When I imagined life as a missionary doctor I figured I would be prescribing medicines, treating the sick and dressing wounds. I suppose I thought I would be doing more or less what I did in the UK, but with fewer resources and more exotic diseases. And I do give out medicines and treat the infirm and see the exotic. But I have also had to learn to do so much more.
What else can you do when you find yourself in the midst of families with diarrhoea because they have no toilets? What else can you do when you see children living in hovels catching pneumonia and dengue because they have no protection from the rain or mosquitoes? How can you ignore the plight of children unable to escape from poverty because their parents cannot afford to send them to school? How about school children who cannot see well enough to study? Or the woman who turns up on your doorstep at the point of giving birth? Or the woman who is dying of terminal cancer and desperately needs a Saviour?
When a short term team came from the UK to help I soon had them digging pit latrines. This was not a glamorous task, but so essential for the health of the villagers. Giving out rehydration fluid to children with gastroenteritis was just patching up the problem. Digging toilets was much more effective – and a wonderful testimony of Christian service in action.
James writes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” (James 1 v 27) There was a woman in our village who had been cruelly beaten and then abandoned by her husband, leaving her to care for their eight children. She had no work and no education with which to find a job. She sent the children to beg for food each day. Their shack had rain running across the mud floor and the children were sick and vulnerable. There was no point in me just filling them full of medicines. They needed a secure place to live which would protect them from the elements. So I had to learn about house building and make sure these neighbours of mine had a decent dwelling place.
Of course it did not stop there. These children, and many others like them, needed to be able to go to school. Their ignorance was killing them. Day after day mothers came to see me thinking they should not bath their babies when they were unwell, ignorant of what a balanced diet consists of, and without the resources to buy the food and clothing their children needed. Education could change all that. Their children needed to learn about hygiene and germs, about nutrition, and earn the qualifications necessary to be able to obtain employment.
And so a sponsorship scheme was born, to put these children through school and give them the life changing opportunity of studying and learning.
I think Paul sums up the missionary – and indeed the Christian – life well when he says, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2 v 12-13)
It is our privilege as Christians that God grants us tasks to do for Him – and the resources with which to do them. I have learnt not to be defined by being a doctor, but rather to be ready to reach out with simple acts of kindness, no matter what they may be. These often lead to the joy of an opportunity to “hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2 v 16) to a soul in need.
As a doctor I am often called to the aid of someone who is in their last days on this earth to calm their pain and distress. These circumstances too demand something more. The moments when I have had the privilege of being by a man or a woman’s bedside reading to them from God´s Word, and praying with them as they prepare to meet their Maker are some of the most precious in my life. These are moments made in heaven, glimpses of the life yet to come. All this is life as a missionary doctor.
Posted by Dr Andrea Gardiner
CMF member in Ecuador
(Buy Andrea’s book Guinea Pig for Breakfast here)