BRENTWOOD — Doctors, dietitians, nurses, community health workers and more bustled around the large church near Nashville. They were greeted warmly by International Mission Board 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 IMB is using global health care 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 health care professional – neurologist, emergency room doctor, biblical counselor, nurse, ophthalmologist or undecided medical student – could use his or her 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. The seminary student attended the event alongside more than 300 other attendees and many IMB medical personnel. MedAdvance 2023, hosted by Brentwood Baptist Church near Nashville, is a conference for believers interested in using health care strategies to open doors to a hurting world and gain access to unreached peoples and places in unique ways.
Breaux, a marriage and family therapy student, heard from a recent New Orleans Baptist Theological 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.
As Naylor steps out of her role, she’s optimistic about the future of IMB health care strategies. “I think it’s going to be bigger and better and more diverse. Even as our world changes, I think our strategies will just multiply.”
Dr. Tom Hicks, a pediatric nephrologist who has served 27 years as a medical missionary in Asia, is assuming the role of global health care strategist. During his time on the field, he and his vascular surgeon wife have had the opportunity to put almost every health care strategy under the sun to the test.
“I think of IMB health care strategies as a snowball. It’s just getting bigger and bigger,” Hicks said. Currently 11 percent of IMB personnel use health care strategies in the missionary task.
“Post pandemic, there’s an awareness of the importance of health. As countries close, there’s a great opportunity to use health care 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 health care 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 over 300 attendees spent time with missionaries. More than 60 participants 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 health care 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 health care strategies, get to the mission field, and utilize telemedicine in strategic ways.
Are you a medical professional wanting to learn how you can use your skills and giftings to help solve the world’s greatest problem? Visit imb.org/healthcare. Next year’s MedAdvance will be held Sept. 12-14, 2024, at Houston First Baptist Church. B&R