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Joining Hands with You: Equipping You to Become His Hands and Feet to the World

A collaborative article from CMDA members
Today's Christian Doctor - Summer 2014

"Remember Christ has no human body now upon the earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours, my brothers and sisters, are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion has to look upon the world, and yours are the lips with which His love has to speak. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless men now, and yours the feet with which He is to go about doing good through His Church which is His body."

These words from Sarah Elizabeth Rowntree, a 19th century Quaker medical missionary, were recorded as she pleaded for others to join her mission. Like the countless others who came before and after her, she answered God’s call upon her life to serve as His hands and His feet to the world through medical missions.

For the last 10 years, CMDA’s Center for Medical Missions has been echoing Sarah’s words as we seek to encourage and support healthcare professionals as they respond to that call to spread the gospel through healthcare. As a ministry of CMDA, the Center for Medical Missions offers a variety of resources and educational opportunities for future healthcare missionaries, as well as those already in the field.

Your Call is an e-newsletter to help keep the missions fire burning during years of preparation; the e-Pistle e-newsletter includes training, news and updates for those already serving; the International Rotation Handbook offers assistance in identifying sites where it is possible to gain hands-on healthcare missionary experience; and a consulting service offers second opinions and connects missionaries with specialists for difficult cases.

But for many of those interested in pursuing a career in long-term medical missions, they find themselves ill-equipped to serve in a developing country, despite years and years of medical training. Caring for family, sustaining one’s spiritual growth and trying to live up to the expectations of others while facing unending medical needs and emergencies can be overwhelming to the new missionary. The feelings of never finishing what "ought" to be done often leads to experiencing deep inadequacy and insecurity. How do you confront continual suffering and death with compassion? What cultural, economic, environmental and political forces will affect your ministry? How do you even begin to meet the overwhelming needs of the community with such few resources? How do you combine healthcare with spiritual ministry? Budgets, inventories, staff development, strategic planning—how do you handle these administrative responsibilities when they weren’t even covered in your medical training? The list goes on and on.

Lack of training or preparation for a future in medical missions can derail a missionary before they even make it to the mission field. And that’s why the Center for Medical Missions began hosting Orientation to Medical Missions, an annual pre-field orientation conference for new healthcare missionaries. The goal is to help the new missionary experience the greatest possible success, effectiveness and contentment in responding to God’s call in medical missions. Drawing upon decades of experience from career missionaries, the sessions offered during the conference help build a strong foundation, enabling participants to effectively face what lays ahead.

As this conference has grown and evolved, it has become an invaluable resource for career medical missionaries as they prepare to serve in far-reaching locations around the world. It started with only seven attendees at the first conference in 2006, and now more than 50 future missionaries attend the training each year. Sending agencies like Samaritan’s Purse and MedSend are now turning to CMDA to train their new missionaries in increasing numbers, expanding our outreach and allowing us to stand hand-in-hand with hundreds of missionaries who are being the hands, the feet and the lips of Christ. Previous conference participants have shared their stories with us to show how beneficial and valuable the training is, and to show how they used their training to become effective missionaries despite the myriad challenges they faced.

Finding Kindred Spirits
by Rachel McLaughlin, MD

I was 38 weeks pregnant when I attended the CMDA pre-field orientation conference in 2009, and three months away from finishing my residency in OB/Gyn. I had been looking forward to a career in medical missions since I was 16, almost half a lifetime ago, and my husband and I were finally preparing to leave for a two-year post at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya. All my residency classmates were learning about ICD-9 codes, negotiating contracts with partners in the U.S., honing robotic surgery skills and purchasing new homes. I felt totally out of the ordinary, a little adrift, swimming against the flow in so many ways.

And yet, there in Bristol, I found my "kindred spirits." There were maybe 20 other people there, preparing to go to various hospitals in Africa and South America. Several other women were pregnant, and most of us were finishing up a long road of medical training. Suddenly, my experiences and plans to go overseas were met with understanding and excitement instead of confusion and "why would you want to do that?" comments. We understood each other. We had an instant bond, though we had never met before. We could celebrate our shared callings and sympathize over shared difficulties.

During the conference, it was also refreshing to remember that we were and still are parts of a whole. God does not necessarily call us as individuals to do individual work. I am able to serve as a medical missionary because of the sacrifices of many who have gone before, people I was able to meet and learn from at the CMDA conference. People who have years of experience and wisdom, like Dr. Dan Fountain, Dr. David Stevens, Susan Carter and Dr. Daniel Tolan. I am standing on their shoulders, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who encourage and teach. I am also able to serve as a medical missionary because of many who support me in the U.S. through prayer, financial support and logistic support. And I am able to serve as a medical missionary because I know that there are others like me, doing similar work all through the world, caring for the sick and the suffering in the name of Jesus Christ. My time at the CMDA pre-field conference helped me to see this, and I am grateful for that experience.

Rachel McLaughlin, MD, and her family currently serve at Kibuye Hope Hospital in Gitega, Burundi in East Africa. She is a clinical professor of OB/Gyn at Hope Africa University Medical School, a Christian medical school in the capitol city of Bujumbura. She received her MD at Loma Linda University in California and did her residency training in OB/Gyn in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She has also served at hospitals in Cambodia, Swaziland, Bangladesh and Kenya.

Valuing Training
by Traci Warner, MSN, FNP

Somewhere in my profiled training, I remember learning something about the statistics of missionary attrition, and I found it interesting that many experts agreed that it was the training BEFORE arrival on the field that most impacted a missionary’s ability to endure the trials of the lifestyle and ministry. It wasn’t necessarily the situations and obstacles that happened ON the field. At my own mission organization’s headquarters, we have a motto with our training program that says, "If we value excellence, we must value training." I have found these things to be true. In my first year on the field, I was forced to deal with some unexpected (and frankly, undesired) trials, but the training I had received before arrival were invaluable to me as I walked through those trials. CMDA’s missionary orientation is one example of such a training program. Learning from veteran missionaries is key to helping the missionary candidate prepare for service overseas. Each topic is chosen with care and based on experiences that will be encountered at some point or another.

Many mission organizations do a great job in preparing their missionary candidates for general ministry assignments. Serving in healthcare in developing countries (or overseas in general) presents its own unique challenges that will not be addressed in basic training. Again – learning from and being encouraged by missionaries who have responded to the call and have had experience in international healthcare ministries is invaluable. How do we adequately care for the health of nationals with limited resources? How do we avoid burnout when our entire life is one big ministry and the needs are infinite? How do we foster community development in healthcare and address spiritual needs as well? A great place to start is under the direction of those who have failed and succeeded. I still remember some of the comments and advice given at the CMDA conference I attended four years ago. I am thankful for the opportunity I had to sit under the leadership of CMDA and to walk alongside them in my preparation for the medical ministry I now have.

Traci Warner, MSN, FNP, is a family nurse practitioner currently serving in Nicaragua with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism. She serves in both the medical ministry and in training the wives of pastors through ABWE’s Institute of Church Planting. She received her master’s of science in nursing from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Laying the Groundwork
by Doug Lindberg, MD

No amount of preparation and training will "adequately" equip Western-trained medical missionaries for the experiences and challenges lying before them on the foreign mission field. That being said, the groundwork being laid through the efforts of CMDA does a fantastic job at attempting this impossible task. The situation that my wife, our 3-month-old daughter and I faced in preparing to go to Asia in 2008 was similar to that of many outgoing missionaries. The long road of medical training was finally behind us. At last, the calling that God had so clearly placed on our hearts and our lives to go into all the world and to be the hands and feet of Christ was before us. And with all that medical training, we felt ready to take on anything that lay ahead, come what may.

But as I think of the challenges that awaited us, obstacles and oppositions that almost any new missionary faces, there was much work still to be done in preparing our hearts, minds and souls for fruitful service. Cross cultural leadership. Language acquisition. Training national staff. Fundraising. Integrating faith with your practice. Time management and family stressors. Children’s education. Church planting and development. Hosting short-term workers and teams. Exhaustion coupled with physical, spiritual and emotional burnout. Pride. Addiction to being needed. The list goes on. Were we ready for these Goliaths? And I haven’t yet even mentioned the medical challenges. We still needed to learn about multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, how to treat critically ill laboring women with a ruptured uterus and how to handle malnutrition so pervasive that children suffering its effects start to look normal. Where do we look, what do we read and who do we ask when we don’t know? Our training was top notch, but we didn’t get to these topics during family medicine residency training in the U.S. And for our first six months working at our Asian mission hospital, not a single day went by without a patient coming in with either a disease we’d never encountered or pathology advanced beyond that which we’d ever seen.

I can’t emphasize strongly enough that CMDA’s orientation program for medical missionaries along with the continued support provided by their Center for Medical Missions is an invaluable and indispensable resource for medical missionaries. Dr. David Stevens’ writings on the topic were consulted on a weekly if not daily basis during our first year on the field, and they continued to be a source of wisdom throughout our time in Asia. The cultural lessons and sensitivities instilled into us by wise people who had walked the path before us were invaluable. This happened both through the formal orientation at CMDA’s headquarters that we attended prior to leaving, and through ongoing communication with the Center for Medical Missions. It helped us slow down and ask questions. It encouraged us to take the position of learners when we arrived at our chosen field, not as fixers. It encouraged us to pace ourselves and to integrate into the community in order to share the love of Christ. It equipped us to raise support. It encouraged us to keep the main thing the main thing, and not let the endless medical needs sidetrack us from our own walk with Jesus and from sharing Him with others. We were taught to dream big, and to pursue BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) in the name of a lavishly generous and loving Father who loves all His children and has a special heart for the poor and the marginalized. We were taught to not neglect our marriages, our children and our friends. We were given resources—people who were willing to be called upon at any time and who would support and guide us as we faced challenging situations on the field and felt beyond ourselves in finding answers. And call upon them we did!

A football coach from my childhood told me, "If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail." Words that hold true in football and certainly in medical missions as well. Thank you to CMDA for your dedicated focus upon preparing and supporting missionaries.

Doug, Ruth, Maddie and James Lindberg spent four years serving in South Asia with TEAM. Doug and Ruth are both family medicine physicians. They returned to the U.S. for a one-year furlough, intending to return to Asia in March 2014, but they were unable to return due to a series of family health issues. They are now based in suburban Milwaukee.

Are you interested in joining with us and learning more about how to effectively serve the Lord as a healthcare missionary? We invite you to join us at Orientation to Medical Missions. This pre-field orientation conference is held annually near CMDA’s headquarters in Bristol, Tennessee. For more information, visit You also can pray and support this outreach as it grows. Last year we increased to two conferences a year and there is a clear need to expand the length of training into a full Medical Missions Institute format.