Heal the sick who are there and tell them, “The kingdom of God is near you.” (Luke 10:9, NIV)
Joni Earekson Tada at the 2004 Global Missions Health Conference.
Nearly one year ago, Joni Eareckson Tada pleaded with an audience of more than 2,000 to, “practice Christianity with your sleeves rolled up.” It was the annual Global Missions Health Conference (GMHC) and Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic for thirty-seven years, was encouraging healthcare professionals, medical students, mission workers and church leaders to follow the Great Commission plan. Despite her disability, Eareckson Tada has been ministering to others for years through her radio and print ministry as well as Wheels for the World, (distributing wheelchairs to individuals around the world).
Eareckson Tada was only one of the dozens of leaders who attended last year’s GMHC, where Christian workers shared information on how to help those in need.
This year marks the 10th anniversary for the conference, which will be held November 11-12 at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. An accompanying HIV/AIDS consultation is scheduled for November 10. The largest event of its kind in the world, representatives from Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic will be among many healthcare leaders holding workshops. Missions organizations of all sizes—from the Lawndale Christian Health Center, a defining urban outreach in Chicago, to Samaritan’s Purse, a global, multi-faceted outreach under the leadership of Franklin Graham—will also be hosting seminars throughout the two-day event.
The Beginnings of the GMHC
It was 1994 and Dr. David Dageforde, an interventionist cardiologist from Louisville, was traveling to Ethiopia on his first short-term missions trip.
Discouraged by not only the spiritual plight of the people, but also the sheer number of patients waiting to be seen, Dageforde knew something needed to be done. Many of those waiting for medical care would never be seen. The line was too long and the time was too short.
“You could bring a jet full of doctors every week to Ethiopia to take care of the people's physical needs and that would not be enough to adequately do the job,” Dageforde recalls.
It was during this time of frustration and helplessness when Ray Giles, a missionary to Africa, offered Dageforde this advice: “David, you must give the people hope for eternity, because you will never ease all the suffering on this earth.”
Dageforde soon made a life change, giving up his full-time medical practice to focus on mission projects in both Ethiopia and around the world. God had given Dageforde a vision to help healthcare professionals and students use their medical skills to further God’s kingdom—to “heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you'” (Luke10:9).
In 1996, Dageforde began the GMHC.
The Growth of the GMHC
From its humble beginnings of little more than 200 attendees, the GMHC now attracts more than 2,300 Christians looking to serve God in their respective professions. With more than 100 mission agencies exhibiting at the conference and 600-700 students attending the event (with continuing education accreditation available in most healthcare areas), the event is an opportunity for individuals and organizations to understand not only the need of caring for the poor and helpless, but also offers opportunities to help those in need.
The GMHC is in partnership with several Christian medical organizations and mission groups, including Christian Medical & Dental Association (CMDA), Christian Pharmacists Fellowship International (CPFI), Fellowship of Christian Physician Assistants (FCPA) and Nurses’ Christian Fellowship. Among the many GMHC associates are Samaritan’s Purse, India Gospel League, Christ for Humanity and Fellowship of Associates of Medical Evangelism (FAME).
Tina Bruner, director of Missions at Southeast, told The Southeast Outlook, “The scope of expertise that is represented through the workshops and exhibitors is outstanding. People are coming to this conference from Asia, Africa and Europe, as well as from all over the United States.”
The Composition of the GMHC
With more than ninety-eight workshops available—a dozen of which focus on medical evangelism—medical workers are able to take home tools that will benefit them in any mission setting, whether overseas or in their own backyard. Workshops cover topics from cultural medical concerns to community healthcare and mission work with the urban poor.
For Dageforde, the conference is an opportunity to help medical specialists better understand how they can use their abilities to further God’s kingdom.
“If you would have told me a few years ago that there was something for an interventionist cardiologist in missions I would have told you you’re nuts,” he said. “The perception is that there are very few supplies and you can only treat a few things. This conference says that medical missions is way beyond that—beyond dispensing meds on short-term trips.”
One distinct advantage in medical missions is the opportunity to enter closed countries.
“Medical missions is a leader in closed-access countries,” Dageforde said. “You can go in as a teacher, a businessman—and in no way am I negating that – but Jesus’ model of caring for the whole person [is that] you take care of [the] physical needs and then address the spiritual needs.”
The latter half of this equation—the spiritual needs—is also addressed at the GMHC during workshops on Christian apologetics, evangelism and ethics. Several professors from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will be hosting workshops on missions apologetics.
With more than forty-three million people worldwide now living with HIV/AIDS, leaders of the GMHC decided to include a separate accompanying conference three years ago. More than 8,000 people die each day of HIV/AIDS and fourteen million children become orphans as a result, and the conference is designed to address how this issue is impacting medical missions today.
Two years after the initial conference in 2002, the book, The Hope Factor: Engaging the Church in the HIV/AIDS Crisis, was released and picked up where the discussion at the GMHC had left off.
Bruner, co-editor of the book along with Dageforde and Dr. Tetsunao “Ted” Yamamori, Lausanne International Director, hopes it will make readers aware of the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS around the world.
“[It is] not only in Africa, but in many parts of the world,” Bruner said. “It’s affecting families and communities and economies.”
The book also reports how churches are responding to the crisis. Bruner hopes more churches will react to the crisis and be a positive witness for Christ.
“The North American church is lagging tremendously,” he said. “Do we hear about [HIV/AIDS] from the pulpit or understand the devastation? And what are we doing about it?”
Awareness of the problem has spurred some Christian organizations and churches to act. Evangelical Christian interest in the July G8 Summit (See Related Story) evidenced the broader consciousness the church as a whole has found concerning the plight of Africa and other places where AIDS, poverty, government corruption, disease and religious strife have siphoned away any fragment of hope.
During this year’s conference, The North American Consultation on the Role of the Church in the HIV/AIDS Pandemic will feature four plenary speakers and eight workshops which deal with the role of the North American church in the HIV/AIDS crisis. For the first time, Lausanne will be co-hosting this consultation, which is co-convened by Dageforde and Yamamori.
Lausanne hopes to draw prominent North American church pastors and Christian leaders to speak out on the AIDS issue and to motivate churches in the United States and Canada to help.
According to Dageforde, the HIV/AIDS conference is distinguished from the GMHC because of the “interactive” dialogue generated between attendees. This year’s speakers include Richard Stearns, president of World Vision Inc., Edward Green, senior research scientist at Harvard School of Public Health, Geoff Tunnicliffe, interim secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance and Benjamin Homan, president and chief executive officer of Food for the Hungry, Inc.
Sixteen international participants from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will also be attending the conference. The agency is currently overseeing a program to deliver anti-retroviral treatment to 137,600 Africans and Haitians within five years. According to USAID representative Clydette Powell, what distinguishes the Christian response to HIV/AIDS from government response is the balance of prevention, treatment and care.
“Christians differ in their response in that they offer the message of hope,” she said.
Another organization helping in the crisis is Food for the Hungry International. Their latest three-year initiative in East Africa is called “Bringing Hope to the Hopeless,” in which they intend to focus care on preventing AIDS, reducing stigma and treating the disease through churches and community-based groups in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda and Uganda. The program is centered on biblical morality, where churches provide food and care, as well as social and emotional support for people living with AIDS, for orphans and for vulnerable children.
Dr. Florence Muindi, a Christian Missionary Fellowship partner working in East Africa, has seen the impact of the church-based model in confronting the AIDS pandemic one person at a time. Muindi believes that for AIDS sufferers, hope is even more important than healing, especially in countries where anti-retroviral drugs are in limited supply. She has also been encouraged by watching how poor churches help in global missions. This is evidenced by her own ministry, Life in Abundance. “Finding that hope in the church is a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “We are challenged to see what more we can do.”
It is the same challenge presented each year at the GMHC, according to Dageforde. “If we know all the facts and do nothing about it, we’re in trouble. We’ve got to do something.”
For more information about the GMHC, to go: http://www.medicalmissions.com/