Dr. Charles Fielding. (2006) International Mission Board, Richmond, VA.