Do you know the secret of making it to the mission field after you know God is calling you? Do you know the secret of faithful service to the Lord once you get there? Do you know the secret of overcoming the many obstacles you will face on your journey from heartbreaking medical cases, to burn out and the difficulty of being away from your family?
I can tell you, and other healthcare missionaries have proven it as well.
I was reminded of that today as I watched Kent and Amber Brantly's NBC interview from September where they shared how God gave them peace when Kent had Ebola. They know the secret.
I was reminded of it yesterday when I was trying to find a healthcare missionary serving in Chad and came across a YouTube video about Dr. James Appel and his future wife Sarah that was filmed soon after he arrived as a young pioneer missionary in that impoverished and war-torn country. He was serving as the only doctor at Bere Hospital with few drugs, no lab and a terrible disease burden. Watch the video or read one of his books and you could learn the secret.
I just got in contact with him yesterday and he and Sarah are heading back with their three children to an even harder area in January, despite the fact that they lost one of their twins to malaria at six months of age early in their missionary career. Yes, they know the secret.
In the morning, I'm heading to the Global Missions Health Conference in Louisville, a "must attend" for anyone interested in healthcare missions. Dr. David Thompson, a missionary who has inspired me and countless others, will be giving the closing challenge.
An excerpt in a report from a CBN interview relates part of David's story, with his wife Becki:
Thompson spent his childhood in Cambodia and attended missionary boarding school in Vietnam. During the 1968 Tet offensive, while his parents were serving as missionaries in Vietnam and he was a pre-med student at Geneva College in Pennsylvania, his mother and father were killed by North Vietnamese soldiers as they tried to surrender to the communist forces that had overrun the city of Banmethuot. A year later, Thompson graduated from Geneva College and entered the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In 1971, Thompson married Becki Mitchell, a girl he'd met in school in Vietnam and who had lost her father when Viet Cong forces kidnapped him from a Leprosy hospital near Banmethuot, Vietnam, where he was serving. Becki trained as a nurse and was also planning a career in medical missions.
Despite their tragic loss, they tried to go back to the same part of the world where they both lost their parents, but the door closed at the last minute. Instead, their mission sent them as pioneer missionaries to a totally different culture in Gabon, where David established Bongolo Hospital and they served for many years. In 1996, after more than 10 years of service, God laid it on David's heart that someday when he was gone, who would carry on their work? He knew his tireless efforts were not meeting the needs of Africa where there is one trained surgeon for every 250,000 to 2.5 million people. The most common surgical reason a woman of childbearing age dies is she can't get a simple C-section for her obstructed labor.
So God gave him a "crazy" idea. What if he and other surgical missionaries could start excellent surgical residency programs for national physicians in Africa? If they trained there, they would stay there. Thus, CMDA's Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons was born. The program now has nine general surgical residencies, a pediatric surgery fellowship and an orthopedic residency, all located in nine mission hospitals, and more new residencies are on the drawing board. Last year, more than 175 U.S. surgeons traveled to these hospitals on short-term trips to help teach in these residencies, and more than 50 surgeons in total have finished the five-year program certified by Loma Linda University.
Impossible? Seems like it, but the Thompsons' know the secret. In fact, in their mid-60s they turned over their work at Bongolo to missionaries they had mentored and then moved to North Africa to start a PAACS program there. Their first task is learning Arabic.
Yeah, you need to know the secret. What do you think it is?
Well, of course, you need a personal relationship with Christ as your personal Savior. That is a prerequisite to using the secret. Add to that you need to be obedient to His call. He said, "Go" and you follow through and go to where He calls you.
Here is the secret though! You have to live a life fully surrendered to God every day. Without that, you won't make it. When you focus on "my needs" or "my rights" you will soon be heading back to the U.S. and rationalizing your call away. Don't get me wrong, you will have lots of good excuses—I just couldn't get along with the other missionaries; The workload is just too heavy; It just wasn't safe there; It wasn't the best thing for our children—and many more. I've heard these and numerous others when missionaries take their eyes of the Lord and turn them inward. Instead of letting God drive the car of your life, you get behind the driver's wheel and put Him in the passenger seat. You are in charge and not surrendered to His will or His direction.
When that happens, the wheels come off your vehicle and there is a wreck.
Jesus explained this to His disciples in a summary statement of what it means to be a true disciple in Matthew 16:24, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me'" (NIV 2011).
I'm not saying God may not change your direction and give you another place of ministry. That happens. It happened to me. In fact, it took a new surrender in my life to His will to return to the U.S. I didn't want to leave Kenya when God called us back. Surely, God wouldn't want me to return to the U.S. when the needs were so great in Africa and He had given me the skills and experience to address them. I loved being a missionary. I was good at it. I much rather raise my children in Africa away from the "jungle" of America. What would people think? Through prayer, God reminded me of my commitment to the secret. Surrender meant denying myself and surrendering completely to Him again, even when it didn't make sense.
Now looking back, I can clearly see what He was doing. I'm so glad I didn't follow my desires and what I thought should be God's plan for my life.
An old hymn not often sung today shares the truth of the secret better than I can. I hope you will not only read its words but make the words of its chorus your commitment as well. If you do, your obedience will guarantee, by God's definition, your success.
All to Jesus I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.
I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.