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Medicine Opens Doors for the Church

Things were not going according to plan. Drs. Ted and Sharon Kuhn, co-directors of MTW’s medical ministries, were leading a medical missions trip to a closed country in South Asia. They had done this sort of thing many times before—travel to a country with limited health care, set up a clinic in a remote area unreached by the gospel, and provided free medical services while local pastors and missionaries prayed with the people and built a foundation for ministry. But this time, the government wouldn’t let them leave the city.

Barred from traveling to the villages, the Kuhns were forced to hold the medical clinic in their hotel. The circumstances were less than ideal, but they trusted that God would work through them nevertheless.

“We were holding the clinic and all of a sudden this bus pulls up and all these people pour out,” Ted said.

Dozens of people from a village in the hills had traveled several hours for medical care. The doctors tended to everyone they could, while local church planters and pastors prayed with and encouraged them.

“After we left, one of the local church planters went to the village and started a Bible study,” said Ted.

The Bible study started small, with only two or three people attending, but it was a beginning. When the Kuhns held the clinic at the same hotel the next year, even more people from the village came. By the year after that, a little church had been planted in the village. God had been at work.

An Unexpected Celebration
Every year the Kuhns would lead a new team to serve in the country, the government would restrict them to the hotel, and people from the same village would come. Every year, little by little, the church plant would grow. Finally, after three years, the government allowed the Kuhns to travel out of the city. This was their chance.

They took a bus first, and then hiked through rice paddies and over mountains. When they finally got near the village, 150 people were waiting for them, lining the path to the church.

“They were greeting us and shaking our hands,” Ted remembered. “We went into the church, and it was overflowing. It couldn’t hold all the people. We had a service of celebration. We ate and sang and danced. When we eventually left, I thought: ‘This is what medical missions is all about. Four years ago there was no witness here at all. Now there’s a vibrant church with lots of members and they’re talking about reaching out to the other tribal people groups in the area.”

Tom and Friends

A Profound Impact
Ted and Sharon were an integral part of many such stories. During more than two decades of service with MTW, the dynamic duo led more than 150 medical mission trips to 44 countries, traveled with more than 2,500 medical students, trained around 270 medical professionals to lead mission trips, mentored numerous aspiring medical missionaries, and consulted on health issues for hundreds of MTW missionaries across the globe.

In February 2019, Drs. Ted and Sharon Kuhn retired from their longtime roles as co-directors of MTW’s medical ministries.

“Ted and Sharon are incredibly gifted and talented people who love God and are very concerned about seeing the kingdom of God expanded around the world and using medicine to help accomplish that,” said MTW Senior Consultant Bill Goodman. “They really got medical ministry on the map for us.”

Sharon with patients

It all began in 1997 when MTW’s leadership asked the Kuhns to build and lead the organization’s brand new Medical Missions Department. Ted and Sharon had plenty of medical missions experience under their belts, having already served in South Asia for nearly a decade, but they had their work cut out for them. There was no staff, no infrastructure. They had to build from scratch.

They began by asking, “What’s our core value?”

“We thought, ‘We’re not a medical missionary society that does church planting. We’re a church-planting organization that wants to use medical missions to augment the growth and development of the Church,” said Ted. “At the time, that was a completely different paradigm than every other medical missions organization in the country was using.”

Ted and Sharon got to work recruiting and organizing. Within a year, MTW had career medical missionaries posted in Belize and the Middle East. In two years, they had sent people to Central Asia. Soon the Kuhns started brainstorming possibilities for sending short-term medical teams to MTW fields across the globe. In 2000 the Kuhns organized the PCA’s first-ever medical missions conference. Five hundred and fifty medical professionals showed up.

In the years to come, the Kuhns organized or led hundreds of teams of medical professionals on short-term trips to locations across the globe where MTW missionaries had a presence. They went to Peru, visiting churches high in the Andes mountains and reaching tribes deep in the Amazon jungle. In Kenya, they offered clinics at villages with no evangelical outreach, providing a foothold for the evangelical church in Africa. People would come from miles around to see the doctors, and the pastors and church planters could begin building relationships.

Ted with patient

Little by little the word trickled through MTW—short-term medical teams were not only offering Christ-driven mercy ministry, they were opening doors for church planters. The model worked particularly well in closed countries, where sharing the gospel is difficult or illegal. Ted likes to call this “a wedge ministry,” propping the door open for church planters: “You introduce a medical team and all of a sudden the community opens up.”

Under their leadership, MTW sent an average of 50 medical mission teams per year for the last 15 years. Across the globe, communities that would otherwise still be unreached by the gospel now have churches—thanks to the “wedge” provided by MTW’s medical ministry.

The Next Chapter
“I saw Ted and Sharon and their medical work open up villages for church planting and ease suffering all over Asia,” said Senior Field Operations Director Cartee Bales. “They were incredibly loved as people and appreciated as medical missionaries.”

Sunset

With the Kuhns’ retirement, MTW has asked each of its global regions to identify a field-based leader to serve as a regional medical coordinator who could facilitate medical missions that fit their particular local strategy. Simultaneously, MTW’s leadership is in the process of identifying a new medical director to replace the Kuhns. Those are big shoes to fill. Meanwhile we continue to send teams.

“Sharon and I have loved doing this,” said Ted. “It has been our heart’s desire and our life’s work. It’s been costly and physically uncomfortable at times, but it’s also been the most wonderful thing we’ve been involved in in our lives. … God has poured His Spirit out on churches around the world, and we have been able to be a part of that. … If I were to die tomorrow, I would say, ‘I’ve seen the glory of the Lord and I am satisfied.’”

Join us on a medical missions trip or learn more about how you can serve longer-term at mtw.org/medical.

Andrew Shaughnessy May 21, 2019
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