Medicine gives team 'window of opportunity'
SOUTHEAST ASIA (BP) -- The trio headed down the dust-covered street, smiles on their faces and backpacks with medical equipment slung over their shoulders. They stopped to exchange a few words with a woman they've visited before and headed on their way to find the people God had called them to see that day.
IMB missionary, Ryan Stratton,* along with national believers Samuel San* and Say Ponleak* work together on the evangelism team of a local medical clinic. The clinic, known as the "Jesus clinic" to the locals, serves patients from all over the country who can't afford medical care.
The mission of the Jesus clinic is straightforward -- provide quality care and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
To do this most effectively, the clinic has a special group of employees and volunteers known as the spiritual impact team -- Southeast Asian believers whose main job is to share the Gospel and plant churches.
As they neared an intersection close to what seems to be an abandoned field, Stratton, San and Ponleak noticed a beaten-up wooden awning with a family of five sitting underneath it. Without question, they approached the family.
Under the overhang, an elderly couple and their three young grandchildren lived on top of all their possessions. With beds made out of wooden boards, a tiny black pot over hot coals as their kitchen and large pots of water swarming with flies, the family appeared to be in dire need.
Stratton pulled off his backpack and began to get out his stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. His background in veterinary medicine comes in handy as he performs initial medical assessments on people they visit in villages.
San began talking to the elderly man, asking how they came to live there and if they had any health needs.
His wife answered and showed much concern about her husband who sat listlessly, allowing Stratton to check his vitals. Occasionally, he pointed to his chest, explaining his condition. San and Ponleak learned that the family was homeless.
San, the leader of the spiritual impact team, listened closely, showing concern for the family and their issues. When they asked if they could take the man to the Jesus clinic nearby, his wife was afraid. "If you do, you must bring him back before night. I am afraid of the ghosts," she said.
Sensing their cue, San and Ponleak began telling the couple about Jesus Christ who has power over evil spirits. They used a tract and Scripture to share the Gospel with them. The couple listened as their fellow Southeast Asians shared what was completely new information for them. Neighbors even stopped to listen.
The couple decided they were not ready to follow Jesus, but they agreed to have Stratton, San and Ponleak return to tell them more and check their health.
"Our people often think that Jesus is a foreign God," San said. "Buddhism is the biggest barrier for the Gospel. They've believed in it for a long time."
This doesn't stop the trio or the rest of the spiritual impact team at the Jesus clinic. In fact, since 2008, the team has been involved in 13 church plants in the surrounding areas, leading or assisting village church leaders.
Beginning the work in the clinic
When patients come to the clinic, the spiritual impact team members greet them in the covered outdoor lobby area. After learning about good health tips, patients have the opportunity to listen to a testimony, watch a Christian film and hear a Gospel presentation.
"They have nowhere to go," San said. "They have all kinds of time and are thankful to have anyone to talk to."
Throughout the visit, the impact team and clinic staff treat people with respect and share the Good News of Jesus. "We all work together," San said. "People come here to see Jesus."
"[The clinic] is a place where people can hear the Gospel," Mako Mao,* a member of the spiritual impact team, said. "People from far away come to hear."
Throughout the clinic, team members help patients with wheelchairs, assist them with checking in then sit and talk to them while they wait. Patients often gather around in plastic chairs to join in conversations with the team, smiling and laughing to pass the time.
"Everything we do, we do in the name of Jesus," Stratton, who helps the team with outreach and training, said. "The [Southeast Asian] believers are a tremendous encouragement to patients."
From clinic to village
Patients don't stop hearing about Jesus once they leave the clinic. Most patients who visit have been referred by ministry partners who not only agree to help with medical costs, but commit to follow up with the patient and share the Gospel again.
In villages near the Jesus clinic, the spiritual impact team takes an active role in church planting.
"We go out to their villages to meet them," San said. "We have a method like 2 Timothy 2:2 to teach people to teach other people."
Church planting in villages is a team effort for Southeast Asian partners and IMB missionaries. "We each have roles in the villages," Stratton said. "When San shares, I pray for him. It's a symbiotic relationship."
Once new believers emerge in villages, the team trains them in weekly Bible studies with the goal of training the new believers to share with and train others.
"Second Timothy 2:2 says that we're supposed to teach people to teach other people," San said. "When we baptize one, we have them baptize the next [so that] they feel like they can do it."
Follow-up in villages has proved to be vital to a church-planting strategy. About four to five people put their trust in Jesus each week at the Jesus clinic, but sometimes they don't tell anyone, San said. Afterward, when a team member follows up in their village, they find that people already believe and have told all their neighbors. Out of these situations, Bible studies and churches quickly form.
"When people first believe, it is important to go to their house and share the Bible," San said. "We teach them about baptism and loving God and others -- the principles of new believers."
The spiritual impact team has a goal of visiting several villages each week. They show movies, host children's programs and provide mobile health clinics. They also look for leaders in the villages who can step up to shepherd a new church that forms.
"We look for people who love God and are willing to sacrifice and serve Him," San said. "The pastor is the leader. We are there to support and help."
It takes a clinic
Though it seems as though the spiritual impact team could just plant churches on their own, team members insist that the clinic is vital to the church-planting movement.
"Medicine gives us a great window to get into the community," Stratton said. "The role of medical missions is to be a bridge [to the Gospel]."
Many times the Jesus clinic gives the team a reason to go to a village.
"Our bridge is to go and talk about health," Stratton said. "But we ask what they understood about the Gospel they heard [at the clinic]."
People often become open to the Gospel because of the treatment they receive at the clinic. "This clinic is very important for my country," San said. "People are poor, and there is much corruption in public hospitals. We show respect they don't get in other places."
The Jesus clinic is a great connection point for sharing the Gospel. "Luke 9:2 says to heal and share the Gospel," San said. "God is blessing that."
Stratton said, "We want to be known as the 'Jesus clinic.' It's a testimony to the power of God in people's lives."
More than 400 people have decided to follow Christ since 2011. And 13 churches have been planted since 2008 where the clinic staff members have direct involvement. And they're not finished. The Jesus clinic appears committed to preaching and healing until all have heard.
For more information on how you can become involved in healthcare missions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.imb.org/healthcare.
*Name changed. Harper McKay is a writer for AsiaStories living in Southeast Asia. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).