By Stan Friedman
BO KLUA, THAILAND (October 30, 2013) — A recent order by health officials instructing outside groups to immediately refrain from providing direct medical care in this city is “a huge blow” to the work of Covenant missionary and physician Bob Shim, he says.
The Nan Province Ministry of Health issued the order following the death of a child that has been blamed on an outside medical group not connected with the work of Shim or the Sustainable Development and Research Foundation, a Thai organization that was started by Covenant missionary Jim Gustafson.
“We have long partnered with the Thai health authorities and previously have had their blessing for our activities, but the actions of a few outside groups acting on their own have now led to this messy situation stemming from the death of a child,” he says. “The local authorities now have no choice but to include us along with all other groups under these new regulations.”
The SDRF provides medical assistance, consultation, and other resources for development including agriculture, animal husbandry, and veterinary medicine, as well as outreach teams for under-served youth.
Shim’s primary ministry is in Bo Klua, which consists of 53 small remote villages of 200 to 1,000 people each, most of whom are Lua hill tribe people. All together, about 13,000 Lua live in the villages.
Most of the Lua eke out a living as mountain rice farmers, Shim says. Few have access to healthcare or modern resources.
Many of the villages are remote and only accessible by mountainous, dirt roads. “I pack all my gear and medications in the back of a four-wheel-drive truck and often function as a traveling clinic,” says Shim, who has been partnering with the Thai Public Health Department to provide basic primary care along with public health development.
“I address medical problems that can be dealt with outside of the hospital and are typical to poor rural communities in Thailand such as infectious diseases, aches and pains, parasites, and minor trauma,” Shim says.
“Although I only see a handful of patients when I travel to villages, partnering with medical teams from Covenant churches in the U.S. has allowed us to provide large-scale medical clinics fairly regularly to the community,” Shim says. “A medical team typically enters four to five villages and provides free diagnosis and treatment for a whole day. Prior teams have seen 300-800 patients during one trip so they literally treat entire villages.”
The SDRF typically hosts four to six teams a year, Shim says. Some of the Covenant churches that have sent teams include Newsong Church in Irvine, California; Brookwood Covenant Church in Topeka, Kansas; Great Exchange Covenant in Sunnyvale, California; and Quest Church in Seattle, Washington.
“The strategic aspect of these teams is that they not only provide access to healthcare but open doors to previously unreached villages for SDRF to then enter and build relationships,” Shim says. “On numerous occasions, this has led to further opportunities to share the gospel holistically with families in the community.”
Although the people in the villages are impoverished, “they are spiritually rich as a movement of the Holy Spirit has led more than 500 to receive Christ over the last eight years, and now there are several growing churches.”