In the winter of 2012, I attended the Urbana Missions Conference, a 5-day gathering that has transformed my life deeply and matured my sense of calling to international medical missions.
2012 Urbana Missions Conference
The Urbana Missions Conference is a triennial gathering of over 18,000 Christians dedicated to serve the world out of love for God. It is a 5-day conference filled with international speakers, seminars, small groups, music, and exhibits. Whatever your interest or profession, this conference inspires, equips, and networks you so that you can use your passion to serve people around the world. I saw missionaries that were: fighting poverty, establishing justice, providing health care for the underserved, empowering small businesses, supporting global art, etc.
I saw how medical missionaries were providing quality health care to the most unreached and remote people groups in the world. Doctors, dentists, nurses, etc spoke of their first-hand experience with the desert nomads of Mongolia, the AIDs victims of Swaziland, the starving rural people of N0rth Korea, the abandoned women of Saudia Arabia, the neglected people of Afghanistan, the abused sex trafficked victims in Southeast Asia, and more! This conference grew my global sense of community and showed me the power of medicine to change lives!
32,000 Medical Kits created for AIDS victims in Swaziland
Did you know that in Swaziland, 1 out of every 4 adults live with HIV? 39% of the population is under the age of 14. Moreover, for every 10,000 people there are only 2 physicians! This kind of health devastation marks Swaziland with the highest HIV prevalence in the world!
On the third day of the conference, we learned about the AIDS epidemic in Swaziland and the “Caregivers” who were fellow villagers of the country volunteering to care for their AIDS victims. These Caregivers are untrained but passionate heros of their society, trying to cover the immense gap in their nation’s health care. (Video about them here)
Instead of the normal evening plenary session, we (all 18,000 of us) created 32,000 medical kits to help these Caregivers. Items in the kit were gloves, soap, water purifiers, towels, miconazole, etc because Caregiver’s were lacking in materials to care for common diseases AIDS patients acquire. Not only did we assemble them, but for each kit we wrote a personal letter of encouragement and love!
One of the most blessing moments, was listening to a middle-aged pharmaceutical business man share his story about getting involved with World vision. World Vision came to his company asking if they could donate any items. In that meeting when he saw videos about the Caregivers, the AIDS victims, and the incredible need in Swaziland, he was so touched that he persuaded his superiors to get involved. When he spoke to us, there were tears in his eyes and intensely genuine passion as he described dedicating his life to the care of these people and eventually visiting Swaziland himself.
During the conference, there were many rooms in the convention center tailored to fit every niche and diverse passion. I remember entering the Arts Lounge in which young creative professionals could be encouraged, informed, and equipped to combine art, faith, and international missions. I was so encouraged to hear and see stories about people honing and mastering their respective crafts (music, dance, film, theatre, visual, literary art) and creatively finding ways to serve people through them!
Other rooms included many prayer rooms, a documentary film showing room, a gigantic book selling floor, etc. In one of these rooms I played the Urban Poverty Board Game. The goal of the board game was was similar to the game of life: to graduate high school and college, get a job, and retire. Yet what determines your movements was a yes-no questionnaire. The questionnaire asked things like: Does your family speak more than one language at home? Can you easily find a greeting card featuring people that look like you? Are your parents immigrants? An answer of yes may move you one step back. A no may move you one step forward! When you finish the questionnaire, you write down your gender and ethnicity and mark your position on the board. It was incredible to see that as an 2nd-generation Asian male I barely was able to graduate high school!
Luke 5:1-11 – Recognizing Brokenness
The conference was structured around the book of Luke (who by tradition, is attributed to be a doctor!). Despite the excellent seminars, speakers, and music the most life-changing action was critically studying the bible in the morning!
In Luke, the story that struck me personally was how Jesus called Peter as a disciple. The story begins with Peter tired and beaten from fishing all night and coming up with nothing. Jesus comes and commands Peter to try again. At this Peter states, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” When Peter obeys, they catch so much fish that their boat begins to sink!
What’s significant isn’t the miracle of getting the fish but the miracle that happens in Peter’s heart, which is much more quiet and subtle. When Peter realizes that he has caught the catch of a lifetime what does he do? He gets on his knees! Peter then replies to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The story resolves like this:
And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Really?! Peter has been a fisherman his entire life. His livelihood is dedicated to catching fish. A catch like this is something he could spend a whole lifetime waiting for! Yet when Jesus enters his life, Peter leaves everything, including the fish he had just caught! He leaves everything to follow Jesus! What madness is this?!
Jesus recognized something in Peter that we cannot see with our physical eyes: Peter was broken. Peter was inwardly and spiritually sick. Peter was missing something more than fish. Recognizing something broken is what Jesus specializes in and is what doctors were made to do. It wasn’t fish that Peter wanted! It wasn’t fish that Peter needed to be happy! Peter needed forgiveness, a new life, and a new purpose.
Can I recognize a broken heart? Who around me is broken? Do I know how it feels to be broken? Isn’t the purpose of a doctor to transform the patient so that the patient no longer aches for what they don’t have? Isn’t the purpose of a doctor to leave the patient with a new life?
Committed to serve with humility, sincerity, and love
If a person could heal themselves, they wouldn’t need a doctor. This is true physically and spiritually. If a person could see that they were sick, if a person could see that something could be done to heal them, they would seek a doctor. But many people don’t know they are sick and many people have no access to care. Medical missions is not waiting for the sick to come to you, but actively going to the sick and meeting them where they are!
This conference sparked in me a flame and passion for global missions and international health care because healing is who I am and what I believe in. At this conference, inspired by speakers, pastors, musicians, health care workers, and God’s word I personally and formally committed myself to long-term missions! With each step, each day, and each year my personal love for God has grown along with my commitment to provide quality health care for the underserved people of this world!