Today's post is by Dr. Emmanuel and Florence Mefor. They are health (Medical and Nurse/midwife) missionaries with Global Ministries. This is the first of a two-part series.
A missionary is a person who is sent to promote Christianity, usually in a foreign land. The organization which sends the missionary expects the missionary to imitate Jesus Christ in all aspects. During his ministry on earth, Jesus Christ preached love and forgiveness to his followers, he showed them mercy and compassion, he fed them when they were hungry, and he healed the sick of their infirmity.
A person practicing mission in relation to health, or permit us to use the term “a medical missionary,” is a medically- or health-trained person who is sent to promote Christianity by providing health services. Mission programs in churches or organizations are viewed as incomplete if the provision of health services is lacking. It is an important aspect of Christian mission, just as the spiritual aspect is. Put it another way, just as Jesus Christ did, Christian mission becomes meaningful when both the physical and spiritual needs of the community involved are met.
Being a missionary is a calling. One must have passion first for his or her original profession, then there must be passion for Christian mission. Passion for something is the driving force to surmount difficulties within the limits of what one can do regarding that thing.
How did we become missionaries? It all started in the first hospital we worked in, immediately after my (Emmanuel’s) training. It was a Church-related hospital belonging to the ECWA Evangel Hospital system. The then Medical Superintendent, who happened to be a missionary, was busy in the operating room. He spoke to me in between his cases and asked me to come to work the next day, including the documentation of my job offer. There were three more missionaries working in the hospital whose ways of practicing medicine and attitudes, shaped or molded me towards hoping to be like them. We worked together, and I learnt a lot from them as a junior doctor.
I (Emmanuel) became a missionary eighteen years later. Initially I became a Person-In-Mission (PIM) for the General Board of Global Ministries. This happened in Mozambique. I had gone for a government program in Mozambique and was assigned to work in a rural part of the country. As God would have it, the hospital I was assigned to work in belonged to the United Methodist Church in Mozambique, but in collaboration with the government. The missionary working there had left for hip replacement surgery back home in the USA; and I was to sit-in for him.
At the end of the program, the Resident Bishop offered to retain me as a PIM. Though I never knew what it would lead me to, I was happy to work with the mission just as I was in Nigeria. There was a need to move my family from Nigeria (an English-speaking country) to Mozambique (a Portuguese-speaking country). It was four years later I became a missionary while still in Mozambique.
A general problem which confronts missionaries is the decision to move the family. When kids are under 18, the mission board will always support the non-separation of families. My family moved to Mozambique. It was difficult for them to adjust to the situation. Our children had the problems of moving from a city school to a rural school, the problem of language, especially the uphill task of transiting from English to Portuguese. Missionary kids are usually academically disadvantaged if they continue to move with their missionary parents. We agreed with our kids for them to stop moving with us.
Missionary work is always thought of as being exclusively for the clergy. Besides the United Methodist Church and the related church Institutions, it is difficult to understand the missionary work in relation to other professions. This can lead to misunderstandings of our work.
A good example and personal experience was when we went for an interview for a visiting visa at the America Embassy. After some questioning and answers, the interviewer said if you are a missionary and going to the USA for missionary work (itineration, which is visiting supporting churches to tell them stories about missionary work in place of assignment), you need to apply for clergy/religious visa and not visiting visa. They also questioned why the GBGM should sponsor our flight to the US and pay our salaries while we are in the USA. That meant we were going the USA to work with visiting visa. The conclusion was that we were denied a visa. It was interesting to note that prior to this incident, we had been to the USA several times to visit our supporting churches. It can be concluded that this time around, the devil was at work at the Embassy. It was difficult to understand that.
Yet despite the difficulties in our work, God has given us the passion to surmount them through God’s grace.