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A pharmacist and a missionary: Michelle Mahoney

By Janet Walker

Eighteen years ago, pharmacist Michelle Mahoney went on her first overseas medical evangelism trip with HealthCare Ministries (HCM). At the time, she didn’t realize how that experience would change her life. 

Although Michelle grew up in a Christian home, she knew little about missions until she attended First Assembly of God in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while in college. She soon developed a love and passion for missionaries and their service.

In 1990, a friend at church suggested that she sign up for an HCM medical evangelism trip to Guyana, South America.

“I was probably one of the most unlikely candidates ever to participate in missions or become a missionary,” says Michelle. “For most of my life, I did not like public speaking. When I was in high school, I would literally get sick when I had to stand in front of an audience. In college, the associate dean told me, ‘You WILL enroll in every speech class possible because you don’t talk.’”

Michelle worked as a pharmacy director and consultant for an organization that serviced about 4,000 nursing home patients. The trip to Guyana so transformed her life that six months later she signed up for another trip — this time to Panama. The team hiked 11 hours into the country’s interior to treat patients and share the love of Christ. When she returned, she told the singles pastor at her church, “When I retire, I will join HealthCare Ministries full time.”

As the years passed, she continued working and taking intermittent medical evangelism trips. When HCM moved its offices to Springfield, Missouri, the director asked her to come and work full time.

“Immediately, I said, ‘I can’t do it,’” says Michelle. “By that time, I was helping my brother, a single parent, raise his two daughters. Also, I had always been close to my family in Michigan, and it was difficult to think about leaving them.”

Nevertheless, Michelle agreed to travel to Springfield and talk with the director and staff about the potential opportunity. During her visit, she sensed the Lord say, This is where I’m calling you for the next stage of your life.

In 1999, Michelle applied for a two-year term as a missionary associate with HCM. After a few months on staff, she traveled with a team to Lithuania. The team arrived without a problem, but their medications were held in customs.

“Lord, what am I going to do?” Michelle prayed. “I’m a pharmacist. How are You going to use me?”

She went to a local pharmacy to check on available supplies and met the pharmacist, Ineta.

“I will never forget her,” says Michelle. “I have never felt a burden for anyone like I did for her.”

Michelle was delighted when Ineta invited her to join her and her daughter, Virginia, for lunch.

During the meal, Virginia asked, “Why do you do what you do?”

Michelle shared what Christ had done in her heart and life and why she traveled around the world to share His love and compassion.

That Friday evening, Ineta, Virginia and Virginia’s daughter came to the HCM team’s evangelistic service. All three responded to the salvation invitation, and Michelle led them to Christ.

Michelle admits that prior to that trip she had struggled, wondering how God would use her, a pharmacist, in full-time missions. But in Lithuania, “God showed me that it isn’t what we have in our hands,” she says. “When we have faith in God, He takes it and multiplies it. I saw not one, not two, but three generations come to Christ at one time and find hope.”

Each year, HCM hosts an average of 12 to 15 overseas medical evangelism trips in response to requests from missionaries or national churches.

“It’s amazing how God brings together the volunteer medical professionals needed for each trip,” says missionary Deb Highfill, director of HealthCare Ministries. “Our volunteers include physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, dentists, ophthalmologists, optometrists, pharmacists and others.”

Prior to each trip, the team works closely with an Assemblies of God missionary and/or a pastor of a local church in the area where the clinic will be held. In this way, they help facilitate the church’s vision and outreach. All names and addresses of patients treated are provided to the local church for follow-up.

“On one of our trips to Benin, there was no church in the area,” says Michelle. “A pastor and two deacons from a neighboring village came to pray and share with the patients. Their partnership with us was vital.”

In Benin, Michelle and five team members treated more than 500 people in a village where voodoo was common. By the end of the clinic, more than half of the patients had accepted Christ, and a church was planted.

At the end of Michelle’s term as a missionary associate, she signed up for two more years — and two more after that. During her fifth year with HCM, she was on a trip to Zambia when she realized her two-year commitments were no longer sufficient. She needed to apply for full missionary appointment.

HIV/AIDS and malaria were rampant in this area of Zambia. Mothers were bringing their babies to the clinic, unsure whether they would live or die.

“On the last day of the clinic, more than 400 people were in line,” says Michelle, “I was doing pharmacy and crowd control, and I had to tell them, ‘I’m sorry. We have to close the clinic; we can’t see any more patients.’”

A woman from the crowd stepped up and asked Michelle, “How can you leave when we are so desperate?”

“I knew that these people — dying physically and spiritually — broke God’s heart,” says Michelle. “I also knew it was time for me to commit my life fully to this ministry.” She was approved as an Assemblies of God missionary in 2003.

Today Michelle serves as pharmaceutical distribution leader at HCM. Some of her responsibilities include procurement and distribution of medications for all medical evangelism outreaches and assisting with logistics.

Over the years she has repeatedly witnessed how God uses His church to provide for needs at HCM. She remembers one specific time during her first week at the ministry when she discovered there were no children’s vitamins in stock. To purchase what was needed for the scheduled overseas trips would cost several thousand dollars a year. That very day, a representative from a Women’s Ministries group in Oklahoma stopped by the HCM office. The trunk of her car was full of children’s vitamins. Now several churches provide children’s vitamins as one of their regular missions projects.

“Once a church or individual catches the vision of what HealthCare Ministries is doing,” says Michelle, “they want to help.”

Michelle is now beginning her 10th year with HCM and she recently completed her 33rd overseas trip.

“It’s exciting to see the way God transforms lives, both physically and spiritually,” says Michelle. “But at the same time, He is transforming me. I feel privileged and honored to be a part of this ministry. I have seen firsthand how God transforms us when we use the gifts and abilities He has placed in our lives for His honor and glory.”

JANET WALKER is assistant editor of the World Missions Edition of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

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