SOUTHEAST ASIA (IMB) – Part of the ministry of Rachel, a missionary and nurse practitioner with the International Mission Board, in a rural area of Southeast Asia, is educating elementary school girls about their health. These girls are often forced by their families to drop out of school before sixth grade in order to help earn a living.
She and her IMB colleague Anna, a missionary and public health specialist, know they can only interact with these girls for a short time before they enter the workforce at age 12. They see in pairs that their care leads to conversations about the value and God-given worth of girls.
The apparent lack of value placed on a girl’s life and education is a widespread problem, according to Anna and Rachel. Boys are generally allowed to stay in school longer
Although this is only one facet of what Anna and Rachel do, Rachel is the most passionate about this work. On her first day at work, she didn’t really know what to say to the girls. Rachel said she enjoys helping girls understand that they are valuable to God.
In the rural area of Southeast Asia where Anna and Rachel serve, you don’t have to look far to find other pressing, unaddressed issues. Health issues abound, from lack of hygiene education to illnesses such as diabetes and issues like hypertension.
Anna and Rachel see these pressing physical, emotional and spiritual needs as an avenue for ministry. They find open doors to bring the gospel to the unreached through community health outreach based in rural primary schools.
The two medical missionaries, alongside their team of national believers, have built relationships with the government, allowing them to enter schools, teach basic hygiene and meet hygiene needs.
This most often takes the form of a program – equipped with catchy tunes and hand movements – teaching school children how to brush their teeth and wash their hands properly. Often they will provide proper hand washing stations, and sometimes they will facilitate the construction of suitable bathrooms to help with poor sanitation.
They even started building mini-libraries for schools, encouraging children to fall in love with reading. They have partnered with a Christian book publisher in the country. The books provided are captivating stories, for the untrained eye. For those who know the Scriptures, however, they are adapted from the Word of God.
These programs have also opened doors for them to openly distribute gospel materials, such as books from Creation to Christ coinciding with their annual Christmas presentation. Although they cannot openly share the gospel in large groups, they have found many ways to share it in more intimate settings.
They build relationships with teachers through this program, which in turn opens doors for the team to enter teachers’ homes and do routine health checkups on their families. The medical duo said there’s no better way to ‘pass the time’ while taking blood pressure, listening to a heart or lungs, or pricking your finger to monitor blood sugar than to share the gospel.
If Anna, Rachel and the team encounter more complicated health problems, they help people in more rural areas find appropriate care, usually at the partner hospital in town, where Anna’s husband, Dr Thomas , works as a family doctor and missionary.
Anna thinks that’s the most exciting part of what they do.
“It really makes a difference in their long-term health,” Anna explained. “It’s a wonderful way to get back to visiting people for ministry. So whenever you meet people, you have a great chance to talk about the great God we serve and love and his Son, Jesus.
The program has grown from Anna and one national believer six years ago to include Rachel and many national believers who are vital to the job. Through what they do in schools, they regularly reach 1,800 children and impact their families.
Despite the abundance of physical and emotional problems in the region, the only problem that has lasting consequences is that of loss. And it abounds. Animism reigns supreme in this Southeast Asian country. All the other religions that have a hold on the region are influenced by it, including the other widespread religion, Buddhism.
But, as missionaries and national believers help push back the darkness, they believe health strategies can be vital to the missionary task.
“We never want to do healing without preaching,” Anna said.
Surnames omitted for security reasons.
Myriah Snyder writes and edits for the IMB.