The Story of What God Did: Turnarounds and Transitions with MedSend CEO Rick Allen Part 3
PART 3: Addressing the Crisis of Sustainability
“I would hear their stories, and I couldn’t help but ask myself, am I doing the very best that I can with MedSend’s relationships and resources to take care of this person, to set them up to have the best possible experience? I’m afraid that answer was no.”
Global healthcare missions, carried out in clinics and hospitals in low-resource countries, are almost exclusively dependent upon well-trained individuals coming from the West and working without a salary. They do this by raising money back home and existing on that support, sometimes raising money for the hospital or clinic itself.
“There’s a high degree of dependency built into the global missions healthcare system to sustain itself, currently, with the Western missionary. One of the long-term strategies that we’re implementing here at MedSend is a new program to protect the Western missionary,” CEO Rick Allen explains.
Back when Rick and the MedSend staff launched the National Scholars program, he noticed that two dueling realizations were weighing heavy on his heart. On the one hand, there was the movement towards a much broader range of individuals involved in the delivery of global healthcare missions. MedSend had already launched the National Scholars program to join God in this new opportunity.
“But I was also very concerned about the condition of those from the West who were serving and returning home. They were in bad spiritual, relational, and in some cases, professional condition,” Rick reveals. God had told him to think bigger, move faster, and that He was changing the ground rules. Rick clearly saw that part of those changing ground rules were that the world was becoming more difficult and dangerous, particularly for the Western healthcare professional.
The Reality of Healthcare Missions
“Delivering medicine, even in the best of cases like in the United States, is very difficult. Trying to do that under the constraints of a low-resource environment, working with multicultural teams where many are far less trained, and with the stress of the outcomes, which often include death at a rate you would never expect–,” Rick stops, shaking his head. “I had a doctor tell me that during malaria season, they would lose more patients in a day than he had lost in a five-year residency program in the US,” he says. And it would go on day after day.
These realities are wearing on the healthcare missionaries. Rick would hear the stories and feel concerned that these young doctors and practitioners–MedSend grant recipients–were not always prepared to face what lay ahead.
“Can I really stand and represent God as a healer?”
“I would ask them before they went, what are you most confident in as you set out as a healthcare missionary?” Rick says. He reports that almost all of them would say it was their education. They felt well-prepared to deliver healthcare. “And indeed, they should,” Rick agrees. “Because if you graduate from medical school, as a doctor, or a dentist, whatever your profession is–you are the best trained and prepared person in all of human history,” he points out. He’s right. With today’s technology and the revelation that God has given us of the human body, we understand how to address our physical needs better than ever before in history.
Then Rick would ask them what they were concerned about. “Most often they would say living up to the mantle of missionary. Can I really stand and represent God as a healer? In the name of Jesus? Am I strong enough to be able to share my faith on a regular basis? Will I have the answers? I always respected that answer,” he shares.
Over the years, Rick witnessed grant recipients–confident in their medical skills at the start– get to the field and realize that 50% or more of what they learned in school is useless. “They don’t have the equipment, they don’t have the medicines, and they don’t have the trained professionals around them to be able to implement medicine in the manner in which they were trained,” he explains. Suddenly, they start seeing diseases and patterns they’ve never seen before. They start to doubt themselves.
Next you layer on the medical outcomes in poor, sometimes dangerous low-resource communities. They have women and children dying in their arms, some suffering from unimaginable mistreatment. They see men coming in from battle in tribal warfare. All of them people suffering from wounds and illnesses they know they could treat if they were home in the US. But here, on the mission field, they don’t have the resources.
The final piece is the stress healthcare missions place on families. Roughly 50% of MedSend grant recipients are women, and a large majority off all recipients are married, often with multiple children. “They get the call from mom or dad back home, or from their spouse on the field with them, saying ‘you have to come home, we’re not doing well’ or ‘the kids aren’t doing well’. And they think, I can’t come home right now, or this person will die. If we take a vacation, more people will die. There’s this level of feeling responsible to represent the Lord in the hospital. And they feel accountable to this,” Rick shares, clearly burdened.
What happens to many, Rick says, is that their professional, spiritual, and relational lives start to fall apart. In his interviews with grant recipients as they came off the field, he saw the toll with his own eyes. He recognized that something needed to be done.
MedSend creates The Summit
“Around 2012 Dave Stevens of Christian Medical & Dental Associations called a meeting with representatives of several large missions’ organizations, and we went around the room and asked what percent of their missionaries are in healthcare. Generally, they answered around 10-12%,” Rick says. Being a businessperson by training, Rick at once realized that it’s very difficult to marshal resources and create transformational change for only 10% of an organization. This gave him an idea.
“God again spoke to me and said, ‘don’t push them away, bring them together’.”
At the time, MedSend had 75 mission sending organizations as partners. Each organization had paid a one-time fee that gave them the right to send an application on behalf of a healthcare professional to the MedSend board for consideration to receive an educational grant. Those 75 organizations didn’t necessarily all know or have connections with each other. Rick realized MedSend had been built by God into a strategic resource that had connections to every one of them.
In those days MedSend was a very small organization, staff-wise. There was no way for the tiny staff to tackle functioning as the liaison between 75 organizations. At first, Rick wrestled with the idea that he needed to whittle down their partners to a more manageable 10-12, but God had a better plan.
“God again spoke to me and said, ‘don’t push them away, bring them together’,” Rick reveals. Following God’s direction, MedSend collaborated with the Christian Medical & Dental Associations [CMDA] and organized a first-of-its-kind yearly conference named The Global Healthcare Missions Leadership Conference, otherwise known as The Summit.
“We really wanted those that saw healthcare as a strategic initiative within their organization,” Rick explains. “People showed up with grateful hearts, because they didn’t know one another. All of us were toiling in the same sandbox, but we didn’t know each other. We had no insight into what other organizations were doing or what they were experiencing, or what their healthcare professionals were experiencing. And for the first time, we created an opportunity for the leadership of healthcare missions to come together to talk about common struggles. To talk about ideas that others could share.”
This September 2023 will be the 9th annual Summit, with about 100 individuals from 60+ mission sending organizations and other interested parties coming together to talk about new opportunities. Over the years, Rick says the results have been outstanding.
“There it was–the power of all of us together, moving forward, looking for common opportunity.”
“God made it clear that we were one of the unique organizations in global health care missions that had enough relationships to bring us all together. All so that we could think bigger, we could move faster, and clearly see how the ground rules were changing,” Rick states. “All Glory to God. He built this thing in such a way that the founders didn’t originally see it, I didn’t see it. Then all of a sudden, there it was–the power of all of us together, moving forward, looking for common opportunity.”
MedSend Launches The Longevity Project
Once collaboration among the agencies and organizations was established, Rick knew it was time to find solutions to what he was seeing in the missionaries coming off the field. There was universal recognition of the depth of the problem. “They saw the same level of what I thought was burnout but would come to find out was more PTSD. These were individuals that needed intense and intentional therapy. And it just, it broke my heart,” he confesses.
Rick would sit across the desk from these young doctors and healthcare workers and see his four daughters in their faces. He would listen to their stories of going to intensely difficult and dangerous parts of the world to bring the love of Jesus through healthcare and end up searching his own soul.
“I would hear their stories, and I couldn’t help but ask myself, am I doing the very best that I can with MedSend’s relationships and our resources to take care of that person, to set them up to have the best possible experience? Knowing what I know? And I’m afraid the answer for several years was no, I wasn’t. We could do better,” he admits.
“These needs are intense. What they face is very difficult.”
Leveraging MedSend’s relationships across all sending agencies for healthcare missions, Rick and the board created The Longevity Project. After a few years of testing and interruptions from Covid, the program officially launched in July 2023
“Some of these agencies are very large and have a lot of resources. None of them are really in a position to focus on the specific needs of healthcare missionaries who only represent 10% of their organization,” Rick says. “These needs are intense. What they face is very difficult.”
The Longevity Project is a new way of coming alongside healthcare missionaries and their sending agencies. MedSend awards a financial grant that a healthcare missionary can use to get the support they need, covering a large range of services. The missionary can set up counseling through vetted organizations, staffed with healthcare missions trauma trained counselors, online or in person. And that’s just the beginning, Rick explains. There are 10 different types of support that the missionary can customize to their needs, or their family’s needs. The most utilized feature of The Longevity Project to date is the MedRefresh retreat.
“If you’re worn out, your family needs you, or you need to spend more quality time with the Lord, you can use your grant for MedRefresh,” Rick shares. “We keep hearing the missionaries say ‘I’m leaving the MedRefresh revived in a way that I could not have dreamed possible when I made the decision to participate,” he says, encouraged at the response so far.
If you’re a MedSend donor, Rick has something he wants you to know.
“These healthcare professionals serving in the name of Christ want to commend you for your intentionality in supporting them,” he begins. “They are doing miraculous things in very, very difficult circumstances. And I can assure you, they only have one agenda: to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in a hurting and broken world. That is it. They take themselves and their families into difficult and dangerous places in this world and their mental and spiritual health suffers because of it. You are helping us to support them, to come alongside them.”
MedSend is excited about this new ministry, and Rick sees God’s hand on it. “We’re trusting the Lord is going to guide us. We’re in a pilot, the same way that we rolled out the National Scholars program. We’re looking for God to guide us, we’re taking it slowly, we’re not overextending our reach,” he assures. “I do believe that this will be a transformative part of the ministry of MedSend. It’s going to allow us to move faster, we will think bigger, and things will change.”
Coming Soon: Part 4 of Rick’s Journey with MedSend
Healthcare remains the only form of access as a Christian witness in many countries.
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