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BAA honors missionary doctor

Jan. 20, 2010

Daniel Cernero | Lariat photographer
Rebekah Naylor, M.D. and Interim President Dr. David Garland attend the Distinguished Alumni Awards on Friday at the Cashion Academic Center. Naylor received recognition for spending 28 years in Bangalore, India, as a medical missionary.

By Laura Remson
Staff writer

The once-a-year black tie reception and banquet honoring Baylor's Distinguished Alumni was held Friday and paid tribute to four new recipients. Among these honorees is Rebekah Naylor, M.D.

"This recognition is the highest honor that can be awarded to an alumnus or alumna of the university," Emily Tinsley said, president of the Baylor Alumni Association. "It cannot be bought, it's not for sale. It must be earned through a meaningful lifetime. Those who are honored tonight are indeed the beacons of what Baylor continues to mean to our students, to the state, to our nation and to the world."

This year's winners are Bob R. Simpson ('70), chair and co-founder of XTO Energy Inc.; Robert C. Zamora ('65), a Baylor basketball player and retired superintendent of South San Antonio ISD; and Dr. James Kroll ('69), director of the Columbia Regional Geospatial Service Center and the Henry M. Rockwell professor of forestry at Stephen F. Austin State University.

Dr. Rebekah Naylor, was chosen for her work as a medical missionary in Bangalore, India.

Winners of this award are considered to be a cut above the rest, said communications coordinator for the Baylor Alumni Association Julie Copenhaver.

"We have humanitarian and religious awards, but these people have gone above and beyond," Copenhaver said.

In years past, there have been many notable winners, some of which have Baylor's buildings named after them, including Earl C. Hankamer (1965), W.R. Poage (1967) and Drayton McLane, Jr. (1991).

More recent winners include university presidents, mayors, businessmen and women, athletes and Hal C. Wingo, who in 1995, was the international editor and assistant managing editor of People Magazine.

Naylor chose to attend Baylor because it was close to her home in Fort Worth and because of its Baptist affiliation. After graduating in 1964, Naylor went to Vanderbilt Medical School and then on to a surgery residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas.

Unlike the other graduates at the time, Naylor was a woman. Although she was the first female graduate from the surgical program, Naylor said she didn't concern herself with it.

"I didn't really give [it] that much thought," Naylor said. "I worked very hard and did just what my peers were doing, so the gender issue wasn't really important to me. "

After the program, Naylor knew what her first job would be.

"God had called me to be a medical missionary when I was thirteen years old," Naylor said. "So when I applied to Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board for appointments, the place they needed a surgeon was in India, in a new hospital, and I agreed to go."

As a medical missionary, Naylor not only performed surgeries at the hospital in Bangalore, but also provided spiritual guidance for those she helped.

"My purpose in being there was to tell people about Jesus Christ," Naylor said. "I had many opportunities to do that; with my patients, people in the hospital as well as through churches."

Naylor said that during her time in India, she saw thousands of people come to Christ and the start of hundreds of churches.

While there were many stories that have stayed with her, Naylor said that it's how her work multiplied out from the hospital that means a lot. As people she has worked with went home, they told their family and friends, spreading the word.

"Any person that you see come to know Jesus - it's a thrilling and exciting thing," Naylor said. "People who come to the hospital, maybe I operated on them. They were made well physically, and then to see them made whole spiritually at the same time. And to go back home and share their new faith with their families and neighbors is just very exciting. "

Twenty-eight years after beginning her work in India, Naylor returned to her home in Fort Worth to be a faculty member at UT Southwestern Medical School and to direct student education in the department of surgery.

Naylor said that she misses the warm, friendly, hospitable people of India and still has the opportunity to visit once or twice a year.

Next month, Naylor intends to continue her life mission as a health care consultant with Baptist Global Response, where she will be telling her story of medical missions and recruiting volunteers for overseas medical work.