Growing Interest in Medical Missions

Among students in the health professions, the Annual Global Missions Health Conference (GMHC) in Louisville, KY, USA, is quickly becoming known as the “Urbana” of healthcare missions. (Editors note: the author’s reference to Urbana relates to the Urbana Missions Convention,, held since 1946 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) Louisville’s Southeast Christian Church partnered with InterVarsity’s Nurses Christian Fellowship (NCF) and seven other Christian health-related organizations to convene the Tenth Annual GMHC 11-12 November 2005.

Since NCF became a conference co-sponsor five years ago, attendance has grown from five hundred to over 2,500 participants, making it a significant gathering in healthcare missions. In recent years missions leaders and healthcare professionals have used this event to advance a dialogue about healthcare and missions. Three years ago, these leaders began coordinating a pre-conference event on HIV/AIDS and the Church.

This year’s pre-conference featured Dr. Edward Green, senior research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, who spoke on “Uganda’s ABC Model: An African Response to AIDS.” His presentation included discussion on the controversy surrounding the program, which emphasizes abstinence and faithfulness in marriage. Benjamin Homan, president of Food for the Hungry, Inc., spoke of the need for repentance in light of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, challenged the North American church to respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and Geoff Tunnicliffe, interim secretary general of World Evangelical Alliance, challenged missions organizations and churches to form partnerships to effectively address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. More than six hundred people participated in the North American Consultation on the Role of the Church in the HIV/AIDS Pandemic.

The GMHC, which followed the HIV/AIDS Consultation, included ninety-eight workshops, ninety speakers and over 130 exhibits.  Dr. Tracy Goen presented a workshop and a plenary session on his work with the Fulani people in Nigeria. He shared how the Lord had used traditional medicine and veterinary medicine to reach the largely-Muslim, nomadic Fulani people with the gospel.

Steve Saint, son of martyred missionary Nate Saint, presented a workshop on “Community Based Health among the Waodoni Tribe and Other Indigenous Peoples.” He told of his experience growing up in Ecuador; his adult relationship to the indigenous people who had led him to the Lord and taught him as a child; and the impact of Western influence on the indigenous church. He challenged some traditional mission approaches to healthcare in developing countries.

Dr. E. Dawn Swaby-Ellis presented a plenary program entitled “Beyond the Crossroads: Communication, Culture and Caring in Medicine.” Dr. David Stevens, executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, challenged the audience with his plenary “Dying to Win.” Aileen Coleman, an Australian nurse and  executive director of the Annoor Hospital in Jordan, whose story is told in the book, The Desert Rat, also spoke.

Grace Tazelaar is missions director of Nurses Christian Fellowship, a part of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. She has served with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) and as an advisor to the Ugandan Protestant Medical Bureau and was involved in the Uganda National Control Program for AIDS.