Abiding in Albany
As the director of a healthcare ministry in one of the largest medical communities in the world, I am constantly thinking through obstacles and evaluating the goals we wish to accomplish as the ministry develops. One of the biggest hurdles I’ve encountered in this ministry is time. In my experience, the healthcare student’s schedule and the healthcare professional’s schedules are often jammed with events and activities. Constantly, they are confronted with new challenges where they are forced to expend voluminous amounts of energy to accomplish their tasks. Throw a family in the mix, and it makes things even more complex. Due to this, I am always looking for answers to how we can best effectively minister to healthcare professionals. Because of the limited amount of time, this is not always the easiest thing to do!
From June 30 to July 13, the Lord provided a perfect environment in which this transpired. I traveled to Albany, New York with a group of medical students. While in Albany, we worked alongside Dr. Bob Paeglow of Koinonia Healthcare in administering treatment to underprivileged patients, and we also and ran a day camp for inner city kids with Debby Evans. Since I have been working with CMDA, these two weeks were one of the best opportunities I’ve encountered for spiritual formation to occur. Not only did our medical students have the chance to work outside their comfort zone, but they also had the chance to do so while being immersed in a highly “spiritually formative” environment. Each morning we started with prayer and a devotional in order to meet the Lord and begin the day with a proper perspective. Throughout the day, whether with patients or running the camp, there was constant attention given to the Lord’s presence in our work. Night times were filled with laughter, prayer, food and fellowship as memories were made and bonds were formed. At the end of the first week, the seeds the staff had been sowing through prayer and conversation broke open and began sprouting as we had dinner with Susan, a missionary to Indonesia.
At dinner, Susan asked us to share our stories of God’s grace in life. One by one, we poured out our testimonies. As we shared our stories, I could tell the Lord was at work in the lives of those around the table. In “aha” moments, it was as if spiritual lightbulbs came on. I could see the inquisition in the students’ faces as they leaned into the conversations that took place. Their eyes displayed comfort and connection as we exchanged memories in what would become a spiritual monument for this trip. It was then that I had my own epiphany. The spiritual roots that had been developed over the first week started to produce fruit and several key ingredients were involved. I couldn’t shake the words of Jesus in John 15 from my mind. In those moments, I kept returning to the phrase abide.
In John 15:1-12, we have one of the clearest pictures of requirements for fellowship with Jesus. He starts the discourse by using imagery of viticulture. Israel had long been referred to as a vine, so when Jesus used this metaphor, His disciples undoubtedly recalled the long history of such imagery in the Scriptures. As Jesus moves through the discourse, the one word that continues to surface is abide. Eight times in this section the word is used. This word gives off the connotation of staying put, staying rooted or being grounded. John 15:5 conveys the central notion of this section. Jesus states, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, ESV). How fitting is it that in His departing instructions, the King of the Universe gave His disciples, and by extension those who would follow afterward, the formula for living in union with Him.
Jesus isn’t saying here that we need to work harder; instead, He is saying we need to be more immersed in Him. And that is exactly what happens as we spend time in and are intentional within community. As we begin to develop relationships and build trust amidst a group of people where Christ is at work being honored in our words and deeds, connections occur and spiritual formation takes place. Once again, I was reminded of the value that inner personal relationships have in our lives. In a ministry where the focus of the vocation is almost entirely upon performance, this is a great truth to rest in. To abide in Jesus is to connect with others. And in the CMDA ministry, while the opportunities may not be as frequent as others, God does provide sacred windows of opportunity to connect and foster relationships.
Over the remainder of the trip, the students were exposed to other spiritually formative moments. They had the chance to meet with a lifetime medical missionary to Nepal, learn about the “post-Christian” state of New York and be challenged to consider why God had called them to medicine from Dr. Bob Paeglow’s story. The one event that caused the breakthrough, though, was that night around the dinner table. That moment was profane, holy and sacred. Without taking the time to abide in a nurturing and edifying community, it is impossible to experience genuine spiritual formation and connection with God. As He continues to raise up faithful witnesses to declare His glory, may we continually develop a sense of our need for His presence.