For 23 years, Randy Oliver worked exclusively in the United States as a family physician. But a medical missions conference changed the course of his life. Over the past decade, the Illinois doctor has gone on multiple mission trips to treat patients and share the gospel, including trips to Ukraine and Uganda this year.
Oliver had dismissed the notion of attending the MedAdvance conference three times before finally deciding to attend the three-day meeting hosted by the International Mission Board in 2007. Once there, it didn’t take long for Oliver to feel the weight of the images he saw and the stories he heard.
“I must not have been there for more than a couple hours before seeing, wholly and fully, the importance and mandatory need for missions,” he said. “For me, medical missions was no longer optional.”
Since that conference, Oliver has traveled to Nepal, Brazil, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Mali, and Niger with several different mission teams, including his church, First Baptist Church of Metropolis. He even has a saying: “Once I finish a trip, I start planning for the next one.”
“When God began to mobilize our church toward international missions, he used Dr. Oliver to do it,” said Cliff Easter, associate pastor at the Metropolis church. “Since then, there aren’t many places in the world God hasn’t used Randy and his medical skills to spread the gospel.”
On a recent trip, Oliver joined forces with Baptist Global Response (BGR) in eastern Ukraine, where the war in Donbass is still in a smoldering phase. BGR is an arm of the International Mission Board established to deliver aid to people and places in great need.
“The economy in eastern Ukraine is not so great,” Oliver said. “Because of the current and past crises, many people are displaced from their natural homes and living in more poverty than they otherwise would.”
The medical conditions plaguing people in Ukraine are similar to those in the West, but are often untreated and ignored. “Many of the illnesses we dealt with were chronic,” Oliver said, “such as diabetes and hypertension.”
But while doctors and medications are readily available in the U.S., they aren’t in eastern Ukraine. Oliver’s team, consisting of five healthcare professionals and an IMB missionary, saw patients, prescribed medications, and shared about Jesus. After their 5-day trip, Oliver said, “It’s really up to the missionaries to water what we’ve sown.”
Medical missions can gain a foot in the door where other international missions efforts can’t, Oliver said. In some countries, the need for healthcare opens doors that were previously closed. “Medical personnel and supplies taken on mission trips are a bait for spreading the gospel,” he said.
Oliver fears there may come a time when even medical missions can’t cross barriers imposed by government or culture. But that day isn’t here yet, he said. “And we as Christians need to grab that and seize the opportunity now and make it happen as much as we can.”
Over the last five years, Oliver’s goal for medical missions has grown. He wants others to catch the same vision he has, and to get involved. The doctor has connected with a group of churches in southern Illinois and western Kentucky that are working together to develop medical missions initiatives and strategies.
“God has used Randy’s medical skills to spread the gospel,” Easter said. “But when he’s here, he is constantly challenging our church people to use whatever talents and skills they have to serve the Lord in missions.”
Even people who aren’t equipped to participate in a medical mission trip directly can help by supporting teams that go, Oliver said. “Christ himself used medical missions as one of his tools to spread the gospel,” he said. “The Bible is so full of Christ’s instructions to preach and heal. It’s a message that doesn’t get old-fashioned.”
The doctor described the enormity of gratitude and appreciation the patients feel for their treatments. “You give them the second-best thing they could ever ask for: a return to physical health,” Oliver said. “And once you’ve given them the physical, it’s an easier transition to give them the spiritual.”
After every trip, Oliver said he comes home feeling more blessed than he could ever bless someone else. The smiles from the people and their gratitude for the medical care is touching and so different than practicing medicine in America, Oliver said. “To know that maybe something was said or done and that a church will be built, or a soul will come to Christ,” he said, “what more can you want?”