I come from a long line of missionaries.
My great grandparents helped establish Mtshabezi mission in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) over 100 years ago. My parents each felt called to Africa before they met and served in Zambia for 40 years.
I have not had a "call" as my parents experienced, but I'm a very objective person and structured my life that way. I saw the severe lack of health care in Africa from a young age. At age 4, I told my mom my doll had hepatitis and malaria, so she needed a shot. I myself had severe multidrug-resistant malaria at age 9, and surviving that got me interested in the world of medicine.
Through my teen years, I felt like I really wanted to come back to Africa in some capacity, but I didn't want to just because I liked it. I wanted to come bringing something that was not locally available. I have seen a lot of well-meaning people come to Africa to give of themselves but, in reality, they are taking a job from an equally competent African.
My parents instilled this in me, as their primary objective was to train Africans in higher education and so empower the African church. In med school, I studied the areas of greatest need that required advanced skills not locally available. I fell in love with surgery and quickly realized that injuries kill more people in Africa than AIDS, TB, and malaria combined. I realized I could learn how to treat pneumonia by reading a book for a few minutes, but I couldn't learn how to take out a bleeding spleen in that amount of time. I learned that the lack of access to surgery and critical care in Africa was immense, and yet it was not a focus of many missions or NGOs. Thus, I found my calling.
As of now, I don't believe there are any other physicians in Malawi or the surrounding countries with my particular specialty. I know what I do is greatly needed and that I won't be taking a job from someone locally. That's call enough for me.
Just like there are many types of evangelism, there are many types of healthcare.
My particular profession (surgery, trauma, and critical care) interacts with patients in a very different setting than a primary care provider would. Many of my patients are unconscious, for example.
There is one area that I find is a unique opportunity to show God's love. I often meet patients or their families at their absolute worst. They are in horrible pain from abdominal sepsis and know they might be imminently dying. They may have just been in a major car crash. Their spouse may be in the ICU with a machine breathing for them.
Kind of like there are no atheists in foxholes, there are few atheists in a surgical emergency. Even in the US, I find many people are more open to talking about faith and accepting prayer in such desperate situations than they would otherwise be. I pray I can show people the calming presence of Jesus amidst the storms they are experiencing.
I'm also wary of an existing Christian population that may see disease and death as the "will of God" that we can't change. This exists in the US too. I think evangelism can also be showing fellow Christians how God can use the gifts He's given us to help us heal, and that while God suffers with us, He doesn't cause our suffering.
My Role as a Medical Missionary:
I will be joining the staff at Nkhoma Mission Hospital outside Lilongwe, Malawi.
Over the past couple of years, Nkhoma has received significant funding to develop training programs including a surgery residency under PAACS (Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons).
Two of the most needed requirements for this to happen are the development of an ICU and an increase in both the number and complexity/variety of surgical cases being done. Given that my specialty includes surgical critical care (and I've covered medical ICUs in the states for years), I will be the medical director of the developing ICU at Nkhoma.
I will help achieve the second requirement by living in Lilongwe (45 minutes away) and staffing a satellite clinic to book elective surgical cases from the larger and more wealthy urban population. I'll then do the cases at Nkhoma. This should help increase the variety and complexity of surgery done at the hospital, as well as increase revenue to help subsidize surgical procedures for the poorer rural population that often cannot afford the nominal fee for surgery.
Becoming part of the faculty with PAACS will also entail mentoring and discipling African surgeons throughout their training.
- Malawi will have more surgeons, and they will be Christian leaders! Currently, there is one surgeon for over half a million people in Malawi, one of the greatest areas of healthcare disparity on earth. About 1/4 of deaths in Malawi are from a surgical cause. Helping to reverse this desperate situation by training godly African surgeons is such a privilege.
- Nkhoma hospital and the greater region will be capable of taking care of critically ill patients, something that is essentially absent right now. The top reasons for requiring ICU care in Africa are trauma, obstetric emergency, and post-surgical. These occur largely to young and healthy people, so being able to save some of this population that currently has no chance can have a huge impact on the community. Losing a parent of young children or the primary breadwinner of a family can spell catastrophe for their family members. I hope to play a part in stemming some of these losses.
- Sustainability and increased capacity for Malawians to care for their own people without having to rely on other countries with more resources. Right now, in much of Africa, if you get sick, injured, or need major surgery and have the money, you go somewhere else for your care. For those in Malawi, common destinations are South Africa and India. This results in not only lost healthcare revenue for the country but a feeling of inadequacy. I hope to help provide a way for people in Malawi to get quality surgical and critical care while remaining close to their loved ones and keeping the healthcare revenues local.