Hi Jack,Do you have any recommendations for general health care training for missions? I was hoping to attend a week long course held at the Mercy Ships office in Texas, but sadly I learned that the organization is no longer offering those courses. Do you know of any other possibilities? The course I mentioned was open to health care providers not necessarily planning to work with Mercy Ships. From what I remember of the description the course included content on tropical medicine, epidemiology, maternal health, etc. I work as a nurse and hope to go into missions. This training seemed good to me because the subjects must be common concerns overseas and my current work does not include those topics so I have no experience in them.Since I do not have definite plans for a missions organization or location in the future a general course would be excellent, and maybe would help me with a sense of direction. I do not mean to sound like I am putting down Mercy Ships at all for no longer offering the training courses. If you would prefer to respond to this personally rather than on the Urbana site my e-mail address is:firstname.lastname@example.orgThank you for your help!Mary
Mary, I have asked my friend, Judy Shelley, to answer your question. Her answer is amazing complete, profound, and practical. Much to learn here.
It sounds like the Lord has given you a vision for missions and that you are being faithful in exploring what that means.
One reason you can’t find a short course in general health care for missions is that there really isn’t a “one-course-fits-all” solution—especially in one week! Nursing in various parts of the world differs considerably, so your educational preparation would have to be tailored to the area in which you will serve. However, there are some important ways to prepare yourself for whatever God is calling you to do. They can be summed up in the old railroad crossing sign that says, “Stop, look and listen.”
First, stop. Waiting on God is extremely important. Spend some time and effort on your own spiritual formation. Be sure you are spending daily time in prayer in Scripture. Take a full day to pray occasionally. Go on a guided or silent retreat. Ask the Lord to show you the next step. He rarely gives the whole life plan. Find a prayer and accountability partner if you don’t already have one. Join, or start, a nurses Bible study group. Explore the Nurses Christian Fellowship (NCF) website www.ncf-jcn for a wealth of resources—and then to apply your growing faith to your current nursing practice. The website will provide information about the Journal of Christian Nursing, books, Bible study guides, conferences and other events that apply Christian faith to nursing. One of those books, Caring Across Cultures: Preparing for Effective Missionary Service, by NCF staff member Grace Tazelaar, will be especially helpful to you. There is also an extensive missions section on the NCF website with answers to many of your questions.
Next, look. Look around you. You don’t have to go overseas to be a missionary. In fact, if you aren’t enjoying a fruitful ministry through your nursing right here at home, that won’t mysteriously change when you enter another culture. Furthermore, you will find the world at your doorstep. Get to know nurses from other cultures. Invite them to your home. Ask about their homeland, families, beliefs and values—and then listen carefully without passing judgment. There will be time as the friendship develops to share your own beliefs and values. You will be amazed at how God uses these connections.
Look for conferences that will connect you with people to guide your pursuit. The annual Global Missions Health Conference, November 13-15, 2008, held at Southeast Christian Church exists to inform, train, and equip health care professionals and students to use their medical and nursing skills to further God's kingdom, all through sharing the Gospel with those in need on both the international and domestic mission field. See http://www.medicalmissions.com/. Of course the Urbana 09 conference in St. Louis will also be an excellent place to explore and network.
Also, look for opportunities to serve in quality short term experiences. Be sure that any mission trip you join requires participating nurses to obtain appropriate licensure in the jurisdiction where they will be practicing and that there is provision for on-site continuity of care after the team leaves. Recently the Fellowship of Short-Term Mission Leaders (FSTML) developed short-term mission standards to which mission organizations can voluntarily subscribe. The seven standards that FSTML have set are:
b. Empowering partnerships
c. Mutual design.
d. Comprehensive Administration
e. Qualified Leadership
f. Appropriate Training
g. Thorough Follow-up
An elaboration of the standards can be found at www.stmstandards.org/ . Using these criteria to ask questions about a proposed short-term mission trip can help you determine if this is the right experience for you. If you are going on a short-term mission trip with the objective of exploring long-term mission, try to find one that will give you a feel for what you hope to be doing.
Finally, listen. First, listen to God. Try to discern the vision he has given you. Spend time in listening prayer. Let go of preconceived ideas. The point of mission is not so much going out to do great things for God, as it is opening yourself for God to work through you. What the Lord has planned for you may be something you never considered before. His calling frequently comes in the areas of your gifting and passion. If you sense God is nudging you in a certain direction, test it out and see what develops.
Secondly, listen to others. Seek counsel from wise, mature Christians who know you well. If you consistently hear the same advice—whether negative or positive—take it to the Lord seek his direction. Often God uses “desert” experiences to prepare us for future opportunities. These can be times of stress, discouragement, conflict or loneliness, when you are forced into the arms of God.
Thirdly, listen to yourself. What are your hopes, dreams, and passions? What kind of personality has God given you? Exploring your personality type using scales such as the Myers-Briggs, Enneagram or DISC can help you discover more about the ways you tend to function and how you work with others. Spend time in personal reflection, journaling, reading and prayer to discern where you might best fit in God’s mission.
All that said, there are some important trends in missionary nursing that will help to guide your preparation. There are few places in the world looking for nurses with only entry-level preparation. If you find one, it won’t stay that way for long. Developing countries need nursing leaders who can prepare nationals to lead—experienced masters- and doctorally-prepared nurses.
For example, I just returned from Nigeria. Christian hospitals there are almost all run entirely by Nigerians. They are seeking to make a BSN the entry standard for nurses. However, their university nursing programs are taught primarily by physicians because they don’t have enough doctorally-prepared nurses to meet requirements as faculty. They are begging for experienced nursing faculty to come, even (especially) for a short-term, to teach nursing in their university programs.
Furthermore, the most effective nursing is moving out of hospitals and into primary care in the community. So a masters in community health or primary care would be important preparation. Indiana Wesleyan University has a nurse practitioners masters program that focuses on primary care http://graduatenursing.indwes.edu/primary_care.htm. Many of their faculty members are former missionaries. Most of those courses are online.
In both developing and more technologically developed countries, there is a deep need for nurses who are experts in spiritual care—and can teach others in this area. For this, you need both experience and education. NCF workshops can provide a solid foundation in this area, but for missions, you’ll also need some theological education. North Park Theological Seminary has an excellent certificate program in Faith and Health. Most of it is available either online or in one-week intensives http://www.northpark.edu/sem/academics/certificate/faith_health.html.
No matter where you go as a missionary nurse, you will need to be adaptable, teachable and know how to be a servant leader. Mission organizations are looking for nurses who have a proven track record in these areas.
May the Lord guide you as you seek his vision for your life. I am praying Colossians 1:9-14 for you.
Yours in Christ,
Judith A. Shelly, DMin, RN
NCF Spiritual Formation and Prayer
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
302 Township Line Road
PO Box 700
Frederick, PA 19435