By Bill Knott
It’s what we whisper when we do our deepest praying.
It’s what we chorus when we hear truth powerfully proclaimed.
It’s what we offer when we willingly give assent.
Amen—the affirmation of agreement, faith’s way of saying “Yes!”
And for all those reasons, the acronym of one of Adventism’s most interesting and inspiring professional organizations—the Adventist Medical Evangelism Network.1
“I was 10 years out of medical school and seven years out of residency, but I wasn’t satisfied,” says Dr. Wendell Heidinger, a family practice physician from Klamath Falls, Oregon. “By then I had tried ER medicine, private practice, group practice, urgent care, Native American health care, but I couldn’t find the right place to answer God’s call through my profession.”
Invited by friends to attend the 2005 Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASI) convention in Sacramento, California, Heidinger attended a luncheon lecture on the topic of medical evangelism and found himself intrigued.
“I realized that I really didn’t have any understanding of the gospel as it interacts with medicine,” he admits, “or even what the concept of ‘medical evangelism’ means. I’ve been an Adventist all my life, and I really didn’t understand any of it. That was a bit embarrassing,” he says with a slow grin.
For the next three years Heidinger lived with a growing conviction that God was calling him to use his medical training to be a medical evangelist. “I was convicted to the point where I resigned my position in a group practice, and went out and set up my own solo practice so that I could truly implement medical evangelism.”
Saying “Amen” to the Spirit’s persistent call in his life changed many things for the doctor. “I probably make about half the money I used to, but that’s not a big deal, because I’m at complete peace,” he smiles. “I absolutely know that I’m doing what God wants me to do now, and I’ve never had that conviction before.”
Heidinger’s patients have noticed the changes since he focused his family practice on offering both spiritual and physical healing.
A Pastor Prescribes: Evangelist and Adventist Review editor-at large Mark Finley preached to an overflow at the AMEN Conference Sabbath morning worship service October 30 in San Diego, California. [Photo: John Shin]
“When I first opened my new practice, my old patients who were coming to see me said, ‘Doctor, you’re completely different.’ When I disagreed, they reiterated: ‘No, no—you are different.’ They recognized a much bigger difference in me and the way I practiced medicine than even I understood. Now they notice that the office atmosphere is very different. They notice that we try to be kind, to be loving, to practice Christian virtues. They see the beautiful Nathan Greene painting called The Difficult Case, which shows Jesus leaning over the shoulder of a thoughtful physician. It all makes an impression, and they comment on it.
“Now I feel free where I can and where it’s appropriate to frequently introduce spirituality. I tell my patients that this office is interested not only in their physical health but also in their spiritual health. As an outgrowth of that, we conduct a weekly Bible study, to which I invite my patients.”
“I’m completely caught up with the plan of trying to integrate my faith with my medical practice, to win souls for Christ,” Heidinger says softly. “There’s nothing more satisfying—no greater elation than that.”
A former board member of the AMEN organization, Heidinger hopes to guide the rapidly growing organization into closer cooperation with local pastors and church leaders, who may now join AMEN as associate members. AMEN’s leaders repeatedly underscore the importance of the counsel given by Ellen White, cofounder of the church, in many articles and public presentations: “Every medical practitioner may through faith in Christ have in his possession a cure of the highest value, a remedy for the sin-sick soul.”2
With an annual conference attendance of 500 and a total membership of more than 220, AMEN is reviving Adventism’s historic understanding of combining medical care and spiritual health on a scale not seen in North America for at least four decades.
The young organization’s mission statement builds on foundational Adventist understanding of prophecy, mission, and health: “The Adventist Medical Evangelism Network (AMEN) exists to motivate, train, and equip Seventh-day Adventist physicians and dentists to become effective medical evangelists who will unite with lay people, pastors, and church administration in taking the ‘everlasting gospel’ (Rev. 14:6-12) to the entire world in these last hours of earth’s history.”
Dr. Naren James, a family practice physician who helped to found AMEN and served as its president from 2005 to 2008, understands the mission of the professional organization as an extension of a personal call to discipleship. Writing for the Medical Evangelist, AMEN’s quarterly publication (also available online), he notes: “Over the past five years I have gone through a transition as I restudied the Gospels. I have been impressed by Jesus’ ministry and personally convicted to emulate it in my personal and professional life. . . . I firmly believe that physicians and dentists can make an incredible impact around the world if we truly begin to make medical evangelism the focus of our practices.”
VISION FOR THE FUTURE: Dr. Phil Mills, AMEN president, at the San Diego conference. [Photo: John Shin]
“The upsurge of interest and support for AMEN among Adventist medical professionals and ministry leaders has been wonderful—and humbling,” says AMEN executive director Skip Dodson. A pastor for 10 years in Pennsylvania, Dodson left a doctoral program at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary to serve as the day-to-day manager of the organization because of his personal convictions about integrating Adventist doctrine with biblical principles of health. As news about AMEN has spread throughout the United States and internationally, the group’s leaders have dreamed of creating even more resources to assist Adventist medical professionals in sharing the gospel with their patients. The organization’s Web site (www.amensda.org) offers a wide array of print and video materials to assist health professionals who want their medical or dental practice to count for God’s kingdom.
“For more than two years AMEN leaders have also dreamed of launching a television network that provides top-quality lifestyle education in combination with Adventist understandings of Scripture,” Dodson says, “and now that dream is becoming a reality.” The Life and Health Network (Galaxy 19 satellite, and www.lifeandhealthnetwork.org) offers both television and Web-based video programming that focuses on depression recovery; diabetes; vegetarian cooking; childhood obesity; and health and fitness, among other topics.
Dr. Phil Mills, current AMEN president and a dermatologist practicing in Calhoun, Georgia, underlines the essentially Adventist nature of the rapidly growing organization as it supports and resources hundreds of members. In a 2009 presentation he spoke to the central purposes of supporting Adventist health professionals as they blend high-quality physical care with focused spiritual care:
“The medical missionary is giving a message from God, about God. It is a message about a God who cares about our cares, now. It is about a God who wants to give us health, now, and give us perfect health, in eternity and for eternity. Medical missionary work tells about a God who is removing the diseases that result from transgression and the gospel tells of a God that is removing the guilt that results from sin. Medical missionary work brings faith in a God who doesn’t wait for the future to give us a better life, but begins that better life now. Medical missionary work teaches us to trust in His future promises by showing us His present promises are true.”
All to which a growing number of Adventist health professionals around the U.S—and around the world—are saying a hearty “AMEN.”
1 Adventist Medical Evangelism Network is an independent ministry that supports the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 229.
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published December 9, 2010.