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Free to Serve

Imagine if more medical missionaries weren’t weighed down with debt. Find out how these four alumni moved directly into ministry. by Annette Heinrich LaPlaca ‘86

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Eden, Abraham, Molly, and Karla were elementary kids in 1988, not yet dreaming of careers in the neediest parts of the world. That’s when Dr. Dan Fountain spent a year as missionary- scholar-in-residence at Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center. While writing about how healthcare promotes worldwide evangelism, Dr. Fountain became preoccupied with the biggest obstacle keeping healthcare workers from the mission field: debt acquired during long years of education and residencies.


Shane and Eden Neely Niles ’00

familyWhen Eden and her husband Shane got excited about a Navigators ministry that would take them to Senegal, their sending agency told them, “It’s too hard to raise support and pay student loans,” says Eden, a kinesiologist who worked as a health educator for a nonprofit organization. But then the mission told the couple about a grant program that repays student loans for medical and healthcare workers in ministry: MedSend.

Dr. Fountain and a small board of directors began MedSend in 1992 with hopes of raising a million dollars to send out 32 missionaries unencumbered with education debt. The result has surprised everyone. Since that time, MedSend has raised $15 million and launched more than 500 workers into ministry.

Because they didn’t have to wait while repaying student loans, Eden and Shane, now with three children, have ministered for ten years among an unreached people group in Senegal, where perceptions about Christians and God are slowly changing. Eden describes their work as “clearing the land, getting the field ready.”

While Eden works in healthcare, Shane, a graduate of Moody Bible Institute with a B.A. in missiology, focuses his efforts on community development. With other members of their team, they try to get to know every family in their village. “Little by little, they see our hearts,” says Eden. Despite the villagers’ distrust of Western influence, one family allowed the team to drive their son to a clinic for treatment. The boy’s finger was infected after an accident with a machete, and the missionaries feared the infection might reach his bones. Though the boy lost that finger, his hand and arm were saved—and trust for the missionaries grew.

Another young woman was constantly battling severe malaria. With Eden’s encouragement to treat her earliest symptoms and to take medications in a pill form regularly at home rather than traveling so often to the clinic for I.V. treatment, the young woman’s body steadily strengthened. Today she is rarely sick.

The couple’s work in the village seeks to help not only each whole person—body, mind, and spirit—but also the entire community. “It’s about showing people that faith affects every part of life,” Eden explains. She believes some of their neighbors now really long to follow God, as they begin to ask, “Does God have a plan for our village?”


Abraham ’01 and Molly Smith ’01

Woman and childAbraham and Molly [not their real names], a health educator and a schoolteacher, currently serve among immigrants and refugees in a community near Detroit with the largest concentration of Muslims in the United States. They began their ministry, with a head start from MedSend, in a Muslim-majority country in western Africa.

“Even while I was an undergraduate, I consulted with MedSend about financial decisions, budgeting, and insurance,” says Abraham. His internship for a master’s in public health took him to West Africa, where he helped evaluate and improve a health education program and launch a children’s nutrition pilot program in a severely malnourished community. The missionaries sought to equip communities to meet their own health and nutrition needs in a sustainable way. Abraham observed how micro-enterprise bettered the lives of families by granting them access to improved plows, mosquito nets, and other items too costly for many to purchase in a lump sum.

BrosAbraham and Molly returned to that same country within two years after Abraham finished his degree. There Abraham helped disciple a new believer who would later become a leader among Christians coming from a Muslim background. He also helped disciple the first person from a certain unreached people group to trust Christ in that region—a man with whom Abraham had shared his faith during his earlier, short-term service. But Abraham and Molly’s deepest thrill came from their part in assisting their Muslim house helper to entrust her life to Christ. They loved seeing her enthusiastically share the good news with her family.

Regarding their time in West Africa, Molly says, “God taught us through great hardship the most important lesson of our lives. His deep love not only for the lost, but also for us is apart from what we could offer him or how well we ‘succeed.’ He was doing something so much greater than the small contribution he allowed us to have.”


Karla Torres PSY.D. ’07

KarlaIntent on integrating her faith into the practice of psychology and promoting the cause of the underserved, Karla Torres PSY.D. ’07 chose Wheaton’s graduate program in psychology because her goals lined up precisely with those of the program.

Her coursework soon led her to Chicago’s Lawndale Christian Health Center, where there was need for a bilingual psychologist. She’s been there ever since—about six years.

“I probably couldn’t be here without the help of MedSend and the legacy of the consortium [the Chicago Area Christian Training Consortium, started by a group of Wheaton PSY.D. alumni],” she says.

Early on, she was assigned to counsel a pastor who had left his ministry because of an addiction and marital crisis. “Addiction is one of the more challenging problems to treat, and I was still a ‘rookie.’ But both that patient and I experienced God’s power and grace in weakness,” says Karla.

“After an appropriate period of successful recovery, he returned with his wife for marital counseling. God continued the healing. I saw his transforming hand over this couple.” Free from addiction and restored to his family, this pastor has returned to ministry and has even come in to pray for Karla. “It was God’s work come full circle in both of our lives,” says Karla.

Two years ago, when Karla accepted the post of director of behavioral health at Lawndale, she prayed that God would use her to provide more young doctoral students with similar training opportunities and mentoring that would encourage them to provide care for the underserved. At that time, there were only five clinicians working at four sites in the Lawndale ministry. Today six licensed clinicians, seven doctoral-level students, and one undergraduate student work in the program. “It’s so important to communicate the vision early so that the young develop a desire to serve—cross- culturally or among the marginalized.

“When I feel myself weary under the weight of endless needs, I am renewed by remembering that others have forged the way for me,” says Karla, referring in part to MedSend, which has alleviated the burden of her student loans.

Dr. Dan Fountain passed away in February 2013, but his idea continues to launch Wheaton’s graduates—and many others—into effective ministries in the U.S. and around the globe.

To learn more about MedSend, visit medsend.org.

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