Franklin Graham expresses appreciation to medical professionals during the annual Prescription for Renewal Conference
In the fall of 1916, a young doctor and his wife of four months set sail for the Far East, eager to begin their service as medical missionaries in China. Seasick and cold, after arriving in Shanghai their journey continued over land for hundreds more miles until they reached their destination—Love and Mercy Hospital in Jiangsu Province.
That couple was Nelson and Virginia Bell, the maternal grandparents of Franklin Graham, who touched many lives during their 25 years in China. Reflecting on their legacy a century later, Graham encouraged attendees at World Medical Mission’s Prescription for Renewal conference to go and serve wherever God calls them.
“I’m so thankful for that heritage,” Graham told the gathering of medical professionals and Samaritan’s Purse staff. “At an early age my grandfather felt God calling him to be a surgeon, and he went there and gave the best years of his life to the people of China so that they might be able to hear and understand that there’s a God who loves them and sent His Son from heaven.
“We are to take that wonderful message of God’s love to the ends of this earth, and I think missionary medicine is a wonderful tool to do that,” he said.
A Chinese doctor who serves at Love and Mercy Hospital was among the 300 participants who attended this year’s conference, which was held October 14-16 at the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove outside Asheville, North Carolina.
The annual event offers rejuvenation to Christian healthcare workers who have served at overseas hospitals through World Medical Mission and inspiration to those who may be considering that opportunity.
Evangelist and author Michael Youssef shared messages of encouragement with the audience on Friday evening and Saturday morning. Youssef is the founding pastor of The Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, Georgia, and his television and radio ministry “Leading The Way” is broadcast in 25 languages in six countries.
In a society where many people are caught up in the “mad pursuit of instant gratification,” Youssef commended missionary doctors for their sacrificial service to the Lord and their patients.
“You take your vacation time, your savings, and you go out and invest in the remotest parts of the world in places I will never see,” he said. “That’s why I want to be an encouragement to you, to bring you a word of hope.”
On the mission field, doctors will inevitably face times of physical and emotional weariness. Youssef challenged his audience to focus their minds heavenward as they lead others to Christ and look forward to receiving their own eternal reward from the Savior.
“May the longing to hear from the lips of Jesus, ‘well done, good and faithful servant’ be a motivation to give your all until that day,” he said.
This year’s conference marks the 25th time that World Medical Mission has honored a missionary doctor with the “In the Footsteps of the Great Physician” award. Doctors are chosen based on their exemplary commitment to missionary medicine.
Dr. Joe Woods, a plastic surgeon in Atlanta, Georgia, received a double blessing when he was recognized as the 2016 winner of the award Friday evening. During the presentation, Woods was surprised by his adult children who joined him, his wife Laura, and their youngest daughter on the stage.
“To be able to take our three children on the mission field has been the greatest privilege of my life,” Woods stated as he accepted the plaque. “We have a great opportunity as physicians to educate the next generation and expose them to what’s going on in the world and how Jesus is working.”
Since 2000, Woods has gone on 11 short-term trips with World Medical Mission, serving in hospitals in Kenya, Zambia, and Ethiopia. He says his work overseas involves “doing whatever is needed.” Woods has been called upon to perform numerous surgical procedures that he would most likely never encounter in his Atlanta practice, ranging from removing an arrow from a man’s lung to delicately pulling out skull fragments from a nine-year-old boy’s lacerated brain. Both patients survived.
Other former recipients of the “In the Footsteps” award attended this year’s conference, including 92-year-old Jean Winter, whose husband Lewis received the honor in 1993. The Phoenix, Arizona, couple began serving after their children were grown, working in remote and sometimes dangerous locations in Niger and Bangladesh. Dr. Winter, a general surgeon, died in 2010 at the age of 89.
Several guest speakers presented testimonies of God’s healing power in the lives of their patients. Among them were Dr. Jim Ritchie, an emergency medicine specialist at Chogoria Mission Hospital in Kenya, and Dr. Jen Hathorn, serving at Egbe Hospital in Nigeria through World Medical Mission’s Post-Residency Program.
An important component of the annual conference is the optional Missionary Medicine Seminar, which offers Continuing Medical Education course credits to healthcare professionals. Alternate programming geared toward spouses of the doctors was led by Mrs. Joanna Thelander and Mrs. Teresa Sawyer. Drawing from their wealth of experiences, the women shared some of the joys and travails of serving together with their husbands and children on the mission field.
“Bringing Hope and Healing Wherever We Can”
One of the weekend highlights was Saturday’s screening of the new Samaritan’s Purse documentary, Facing Darkness. The 90-minute film recounts the deadly onslaught of Ebola in Liberia and how the disease forever changed the life of Dr. Kent Brantly. Serving through World Medical Mission’s Post-Residency Program at the time, Dr. Brantly was caring for Ebola patients in a treatment center at ELWA Hospital when he contracted the disease.
Franklin Graham addressed the audience afterward, relating Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan to the work of Samaritan’s Purse around the world.
“The work of the Good Samaritan is never over. There are always people walking life’s road who get left behind, beaten, and robbed for whatever circumstances. We want to bring hope and healing wherever we can,” Graham told the crowd. “When there is a storm, when there is a crisis, we don’t run from it. We run to it.”
In other presentations, staff reported on implementation of the emergency field hospital in Ecuador following the spring earthquakes and the recent deployment of personnel and supplies to assist Hurricane Matthew survivors in Haiti.
“I hope that Samaritan’s Purse will always be able to respond to whatever crisis comes down the road, to be there quickly, and to be there in Jesus’ Name,” Graham said.