In the Horn of Africa, meanwhile, simple medical attention paved the way for 500 Gospel presentations over the course of a year, yielding 150 professions of faith.
In Europe, medical missionaries are training local believers to give eye exams while also distributing reading glasses and Scripture portions.
Globally, medical professionals are playing crucial roles in taking the Gospel to people in great physical and spiritual need, said John Brady, International Mission Board vice president for global strategy, speaking to a five-day gathering of health care workers at the IMB's International Learning Center in Rockville, Va.
"Health care is one of the best ways for the Gospel to be present in places of need, especially among unengaged, unreached people groups," Brady said. "God has incredibly gifted health care personnel in the North American church with medical skills. Even simple techniques can radically change life expectancy in places where most people live to be 41 or 42 years old.
"In the West, we have seen God increase medical knowledge to the point where we now have some of the best understanding of how God created the body and the environment in which we live, and we are able to apply that knowledge for His glory," Brady said. "God didn't just do that to bless the people in our own community. He wants us involved in His mission around the world as His disciples."
To that end, IMB links health care professionals in North America with medical missionaries overseas, mobilizing them for key roles in church planting efforts that model Jesus' command to "preach and heal," said Rebekah Naylor, an emeritus medical missionary who now leads efforts to mobilize Southern Baptist medical professionals.
A total of 381 IMB personnel are engaged in health care missions overseas -- all but 21 of them medical professionals, Naylor told the group. Health care strategy coaches are now in place across the world to help develop effective ways for health care ministries to enhance the global mission effort.
Health care workers at the gathering briefed IMB leadership on many situations where health care is helping people experience whole-life transformation. Among them:
-- In one European country, 707 people made professions of faith in medical clinics during 2012, with churches strengthened and new groups started.
-- In South Asia, one health care strategy is demonstrating the love of God to women by providing disposable feminine hygiene products to take the place of the cloth, shredded newspaper, coconut husks, even ash from cooking fires used by women -- if they use anything at all. Women's ministry circles in North America are hand-making the supplies.
A growing number of Southern Baptist churches are engaging holistic approaches to evangelism and church planting overseas, many of them through health care, said Ken Winter, IMB vice president for church and partner services.
"They are meeting human needs, addressing social justice issues, meeting medical needs and not just saying, 'Let's go do this,' but connecting the dots strategically," Winter said.
Nothing connects proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel together the way medical ministries do, he said. "This is one of the greatest ways I can see Southern Baptists cooperatively coming together in partnership in the task."
Participants in the meeting also heard a presentation by Scott Holste, IMB vice president for global strategic mobilization, who described the new "Marketplace Advance" initiative.
Medical workers are a good example of the growing numbers of marketplace professionals who are getting strategically involved overseas, Holste said.
Skybridge Community, a new IMB initiative, helps the estimated 1 million North American adult Christians living overseas find ways to intentionally be on mission where they are. Learn more at skybridgecommunity.com.
A major IMB conference for mobilizing North American health care professionals, titled MedAdvance, will be held July 17-19 of next year. Email email@example.com for more information.
Reported by International Mission Board staff. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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