Rebekah Naylor, B.A. '64, M.D
To say Arkadelphia, Arkansas, and Bengaluru, India, are worlds apart is only partly hyperbole. The Central Arkansas town with barely 10,000 residents is roughly 0.1 percent the size of Bengaluru (formerly known as Bangalore), India’s third-largest city.
Dr. Rebekah Naylor was born in Arkadelphia, the daughter of a Baptist preacher, who moved the family to Oklahoma and South Carolina during her childhood. The family settled in Fort Worth, which remains her home, when Naylor was 8 years old.
“My parents led me to faith in Jesus Christ, and I grew up knowing about missions,” Naylor says. “We prayed for missionaries in our home, and missionaries visited our church. That was a great influence on me.”
At age 13, Naylor, who already aspired to be a doctor, felt called into medical missions. When the time came for college, she chose Baylor because it was a Baptist school close to home with strong academics. Naylor visited Baylor several times as a child while her brother Richard Naylor Sr., B.A. ’54, J.D. ’56, attended, and it was her clear college choice.
“When it came down to it, Baylor was where I needed to be,” she says. “I had excellent professors, and they positively influenced my life. The experience at Baylor increased my self-confidence and the ability to believe that I could move forward and accomplish what I thought God wanted me to do.”
Naylor attended the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and completed a surgical residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where she was the institution’s first female graduate. She says God’s plan for her life became more evident at every stage.
“I realized that the specifics were not as important as the commitment, the submission of myself, and my skills and education,” she says. “As I moved forward, the world opened up.”
Nearing the end of her residency, Naylor applied to what is now the International Mission Board (IMB). She was placed in India, where she visited as a medical student.
“I was overwhelmed, as first-time visitors often are,” Naylor says. “The number of people. The poverty. The heat. The dirt. On and on.”
The need? A hospital was being built in Bangalore, and the mission board asked that Naylor go there. She immediately agreed.
“I felt God had directed that,” she says. “I didn’t question it.”
Naylor served more than 35 years as a general surgeon, evangelist and church planter in India. She devoted 28 years to Bangalore, where she was chief of medical staff, administrator and medical superintendent at Bangalore Baptist Hospital. The Rebekah Ann Naylor School of Nursing opened in 1996, and Naylor was there to oversee construction and celebrate its first graduating class in 1999.
“The work was very fulfilling and professionally challenging,” Naylor says. “Bangalore is, even now, a second home, and I’ve been able to return frequently. It’s the people, the relationships. Bangalore is very significant in my life.”
Naylor joined the UT Southwestern Medical School faculty upon her return to the United States. She taught in the surgery department and later served as associate clinical professor of surgery until her retirement in 2010.
Thereafter, Naylor was a global healthcare consultant for Baptist Global Response and, in 2019, transitioned that role to the IMB, where she continues mobilization of healthcare professionals and students. Naylor currently is the permanent missionary-in-residence at Southwestern Seminary and the seminary’s first female distinguished professor.
Naylor was instrumental in creating the Mercy Clinic of Fort Worth, a faith-based free medical clinic that opened in 2011. She says a Christian’s professional and missional calling must be united.
“Sharing the Gospel of Jesus and medicine fit well together,” Naylor says. “Your faith and your profession must be integrated. As you are working, you are who you are in Jesus Christ, and it should be evident.”
2022 Alumni Award Recipients