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I have just returned from a conference in southern Greece where I met with a very special group of missionaries I call “the world’s hidden heroes.” As I talked, prayed, and ate meals with the hundreds in attendance, and heard their stories, I was humbled to realize that I was rubbing shoulders with people “of whom the world in not worthy.” For security reasons, some of them could not even tell me where they were living and serving.
It was the Thirty-Fourth International Conference of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA), which focuses on Continuing Medical and Dental Education (CMDE) for the thousands of evangelical medical missionaries who are serving today around the world, often in some of the most remote and dangerous locations. There were 715 (mostly) American missionaries serving in 75 countries at this conference (their largest ever), including doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, physicians assistants, and others connected with missionary health, along with spouses and children. There was no commercial financial support for this conference whatsoever. Many of those attending were highly-skilled surgeons working in primitive areas under stressful conditions with less-than-adequate equipment.
Besides coming together to hone and upgrade their medical skills, these Christian workers also gathered for spiritual refreshment and fellowship. It was my privilege to be the daily Bible teacher for the conference. It was a joy to speak to people with such hungry and receptive hearts. I wish you could have been there to hear these people worship, sing and pray together! Tears flowed freely as people sang and prayed in their native tongue (English), something they rarely get to do in the places where they are serving. My wife, Annette, who is a licensed professional counselor, was with me, and was busy throughout the two weeks, talking and praying with many.
Along with the medical missionaries in attendance, there were also 115 “faculty” who came from North America. These were highly trained and experienced Christian doctors and dentists (from places like the M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., etc.) who paid their own travel and conference expenses so they could teach the medical missionaries about the latest medical techniques and issues. These visiting “faculty” taught 60 break-out sessions and gave 176 lectures.
More than 40 other people from North America paid their own way to come to this conference to provide a wonderful daily musical/worship program, an amazing recreational and spiritual childcare program, and audio/visual/IT support for all the plenary and break-out sessions.
Just before the conference started, three American men involved in medical missionary work in one of the world’s most dangerous countries were murdered by radical extremists. These modern martyrs were close colleagues to quite a few of the doctors who attended the conference. We had a memorial ceremony one evening, and at the end asked all those serving in that same country (over 20) to come to the front in an act of re-commitment as we all commended them to the Lord in prayer. One young missionary wife serving in that dangerous country told Annette and me privately, in a very matter-of-fact way, how, not long ago, gunmen stormed their residence and she had to hide in the bathtub with her arms around her small children, fairly certain they were all going to die. She told us how, huddled in that bathtub, she recommitted her life to the total Lordship of Jesus Christ and experienced His presence in a powerful way.
Toward the end of the conference, we gathered around the Lord’s Table, remembering His ultimate sacrifice for us, and recommitting ourselves to His service until He returns. It was a solemn and moving experience.
This conference usually takes place in Kenya every two years, focusing mainly on medical personnel serving throughout Africa and the Middle East. However, the conference venue there has become too small, cannot accommodate families, and is located in an increasingly volatile setting (three bombs went off in Nairobi the very week we were meeting in Greece). The Greek conference site was very adequate in size, was safe, and was reasonable financially (though more expensive than Kenya). Knowing that the Greek site was going to cost more, a donor gave a generous gift that covered the registration cost ($285 per person) for everyone attending the conference!
There was a lot of interest expressed in pursuing studies at CIU, both by MKs, and by the medical missionaries themselves. I fully expect to see some of them enrolled at CIU in the future, either via online courses, or at one of our campuses (South Carolina or Germany). Near the beginning of the conference I asked how many of those attending had studied at CIU or were working with CIU grads, and easily one-third of the crowd raised their hands.
Lord willing, in 2015 Annette and I will be ministering at a very similar CMDA/CMDE conference in Thailand for medical missionaries serving in Asia (probably about 500). We eagerly look forward to that time!