Healthcare strategies growing in importance to the missionary task

Richard and Emily Barfell came to the International Mission Board’s MedAdvance conference in the middle of their application process to serve as missionaries with the IMB. Richard is a doctor. Emily is a stay-at-home mom of two little girls.

Their most pressing question right now regarding their calling is where to serve. Because of the interactions they had with seasoned missionaries at the Aug. 5-7 MedAdvance conference, they left with more clarity and encouragement than they started with.

“We are just open to where God wants us to go. We already said, ‘yes, we want to be missionaries,’” Richard shared. “We’re hoping to be on the field soon, but we just don’t know where yet.”

Conference leaders explained that MedAdvance is an annual conference for healthcare professionals, students and church leaders to:

  • connect with IMB missionaries and leaders for networking and questions;
  • discover how God is at work as healthcare missionaries share stories from around the world;
  • learn how to serve God’s mission at home and overseas using God-given talents, skills and experiences in the healthcare field.

The 2021 conference was hosted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Registration will remain open through Aug. 13 for those who’d like to view the recorded online version.

Leah Brown, affinity health strategy coach for the Americas, explains how water filters are advancing the IMB’s Revelation 7:9 vision during the Affinity Marathon. SWBTS Photo

By the first evening of the conference, the Barfells had already met two IMB missionaries. Both were serving in the Middle East. One couple, who has five kids, recently had to be evacuated due to political unrest.

Richard explained, “My question to [the missionary] was, ‘How in the world did you with five kids end up in [this area of the Middle East]’ Her answer to me was, ‘God just told me we needed to go there. We were just going to be obedient. And we had peace because of that.’”

The Barfells met another worker in the Middle East who is from their town. They’re planning to connect with the couple soon.

“The two missionaries we’ve already met were just obviously placed in our lives by God,” Richard said. “We’re just praying for more of that and for God to work through those interactions.”

Claire Duncan is a labor and delivery nurse. She’s in school to become a midwife so she can practice more independently. She and her husband feel called to the nations.

“I’ve just been really passionate about women’s health forever. I love my job. And I know my skills are needed. But I don’t know how to use them,” she shared.

She came to the conference to learn a little more about ways to put this passion to use overseas. Then her goal is to go home, pass her information on to her husband, and hopefully hear him say, “Sounds good. Let’s go.”

ABCs of healthcare missions

Dr. Rebekah Naylor, IMB’s global healthcare strategies consultant and organizer of the MedAdvance conference, shared that her team emphasizes the ABCs of medical missions to complement support the missionary task.

These ABCs are Access, Behind Closed Doors, Caring for Needs, Disciple Making, and Empowering the Church.

Naylor provided examples of how the IMB, through healthcare missions, is putting these ABCs into practice.


In a wealthy country, a doctor partnered with a for-profit clinic. Through that clinic, he has gained access to his primary people group of service from the local population.

In Central Asia, medical missionaries are granted access behind closed doors to Muslim women by providing pre- and post-natal care in the patients’ homes.  While meeting physical needs, they “share Bible stories and truths as they visit in homes,” Naylor shared.

Dr. Rebekah Naylor explains the Affinity Marathon to MedAdvance attendees. During the MedAdvance conference, the Affinity Marathon, was a highlight. In it, each of the IMB’s eight affinities shared with small groups of attendees how God is using healthcare missions to advance the gospel in their area. SWBTS Photo

In Africa, through hospice buckets, churches from the U.S. have been able to provide end-of-life care and dignity to terminally ill HIV patients living in horrific conditions.

As the U.S. churches partner with nationals, they care for needs. “This allows follow up by local churches. It is possible to express love and care to the patients and families and it is possible to share the good news,” Naylor explained.

Through an electroencephalogram, care is given to epileptics who, in many cultures, are ostracized. The doctor in the U.S. who reviews these scans, sent from a solar powered system overseas, diagnoses and prescribes medicine through local partners. He’s able to train and disciple nationals in this manner.

In East Asian factories, business owners have granted permission for health clinics to be set up for their workers. This is done in partnership with workers, national healthcare providers and local churches.

“They have found that the majority of patients they see opt to go to the gospel sharing station. There people from the local church are the ones sharing the good news. The response rate to the gospel has been 10-50%. The nationals are fully trained to lead. They establish churches within the factories themselves,” Naylor explained. In this manner, the local church is empowered.

This method of preaching and healing is what Jesus did during His ministry on earth, Naylor told attendees. The IMB’s healthcare strategies, “address spiritual and mental needs, as well as put believers in contact with unbelievers.”

“Let’s reach the nations together by praying, giving, going, and sending,” Dr. Naylor said, emphasizing the IMB’s Revelation 7:9 vision.

Health strategies advisory group

“The healthcare strategy network is the largest, most well-developed network we have in the IMB right now,” Dr. Rick Dunbar, chairman of the IMB’s newly-formed health strategies advisory group said.

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“My question to you is what are you going to do to insure that there is an even brighter future tomorrow, in light of what Christ has done for you?” Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Adam Greenway said. He challenged MedAdvance attendees to write down their commitment to medical missions and lay it on the map, in what was reminiscent of an old fasted altar call at the closing of MedAdvance.

In order to aid in these efforts, the IMB’s health strategies team has pulled together individuals from varied backgrounds for the advisory group. Their goals, Dunbar shared, are to:

  • promote health strategies within U.S. organizations such as hospitals, healthcare companies, seminaries, medical and allied health training programs;
  • advise and promote partnerships between U.S.-based organizations for support of health strategies such as education, exchange programs, community health, continuing education;
  • advise and promote funding for health strategy projects;
  • advise and promote the globalization of health strategies.

This diverse group will bring the perspective of their varied spheres of influence, from healthcare to business professionals. One goal is to help bring awareness to medical professionals in the pews of Southern Baptist churches that their talents are crucial to reaching the nations, and they can partner with the IMB to do so.

“People are dying all over the world for lack of healthcare and the majority of them are dying without even the opportunity of hearing of Jesus’ love and eternal salvation,” Dunbar said.  “Healthcare gives credibility and opens many doors globally.”

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Gretchen Brown, IMB’s affinity health strategy coach for Europe, shares with MedAdvance attendees some of the ways God is using healthcare to reach the nations of Europe. SWBTS Photo

He continued, “When you see God at work, you better follow Him. And right now, we see health strategies as where God is working powerfully.”

“We have more healthcare providers now than we’ve ever had in the history of the IMB,” Dunbar said, emphasizing the same fact that IMB President Paul Chitwood shared in a video address to attendees. “But we’re not satisfied; we want more.”

Want more MedAdvance?

Attendance at MedAdvance totaled 325 people. Of those, 70 were students and 95 were IMB personnel. Registration will be open through Aug. 13 for others wishing to participate in the virtual track. It includes the breakouts and recorded sessions. The virtual track will be available to those who registered Aug. 20-Sept. 30 with a livestream Q&A session on Sept. 16.

To find out how you can be involved in healthcare missions, visit

To help advance the gospel through medical missions among the nations, visit

Read more about the MedAdvance conference from Southwestern Seminary

This article was written by Myriah Snyder, senior writer/editor for the IMB. It was published on

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