Editor's note: Tanis Walmsley's article is based on field research conducted in Moscow in the fall of 1995 for a course in Russian church history taught by Dr. Mark Elliott for the Russian-American Christian University. The author and the East-West Church & Ministry Report realize that this survey is far from exhaustive. It does, however, provide a striking range of examples of creative medical ministries currently under way in the former Soviet Union.
The Fellowship of Associates of Medical Evangelism
Dr. William Becknell, a full-time missionary doctor in Moscow, works under the auspices of the Fellowship of Associates of Medical Evangelism. He has been in Moscow for three years and has his own clinic, the Agape Medical Center, located in the Scientific Research Institute of Pediatrics of the Russian Academy of Medical Science. He treats both Russians and Americans and charges on the basis of need. The medications he uses are imported from the West, mostly from Western Europe. Dr. Becknell has been trying to raise more awareness of his project in Scandinavia and Western Europe because they are closer neighbors than the United States and it is easier to receive supplies from Europe. Dr. Becknell has had difficulties getting medicines through customs. He holds a weekly Bible study for doctors in the Agape Medical Center. Previously his clinic offered English classes to doctors, but not at present. The doctors greatly desire that English instruction will resume.
Evangelistic mobile clinics held all over Russia form the heart of Dr. Becknell's ministry. Staying in each city for about 10 days at a time, he travels with a translator and works through local churches. At times North American and Russian doctors have accompanied Dr. Becknell on his travels. Before Dr. Becknell arrives in a city a Russian Protestant church prepares for his coming, arranging visits to various institutions in which to hold clinics, including orphanages, prisons, and hospitals. Dr. Becknell, who holds evangelistic meetings and distributes Christian literature in addition to holding clinics, sees evangelism as an essential part of his ministry. Also, the connection with a local church is a prerequisite for him to work in a city, so that after he leaves there will be follow-up for new believers. Community response has been excellent. Many small home churches have started as a direct result of his work. These home churches receive regular visits from Russian pastors who encourage and teach new believers. Dr. Becknell frequently returns to the same areas so that people will sense his long-term commitment.
His short-term clinics have been held in Ukhta, Serpukhov, Yemva, Sevastopol, Ropcha, and many other locations. He also has worked in prisons in Meekun, Yemva, Veslana, Sendor, and Trakt, and in numerous orphanages in areas such as Serpukhov, Kashira, Vodny, and Sosnogorsk. Locations for clinics have included Moscow's First Children's Hospital, the Institute of Pediatrics in Moscow, St. George's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Veslana Central Hospital, and the Tula Health Center.
A number of Russian Christian doctors have responded with interest after hearing of Dr. Becknell's ministry. These doctors want to learn how to become active in medical evangelism. In 1995 in the Krasnodar area, Dr. Becknell held a three-day seminar for 14 Christian doctors, explaining how to conduct clinics. Pastors already have agreed to accompany each of these doctors when they hold clinics. Dr. Becknell has received invitations to hold clinics in Kiev, Ukraine; Minsk, Belarus; and all over Russia from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg.
The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries
Christine Hena, a native of Liberia, is another Christian doctor based in Moscow as a full-time medical missionary. She serves under appointment of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Fluent in Russian, she did her medical training in Krasnodar and understands the Russian medical system from firsthand experience. She also holds clinics, 10 days at a time, in remote areas such as Kashira, Belgorod, and Velikiy Ustiug. Dr. Hena returns to Moscow between trips to collect supplies. She assists paramedics and nurses in conducting continuing education seminars for nurses. She also distributes Bibles at each clinic. As a result, in areas where she goes regularly, small Bible study groups have formed. In addition, she has helped plant a church in the southern Moscow district of Novoperedelkino. She also coordinates travel for groups of Methodist doctors and dentists from the West who sometimes accompany her on clinic trips. They stay in Russian and Ukrainian homes and have been extremely well received in the various communities.
In Moscow proper Dr. Hena is heavily involved in Children's Republican Hospital No. 3. She has arranged for groups of Christian doctors from the United States to work with Russian doctors several weeks at a time. Unlike many other medical missionaries, Dr. Hena has not had problems getting medical supplies through customs. She has documentation from the Ministry of Health that allows her to receive materials without cost and without typical Russian red tape. Also in her church in Moscow, Dr. Hena offers health care training to people in the congregation. This is done so that they, in turn, can train others. The health training is basic, ranging from what medications to use for simple ailments to how to take temperature and blood pressure.
Carla Sunberg of the Nazarene Church is a registered nurse whose work is largely in the area of medical personnel training. Under the auspices of NAZCOM, a Nazarene humanitarian aid organization working in Russia, she and other nurses from Nazarene colleges in the United States developed a four-module program for continuing education. Mrs. Sunberg and guest lecturers from the United States teach two-week nursing education modules in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. NAZCOM also has worked with Heart to Heart, a Christian organization based in Kansas, helping this group distribute millions of dollars' worth of medication throughout the former Soviet Union.
Carla Sunberg also has been active in developing a preventive dental care program for children. She has arranged for visiting dentists to conduct training and demonstrations for Russian dentists on protective sealants for teeth. She also gives presentations in public schools on dental hygiene. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss, donated by children in America, are distributed to the students. In addition, she trains others in her church to conduct dental hygiene presentations in schools. With the aid of several other U.S. nurses, Mrs. Sunberg also has helped the Nazarene Ministry Center to launch a stop-smoking program.
Seventh-day Adventist Health Care Center
The Seventh-day Adventist Church Health Care Center in Moscow has both dental and rehabilitation facilities that are completely self-supporting. Eight similar Seventh-day Adventist clinics are being established in Ukraine and several more in Uzbekistan. The Moscow Health Care Center is a fully equipped, Western dental and physiotherapy facility open to the public. A higher price-scale for foreign patients helps subsidize more affordable health care for Russian patients. Sometimes dental care is given free of charge to Seventh-day Adventist church members who cannot afford to pay. Their names are put on a waiting list and are worked into the schedule as time allows. The Seventh-day Adventist Health Center also is equipped to handle rehabilitation for the physically handicapped.
The Adventist Health Care Center also holds monthly mobile clinics in communities within a two hours' drive of Moscow. The Center has three fully mobile dental chairs, complete with all necessary equipment, obtained from a former U.S. Army base in Germany. Mobile clinic teams usually consist of two dentists, two dental assistants, a health educator, and occasionally a physiotherapist, who do cleanings, provide instruction on dental care, insert fillings, and perform extractions. The mobile clinic teams, which also hold evangelistic services, have had a good community response.
A vision to train Russians to train other Russians regarding personal health and temperance is a top priority with Seventh-day Adventists, who have a goal to appoint a temperance and health director for each of their 14 churches in Moscow. Nadia Ivanovna, a temperance and health worker in one of the Moscow Adventist churches, has held training sessions on nutrition, smoking, drinking, stress, heart disease, and cancer not only in Moscow, but also in Kiev, Samara, Belgorod, Yaroslavl, Tula, and Riazan. The Adventist alcohol prevention and treatment program has eight locations that offer treatment groups and follow-up. Over two thousand people attended the two stop-smoking and stress-control seminars offered by the clinic.
The Seventh-day Adventist Health Care Center has a humanitarian aid document that allows it to receive medication from the West without problems with customs. It has distributed over $100,000' worth of antibiotics and other medications to local health facilities since 1992. In 1993 the Center and the U.S. Defense Department distributed 45 containers of medical equipment valued at more than three million dollars to seven outpatient facilities in Moscow.
Adventist training programs have included educational seminars on health principles, Christian ethics, and gynecology for over two hundred doctors from all over the former Soviet Union. One four-day Adventist health education lecture series at Moscow's Olympic Stadium drew more than 8,000 people. In May 1995, 76 dentists attended a two-week continuing education program on orthodontics conducted by the Adventist Health Care Center.
Pastor Yang Ping
Pastor Yang Ping, a Korean missionary, leads a congregation based in one of the largest hospitals in Moscow. This church has services two nights a week and small group Bible studies four days a week. These are all attended by patients. The church donates to the hospital medical supplies received from the West, such as antibiotics and bandages. Twice a week one of the Russians in this church goes through the wards, witnessing and praying with the patients who come from many different former Soviet republics.
This church's ministry is not limited only to patients. It also teaches an "Introduction to Christianity" course to doctors from all over the former Soviet Union who are completing internships or other additional training at this hospital. Through visitation, evangelism, church services, Bible studies, and the meetings with interning doctors, Yang Ping's congregation has given away over 7,000 Bibles.
The Kentucky/Russian Partnership
The Kentucky/Russian Partnership, a Southern Baptist medical ministry, has arranged for teams of U.S. doctors, dentists, and eye and ear specialists to work in Russian hospitals in Tambov, Kazan, and Nizhny Novgorod. Medical teams bring their own medical supplies for the duration of their time in Russia. In the past they have had problems getting medical supplies through customs. In fact, one Kentucky/Russian Partnership team brought large quantities of medications which never were allowed through customs and which had to be taken back to the United States upon their departure.
The Evangelical Christian-Baptist Clinic
At the Russian Federation Evangelical Christian-Baptist Center in Moscow on Varshavskoe shosse, a Christian clinic headed by Dr. Victor Grishkevich provides free medications and consultations for its church members and their close relatives. Russian doctors hold clinics Tuesday and Wednesday nights, with dental care available Monday through Thursday during the day and two evenings per week.
The Russian Orthodox "Miloserdye" Mission
Lena Saltikova, a member of the Russian Orthodox parish of Sts. Cosmos and Damian, leads a ministry called "Miloserdye" (Charity), founded by Fr. Alexander Men who was murdered in September 1990. Begun some six years ago, parishioners work in the Children's State Hospital in a far south district of Moscow. A group of about 20 to 25 people go to the hospital as often as their schedules allow, visiting, singing, praying with the children, and conducting a newly established Sunday-school program. Many of the children in this hospital, who come from all over Russia, are terminally ill. One of the most original aspects of this ministry is its art program. One of the younger women from the mission is an artist who teaches the children. Public exhibitions of the children's art have been very well received. The Orthodox volunteers are there, not only for the children, but also to support and help the parents in any way possible. For example, when some of the children are well enough to go home, most of them still need to come to the hospital to obtain prescription medicines. For parents who live out of town this is difficult. To assist these families the mission delivers medications to out-of-town patients. "Miloserdye" is looking for a sponsor so that it can expand its ministry.
Tanis Walmsley previously taught in Moscow under the auspices of Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA. She currently is a graduate student in Russian studies at the University of Alberta.
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© 1996 Institute for East-West Christian Studies