WEEK OF PRAYER: Thailand mobile medical clinics treat physical, spiritual needs

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Nov. 30-Dec. 6, focusing on Revelation 7:9 (“I saw a great multitude from every nation and all tribes ….”) The theme undergirds the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The offering, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at IMB.org/lmco, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $175 million.

“Today was a glorious day,” Dr. Doug Derbyshire said, a smile spreading across his face. A patient committed their life to Christ that day at a mobile medical clinic in rural Thailand.

Doug and his wife Cheryl moved to Thailand as IMB missionaries in 1992. Doug is a doctor in the Bangkla Baptist Clinic in Bangkla, Thailand. Cheryl works with a ministry called Thai Country Trim that provides a supplemental income for rural Thai women as well as an avenue to share the Gospel.

Doug’s medical team provides medicine for the body, but they also provide medicine for the soul.  

“We seek to take care of the physical needs and the spiritual needs of the people here, just like Jesus told us to do – treat the sick and preach the Gospel,” Doug said.

Doug, Cheryl, Thai staff and volunteers from the U.S. travel across Thailand to host medical clinics in areas where Thai church planters and IMB missionaries hope to start churches. In some of these areas, there are no Christians. Other areas have a few Christians, but church planters are hoping the mobile medical clinic will lead more people to Christ.

“We take these mobile clinics into cities with no church, [that] have never had a church, have never had anyone worship God since God made Adam and Eve,” Doug said. “The burden of that, of seeing communities that have never known God and never worshiped God since the dawn of time, that burdens me.”

It’s a burden he can’t let go.

“I just have to see churches start in these places so that God would be glorified and God would be praised, like He deserves,” Doug said.

Thais are staunchly Buddhist, with roughly 94 percent adhering to Buddhism. It often takes years of sharing the Gospel for the message to have an impact on Thai communities.

“Until God opens their heart, it’s not going to make sense. When it does, it’s so fun to watch them light up with the realization that, ‘Ah! This is it! This is what I am looking for,'” Cheryl said.

Doug has found that medical care provides an inroad to sharing the Gospel. Taking care of physical needs and then moving on to address spiritual needs is almost an automatic transition.

“Medicine is a remarkable bridge for us,” he said.

He said he and other healthcare workers will often tell their patients, “This is your illness physically – you have diabetes, you have high blood pressure, you have whatever you have – now your soul has needs as well.”

The correlation between physical and spiritual health is accepted by their patients.

“We are able to see people come to faith one after another,” Doug said. “It has been a joy to watch community after community have people come to faith and churches started after mobile medical clinics.”

Healthcare professionals and students from the U.S. partner with the Derbyshires to run the clinics.

Doug and Cheryl said volunteers play an integral role in their ministry. Every year, the Derbyshires host around 10 teams of healthcare workers who use their profession to advance the Gospel.

“Volunteers are indispensable to what we do. I can’t do what I do without God’s people coming from America and helping me,” Doug said.

The volunteers travel with IMB missionaries and Thai Christians into communities of 100 to 300 people.

“My team and I here at the clinic, we share Christ over and over, day in and day out,” Doug said. “I have to talk to a hundred, two hundred people before anyone really would be interested in the Lord. But when teams come from America, by whatever means and reasons that God has ordained, we get to see people come to faith, one after another.”

The Derbyshires, other IMB missionaries and Thai Christians share the Gospel with every person they treat.

“Thai national believers are the most important part of what we do with our volunteer teams,” Cheryl said.

After the American volunteer healthcare professionals treat a patient, Thai Christians will share about who can heal their soul – Jesus.

Discipleship groups and churches are formed from those who commit their lives to Christ. Local Christians follow up with people who made decisions of faith or indicated that they wanted to hear more.

“Follow-up is key,” Cheryl said. “If we just get someone to pray to receive Christ, and we leave them alone, we’re not going to see much fruit from that. We learned that early on in the hospital. We’d get people coming into the hospital who had prayed to receive Christ. They would go miles away and we’d never see them again. …

“We have a nice guarantee that shortly after we go in and do a mobile clinic, anybody interested, anybody that prays with our evangelists, they are all going to get a visit and they are all going to get the chance to become part of a group that are believers in their area.”

Last year, Doug, Cheryl and their team made multiple trips to an area in northeastern Thailand where there were only a handful of Christians. After their first mobile clinic, four people committed their lives to Christ.

On their second mobile medical clinic, the Derbyshires, Thai staff and American volunteers worshiped in the new church building the Christians built after the first clinic. The church members showed the team pictures on their wall depicting a family tree of everyone who had become a Christian because of the Gospel message they heard at the medical clinic.

The Derbyshires and Thai Christians have seen what they call “granddaughter” churches.

“It’s been our joy to see the Lord use our opportunity to share Christ, one on one, with hundreds of people in a day, and see the Lord save souls and then gather them together in groups and then gather those groups together to form a church,” Doug said.

The Derbyshires have partnerships with multiple churches that come alongside them during mobile clinics, not only to do healthcare missions but also to host English camps and prayer walk through villages. Some of their church partners have been coming for 20 years.

“Once [churches and doctors] start coming, they have a desperation to do something to help the Thai people understand who Jesus is so they can have a way to be rid of their sin and go to heaven,” Cheryl said.

Cheryl added there is a mutual appreciation between the American healthcare workers and the Thai Christians. The American healthcare workers are inspired by the Thai Christians who boldly share their faith, and the Thai Christians are inspired by the Americans who gave up two weeks of vacation and made the financial sacrifice to come.

It’s beautiful to watch the teams work together, Cheryl said, even though they don’t speak the same language.

“You can see that the family of God is so much more than that. You don’t need language to understand and love each other and work together,” Cheryl said.

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