More than 50 years ago Msgr. Anthony Brouwers, of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, learned from various bishops in Africa of the pressing need for professional medical personnel willing to work and teach in hospitals throughout that continent. Responding to this need, Msgr. Brouwers founded the Lay Mission-Helpers Association in 1955 and the Mission Doctors Association (MDA) in 1959.The Mission Doctors Association now provides opportunities for medical doctors and their families to serve long term (three years) or short term (three months) in hospitals and clinics in Africa and Latin America. The requirements for participating doctors are that they be practicing Catholics and U.S. citizens. (Good physical and mental health is assumed). The doctors include general practitioners, pediatricians, surgeons, OB/BYN, ophthalmologists, dentists and others.
The Lay Mission-Helpers Association is a sister program which provides opportunities for service overseas for other professionals such as nurses, teachers and administrators.
In the past half-century, over 700 lay missionaries have served in 35 countries on those two continents. MDA chronicles the life-enriching experiences of these generous souls in its annual newsletter, “Heal The Sick”. In the 2009 edition which is available on the organization’s website—www.missiondoctors.org—visitors can read about the tours of duty of these dedicated doctors in Uganda, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Guatemala , El Salvador, Papua New Guinea and Ghana.
One couple, both doctors, write that serving in a mission setting with their children is a chance to know life “without materialism” and that hearing the same familiar Mass in foreign countries is a powerful reminder of the unified Body of Christ. Another observes that in the call to bind the wounds of those who are very poor and suffering around the world, we continue to heal our own weaknesses and bring ourselves nearer to Christ.
And, it is more than medical care these committed professionals bring. They also bring hearts full of compassion. As stated in the newsletter: “Compassionate care that gives dignity, especially to the poor, is the responsibility of every Catholic.”
Of course, what enables the Mission Doctors Association to place and support these medical personnel in these far away countries for both short and long term commitments is the financial help MDA receives from donors. Elise Frederick, the executive director of MDA puts it this way:
“Today, many doctors and their families motivated by their faith leave home, family and friends; set aside their practice to share their professional skills at mission hospitals and clinics. Equally important, others, also motivated by faith, have ensured that the doctor’s work is possible with their financial and prayerful support.”
It is not uncommon for people who serve in organizations like Mission Doctors Association to report that they receive much more than they give and that they learn much more than they teach. In the advance of the Kingdom perhaps the students are the teachers.