RICHMOND, Va.—On Aug. 7-8, healthcare professionals, students, church leaders and state and associational leaders attended the International Mission Board’s (IMB) MedAdvance conference. Participants learned about the IMB’s work in healthcare missions and how they can use their professions to partner with IMB healthcare workers.
This is the 13th year the IMB has hosted MedAdvance, and because of COVID-19, it was the first year the forum was hosted virtually. Last year’s MedAdvance met at Oklahoma City, Quail Springs.
Due to the pandemic, healthcare is a critical topic for many people. MedAdvance provided an avenue for discussions about how healthcare can be used to meet global needs, while sharing the Gospel.
Participants joined the conference from across the U.S., signing in from California to New England. Hosting the event virtually allowed more people to participate who would not have traveled to an in-person event. The virtual event also broadened the audience—151 of the 358 registrants were new contacts to the IMB. The number of participants is thought to be higher because of groups who gathered to watch the event. The sessions were also posted online and were viewed by others.
IMB President Paul Chitwood shared a message during the first of MedAdvance’s three sessions.
“Every single day, from a long list of causes, 154,937 people die who have given no indication of their belief in the Gospel. Many of them have never even heard the Gospel,” Chitwood said. “But like the news-breaking reporters, whom we hope to hear someday soon announcing a cure to COVID-19 and a vaccine that is ready for distribution, as Christ-followers, we have even better news to share.”
Chitwood remarked that, at the time of the event, 400 communities were receiving COVID-19 aid from IMB workers.
MedAdvance participants had the opportunity to hear examples from overseas IMB healthcare workers, including a healthcare strategies consultant who shared about the need to rethink church planting to find creative ways to access hard-to-reach people.
With the advent of COVID-19, telemedicine has become more accepted, both in practice and in the vernacular, as a viable means of meeting health needs. Doctor’s visits, prescription refills and basic tests can be conducted through telemedicine. This trend was discussed as a means to open doors to mission work.
Thousands of people live far away from medical care, due to geography or proximity to conflict zones, and telemedicine is a means of serving communities in need of medical care. Telemedicine has the potential to provide—and is already providing—avenues for both national and Southern Baptist church planters. The avenues include meeting the physical needs of the people they are serving among and providing an entry point for ongoing conversations.
MedAdvance participants learned about how telemedicine kits are being used overseas. One IMB healthcare worker shared a story about an 11-year old girl who lives more than 46 miles from the closest clinic.
The girl had frequent seizures, and her family went to a local church to ask for prayer. Her father was a witchdoctor, but none of his incantations could halt the seizures. Local church planters had been trained in how to use an EEG telemedicine kit, and they were able to diagnose her condition and supply medicine. The girl is now seizure-free, and she committed her life to Christ.
Several MedAdvance participants expressed interest in hearing more about how they could be involved with telemedicine and virtual mobile medical clinics.
Rebekah Naylor, IMB’s global healthcare strategies consultant, said she sees telemedicine as a potential expansion of the IMB’s healthcare strategies that can lead to the advancement of the missionary task.
“It can give access; it helps with entry; it gives opportunity for evangelism,” Naylor said. “Some of the telemedicine we’re already doing has led to new believers, so that’s going to get you to disciple-making, and obviously when a group disciples, you’re going to form a church.”
Naylor, who served as a medical missionary in India, was recently appointed distinguished professor of missions in the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern Seminary.
MedAdvance participants were not viewed as merely conference attendees; they were seen as a potential pool of volunteers and future short-term, mid-term and long-term professionals who will join IMB’s 300 healthcare workers currently on the field.
“Healthcare professionals are unique in that we can cross every possible barrier: geographical barriers, cultural barriers, economic barriers, and we get to a spiritual conversation, even within minutes,” Naylor shared with MedAdvance participants. “We need to remember that Jesus commissioned us both to preach the Good News of the Kingdom and to heal sicknesses.”
MedAdvance participants took a global virtual tour as they heard about health and wellness projects in Central Asia, clean water projects in Brazil and medical clinics in Sub-Saharan Africa. Healthcare strategists from the IMB’s nine regions of service gave an introduction to their region and shared needs and ways personnel are meeting healthcare needs.
Volunteers play a pivotal role in IMB healthcare strategies, and throughout the MedAdvance conference, participants were invited to join IMB workers in completing the Great Commission.
MedAdvance participants learned how volunteer medical teams in Eastern Europe were able to see 4,000 patients and 75 people made professions of faith and are attending church.
“We have more than medicine, and we have a message that saves, and Jesus is our Lord,” the IMB worker shared.
All participants in MedAdvance walked away with clear steps of how to be involved in or support healthcare missions. Fifty-eight participants expressed an interest in future short-term volunteer projects, 31 expressed interest in mid-term or long-term positions with the IMB.
One participant wrote in an evaluation survey, “This evening session set my heart ablaze with interest in becoming a medical missionary.”
Next year’s MedAdvance conference will be in Fort Worth, Texas, Aug. 5-7. The conference will be live, but discussions are underway to stream sessions.
To learn more about IMB healthcare strategies, visit imb.org/healthcare.