Medical and Spiritual Healing Blend to Save Lives

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Belize lies on the eastern coastline of Central America, bordered on the north by Mexico, on the west and south by Guatemala. In a rural Belize village, the sun's heat brought sweat to Dr. Holt Crews's brow as he removed a fish spear from a man's foot. The concrete medical clinic had no air conditioner. Open windows and stationary fans were used to cool off the clinic's staff and patients.

Three days a week Dr. Crews, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology, provided medical care to villagers lining up in the Mission to the World (MTW) clinic. The clinic had one family physician that had been at the clinic for three years and was staffed by a various number of nurses. The clinic also had an administrator, and one of the locals served as Dr. Crews's assistant. On the days he was not in the clinic, Dr. Crews worked one day a week in surgery at the local hospital and one day a week in a public OB-GYN clinic in the afternoon.

From August 14, 2002 until June 14, 2003, Dr. Crews, his wife and their three boys lived in Belize. The village was poor, but there was plenty of food and "the villagers made the best out of what they had," he said. Dr. Crews was on a mission to help people, but in turn, he was just as blessed.

Throughout high school and college years, Dr. Crews would travel on medical mission trips with his father, an internist. When Crews chose medicine as a profession, he felt a calling to do mission work. After completing medical school at the University of Tennessee and residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 2002, Dr. Crews, with the encouragement of his wife, Sidney, started seeking a place to serve as a medical missionary. His father attended a mission conference where he learned that MTW was looking for a medical missionary in Belize.

"Ever since I decided to do missionary work, I wanted to set aside a year to serve. It worked out great between residency and before starting a practice because I didn't have to leave patients. My wife and I knew that we weren't called for life-long missionary work but wanted to commit time to serve the Lord," Dr. Crews said.

MTW is the mission-sending agency of the Presbyterian Church of America that helps fulfill the Great Commission by advancing reformed and covenantal church-planting movements in strategic areas worldwide. MTW advances the work of the body of Christ worldwide through a wide variety of word and deed ministries by identifying, selecting, training and sending men and women and integrating these into church-planting movements.

Missionaries Tom, a Kosciusko, Miss. native, and Helen Lacy, spent 35 years in Belize. They established churches, an elementary school and a medical clinic. About 10 years ago Tom passed away, and MTW took over the clinic for Helen. There was a need for a physician, and Dr. Crews accepted the call.

"I was anxious to serve and help provide medical care to people that didn't have much access to care," Dr. Crews added. "I wasn't sure if I would serve as an OB, OBGYN or just a general physician. I used this as an opportunity to practice medicine while witnessing to people and supporting the ministry there."

Ninety to 95 percent of Dr. Crews's cases were GYN related. The clinic as a whole would see 30 to 55 patients each day. A big challenge he faced in Belize was the lack of technology.

"Here you get so dependent on technology, but there, it would cost $100 for ultrasound, and it wasn't readily available. We had very limited access to resources. It made me selective about who I would order an ultrasound for and made me more dependent on my physical exam and clinical intuition," Dr. Crews added.

In addition to treating typical GYN cases, Dr. Crews and the staff had to treat general medical problems. "We repaired many machete wounds," he added. "Plus, we had to deal with emergency cases that normally you wouldn't handle in a clinic."

Dr. Crews said that it was a remarkable experience. Elders from the church would come to the waiting room and talk to patients and witness to them. While trying to heal patients, Dr. Crews would address Christianity with them.

"Witnessing would blend in with the medical care we would give. We would answer questions and get residents plugged into one of the local churches," he said. "On this mission, I was going to help people, but I think I got more out of this than the people I helped. It made me realize that I'm not in control of things. God is in control. There were several times I was ready to go home, but I could just feel God's presence was working with me. I was right where I belonged."

One lady came to the clinic bleeding and having a miscarriage. Dr. Crews performed a Dilation and Curettage (D&C). While Dr. Crews was packing and getting ready to come back to the States, the lady's husband and their sons came back to see Dr. Crews and thanked him for saving his wife's life. The husband told Dr. Crews that he didn't want to be like the ten lepers that Jesus healed in Luke 17:11-19. Only one of the lepers thanked Jesus. The husband told Dr. Crews that he didn't want to be like the other nine lepers.

Dr. Crews said just seeing the people's faith and their appreciation of what they have made an impact on him. The mission humbled Dr. Crews, and that keeps him grounded. He returned to Jackson, Miss. realizing how much we take for granted. On August 1, 2003, he started his practice at The Woman's Clinic.

"We've been given a lot more than we need, and the mission made me think about that. The people in Belize are so open and humble. It just makes you feel so blessed," he said.

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