The recent Ebola outbreak has already claimed many lives and headlines, as countries like Japan rush to create effective vaccines. In the midst of this epidemic was a controversial revelation that some Christian missionaries had decided to remain in the effected areas in order to assist victims of the virus. It is not the purpose of this survival guide entry to ascertain whether or not these believers were hearing from God, but to address the very real health threats that exist for missionaries and the precautions to take.
Though the prospect of the missionary call may conjure up images of exotic locales and wonderful food, which are not unreasonable expectations, there is also disease, allergies and injury to be found as well. Not every leading of the Holy Spirit will be to a metropolis or cosmopolitan urban jungle; many called to this life also enter third world countries, places with developing economies and sometimes shockingly outdated healthcare. A missionary’s passion may be to see that change by the power of Christ, but it won’t if the Lord’s vessel has no strength for God to use (that’s you!). So, start with researching the recommended vaccinations for your post and allow for the several months that some of them may require to get before leaving home. If you will be working while overseas, don’t skip the health insurance option, as some do, but bite the financial bullet. When you’re young and strong, it’s easy to feel that you don’t need it, until you do that is.
Even with those precautions, maintaining a strong immune system is paramount in protecting your health overseas, especially for the missionary who may often travel from place to place. That very act of traveling; with its stresses, sudden changes in diet and exposure to germs and carriers of disease, like mosquitoes, can be a detriment to your body’s health. Ebola, Dengue fever, Typhoid fever, and many more thrive in their respective environments, environments that your immune system may not be accustomed to. Don’t waste time worrying about why you can’t bounce along in daily life so easily, as the natives do. Their bodies are conditioned for life there, so start building up yours as well: exercise; if you didn’t at home you have an even greater reason to do so now, reduce greasy foods, get lots of Vitamin C and zinc, the latter of which can be found in eggs, dairy products, red meat and legumes. Some other foods that do the trick include miso, ginger, garlic, green tea and yogurt. Why wait until you’re in the middle of it all to start? Spend a month adopting this new lifestyle before entering your missions post. Take it from someone with a ‘two bouts of pneumonia and week-long hospital stay’ notch on his belt; the immune system is your first line of defense.
Speaking of that last experience, it’s good to know where all the hospitals are in your city or town, especially the best ones. Four years ago, a trip in an ambulance surrounded by medics who didn’t speak my language landed me in the worst, I was later told. A flurry of hi-jinx ensued that week including a bed that I had to manually crank myself (yes, crank, a killer for someone who had sharp lung pain at the time), and a nurse whose needle went on a prolonged search for a vein in my particularly veiny arm. After nearly 10 minutes, a mixture of pain and dumbfounded frustration forced me to ring for her superior, who got the job done in one go I might add. Once again, make sure to ask around about quality hospitals and if you can’t remember the name, get it written down in the native language, just in case you have to flash it to a medic or taxi driver in an emergency. This might not be so easy, as in some countries dissing a homegrown establishment to a foreigner may be frowned upon. Still, keep asking.
We will revisit various aspects of this topic in the future, but I do hope this article helps serve as a lesson in taking your health seriously in the mission fields. Of course, the prayers of your ministry and family are invaluable, but preemptive care of your body as well as keeping your ministry and work contacts close will help in avoiding similar experiences, ensuring the best health care and recovery for the Lord’s servant.