She walked into my makeshift clinic room hesitantly and took a seat. I thought she was in her mid-fifties, but her greying hair, the dark circles under her eyes and the evident fatigue in her demeanor made her look much older. I welcomed her in and began asking the usual set of questions that I ask any new patient who comes to see me. She described a myriad of aches and pains all over her body. Disc disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue, etc…all came to mind as she spoke. As I dug deeper into her social setting, tears started streaming down her face as she told me of her debilitated husband and how her job as the local church cleaning lady was their only limited source of income. While trying to comfort her, I mentioned to her that Christ is our only hope. Her response, which I did not expect but brought tears to my eyes, was, “When I’m cleaning the church, every day I stop at the foot of the hanging cross and I speak to him about all my problems. Why, who else is there to go to?”
Venturing onto the mission field as a physician has always seemed like second nature to me. For years the Lord has worked on shaping me into someone willing to dedicate the rest of her life to serving him using the skills and knowledge I gained in medical school. But, as with many of us, you never really know what you’re getting yourself into before actually taking that first step. Now, as Medical Missions Coordinator for the Middle East, I can tangibly recognize how the Lord had been guiding my every step over the past fifteen years. Even the tumultuous political, social and economic state of the Middle East falls perfectly within his plan. To be realistic, and despite the most unfortunate of situations, a lot of the people we come in contact with today are people we would never have imagined meeting in the setting of a peaceful Middle East.
Given all the cultural sensitivities in this region, especially at a time like this, our ministry is tailored to building bridges rather than creating barriers. It may seem obvious, but to effectively reach people with the gospel, many aspects of daily life have to be dealt with before they are willing to listen. Therefore, the local BMA team collaborates on several fronts to provide the best setting for the spread of the gospel.
The three local clinics with which we have partnered are all located in crowded and poor areas of Beirut; one is basically in the slums of the southern district of Beirut. Frequently, we are faced with gang members seeking medical help. Other times, refugees who enter the clinic are not even sure if they will have enough money to buy food for dinner. The approach to these patients is as holistic as it gets: a proper clinical evaluation, adequate treatment and much-needed social support. Medications are given free or for a nominal fee (significantly less than what would be paid to a local pharmacy). Social workers assess how best to offer help. Blankets, clothing, food packages and other forms of relief are provided, either through the clinics themselves or through neighboring sister churches. At the same time, staff members and physicians assess and pray for the correct time and method to approach these patients with the message of the gospel. Some are approached during their first visit while in the waiting room; others may not be addressed till further rapport has been established.
Another form of spreading the gospel is through visitation. The clinics’ staff members and counselors are involved in medical and evangelistic visits whereby families (mainly those of refugees) are called upon in their homes. Needs are visualized and met, and the gospel is presented in its simplest of forms, a manifestation of God’s love, so that all family members may understand and accept it. To me, the most encouraging result of this is when a new believer from such families presents to the clinic and offers to join in on similar visits in the future. How beautiful is the testimony of someone who has just met Christ and experienced his healing grace!
In addition to local clinics, one of the NGOs (non-government organizations) with which we have partnered owns a mobile clinic that visits remote areas in Lebanon providing medical care. Twice a month, a full team heads out to these areas including physicians, pharmacists and nurses who focus on medical aspects and awareness, as well as several volunteers who set up a small corner for private conversations with patients about their spiritual well-being.
In November 2016, I also had the chance to join a short-term BMMI mission team in Jordan. A couple of days were spent at the local clinic in Zarka seeing over 300 patients. Another morning we visited a refugee camp in Mafraq near the Syria/Iraq border. Sitting down for coffee and tea with one of the ladies there, we got the chance to hear firsthand how they were displaced, how hard it was to adjust to a new “home” (a.k.a tent) and what life is like currently in the camp. Thinking back, I realize that we may not always know how to best comfort these people, but he who once was a refugee himself is the ultimate comforter.
As tiring and emotionally demanding as it is to serve in such situations, simple moments bring smiles to our faces and uplift our hearts. A simple heartfelt “Thank you” from a young man receiving blankets for his family is more than enough. On other days, the Lord sends people like Aunt Rose. After my medical encounter with her, she opened up about the social and financial issues facing her family. As the conversation took a deeper turn, we were both caught off guard and ended up chuckling. We found her eager to share the hope of the gospel with one another, only to find out that we already had something in common: our Savior! If meeting a new sister or brother in Christ does not encourage your spirit, I don’t know what else could!
Needless to say, many times in our ministry we meet people who are at the end of their ropes. Sometimes we may even feel that same way. We see people enter our clinics, offices and churches with hunched backs. We watch as tears stream down faces. But what a joyful message we have to share! Christ is our hope (Revelation 21:4). He is willing to carry our loads. Weary? Heavy-burdened? Come to him. Why, who else is there to go to?