By Harper McKay
A choir of roosters welcomes the rising sun as patients roll up their mosquito nets and blankets to get ready for their follow-up appointments. Slowly, new patients trickle in, and doctors, nurses and other staff finish their breakfasts of savory noodle soup or saucy meat and rice.
A mango falls onto the tin roof of the open-air restaurant with a loud bang, causing many to gasp and nearly jump out of their seats. All take a moment to laugh—a new day at the clinic has begun.
Patients come to the clinic from all over their Southeast Asian country. The poorest of the poor, most of them aren’t able to go to the nationally run hospitals or fall victim to bribes and other mistreatment.
Within minutes, patients can see that this clinic is different. Everyone is polite—doctors, nurses, X-ray technicians and custodians greet every patient and show them respect.
What really makes the clinic stand out is its mission to share the Gospel of Christ with each patient that comes through the doors—a trait that led the locals to call it the “Jesus clinic.”
“If you look at the New Testament, Jesus’ ministry was about preaching and healing,” says IMB missionary and clinic board member William Bailey.* “Medicine is a way to demonstrate compassion and meet real needs [while being] a platform for evangelism and church planting.”
The Jesus clinic, a multi-national, multi-organizational medical center comprised of Southeast Asian believers, IMB missionaries and missionaries from other organizations around the world, is not just concerned with providing medical care.
“We see 100-200 people per year come to Christ,” says Bailey. “By giving compassionate care to the poor, they open up to the Gospel.”
To date, the clinic is involved in 13 church plants, either leading or assisting and training villagers. Since the clinic opened at its new location in 2011, more than 400 people have professed faith in Christ.
“Great medical care is a great witness,” says Margaret Bricker,* IMB missionary and public health specialist. “People come to us without hope and we use healthcare to share the hope of Jesus.”
Margaret and her husband Joseph,* IMB missionary and medical doctor, serve on the clinic staff together. Many times they are able to consult with each other in treating patients.
Saturated with the Gospel
As the day heats up, the clinic is busy with activity. Patients wait in a covered outdoor area on wooden benches and plastic chairs, their attention fixed on Southeast Asian believers who work on the clinic’s spiritual impact team.
The team, comprised of believers from majority and minority ethnic groups, has the unique role of sharing the Gospel with patients. They begin the day offering health advice—good hygiene, proper diet and exercise, etc. Each health lesson leads to an aspect of the Gospel, giving the team the opportunity to talk to a captive audience about Jesus.
Local believers share their testimonies and show Christian films to patients. Hearing their own people talk about Jesus seems to have a greater impact. “The ultimate church planter is their own people,” says Joseph. “They come from the same context and their opinions hold more weight.”
In other areas of the hospital, spiritual impact team members, receptionists and nurses sit and talk to patients one-on-one as they wait.
“My favorite thing to do is one-on-one talking with patients,” says Mako Mao* of the spiritual impact team. “I can answer questions easier.”
“I enjoy helping patients by bringing them wheelchairs,” explains Theary On,* dental assistant. “The patients feel close to me, and I ask ‘Have you ever heard about Jesus?’”
Talk about Jesus doesn’t stop in the waiting room and around the halls. At every step in a patient’s appointment, someone is talking about or showing the love of Christ.
From early morning to late afternoon, doctors bustle about the six outpatient department exam rooms and three urgent care units, giving their utmost attention to each patient.
“When patients come to see me, I greet them and talk with them about their medical conditions and their lives,” explains Joseph. “After I treat them and take time to answer all of their questions, I share the Gospel with them and pray for them.”
Staff members get to know their patients as people—friends. The patients entrust them with their health and lives because of the love they receive.
As she enters an exam room, Margaret smiles brightly to a returning patient, giving the petite elderly lady a gentle pat on the arm. Because Margaret speaks a minority language, she instantly connects with the minority patients who come once a week.
“In medical care, you can have intimate conversations with people in a short amount of time,” says Margaret. “Medical care provides opening and opportunity. You don’t get that when you’re just walking down the street.”
Doctors from other organizations and Southeast Asian employees likewise provide caring consultations and medical treatment in the name of Jesus, often visiting with the families and sharing the Gospel. The common core that pulls all these mission groups together is simple—sharing Jesus and planting churches.
Reaching far but staying in one place
It may be hard to believe that one medical clinic could sustain a steady inflow of patients and an active church-planting ministry. That’s why the Jesus clinic is not doing all of the work but collaborating with referring partners from all over the country.
“About 90 percent of our patients come from referring partners,” explains Bailey. “They reach into provinces where other organizations don’t.”
Referring partners can be local mission organizations, national churches or individuals who commit to help the patient they refer with the cost of their medical care. More importantly, these partners follow up with the patients spiritually, oftentimes leading to church plants in places where the Gospel was once unwelcome.
“Our strategy is God-given, brilliant and totally unique,” says Bailey. “It enables us to have broader coverage for the Gospel.”
In the hands of local believers
The IMB missionaries and other international missionaries working at the Jesus clinic know the value of national partners having ownership of the ministry. That’s why the clinic is full of national doctors, nurses, receptionists and technicians.
While the missionaries mentor and train the national partners—filling in gaps their education left—each department is run by a Southeast Asian, giving them decision-making abilities and ownership.
“Local believers have very much to add to the work,” explains Joseph. “Their opinions are highly valued.”
The Southeast Asian partners’ medical experience combined with their love for the Lord make them the best vessels for using medical missions for church planting.
“Our goal is to see the [Southeast Asian] believers sharing the Gospel and planting churches – us walking alongside them,” says Margaret. “They are passionate about healthcare and about the Gospel.”
“Genuine church planting grows and draws life from [Southeast Asian] believers,” says Bailey.
As the working day draws to a close at the Jesus clinic, a group of Southeast Asian believers sit at the outdoor restaurant laughing and chatting. All of them are former patients who heard the Gospel at the Jesus clinic and are now actively involved in church plants.
The group hears that some patients from the day will have to stay overnight in the in-patient department. One of them recalls how lonely he felt when he stayed there for weeks. Without question, they all rise from their seats and head upstairs to pray with the patients and visit with them to show them that God loves them and they are not alone.
The impact and legacy of the Jesus clinic gets passed on through these Southeast Asian believers. When they were in need, the clinic took care of them and shared the Gospel with them. Now they do the same for others. Now they actively study the Bible and share the Gospel with their neighbors, multiplying churches throughout the country.
That is what the Jesus clinic is all about.
Serve through health care missions
Health care missions fills an important role in taking the Good News to the unreached peoples of the world.
Where doors are closed to many others, health care professionals have unique opportunities to care, share, make disciples and empower the church.
Is God calling you to a career overseas in international health, serving as part of a team that shares Christ and starts churches alongside national partners?
Is God directing you to go as a volunteer for a shorter term, either as an individual or as part of a team?
For more information on how you can become involved in health care missions:
or visit www.imb.org/healthcare.