Part of International Mission Board missionary and nurse practitioner Rachel’s ministry in a rural area of Southeast Asia is educating elementary school girls on their health. These girls are often forced by their families to drop out of school by the sixth grade in order to provide income.
She and her IMB colleague Anna, missionary and public health specialist, know they have a short time to interact with these girls before they enter the workforce at 12 years old. The pair sees how the care they offer leads to conversations about the girls’ God-given value and worth.
The apparent lack of value placed on a girl’s life and education is a prevalent problem, according to Anna and Rachel. Boys are generally allowed to continue their education for longer.
While health education is only one facet of what Anna and Rachel do, Rachel is most passionate about this work. Her first day on the job, she wasn’t sure what to say to the girls. Rachel said she loves helping the girls to understand they have worth in God’s eyes.
In the rural area of Southeast Asia where Anna and Rachel serve, one needn’t look far to find other pressing and untreated problems. Health issues abound from a lack of education about hygiene to diseases 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 deliver the gospel through a 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 supply hygiene needs.
This most often takes the form of a program — equipped with catchy tunes and hand motions — teaching kids in the schools how to correctly brush their teeth and wash their hands. Often, they’ll supply proper handwashing stations, and sometimes, they’ll facilitate building suitable bathrooms to help with poor sanitation.
They’ve even started building mini-libraries for the schools, encouraging the kids to fall in love with reading. They’ve partnered with a Christian book publisher in the country. The books provided are compelling stories, to the untrained eye. To those who know the Scripture, though, they’re adapted from God’s Word.
These programs also opened doors for them to distribute gospel materials, such as Creation-to-Christ books, coinciding with their annual Christmas presentation. While government restrictions prohibit openly sharing the gospel in large groups, they have found many ways to share it in more intimate settings.
They build relationships with teachers, and through those friendships they can enter teachers’ homes and conduct routine checkups on their family. The medical duo said there is no better way to “pass time” while taking blood pressure, listening to a heart or lungs, or doing a finger stick to monitor blood sugar than to share the gospel.
If Anna, Rachel and the team find more complicated health issues, they help those in rural areas find appropriate care, usually in their partner hospital in the city, where Anna’s husband, Dr. Thomas, works as a family practitioner and missionary.
Anna thinks this is the most exciting part of what they do.
“It really makes a difference in their long-term health,” Anna shared. “It’s a wonderful way to go back and visit people for ministry. So every time you get to meet with people you have a great chance to share about the great God that we serve and love and His Son, Jesus.”
The program grew from just Anna and one national believer six years ago to include Rachel and many national believers who are vital to the work. Through what they do in schools, they routinely reach 1,800 children and impact their families.
Despite the abundance of physical and emotional issues in the area, the only issue with lasting consequence is that of lostness. And it abounds. Animism rules the day in this Southeast Asian country. Every other religion that has a grip on the area is influenced by it, including the other prevalent religion, Buddhism.
But, as the 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 the healing without the preaching,” Anna said.
Last names omitted for security reasons.