Doctor and nurse take their medical ministry to South Asia

Kaitlyn Williams
Tuesday, April 12, 2016

One by one, the children are checked and examined for medical needs. One has a serious wound on her leg, and another needs a great deal of dental work, because, from a variety of causes, his teeth are deteriorating. Yet another child is suffering from a painful worm infection.

These children have numerous physical needs, some of which are not being met because they do not have access to medical attention. There are thousands upon thousands more of these cases across South Asia; many go without treatment while trying to continue on with their lives.

Han and Corry Tan are trying to change that.

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Based in the Netherlands, the Tans knew from the start of their life together that they wanted to use their gifts and skills to serve people in their home country and in developing countries. Han is a general practitioner and musculoskeletal specialist. Corry is a nurse. They attend the Utrecht Church of the Nazarene.

The Tans view medicine not only as a profession, but also as a ministry. Healing is their way to spread Christ’s love to those they encounter on a daily basis, whether that is in Houten, where they own a private family medical practice, or in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, where they serve people through their charitable organization Changing Lives.

Han said, “A doctor is somebody that heals, and that can be an image of God. So helping other people heal physically and socially and emotionally and sometimes spiritually, I try to be a Christian example in my medical practice.”

It wasn’t until 2000 that the couple and their family began to venture into medical missions outside of the Netherlands. They started in Nepal where they volunteered for six months. In 2006, Han volunteered fort wo weeks in Swaziland, linked to a Nazarene medical team,. He realized, “This is what I’m created for.”

Following these trips, the Tans began alternating their time: nine months at their practice in the Netherlands, and then three months of medical missions in both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Since 2010, they have worked with the Church of the Nazarene once each year in Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, the time varying from two to 12 weeks.

They began by visiting child development centers (CDCs), operated through the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM) Child Sponsorship Program, to check children for illnesses. Han said they quickly understood, “ninety percent of the medical problems for the children are rooted out of three reasons: worm infections, teeth conditions, and lack of safe drinking water.”

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Over a total of 18 weeks on their first two trips, the Tans checked and diagnosed 5,000 children in Bangladesh, and 2,500 in Sri Lanka.

They soon realized that a more long-term, sustainable model would teach local people to address these problems year-round.

In 2012, they started to teach. They trained CDC coordinators and workers, self-help groups, and village doctors how to teach children and adults about good hygiene practices and avoiding preventable infections. They created curriculum for the NCM Child Sponsorship Program to further spread awareness.

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Changing Lives

As more and more of the Tans’ friends and Nazarenes from around the world heard of the Tans’ work, many asked how they could support the ministry financially. So the Tans started a foundation called Changing Lives. The organization funds education for people about good health practices, and buys supplies for a variety of development projects.

For instance, Changing Lives purchases medicine, toothbrushes, and other hygiene supplies for distribution. Also, clean water is often unavailable throughout South Asia. So donations to Changing Lives have given around 13,000 people in Bangladesh access to clean water through installing tube wells and a water treatment plant.

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In addition to annual trips to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the Tans were asked by the Eurasia Region to be mentors for new Nazarene volunteers going into cross-cultural ministry through the regional M+Power initiative . The couple says they enjoy mentoring these (usually) young adults in their free time. As people who have extensive experience in cross-cultural ministry, the Tans were a natural choice to mentor people going to serve for the first or second time.

“Everything we have belongs to the Lord, and the same is true with our time. It’s a joy to spend our time serving the Lord,” Corry said.

In the future, Han and Corry intend to focus more time on teaching and educating. They have been invited to start the same programs in India, Nepal and Pakistan.

“Involvement is the most important thing we are looking for,” said Han. “We want to connect people in the West with people in developing countries through both prayer and financial support. We want to give others this experience.”

Although they are medical practitioners, the Tans themselves are not immune from health challenges. Corry is recovering from breast cancer and in the last two years Han had heart surgery and continues to struggle with heart-related problems. This has made it difficult for them to be as fully involved in their ministry.

In reference to the Tan’s health concerns, retired Field Strategy Coordinator for the South Asia Field, Hermann Gschwandtner, said, “It hasn’t stopped them from going and serving the people… whenever there is anything, [they] will immediately be there.”

He has worked with the Tans in recent years as they collaborated with NCM in South Asia. “They are doing an excellent job. People like them very much.

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The couple is asking the Nazarene church to pray with them for their health, as it influences both their private medical practice and ministry. They are positive about the future, though, and say they will continue to do God’s work despite any challenges that may arise. 

“We consider ourselves a drop of water that creates a ripple. Everything I am and have belongs to the Lord – my house, my life, my money, it belongs to the Lord. I love to serve Him with all I have,” Corry said. 

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The Tans have a Facebook page titled “Changing Lives”, on which they post updates in both Dutch and English, with the intention of encouraging others in whatever way they can through their ministry.

To learn more, visit www.changinglives.nl.