When Dr. Rebekah Naylor answered God’s call to missionary service in India more than 30 years ago, she faced a number of cultural and spiritual barriers. In addition to being a woman and a surgeon, she was a Westerner and a Christian – in a predominantly Hindu nation.
Despite the incredible challenges, Naylor served 28 years as a renowned missionary surgeon at Bangalore Baptist Hospital. Since 1999, she has served on special assignment in South Asia for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, working as a strategy coordinator to millions of people unreached by the gospel in the Indian state of Karnataka.
Sharing her life story recently at Ouachita Baptist University, Dr. Naylor spoke in chapel and addressed several classes. She was accompanied by Camille Lee Hornbeck, author of the recently released biography, Rebekah Ann Naylor, M.D.: Missionary Surgeon in Changing Times.
In addition to her chapel address, Dr. Naylor spoke in science and missions classes as well as at First Baptist Church of Arkadelphia and an associational missions rally at Park Hill Baptist Church in Arkadelphia.
Visiting Arkadelphia where her father was pastor of First Baptist Church when she was an infant, Naylor recalled that she first felt called to medical missions at age 13. After completing medical training, she was appointed to India as a missionary surgeon in 1974. Over the years, she also has served as a hospital administrator, teacher, fund-raiser, church planter and in a variety of other leadership roles.
Noting that India has changed drastically over the years, Naylor said the city of Bangalore has grown from 1.5 million to 8 million.
Although she was always in the minority as a female surgeon, Christian and Westerner, “I never at any time felt any hostility from anyone,” she recalled. “I also had the respect of colleagues and the community.”
Reflecting on highlights of her mission work, she emphasized it involved “people who were helped medically and physically, but more importantly those who were helped spiritually and came to know Jesus Christ.”
Concerning her interest in visiting Ouachita, Naylor said, “If we invest in young people, modeling for them, making them sensitive to God’s call, I feel that will leave a mark for the future.”
Young people today “have such an incredible opportunity to know about the world with communications and technology the way it is,” she pointed out. “I think the visit here and the opportunity just to be with students is what it’s all about; it’s very invigorating.”
Challenging students “to really broaden their vision and horizon and know about the world,” Naylor said, “I encouraged them to know what is going on the world, to learn about people who are unreached. That would allow them to pray very specifically which they can certainly do quite effectively. I think it would also make them aware and ready to respond to opportunities for involvement, whether short-term or career” missions assignments.
Hornbeck noted that Naylor’s biography offers “a strong statement that Rebekah stayed true to God’s initial call to her to be involved in medical missions.”