By / Feb 1

Down Ukrainian roads, cloaked in the golden hues of the vibrant but short-lived autumn, comes help and hope. A caravan of cars following a yellow panel van borrowed from a church carries suitcases and plastic tubs filled with medical supplies. A mission team, including healthcare professionals from both Ukraine and the U.S., prepares each day for the hours of work ahead, sometimes catching a needed nap on the journey to or from the day’s location.

The caravan of hope is part of an ongoing medical ministry of IMB teams in Ukraine to bring care to underserved communities. The need for medical care in eastern regions has been critical since violence began in 2014, part of the Russo-Ukrainian war, now considered a “frozen conflict.” After the height of the crisis, many local businesses, including clinics and hospitals, closed, leaving residents who have stayed with little or no access to medical attention.

This particular team is a unique group, a last-minute replacement for a team of volunteers that could not travel due to COVID-19 restrictions. The team is made of IMB missionaries, a Ukrainian doctor, a retired nurse, a volunteer paramedic and Ukrainian believers. When Ukrainian partners aren’t serving as interpreters, they fill in at an eye-glass station or make-shift pharmacy. 

In one church that hosted a clinic, chairs from a simple choir loft soon become a triage unit. Pews are unbolted from the floor to make room for tables where Svieta, a Ukrainian doctor, and Harrison Martin*, an IMB Journeyman nurse practitioner, will meet with patients. Women from the church work in a small kitchen adjacent to the sanctuary to prepare food for the mission team. A breakfast of tomatoes, potatoes, beet salad, crepes, and bread is waiting when the team arrives. Smells from the multi-course meal that will be served at lunch already waft through the small building.

IMB missionary Jack Gibbs* explains that the mobile clinics are a partnership between churches in the U.S. and in Ukraine. They are funded through Send Relief and through gifts given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering®. Gibbs organizes the trips with local pastors and Ukrainian ministry partners, following the guidance of local governments.

For the least of these

Medical clinics give access to entire villages, Gibbs explains. 

“It’s amazing that a one-day clinic can give access to a local evangelist or church planter for years to come.” 

After each clinic, Gibbs gives the local host pastor the registration cards completed by visitors to the clinic. 

“These are people in your community who need care and the gospel. We will pray for you as you minister here,” Gibbs tells local pastors.

Dennis, his stained hands revealing work in the coal mines, comes with an eye infection, probably caused by coal dust. He leaves with antibiotic eye drops, vitamins and blood pressure medicine, provided through the generosity of Southern Baptists. These things would otherwise be very expensive for Dennis, if available at all in his region.

Nine-year-old Timothy comes with his father. Timothy has an abscess on his throat. Martin is able to lance and clean the wound. An old sofa in the corner of the church replaces a sterile medical table Martin would use in the U.S. But Timothy still receives the care he needs, plus a children’s Bible and stuffed tiger, and even comes to the team’s hotel the next morning for a follow-up visit.

Many senior citizens come with diabetes and high blood pressure. Parents bring children for well-child check-ups and allergies. All receive kindness and care and the love of Christ. At the end of the week, the team knows of six people who have chosen to follow Christ. One woman cries as she leaves the pharmacy, saying that she has never been treated with so much kindness by doctors.

Beauty of partnership

Vlad, a Ukrainian ministry partner who Gibbs calls “one of his very best friends,” says that people in the areas where they serve have little access to doctors or pharmacies. Some must travel more than two hours to find a clinic, if they have money for transportation. The clinics that come to them are welcomed.

Vlad is a former professional soccer player who now coaches soccer and teaches English, in addition to his ministry beside IMB missionaries. On clinic days, he translates, shares the gospel, entertains children, and fills in where needed. His stoic demeanor hides his tender heart for God and others. 

He shares the gospel that transformed his own life — a message he received when he heard a mission team leading a soccer camp in his community. He connected with Christians over his beloved sport and met his beloved Savior. 

“This is my family,” Vlad says of the IMB missionaries and Christian friends he’s met in his ministry. “We’ve done so many things together since 2012.” 

He recognizes that those who come to the clinics need more than physical care. “God is my Father; God is my direction. He is merciful and He is love. And He can be your best friend,” he shares in his testimony.

Vlad was one of the first workers to meet Ludmila, age 66. As she waited in a line of chairs against the small church sanctuary wall to have her blood pressure checked, Vlad asked her if she knew Jesus.  She explained that she was shy, too afraid to pray to receive Jesus, though she understood her need. Vlad asked the pastor of the hosting church to pray with him for Ludmila. As she went through the medical stations — first to the nurse for a temperature and blood pressure check, then to speak with the doctor, then to the table in the back corner of the sanctuary serving as a pharmacy — she felt her need for Jesus grow. When Vlad approached her again, she was ready. She followed Vlad and the pastor to the choir loft for space to kneel, pray, and accept Christ’s gift of eternal life. 

“She was so shy at the beginning, and then she was telling people about following Jesus as she was leaving!” Vlad recounts.

More relief must be sent

As Gibbs prays for more Send Relief teams to come to Ukraine, he also prays for a medical professional to join their team in a permanent missionary role to help facilitate the clinics and further the healthcare strategies in Ukraine. He sees evidence that God can use so many people if they are willing to serve.

“There’s so much need here. The medical needs give us an opportunity to come and to help, but at the same time we’re not going in to just meet just medical needs,” Gibbs says.

Gibbs, a church planter without medical training, believes that healthcare strategies are one of the greatest ways to engage adults with the gospel. As he leads the teams, he witnesses God work in and through team members, just as God works in the lives of those in need of care. 

“The Lord is gracious and anytime His children are walking in what He has laid out for them, you’re going to see amazing things. Things you can’t imagine. And God does those things and it’s amazing to be a part of it.”

Discover now how you or your church can serve through Send Relief and IMB healthcare strategies.

*The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® is a registered trademark of Woman’s Missionary Union.

By / Dec 27

Around Christmastime, Southern Baptists are accustomed to hearing about Lottie Moon, the incredible former missionary to China who pioneered the way for many more to take the gospel to faraway lands. Dr. Rebekah Naylor, a former medical missionary to India through the International Mission Board, is referred to by many as the modern-day Lottie Moon. In addition to her many accomplishments overseas, she currently holds the title of the first female distinguished professor of missions and permanent missionary-in-residence at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Naylor was kind enough to give us a glimpse into her life as a missionary and heart for the nations. 

Elizabeth Bristow: People often refer to you as a modern-day Lottie Moon. You professed your faith in Christ at age five, and then you felt God calling you to the medical mission field eight years later. So can you describe what that moment was like for you as a 13-year-old girl? How did you sense God’s calling upon your life at this time?

Rebekah Naylor: I had learned about missions my whole life. My father was my pastor, and we prayed for missionaries. I had met missionaries in our home. But it was during a week of foreign mission emphasis in our church that missionaries were speaking. And it was in that week that I just sensed inside of me a direction that this was personal and God wanted me to do this. I could not imagine that I could do something that, in my mind, was huge. How could I do that? And it was [after] several months of prayer — I didn’t tell anyone, even my parents — that I finally said, “OK, Lord, if this is it, I’ll do it.” And immediately all the confusion went away, and there was peace.

EB: You received an undergraduate degree from Baylor in Waco, Texas, and then you completed your medical training at Vanderbilt, in Nashville, Tennessee. Following your surgical training in 1973, you were appointed to what is now the IMB. Then, it was the Foreign Mission Board. You served at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital for 29 years in Bangalore, India. During this time, the hospital expanded and experienced significant growth. Reflecting back over your years serving in Bangalore, what was the most rewarding aspect of your work?

RN: It’s hard to isolate one. Of course, seeing people made well physically, and spiritually, to find wholeness [in] Jesus, would be the most rewarding. Investing in future generations of leadership, discipleship ministries, and modeling leadership, administration, teaching, and clinical care was all very rewarding and continues to be because the hospital today is remarkable. I just could not be more rewarded, especially seeing the leadership that is strong and faithful to the Lord and to the work of the hospital.

EB: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your 29 years serving at the hospital?

RN: You know, I tend not to think of [them]. Obviously, there were crises. There were problems. Those are not foremost in my mind because God did so many wonderful things, even in those. Yes, being away from family was probably the hardest thing. I think another challenge was communication. India is a very multilingual country with scores of major languages. In addition, they have dialects of those. So that was always a challenge, because I just wished I could have communicated well with everyone, which wasn’t possible.

EB: Besides serving as a missionary surgeon and professor, you also worked as a strategy coordinator and a church planter for the IMB in Karnataka, India, from 1992–2009. Will you give us a snapshot of that time, when you worked with medical missions and Indian pastors and helped plant 900 churches in that state?

RN: Those churches really came [about] over all the years through the hospital and its outreach through local pastors, church planters, and Indian evangelists. As patients came to the hospital, our chaplains were able to share the gospel with them. Many believed, and they were followed up with in their homes. If the interest was there and they truly believed, then Bible study groups were started, and eventually, house churches. From the beginning, we tried to ensure that they multiplied into surrounding communities. And so, multiplication is how those hundreds were possible. It was a collective effort, with much prayer and much hard work from the pastors, the evangelists, the church planters.

EB: Looking back over the time that you worked in church planting, what was the state of religious freedom like in India? And did you all have to undergo challenges when it came to that?

RN: The Constitution of India allows a person to worship as they choose. And when I went to India, it was possible to share the gospel openly in a village or a community. Over time, that became more restricted. It’s very restricted today, but over the years, it slowly became less open. Showing the Jesus film or sharing the gospel would happen more commonly in a home rather than just out by the well or something. I remember once that some of our chaplains were doing follow-up work in a village and were beaten up when they entered the village. 

The other thing we noticed is that we could no longer get resident visas to live there as missionaries. From about 1980 onward, we couldn’t get those kinds of visas. So that was another restriction. I struggled to keep a medical license. Supposedly, it was not due to my religious affiliation, but I think it probably was. And, the difficulties have continued to increase.

EB: What type of advice would you give to a young woman who is looking to pursue a calling similar to yours — in medical missions. What encouragement would you offer to someone who is praying through that?

RN: Praying through it is the key, and I think the bottom line is submission to whatever God wants you to do without any qualifications put on it. For example, “I’ll go if I have a husband,” or, “I’ll go if this happens or that.” And if we’re totally submitted to what God wants — to stay here or to go some other place — he will direct our paths. He promised that, and God keeps every promise. We have to submit to and trust him in it. That would be my advice and encouragement. Also, stay in God’s Word. Read missionary biographies. Talk to missionaries. Go to conferences. Use every opportunity to know about our world and its needs.

EB: As Christians, how can we support missionaries? How can we better serve them? What are specific things you pray for? 

RN: I pray that they will truly love the Lord with all their heart and mind and soul. I pray that the Spirit will direct them, certainly in the big things, but even daily, for a person that they could meet today. I pray that they will see fruit and be encouraged in their work. Sometimes it’s hard, and so I pray for their encouragement. I pray for them in times of loneliness. I pray for them in times of threat or danger.

God [also] told us to pray for more laborers that he would call from among us and from among the peoples to whom our missionaries have gone. So, praying and certainly giving generously, sacrificially, and cheerfully to support missions communicates to our missionaries that we care and are supporting them, and it encourages them. And, of course, we should be willing to go and our churches should be burdened to send out people from their fellowships. These are all ways that we can really encourage our missionaries.

As we know, the Christmas season is all about giving, because God gave his Son for us. Dr. Naylor’s life and ministry is a perfect example of why it’s important to give to the IMB. We cheerfully give so that we can see the nations cared for and told about the good news of Jesus. Dr. Naylor has a children’s book published about her life that can help you teach your kids about the importance of missionaries and the work of God around the world. All the proceeds from Rebekah: an American Surgeon in India go to the IMB and to missionaries all over our world. This season — and all year long — may we remember to pray for our brothers and sisters who are carrying the gospel, sometimes at a great cost, across the globe. 

For more about Lottie Moon and the IMB, view this article and the IMB’s site

By / Dec 24

All across the world, Southern Baptists are preparing for Christmas Eve services with their local congregation. But there was as time in American when most Protestants, including many Southern Baptists, did not consider Christmas to be a holiday worth celebrating.

A holiday rejected 

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, many Protestants found no biblical justification for Christmas and associated it with Roman Catholicism. For instance, in his book on “profane and superstitious customs,” the influential preacher Increase Mather included an entire chapter titled, “Against Profane Christ-mass Keeping.” Among his reasons were that the very name of Christmas (“Christ mass”) “savours of superstition,” that there’s no evidence Jesus was born on Dec. 25, and that the celebration was “in compliance with the Pagan Saturnalia that Christ-mass Holy-days were first invented.” (Modern scholars would later debunk the narrative that Christmas had a pagan origin.)

They were also scandalized by the drunkenness and revelry that was similar to activities we would now associate with Halloween. As J.A.R. Pimlott points out, celebrations included trick-or-treating, cross-dressing, and going door-to-door demanding food or money in return for carols or Christmas wishes. “Men dishonor Christ more in the 12 days of Christmas,” wrote the 16th-century clergyman Hugh Latimer, “than in all the 12 months besides.”

In 1647, the Puritan government in Boston even canceled Christmas for a few years. They ordered shops to stay open, churches to stay closed, and ministers to be arrested for preaching on Christmas Day. Protestants in the Southern states, though, were more tolerant of the festivities, at least as a civic function. In the 1830s Christmas became a legal holiday in Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Still, it was mostly a civic holiday rather than a religious one.

The celebration of Christmas during the Victorian Era in England — when Christmas carols first became popular and Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol — eventually trickled over into the United States. After the Civil War, the celebration of Christmas became more common in Southern Baptist life, though it was still mostly associated with friends and families than with activities of ​the local church. 

A change in the celebration of Christmas

That began to change, though, due to the influence of Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon, the SBC’s most famous missionary. In 1873, the SBC’s Foreign Missions Board (now the IMB) appointed Moon to go to China. Moon became the first American woman to attempt to live exactly as the Chinese did, adopting their dress and language and showing a greater appreciation for their culture. The effort helped to connect with Chinese neighbors. As Moon told the FMB,  “I am more and more impressed by the belief that to win these people to God, we must first win them to ourselves.” 

In 1887 Moon wrote a letter to the Foreign Mission Journal suggesting that Southern Baptist women set aside the  “week before Christmas” as a time of prayer and giving to international missions. “Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of the Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of human race,” she wrote, “the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches . . . to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?”

In 1888, a handful of women dedicated to the cause of missions founded the Woman’s Missionary Union. That initial Christmas offering collected $3,315 (roughly $97,000 in 2021 dollars). By 1889, the Annual Report of the convention reported that “Christmas envelopes” were distributed in the churches. The Foreign Mission Board in the Annual Report of 1890 acknowledged that it had published “Christmas literature,” and in 1897 the convention thanked the WMU “for the sum of all these Christmas offerings.” As Stephen Douglas Wilson observed, “Over time the Southern Baptist embrace of a Christmastide offering to support missions made it respectable to incorporate additional Christmas themes in Southern Baptist churches.”

In 1918, after Moon’s death, ​the WMU Christmas offering was renamed the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Since its inception, several billion dollars has been collected for the fund, including $159.5 million in 2019–20. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions funds more than 50% of IMB work

One of the best ways Southern Baptists can continue to promote the true reason for Christmas — Immanuel, God with us — is by giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. You can help send even more Southern Baptists to the ends of the earth in order to proclaim Jesus by making a year-end donation to the International Mission Board

By / Mar 5

After telling the lawyer a parable about a man lying on the road to Jericho and the Samaritan who stopped to help him, Jesus asked him a question: “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 

“The one who showed mercy to him,” the lawyer said.

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:36-37 CSB)

As the lawyer learned that day, the call to love our neighbors has no boundary, whether ethnic, cultural, or geographical. Nor does our call to love our brothers and sisters in Christ — those who “belong to the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10 CSB)

It is this impulse that draws us to fight for religious freedom for all, to defend the human dignity of all people, and to work to keep the door open for the gospel in places far from the United States.

Much of this work is within the global halls of power, such as the United Nations Human Rights Council or the UN General Assembly. There, we work to bear witness to a vision of religious freedom for every person made in the image of God and to call for governments to provide freedom of religion and conscience and to recognize their lack of jurisdiction in those spheres.

This work is informed by our friends and partners at the International Mission Board. IMB leaders have been living and working in difficult places where freedom is restricted for decades, and we rely and lean on their local expertise and relationships to inform our strategy and message, to help determine when and where to focus our efforts and advocacy, and to identify areas of concern.

Much of our international work is behind the scenes. For instance, we might support the work of IMB leaders to find safe passage for a new believer facing persecution or work quietly for the release of a local religious leader who has been arrested for his faith. But in every case, our aim is to ensure that those carrying forth the message of the gospel are supported in their efforts. As far as possible, we endeavor to see that these critical partners are free to pursue their mission.

With all Southern Baptists, we stand in awe of the courage and faithfulness of our IMB friends all around the world. These courageous men and women have “left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:29). The ERLC will continue to do all we can to ensure their work can move forward.