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Medical Education Internation: Representing CMDA in Mongolia

by Jack Ebright, MD
Today's Christian Doctor - Fall 2006

"He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:34).

There is a sense of eager anticipation among the physicians who are crowded into the operating room of Maternal Children's Hospital (MCH) and excitedly whisper among themselves; all stand behind their colleague, Dr. Tsedmaa, an obstetrician-gynecologist and well-liked staff member of the hospital. She sits beside her mentor, Dr. Sam Alexander, a reproductive endocrinologist from Colorado and member of the April 2006 Medical Education International (MEI) team. Together, they work to maneuver the newly arrived hysteroscope in their patient and frequently look up to peer into the video screen. This is the first opportunity the physicians at MCH have had to use such equipment, so the news of the special training sessions has spread rapidly through the medical community in Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia. The event even makes the evening news on Mongolian television.

We, the other team members, share with our Mongolian colleagues in gratitude for all who made this special event possible. In addition to Dr. Alexander who worked diligently to procure the equipment and oversee its use and maintenance, was the company who donated it and World Vision who agreed to ship it from Colorado. We are reminded once again that this is the Lord's work and He graciously uses many people from around the world to make the vision of MEI a reality.

Even while the hysteroscopy is proceeding at the MCH, others of our team are engaged in teaching and patient care across the city. Dr. Richard Neiberger, a pediatric nephrologist from the University of Florida, is joined by specialists from Russia and Mongolia to deliver a multi-day conference to nephrologists and pediatricians in the Department of Pediatrics of MCH. Dr. John Coppes, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Minnesota, is performing a caesarean section at First Maternity Hospital. Our gastroenterologist from Asheville, North Carolina, Dr. Brent Jeffries, is back for his second trip with MEI to Mongolia and heavily engaged with a full slate of difficult endoscopy cases at The Shastin Central Hospital and the National Centra Hospital. Also from North Carolina, Dr. Scott Garrison is teaching principles of anesthesia and serving as our first anesthesiologist to visit the country with MEI.

Across town, Dr. Greg Gray, Director of the Center for Emerging Infections Diseases and specialist in public health at University of Iowa, and I are lecturing at a two-day conference on emerging and reemerging diseases at the National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD).

Meanwhile, our PhD-research chemist, Dr. John SantaLucia from Wayne State University, is bringing state-of-art lectures focusing on RNA chemistry and novel approaches to antibiotic development to basic scientists at the medical school, Health Sciences University of Mongolia (HSUM).

A Very Busy, But Effective Two Weeks

Before the two-week visit was over, our team delivered dozens of lectures on wide-ranging medical and scientific topics, participated in the annual Scientific Day Lecture Series at HSUM, engaged in multiple technical and surgical procedures, interacted with medical students, discussed research projects and possible collaboration, contributed to manuscript preparation, donated state-of-art textbooks, dined out with Mongolian colleagues, and visited some of their homes.

To balance things out, more relaxing times of fellowship with our hosts were "thrown in" to our already-packed schedules. Three members of our team (Gray, Coppes, and Alexander) were invited to accompany Dr. Khurelbaatar, Dean of the School of Biomedicine, and others of his friends, on a fishing trip to the partially frozen Kherlen River, which flows east from the Khan Khentii mountain range and through the ancient lands of Genghis Khan. As they left for the weekend day trip, we joined them in prayer, asking not only that they would be safe and have a great time, but also that they would have opportunity to share their faith with their hosts. God answered both prayers. There were indeed opportunities to talk about the Lord, and nearly twenty large trout were hauled out of that frigid river—two of them by Sam and Greg!

In addition, the entire team and about twenty-five Mongolian physicians and scientists spent a Saturday visiting Terelj Park, an hour's drive from Ulaanbaatar. The scenery was great, the wind brutal, the yak and camel rides hilarious, the food delicious, and the fellowship warm. None of us will forget that day.

Opportunities for Ministry Abound

While the physicians and scientists were occupied with patient care, consultation, and lecture to the medical community, my wife, Janice, an English teacher and lone spouse on the team, invested her time profitably. She provided invaluable assistance working with the staff of the MIKE Hotel, food procurement, exchange of currency, and making sure the team's financial affairs were in order. The central portions of her days were scheduled with teaching conversational English to a small group of young physicians who served as instructors in the medical education department of HSUM. She also taught creative writing and literature to the co-op home school for missionary children, made hospice visits with Helen Sheperd of Grace Hospice Program, and visited the Children's Place Orphanage of Dr. Rita Browning and Margie Stone.

Opportunities for ministry sometimes came in ways unforeseen. Janice recalled, "On Monday of the second week I kept my scheduled activity limited to an hour English class at the medical school and some time to catch up on the financial accounting. I kept Monday afternoon open, expecting to have some time with Gerel (market manager for MIKA Hotel). I wanted an opportunity to follow up with her after the conversation she had had with one of our team at Sunday lunch after church. As she shared with him, it seems that she was perhaps a new believer and I hoped for an opportunity to clarify. When I left the hotel, however, there was a note from her saying she was attending a seminar for the day.

"I was disappointed, but when I returned to my room after the English class, Emma (receptionist at the hotel) was waiting for me outside my door. I invited her in, and as she entered, she exclaimed, 'I think if I understood what is in the Bible, my life will be changed!' What an opening to share with her for an hour the meaning of God's love for her, the message of John 3:16, and the encouragement to study Scripture for greater understanding. She expressed interest in being contact by Dr. Paul Choi's wife, Lydia, for help in studying the Bible. Truly the Lord opened this door in an 'unexpected' way, the result of the prayers of many."

Long-Term Results of Short-Term Missions

MEI teams have come to Mongolia twice yearly since Dr. George Mikhail's first trip in October 1996 with Dr. Rita Browning. Over this nearly ten-year span the purposes have not changed: the encourage, share knowledge and professional expertise, and develop friendships with our colleagues in Mongolia; to share our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Spirit enables and gives opportunity, to contribute to the building of Christ's church in Mongolia.

God is doing a special work in this ancient and faraway country. Most people think of Mongolia as the mysterious land of Genghis Khan and his conquering warriors who rode their horses across the Asian Steppes and laid waste the peoples and nations during the 13th Century to establish the largest land-based empire in history. They are less likely to know that for the last few centuries it has been controlled by China and Russia.

Mongolia was a communist nation and Soviet satellite will all religious activity brutally suppressed from 1924 until 1989. When it finally came out from under Soviet dominance and established a democratic government in 1990, no Christian or church was known to exist in the country. We praise God and rejoice to say that is no longer the case.

Currently, there are an estimated 35-40,000 believers and over 300 churches in Mongolia. About 200 of the churches are located in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Our team's arrival coincided with Easter weekend, allowing the opportunity to attend BASIC church ("brothers and sisters in Christ") located in a small rented upper story room a short distance from our hotel. There we joyfully worshipped our risen Lord with young families, teenagers, and Mongolian friends whom we had invited.

We were moved to see, amongst the congregation, several abandoned "street children" who had been welcomed and were being cared for by members of the church. We were greeted by dear ones whose spontaneous smiles and glad enthusiasm quickly made us forget the fatigue in our travel-weary bodies and the even greater distance between our two cultures.

I remember one of the interviews of MEI's founder, Dr. Bob Schindler, dearly loved mentor to many before he died. At the end of that conversation with Dr. David Stevens, Bob said, "There's nothing in this world better than serving Jesus."

During our mission to Mongolia, this truth was brought home to our minds and hearts once again.


Jack Ebright, MD, is a senior faculty member in the Department of Internal medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, MI. He has been a member of CMDA since his student years in medical school, and has served as the Chair of the Detroit Council for CMDA and faculty supervisor for the student chapter at WSU for several years.

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