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ss nucleus - spring 1999,  Short-Term Medical Missions

Short-Term Medical Missions

This article is a summary of Robert Schindler's address at the ICMDA World Congress in Durban in July 1998.

The great commission (Mt 28:18-20) is given to the whole church, and its message should involve people from all areas and backgrounds. Missions began with the early church, have continued through the ages, and should not just pertain to the church from the so-called affluent area of the world. The redeemed of the Lord shall come 'from every tribe and language and people and nation', and so the church should likewise be involved. (Rev 5:9)

Short-term missions in the United States began in the early 1960s with mission trips lasting from a few weeks up to two years. CMDS-USA (a sister movement of CMF UK, Ed) was a forerunner in this movement with physicians and dentists replacing permanent mission doctors for vacations or furloughs, and giving assistance to already existing staff.

God can use these short-term trips to bring great blessing to the ongoing mission work. For example, one of the early short-term MGM (Medical Group Missions) trips to Liberia brought a team of 40 physicians, dentists and medical students. Among those assigned to the ELWA Hospital near Monrovia where I was medical director, was a medical student, whose husband had come with her. He was a plumber and we were not sure where he would fit in at the mission. However, it just so happened that the ELWA campus (housing the SIM missionary radio station, hospital and school) needed to replace their corroding water pipes with 6,000 feet of plastic pipes. This would be a long and hard job. The day before the MGM team arrived, a construction company had loaned their ditch digger to our service department to lay the pipe. For the next three weeks, from sun up to sun down, this young man took charge of the pipe-laying, and by the end of the three-week mission, the plumber and his medical student wife boarded the plane to return to the States, with the work complete. Amazingly, the next morning the construction company came back to collect the ditch digger as they unexpectedly needed the machine. How we praised the Lord! The right person, the right job completed at the right time – 6,000 feet of plastic pipe and a new water system. There are always places for all kinds of workers in short-term missions.

Types of Short-term Medical Missions

What kind of short-term missions are available? These fall into several categories:

1. The first is 'doing', for example when a group of physicians, dentists and helpers go and work in mobile clinics. These are generally self-contained and known as medical group missions, mission caravans, mission corps, etc. The emphasis is more on doing and evangelism and less on formal training.

2. With the increased number of medical schools and training schools around the world, a new type of short-term mission has evolved: the 'teaching missions'. Specialists are invited to teach in medical schools, training hospitals, and training programmes in other countries. Trips usually range from one week to twelve months, combining education, discipleship, and relationship building with national physicians and dentists. This is a very effective and rewarding means of service.

3. Replacement of a medical missionary on leave (from several weeks up to twelve months) can be very helpful, and for the short-term worker leads to many deep relationships with a particular hospital, mission and national church.

4. You can also get involved in missions as a short-term missionary (12 to 24 months). Many people have changed career and become full-time medical missionaries after completing a short-term stint. There are many scholarships and grants available for students interested in this form of mission work.

5. Finally, there is the opportunity for physicians to support themselves as missionaries by working in an overseas government hospital, medical school, army hospital or even in private corporations. This is known as 'tentmaking' after St Paul (Acts 18:1-3). I met several Christian Korean specialists at the Durban conference who are assigned to army hospitals in Ghana where they are able to be 'tentmakers' and serve Christ in another culture.

Pros of Short-term Medical Mission

1. It can fulfil a specific need for a mission hospital or Christian medical programme. During our furloughs from the ELWA Hospital in 1965 and 1971, short-term mission workers were a life line helping the hospital ministry to grow and become more effective.

2. Short-term missions expose the physician or dentist to a bigger world of service for Christ. No matter what country one is from, there are new challenges and new steps of faith to be experienced each day. It is a 'stretching experience'.

3. It develops a better understanding of different cultures and people, and builds greater tolerance of others, helping everyone involved to appreciate the diversity in the body of Christ.

4. It gives encouragement to the permanent mission staff and personnel. New ideas, thoughts, outlook and perspective are very refreshing.

5. It deepens your walk with God. Mission changes your perspectives of the world and can change your whole outlook on service for Christ. It also sharpens your witness for Christ, deepens your prayer life, and helps you to become more effective in your home church.

6. It is often easier to support mission work if you are actually involved; the problems of the ministry are better understood, and consequently, you are able to pray and give with greater intelligence and specificity.

7. Your life may be changed: you may be called into a career of medical mission work. 50% to 75% of new missionary candidates have had some short-term mission experience before applying to long-term service.

Dr Paul Jordan gives this advice to those who are considering a short-term medical mission trip:

  1. Go where you are needed and wanted
  2. Be self supporting if possible
  3. Be patient and expect to feel very inefficient
  4. Have a spiritual outreach and ministry
  5. Your contribution is based on what you are, rather than on what you do.

There are a few difficulties that may be encountered on short-term missions. For those going, there is the financial expense, the possible risk of misunderstanding the culture, and not being able to understand the local language or dialect. For the host, extra time is needed to translate the language and instruct the short-term participant. However, the positive results described above make it an extremely worthwhile form of service despite any small disadvantages.

The enduring work of medical missions depends on the long-term team commitment of national and expatriate staff. Not every expatriate will be able to give such commitment as political situations, family needs and national needs will change from day to day. This means there will be a continuing need for short-term mission involvement.

One of the greatest privileges one can have is to serve Christ as a Christian medic on the world stage, both at home and abroad.

For further information consult:

1. HealthServe - 6 Marshalsea Road, London SE1 1HL Tel: 020 7234 9684 Email: Web:

2. Saunders P. Short term Christian Medical Service Overseas. London: CMF/MMA, 1998 (2nd Edition): (available from CMF).

3. CMDS-USA Study Guide on Medical Missions by Drs. Thomas & Cynthia Hale. Available from the Christian Medical & Dental Society, P.O. Box 7500, Bristol, TN 37621, USA

4. Denominational and Inter-denominational Mission Boards

5. The Christian Medical Fellowships of the respective countries

6. Medical Missionaries

7. Government Agencies for Overseas Employment

8. Your pastor and home church

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