Above: Paul Chitwood, IMB president, reminded MedAdvance attendees that what they do as medical missionaries creates access for the Gospel, the solution to the greatest problem in the world – lostness (IMB Photo).
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Doctors, dietitians, nurses, community health workers and more bustled around the large church near Nashville, Tennessee. They were greeted warmly by International Mission Board (IMB) personnel. Old friends reunited in what felt like a family reunion, someone described.
As they walked the halls, they were given opportunities to connect with IMB missionaries serving all over the world, doctors who set up practice in the United States and use their free time to meet medical needs on short-term trips overseas and nurses from Baptist Nursing Fellowship—an organization committed to missions.
They came to learn how the International Mission Board is using global healthcare strategies as part of strategic missions among the lost.
The week was full of quiet conversations over meals, with participants encouraging each other in the Lord and in their profession. It was also full of information on how a healthcare professional—neurologist, emergency room doctor, biblical counselor, nurse, ophthalmologist or undecided medical student—could use their gifts to create gospel access that leads to gospel belief and church planting and multiplication globally.
These connections are why Willie Breaux, Jr., came to MedAdvance 2023 from New Orleans, La. The seminary student attended the event alongside more than 300 other attendees and many IMB medical personnel. MedAdvance 2023, hosted by Nashville, Tenn., Brentwood, is a conference for believers interested in using healthcare strategies to open doors to a hurting world and gain access to unreached peoples and places in unique ways.
The marriage and family therapy student heard from a recent New Orleans Seminary graduate and IMB employee that MedAdvance was a great place to see how his gifts can be utilized on the field. He came expecting to do just that—connect with missionaries, see their hearts and learn how they’re using their unique skills on the field.
By the end of the conference, Breaux’s expectations had been exceeded. He heard the nitty gritty of missionary life—being in places without clean water or having to relocate because where they served was no longer safe. He was happy to hear “just how far God carries us when we’re being faithful to the Great Commission and His will,” he said.
As Breaux walked away from the conference, he was prayerful. He saw that his skills in the mental health field can be applied to the missionary task. He now knows that he can serve missionaries by supporting their mental health, or he could meet mental health needs of people in need of the Gospel. He said he’s excited to see how God will use him in the future.
Shelia Gerkin already had entire careers as an accountant and then a lawyer. Now her version of enjoying retirement is going back to school for degrees in general dietetics, nutrition and public health.
She came to MedAdvance expecting to find out how she can use her skills and education to promote the Gospel. A member of Frankford, Ky., Buck Run, Gerkin wanted to learn if there was a need—serving those on the field as missionaries and the lost around the globe—for dietetics.
As she spoke with IMB personnel at booths and attended the affinity marathon, she was excited to learn about the locations, the people, the needs and the missionaries themselves. Connecting with field staff was the highlight for her. She left with ideas for how she can fit into the missionary task in the future. She saw where the needs are, and as she looks toward short-term mission trips, she said she’s confident she’s on the right track.
‘Rescue those who are being taken away to death’
Being a part of God’s work is a privilege, IMB President Paul Chitwood told MedAdvance attendees during his keynote address. IMB healthcare strategy is vital. It’s a way that IMB missionaries obey Christ’s command to love those who need love.
“The physical problems your profession allows you to address are not the only problems,” Chitwood reminded MedAdvance. With all the brokenness in the world, there is only one eternal problem. That’s spiritual lostness, and that’s the world’s greatest problem. While the IMB doesn’t dismiss other problems in the world, Chitwood reminded all attendees that this greatest problem is personal to everyone.
He told attendees, “It’s our problem as much as it is anyone else’s problem. Once we have experienced the solution, we are called to be a part of the solution.”
Chitwood asked attendees to consider how God is calling them to be part of the solution. Maybe He’s calling them to go short-term or long-term. Maybe He’s calling them to be a mobilizer—to pray and give and send.
“Whichever of these two roles God is calling you to, His word is clear,” Chitwood said.
Quoting Prov. 24:11-12, he continued, “’Rescue those who are being taken away to death,’ those who still face their greatest problem. They are lost. ‘Hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.’”
The end of an era
This event marked the last MedAdvance that Rebekah Naylor presided over in her role as Global Healthcare Strategist for the IMB. When asked her thoughts, she chuckled, “I’m looking forward to enjoying the next one with no responsibility.”
She’s been leading the conference since its inception in 2007. She is thankful for its impact, as evidenced by a healthcare volunteer sharing at this conference that his first real moment to realize his role in medical missions was at MedAdvance. The most recent MedAdvance event was the largest in its history.
As Naylor steps out of her role, she’s optimistic about the future of IMB healthcare strategies.
“I think it’s going to be bigger and better and more diverse,” she said. “Even as our world changes, I think our strategies will just multiply.”
Tom Hicks, a pediatric nephrologist who has served 27 years as a medical missionary in Asia, is assuming the role of Global Healthcare Strategist. During his time on the field, he and his vascular surgeon wife have gotten the opportunity to put almost every healthcare strategy under the sun to the test.
“I think of IMB healthcare strategies as a snowball. It’s just getting bigger and bigger,” Hicks said.
Currently, 11 percent of IMB personnel use healthcare strategies in the missionary task.
“Post pandemic, there’s an awareness of the importance of health,” Hicks said. “As countries close, there’s a great opportunity to use healthcare to meet needs that people can’t deny that they have. We can come in and meet those needs, build relationships, share the Gospel with them and reach lostness.”
Hicks said he doesn’t see any of that changing.
“There are Southern Baptists with healthcare backgrounds, and they’re going to find ways to go,” he said. “I think that we give an opportunity to partner with them to connect them to places they can go strategically.”
Throughout the weekend, the more than 300 attendees spent time with missionaries. More than 60 of those who attended were students. Attendees had the opportunity to sit down for a meal with IMB medical missionaries and learn how they’re using their skills to address lostness. From the stage, conference leaders shared about some of the IMB’s treasured healthcare missionaries throughout the years. Participants learned they’re following in the footsteps of missionary legends who blazed trails for them.
Another component of the weekend was focused prayer for unreached people, led by Eleanor Witcher, retired director of the IMB’s prayer office.
A highlight of the conference was the affinity marathon. In each session, participants heard strategic details about work in each of IMB’s eight affinities.
The conference offered breakouts as well, where participants were informed and equipped to engage refugees, reach Muslims, Hindus, Orthodox and others through healthcare strategies, get to the mission field and utilize telemedicine in strategic ways.
Medical professionals can visit imb.org/healthcare to learn how their skills and abilities can help solve the world’s greatest problem. Next year’s MedAdvance will be Sept. 12-14, 2024, at Houston, Texas, First.