Share This    

Fulfilling "The Great Commission" - The Heart of CMDA's Calling

Back to the Future: Part 3

Today's Christian Doctor - Fall 2006

Editor's Note: This is the third in a year-long series celebrating CMDA's 75th anniversary. The primary source for historical information has been Following the Great Physician, by Dr. Bob and Marian Schindler.

Since the inception of CMDA,* its leaders and members have always been guided by a desire to fulfill the “Great Commission” of Jesus — “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

For some, this has meant life-long service on the foreign mission field. For others it has meant short-term service at home or abroad. Others have focused on educational activities aimed at relational evangelism and discipleship of national medical professionals. Yet others have helped to provide continuing medical education services to medical missionaries already on the field, in order to help them keep their medical or dental credentials current at home. Like the body of Christ, which functions best when various members use their individual gifts cooperatively to further the corporate mission, through the years CMDA has developed a variety of ministries to support, directly or indirectly, the fulfillment of the Lord’s directive through medical and dental missions. Such ministries often began when one or more members became especially interested in and focused on an area of special need.

In the Beginning

Foreign missions was a big part of the vision of the early CMDA leaders.1 According to an article written by CMDA founder, Dr. Kenneth Gieser, out of the small group that met for fellowship in the early ’30s, a significant number from Northwestern served on the mission field: Douglas Parker (’32) in China, Robert Hockman (’32) in Ethiopia, Frank Pickering (’33) in Peru, Edward Pain (’33) in Ethiopia, Kenneth Gieser (’34) in China, and Robert Sandilands (’35) in Africa.

In August 1934, Dr. and Mrs. Kenneth Gieser sailed to China, where they worked alongside missionary-statesman Dr. L. Nelson Bell (father of Ruth Bell Graham) for the next six years. However, just a few years after arriving in China, the Giesers saw their world there begin to collapse. The Japanese took over the city of Tsing Kiang Pu in 1939. Dr. Gieser became seriously ill with two types of malaria and pneumonia, and the Giesers had to return to the States in 1940. His doctors advised him not to return to the mission field because of his health.

An ophthalmology residency opened for him at the University of Illinois in Chicago, where he continued to spend his life on a mission for Christ.

Through the 1940s, the missionary membership continued to grow as letters came from every mission field. The war had taken members overseas and their vision increased. An idea for “The League of Brother Physicians” came in 1949 from the young CMDA chapter in New Orleans who suggested that physicians “adopt” a medical missionary, become acquainted with their brother (or sister) physicians’ needs on the field, and help in practical ways—sending medical texts and literature, aiding in purchasing, making ham radio contact, and supporting them in prayer. In the ’50s this came under the umbrella of the Medical Missionary Fellowship in CMDA.

Domestic Missions Develop

One Sunday evening in 1948 a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania, H. Newton Spencer, had a date with a medical technician whose father was going to a service at the Central Gospel Hall Mission in Philadelphia. The father invited his daughter and her date to go with him. Sitting on the platform, student Spencer looked out on the sea of faces—-some 750 men and women whose bodies and souls appeared broken. Straining to hear the preaching of Christ in a room saturated with coughs and groans, he asked himself: Why not establish a medical mission right here?

The directors of the Central Gospel Hall Mission and the Eighth Street Wayside Mission agreed that a medical clinic would meet a dire need. A room was immediately made available and physicians donated equipment and supplies. The project was named “Medical Counseling Service” by the University of Pennsylvania in order to allow unlicensed medical students the privilege of serving. Permission was granted for the students to do anything that a visiting nurse or druggist could legally do.

The Philadelphia County Medical Society added their wholehearted support, and permission was given for students from all of the five medical schools in Philadelphia to participate. The first mission “clinic” opened in March 1949.

The first patients to arrive were two sick and curious men. The next week there were four. Soon, however, word spread about the care, and the clinic benches were filled every Sunday. “John 5:24 Mission” joined the two other mission clinics, and students continued to work under the supervision of Dr. Kenneth Scott, a resident in surgery who later served as a Presbyterian medical missionary in Korea. The University of Pennsylvania required that a faculty member supervise. Prayers were answered when Dr. C. Everett Koop, then Chief of Surgery at the Children’s Hospital, became active in CMDA and then became the director.

Mission clinics were established around the country in needy areas of cities—by 1955 there were twelve. Since then, many more domestic clinics have been established by servants of the underserved including Drs. Art Jones, Peter Boelens, Carolyn Klaus, Bill Crevier, David and Janet Kim, Rick Donlon, Dana Vallageon and so many others. Many of these efforts were established with the encouragement of the Domestic Missions Commission, which was officially formed in 1988.

Recently, CMDA began collaboration with the Christian Community Health Fellowship (CCHF) to enlist many more members in serving the underserved. “CCHF will be primarily instrumental in helping doctors set up new clinics for the poor and underinsured,” explained CMDA’s Dr. Al Weir. “CMDA will provide the avenues necessary for CCHF to educate our students and doctors regarding the opportunities and the methods needed to establish such work. CMDA will also initiate a major effort to provide pathways of service for the vast majority of Christian doctors in the US who will never give their careers completely to free health clinics,” Dr. Weir added. “This initiative, ‘The Four Percent Solution,’ challenges Christian doctors to donate 4 percent of their time or money above their normal church giving to care for the poor either in the office, as a volunteer in clinics for the poor, or in volunteer overseas missions.”

“Hundreds of doctors are already on board, but thousands more need to join the effort,” Dr. Weir said. “God’s Word is clear: ‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked’ (Luke 12:48). How can we as Christian doctors ignore these words or believe that they overlook the poor or pretend they were spoken to someone else?” For more information about CMDA’s domestic missions efforts, click here.

Supporting Those on the Field

During the mid-1950s, the idea behind the Missionary Assistance Program (MAP) was conceived through the special concern of CMDA’s then Executive Secretary, J. Raymond Knighton Jr., to provide drugs, supplies, and equipment to missionaries going to the field, or already there. The effort was launched preemptively when eleven tons of surplus pharmaceuticals arrived at the CMDA office in mid-Chicago one day in 1954. This initial donation was soon followed by many more, necessitating larger facilities, more staff, and ultimately resulting in MAP becoming MAP International, in 1965.

In the late 1950s, foreign medical missionaries also began asking for a different kind of help; specifically, short-term support from other doctors — a forerunner of the type of short-term missions so common today, but a concept that most mission organizations were not ready to consider in those days. Nonetheless, the Christian Medical Society Foundation was formed to assist in arranging such visits.

Plastic surgeon Dr. Ralph Blocksma (a past president) and his wife Ruth were among the first to participate in this new program. They had been missionaries in Pakistan but had returned because of Ralph’s health. Now, through CMDA’s short-term missions, they found themselves going to a number of different countries. Dr. Blocksma called it “tithing for Christ”— giving of his time to go where a plastic surgeon was so needed.

This focus continued and was expanded, starting in the 1960s through “limited group missions,” which later became Medical Group Missions (MGM) and then in 1995 evolved into Global Health Outreach (GHO), which emphasizes evangelism outreach, leadership training, and the discipleship of participants. The focus of GHO is to strengthen and expand the local churches wherever we serve. Dr. Don Mullen was appointed part-time director of GHO in 1995, but resigned in 1997 to pursue his call to build a mission hospital in Greece. Dr. Sam Molind, an oral surgeon from Vermont, accepted the role of director in 1998. Under his leadership, GHO has expanded to forty-plus highly effective teams a year (more than 700 participants) going to Africa, Asia, and Latin America, serving more than 30,000 patients annually, with thousands of these coming to know Jesus Christ as Savior.

By 2010, GHO plans to sponsor fifty trips annually, with 30 percent being to the “10/40 Window,” and at least half of these missions to include a pastor as a participant to provide spiritual leadership. A seminar for team leaders will be hosted by GHO at the CMDA headquarters annually. Specialty coordinators will be secured and trained, a new GHO directory will by produced, and various new resources developed, including audio and visual training materials for participants, a Short-term Missions Spiritual Ministry Handbook, a Health Education Program for Developing Countries by Dr. Arnold Gorske, (now available in English, Spanish, and Mandarin), and an “Essential Ministry Training” (EMT) program, developed by Bert Jones, CMDA’s Director of Leadership and Church Ministries, to prepare stateside pastors for spiritual leadership of GHO teams. The EMT program will host a yearly pastor’s conference at CMDA headquarters to recruit and train EMT participants.

For more information about the work of GHO, click here.

Taking Education to the Field

Two CMDA efforts—our CMDE program for missionaries, and our Medical Education International—resulted from conversations between leaders aware of existing opportunities.

The idea for our program of Continuing Medical and Dental education for missionaries began with this question: “What is the most valuable help we could give our missionary members?” The answer was not more money, more supplies, or better education for their kids. The answer was better continuing education for the missionaries, themselves. The question came from Marvin Jewell, MD, who in 1976 was incoming president of CMDA. The response came from the organization’s new Missions Committee chair, David Stewart, MD, psychiatrist and former missionary. “It really can be lonely out there, both professionally and spiritually!” said Dr. Stewart. “If we could just take a spiritually rich and professionally diverse meal to a table where some of God’s precious exhausted and hungry missionary physicians and dentists could relax and be refilled, it would be a BIG help. What’s more, if we could achieve CME accreditation, they could earn enough hours to retain their licenses to practice in the USA!”2

Dr. Stewart enlisted Gerald Swim, then Assistant Dean and Director of CME for the University of Louisville School of Medicine, who provided course accreditation. He engaged David Van Reken, MD, a pediatrician, who was teaching and working at that time in Monrovia, Liberia, to handle the negotiations and to secure the facilities for the planned two weeks of intensive education. Van Reken reserved the University of Liberia’s only dormitory during its academic break in January 1978 for $4.50 board and room/person/day.

The first meeting was attended on six months’ notice by thirteen faculty and sixty-five missionary doctors. Since then, thousands of missionary doctors have benefited from CMDA’s CMDE program for missionaries. Today’s conferences, held in alternate years in Africa or Thailand, sometimes attract more than 500 participants—see the feature report, pages 25-27.

Similarly, CMDA’s Medical Education International (originally called COIMEA) was birthed as a result of a comment made in 1987 by Dr. Roberto Rodriguez, then President of the Christian Medical Society of Mexico to Dr. Robert Schindler, who had just completed his tenure as President of CMDA-USA. “Your doctors have so much to share in professional knowledge and skill. There are so many around the world who could benefit from their teaching,” Dr. Rodriguez said.

In 1988, the Trustees formed an Ad Hoc Committee on International Medical Educational Affairs, which became known as COIMEA, with Schindler as chairman. COIMEA, now called Medical Education International (MEI), became a Commission in 1989, and was led for nearly fifteen years by Bob and Marian Schindler. Their goal was to provide medical and dental education for national physicians and dentists in their own countries through CMDA-USA volunteers.

In doing so, these volunteers would encourage Christian national doctors and build relationships with non-Christian national colleagues that would lead them toward Christ. In 1989 individual doctors explored pilot projects and opportunities followed for other individuals and teams to go. The settings were varied all around the world, from one-on-one teaching in rural areas to academic teaching in medical/dental schools and medical centers. Through the years, MEI has given doctors with an interest in teaching a place to go, and, with that teaching, an opportunity to share their faith in Christ.

Center for Medical Missions

The Center for Medical Missions (CMM) was established in 2003 to aid in the recruitment, training, and retention of career medical missionaries. Susan Carter, BSN, MPH, Director of CMM, says, “Sustaining our response in medical missions greatly depends on a solid foundation of management and personnel development. The most valuable asset of any organization is its employees. Faith-based organizations must develop national leadership and managers.” The goals of CMM include: raising up and training the nextgeneration of healthcare missionaries, increasing effectiveness in mission healthcare, and reflecting Jesus in medical missions. To further these goals, CMM hosted its first conference, “Preparing for the Future! An Orientation for Medical Missions,” January 17-20, 2006. For information on future programs, click here.

“Each of us, as Christian doctors, is called to a life of mission for our Lord,” says CMDA’s Dr. Al Weir. “That mission is renewed each day in our relationships with loved ones, colleagues, students, and patients. For many of us, God is also calling us toward a mission experience outside the boundaries of our daily lives. CMDA is here to provide the pathways for such service, utilizing our God-given skills, at home or abroad for Christ.”

*Note: Through the years, CMDA has been known by various names - initially as the Christian Medical Society (CMS) then the Christian Medical & Dental Society (CMDS) and finally the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA). In this article we refer to the ministry by the initials CMDA throughout.

1 Parts of this article are excerpted or adapted from Following the Great Physician, published by CMDA.

2 Portions of this section are excerpted or adapted from an earlier article in this magazine, “The Phrase that Launched a Thousand Lips” (Winter 2000, pp. 9-14), and from Following the Great Physician, pp. 85-88.

Related Publications