Saturday, June 18, 2016

My Journey with SIM

I'm excited to tell you a bit more about SIM, the organization I'm going to Africa with. I'll also share more about how I found out about SIM and decided to partner with them. Throughout this post, you'll see links to other websites or to previous blog posts. These links will give you more in-depth information, and will open in a new window when clicked.

About SIM

SIM originally started in 1893 as Sudan Interior Mission, about the same time that Hudson Taylor founded the China Inland Mission. Three young men had a passion to bring the gospel to the interior of Africa, but at that time no mission agency would send people to the Sudan because the mortality rate was so high. Finally, after battling malaria and even the death of two of their group, SIM established its first mission station in 1902 in the country of Nigeria.

Since then, SIM has joined with other organizations including Ceylon and India General Mission (CIGM), Poona and Indian Village Mission (PIVM), and Africa Evangelical Fellowship (AEF). Its name has changed from Sudan Interior Mission to Society for International Ministries to simply SIM. Today, SIM has over 8,000 missionaries in over 74 countries across 6 continents. 

You can read the full history of SIM here, or watch the video below to learn more about what SIM is doing around the world.

I love how SIM has broken their mission down into three segments: Respond to Need, Proclaim the Gospel, Equip the Church. 
  • Respond to Need takes the form of medical missions, community development, sustainable agriculture, children's ministry, and disaster relief
  • Proclaiming the Gospel is in areas welcoming of the gospel as well as in areas where SIM must be more creative (formerly called "closed countries") and involves business ministry, development of media and educational material, and intentional relationship building
  • Equipping the Church includes church planting, discipleship and theological training, community education, and running international schools

My Journey with SIM

I have been familiar with SIM since I was a young child when my parents started supporting a missionary surgeon and his family serving with SIM in Nigeria. I remember seeing their photo on our refrigerator, including their family in my prayers at bedtime, and going to events when their family was back in the US on furlough (a missionary term for the several-month "vacation" missionaries take in their home country every few years). 

As I grew older, I read this surgeon's autobiography about his early years in Liberia, and when I was about 12 I remember sitting in the living room of a this family's relatives in Tyler, TX listening to a report of what God was doing in Nigeria. I heard stories about the Evangel hospital in Jos, Nigeria, advances in new surgical techniques including the struggles of doing surgery with electricity supplied from a generator, the startup of a prosthetic fabrication workshop, as well as stories of ministries to widows and orphans, street children, and women with pelvic/reproductive organ trauma. 

When I was a sophomore in college, I had to write a hypothetical grant proposal for a community development or non-profit cause. At that point in my academic career, I decided to pursue physical therapy and was extremely interested in working either with children or with those who'd had an amputation. I wanted to write my project about something uniquethen I remembered the prosthetic clinic at Evangel. As I started researching, I learned more about other ministries happening at Evangel, including something called VVF which would completely change my focus for physical therapy. You can read my paper here. By the way, when my professor handed our papers back mine with a A grade and "I hope you make this happen one day!" written at the top!

I started shadowing physical therapists that summer to get all of the observation hours required for my physical therapy school applications. I spent most of my time in outpatient orthopedic therapy clinics, and nearly every patient asked, "So you want to do this kind of therapy?" Sheepishly, I told them, "Well, no... I think I want to do missions." One therapist in particular was incredibly supportive and put me in contact with other physical therapists doing missions or humanitarian aid in Congo and India. She also recommended a book called "The Hospital by the River." A few days later, one of her patients recommended a book called "Half the Sky." Those two books changed my life. As I read about a VVF mission hospital in Ethiopia that was entirely devoted to restoring women's lives through pelvic reconstruction surgery, and read story after story of organizations around the world that were meeting needs in creative ways, my heart started ripping apart. I desperately wanted to be a part of something like that—something that changes the world. 

I spent the summer of 2010 aboard a hospital ship in West Africa. This was a wonderful exposure to the world of medical missions as well as a great introduction to Africa. I served on board in a support role as my team conducted ship tours and new crew orientations, planned crew- and ship-wide functions, and managed the housing and cabin cleaning for the never-ending stream of staff arriving and leaving. While in Africa, I got to meet dozens of nurses, physicians, and surgeons from around the world, as well as hundreds of other support staff that kept the floating city, on-board hospital, and land-based ministries running. I spent a Sunday attending Ward Church and worshiping with patients who were recovering from surgeries including tumor removal and facial reconstruction, scar tissue releases as a result of devastating burns, and children receiving treatment for cleft palate or club foot. I also attended a Dress Ceremony where I learned more about VVF and heard stories from women who had come to the ship suffering from pelvic injuries and uncontrolled urinary leakage associated with obstructed childbirth, underwent reconstructive surgery and multi-week recovery, and were able to return home to their villages and families as well a return to being part of society. You can read about that here, and here's a quote from June 22, 2010:
"... the "honeymoon period" is over. I still love it here, though. After talking with Kathy [the hospitality director] last night I realized there is NO WAY I can go back to the States and work in a PT clinic 9-5 after graduate school. I would die in that environment. Who knows where God is leading, but all I know is that He's got some amazing plans for me up His sleeve..." 

When I returned to college for my senior year, I also returned with a clear passion for women's health and using my physical therapy skills in missions. During PT school interviews that fall, I was able to confidently share my dream and I think that allowed me to stand out among the other applicants. Again, I was pursuing a unique career path; no one else wanted to do women's health physical therapy, let alone international missions right out of school!

Several people advised me to work for a period of several years after graduation here in the US before transitioning into full-time ministry. While that was hard to swallow at the time, I'm glad I've spent the last 2.5 years working stateside. I've been in a small town with a wonderful group of coworkers and I've been exposed to a wide variety of medical conditions (acute strokes, chronic back pain, workplace injuries, sports injuries, car accidents), ages of patients (2 weeks old to 96 years old), and practice settings (including in-patient rehab, ICU, outpatient, and aquatics).

So, how did I end up with SIM? Well, after hearing about the Global Health Missions Conference from our SIM missionary surgeon friend for many years, I decided to check it out. Last November, my parents and I went to the three-day event in Kentucky and heard from some amazing speakers, attended 18 different breakout sessions, and networked with hundreds of organizations that were all seeking healthcare professionals to join their work around the world. Before the conference, I searched the list of participating organizations to find ones that were involved in Africa, had opportunities for physical therapists, and were doing VVF reconstructive surgeries... And there were 3! One day over lunch, my parents and I sat down with this mission couple and other SIM staff; afterwards, my parents and I looked at each other and said, "We think this is the right place!"

In the past few months as I've progressed through the preliminary application, phone interview, doctrinal questionnaire, formal application, psychological assessment, SIM Start training, and in-person interviews, I'm more and more convinced that this is the organization I need to be with. I'm excited to be joining a well-established organization with a wonderful reputation for missionary care, commitment to the communities and countries where it serves, and following God's leading in a multi-faceted approach to Responding to Need, Proclaiming the Gospel, and Equipping the Church.

In upcoming posts, I'll share more about VVF, what I will be doing as a physical therapist in missions, the SIM Start training I attended in May, and my upcoming trip to visit SIM hospitals in Nigeria and Niger.

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