My own personal journey to becoming a medical missionary began when I finished secondary school and went on a short-term mission team to Ecuador. While we ran a Bible club for slum children a five-year-old boy, Juan, came to our attention. He had a gangrenous finger due to a neglected wound and it had to be amputated. I was shocked. I had seen poverty on the television, but now I was seeing its tragic effects first hand. It was no longer nameless faces suffering; it was happening to my friends.
Jesus’ words ‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded,’ (Luke 12:48) challenged me to consider what I would do with the education, skills and spiritual blessings I had been given so generously. As I looked at the injustice in the world, the sick and suffering who had no doctor to go to, I knew I could not ignore their plight. I felt compelled to go and do something to help, however small it was in the grand scheme of things.
Going to work abroad long term does of course bring with it certain sacrifices. It means living far from your family and distance and time take their toll on even the best of friendships. It may mean missing out on a sibling’s wedding, or not meeting a new niece until she is two years old. There is no big salary or financial security. There are always frustrations to face – obtaining the revalidation of my medical qualifications in Ecuador took a whole year. There are medicines I cannot get hold of in Ecuador that could work wonders for patients; there are patients I could help who prefer to put their trust in the local witchdoctor. Living in an alien culture can be confusing and stressful, earning to communicate in another tongue is exhausting and there are times when you wonder if you’re achieving anything at all – if it is all worth it.
Another challenge is being professionally isolated, sometimes working with local medics whose ethos, ethics and medical practice are very different to your own. Patients die who would undoubtedly have survived had they been in the UK. You need to be able to cope emotionally and spiritually in an alien environment often with little compatriot support.
But if you ask me if it is worth it I would always, one hundred percent, answer yes. It is worth it when a patient I have been visiting for a year asks me to pray with them, sing them hymns and read the Bible to them on their death bed, commending them into the hands of their Saviour. It is worth it when I can play a part in making the life of a child suffering from AIDS that bit better and see the wide grin on their beautiful face. It is worth it when a patient brings me a (live) chicken to thank me for healing their leg ulcer, and they tell me they give thanks to God.
Jesus warned us ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.’ (Matthew 6:19-20) Following the more obvious root of a medical career in the UK may be more financially secure than leaving everything behind and setting off to another part of the world, but I can testify that I have never been in want. I have more than I need.
We live in a world full of people who are suffering and in need. Our God has a heart for the widows and orphans, the oppressed and downtrodden. He hates injustice. Yet in Britain we have 27 physicians per 10,000 population, whereas in many African countries they have less than one. Doctors even come to work in Britain from countries that need doctors far more than we do. We should all consider how each one of us can play our part in loving our neighbour, redressing injustice and reaching out to those in need, including those who live far away. Each and every one is precious to God.
Not everyone is called to serve overseas, but for those who rise to the challenge of long-term mission abroad, you will be embarking on a lifetime of adventure. You will be tried and tested; you will face difficulties and problems. But you will also enjoy moments of great triumph in adversity; you will find great joy as you serve your Saviour. You will see God at work. You will see lives transformed.
Andrea has written a book about her life and experiences in Ecuador: