By Debbonnaire Kovacs, Apr 20, 2016 [Many photos here.]
Generally, in this department, I seek out stories of creative, sometimes unusual ministries, but it is worth repeating that there have been three things Adventists as a people have done well from the beginning: education, music, and health and medical ministries of various kinds. My eyes were recently caught by a story of a medical mission trip to some of the approximately 128,000 Karen refugees who have fled from violence in their homeland of Myanmar over the border into Thailand. These people “possess no homeland (stateless people) and hide from Thai authorities to avoid being captured and put in refugee camps, which are like virtual prisons. Therefore, the refugees in the mountains along the border have no access to medical care or the gospel.” (Quote from blog below.)
The trip was a collaboration between the Adventist Medical Evangelism Network (AMEN) and the Amazing Facts Center of Evangelism (AFCOE), and the goal from the beginning was to provide both medical and spiritual care. Dentists, an ophthalmologist, medical doctors, nurses, registered dieticians, a natural therapist, counselors, a physician’s assistant, pharmacists, a massage therapist, and many others joined together into two teams. One team worked in an urban area at a local church in Mae Sot, while the second team served the remote villages of Emerald, about two and a half hours away.
The blogs and reports of the trip, which can be read in their entirety here, show both a fascination with the beauties of the country and people, and a warmth and compassion which also comes through in the many photos. Here is a quote from each of the teams:
Although most of the villagers were Buddhists, we were surprised at how many people wanted us to pray for them. Right after the clinics, we divided into three subgroups and went to three different sites where we held evangelistic series and gave health talks. Here we saw how powerfully the medical mission work harmonized with the gospel as we were able to witness people’s lives changed as they heard and accepted the Word of God for the first time ever.
Some of the images etched in our minds are the sights of village people going about their daily lives, a rice husking machine operating in the shade under a stilted house, children being carried on their mothers’ backs, the chickens and dogs wandering around the community and under the houses, the children playing with the balloons we brought for them, and the betel nut stained teeth we saw frequently in our patients’ mouths.
I found it amazing that a group of people who were largely unknown to each other traveled great distances, endured long flights, sleeplessness, and jet lag and yet were able to work effectively together for a common cause happily using their hands and voices in service to Jesus. (This quote is from Dr. John Adams, DDS.)
AMEN began as the brainchild of a group of physicians and dentists at an Adventist-Laymen’s Services and Industries (ASI) convention in 2004. Dr. Naren James described a desire which had been growing in him for some years, not only to more intentionally make medical evangelism the focus of his practice, but also to create a network of like-minded health professionals. From that lunch meeting, a second meeting was organized in February 2005, which unexpectedly grew from the intended small house meeting to a 50-attendee convention at a ranch. Pastor Mark Finley presented a series of related messages, and at the end of that meeting, AMEN was born, with Dr. James as its first president.
In the intervening years, AMEN has hosted eleven annual conferences and is preparing their twelfth, held many medical mission trips all over the world, published a journal, The Medical Evangelist, named after one that was published in the early days of what was then the Loma Linda College of Medical Evangelists, launched Life and Health Network, an internet health site, and grown to include AMEN Australia and AMEN UK, which have their own conferences and missions.
I believe strongly that Adventists must always been seeking ever more creative and bold ways of spreading the gospel to every nation, kindred, and language, but in so doing, let us never lose our hold on the foundational ways we have followed Christ from the beginning. We still follow the Great Teacher, Healer, and Servant of humanity.