During twenty-five years of medical practice in Kenya, I worked in Christian mission hospitals, private practice and in a national teaching hospital. I observed how wasteful some short-term medical missions could be:

  • Some came with the donations of inappropriate and even outdated medical equipment. In one incident a group arrived with a large supply of adult suppositories, a formulation hated by rural Kenyans who did not have running water, let alone access to disposable gloves.
  • At least one group included highly specialized personnel to an institution lacking the equipment and staffing appropriate to the specialist’s skills.
  • On many occasions we lost valuable national staff work days as routines were changed to cater for special clinics by visiting specialists who did not return the next year.

The hosts had hastily accepted the offers of assistance without evaluating the long-term value of hosting the medical teams, in light of local priorities. Wasteful situations such as these can be avoided by adopting a long-term perspective and serving on short-term missions that operate through long-term projects. The value of some short-term medical missions has been questioned by discerning people who were on those very missions.

Long-term commitment is a core value of EMAS Canada.

“Our teams are led by people who are committed to serving on long-term projects. EMAS teams work best when they make it a priority to build lasting relationships. We impact the health of communities through education and service by dedicating ourselves to realistic goals in long-term partnerships.”

At EMAS we have learned that working on long-term projects:

  1. Allows us to assure continuity of service
  2. Gives us the opportunity to provide relevant resources and personnel
  3. Gives our hosts the opportunity to plan goals with us
  4. Enables us to select mature team members with a commitment to missions
  5. Develop lasting relationships within the team and with the hosting partner

An EMAS surgical team serving in Asia, will be celebrating twenty-five years of service this summer. Many of the members of the team who traveled in 1993 are still active participants traveling twice a year on the team. Team members unable to travel on account for various reasons remain engaged assisting as fundraisers, prayer partners, and as ambassadors for the team.

Our China South surgical team serves patients with deforming and disabling congenital and acquired abnormalities. These patients have often been neglected to the point that their chronic conditions need multiple operations and prolonged rehabilitation.

The approach typical of many short-term medical missions to go in for one to two weeks and perform as many operations/see as many patients as possible, without a plan to return to the same location would be inappropriate: the pressure to show results based on a single two-week visit would mean a focus on “cases” operated on without attention to the whole person. It would also mean our team would be open to the temptation to take on easy cases while ignoring the more complicated patients, some who need prolonged post operative rehabilitation through physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

China South Surgical Team providing care and comfort for patients

Adopting the long-term perspective has made time our friend:

Knowing that we will make multiple visits, planned for well in advance means that we can continue to provide for the care of the neediest patients and participate in the progressive training of local healthcare personnel.

Several years ago, EMAS invested funds to bring trainers from Thailand to aid in the development of local capacity in the construction and fitting of artificial lower limbs in southern China. Subsequently the multiple visits needed for fitting and evaluating the prostheses allowed the then resident missionaries to have several opportunities to deepen their relationships with these post-operative patients and to explain the gospel to them.

A career missionary serving in Asia speaking about an EMAS surgical team, had this to say when he reported how EMAS post operative patients had become gainfully employed:

“Medical treatments, prosthetics and physical therapy enable the disabled person to eventually obtain employment and increase their potential for happy and independent life.”

We do not disregard the risk that patients may suffer harm from substandard care, therefore we take up temporary local licensure, assuring the local authorities of our dedication to quality by allowing them to control who provides clinical care. We monitor quality of care by reviewing our patients during subsequent visits where possible, and we work in close partnership with local physicians who provide post-op care.

EMAS Teams aim for to the same quality of care they give when they serve in Canada.

It is the knowledge by Ecuadorians that we are doing life-long missions through initiatives like our twenty-year old Esperanza team, which encourages people to come to Cuenca for corrective reoperations not otherwise available locally. Patients know that they can rely on our team to provide the care.

Long-term projects are what allow EMAS teams to have a lasting impact through short-term missions, even teams as small as the Hand in Hand with Haiti Team.

To make good use of our God-given talents and resources we have found that planning for long-range engagement is rewarding for both our overseas partners and our Canadian volunteers.

A physician and surgeon in his native Kenya, Peter has a passion for Christ-centred healthcare and has a wealth of experience both hosting and sending short-term mission teams.


Executive Director’s Blog