Side By Side History
by Robin Morgenthaler, Side By Side Founder
In 1987, my husband announced to me after a long interviewing trip that he wanted to go and be trained at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. I remember the exact place he told me this and what happened next. All at once I heard myself say, “That’s fine, honey. We could go there and have a ministry to internationals because many people from all parts of the world come there for training and then return to their homeland. It would be a great reverse mission field!” Now I would be lying if I told you that as soon as I got to Rochester, I acted on the vision God had laid on my heart that day. I did not. I was fearful. I believed myself to be inadequate for the task. So I tried my local church’s womens' Bible study. It was fine. However, I really felt like I did not fit in. They were nice women and all, but they did not understand my world. They could not comprehend my life with a doctor-on call, rounds, holiday hours, long hours, absent fathers, financial burdens, going to church alone—all the issues that come automatically being married to a doctor. Side By Side started in large part out of my frustration to find anyone at my new church who connected with me, my life and my needs. So I decided to open my home to a Bible study. I felt led to ask six women—all six were like me—married to physicians and new to the community. All six said, ”YES.”
So it all began, with six women and eight children meeting in our big red farmhouse for a 12-week Bible study. By the time we completed the 12-week study, we were six women and 10 children!
Four of these women were attending evangelical churches and two were attending Catholic churches. None were international. But we had many things in common. Our husbands, who were all in residency, worked long hours in the hospital and were away from the home and family on a regular basis. We all lived away from our extended families. Only one had family in Minnesota. We all were raising young children. We all had little money, and most of us had older cars and the Minnesota winter was coming! A few of us were trying full-time mothering for the first time. Because of our husbands' training, we were all learning and pulling the weight for our families—pretty much alone.
We got to know one another well. We took care of one another and each others' children. We studied God’s word together, prayed together and really grew to love one another.
Word got around to others like us that we were more than just coping with the Minnesota winter and our new life. They asked to join us and, after two years, we grew large enough to occupy three houses for our Bible study. We did that for one session. It was difficult to arrange the childcare that way so we combined and transferred to a local evangelical church that agreed to house all of us on Friday mornings rent-free. We occupied four meeting rooms for study and three nursery rooms for our children. We started to look international then, as a German then a South African, a Ghanaian, a Peruvian and two Finnish women joined in. Finally, we met a Japanese woman named Eriko who brought with her many Japanese women into the study.
Our studies were led by leaders from within. We studied the Bible topically and by book. Many women were studying the Bible for the first time. We purposefully chose studies that fit these women. God really blessed us with a hunger to know Him and grow in Him. In addition to the infectious energy of new Bible studiers, God also blessed us with many women who had a depth of Bible knowledge. We placed them strategically within our small groups to help “grow the group.” All grew in the Lord. We took the opportunity to teach the older children in our care Bible stories and the truths of the Christian faith. For some of these children, it was the only spiritual training they were receiving.
These women brought back into their own homes the love and knowledge of the Lord that they caught in this group. Many women learned biblical principles that affected their marriages, their children and their relationships with their families and neighbors.
One woman commented that the Bible study “was a turning point in my life…a connection between knowing about God from church teaching and knowing God from studying His word.”
All women were expected to pay for their own books and their childcare ahead of time. Money was not in plenty during the training years, so because of this financial commitment most attended with their study completed and placed their children with our caregivers during the whole session. Our size grew in number each fall, winter and spring session. Our women brought more women into the fold. We went “big time” when we opened up a checking account to keep track of our financial records.
Each year, as the medical training schedule was completed, some women would move away and then about a month later we’d meet new women who had recently moved in. We recognized them because they looked like we had looked. We became experts at helping them adjust. After all, we had just mastered what they were now experiencing.
My husband finished his training after six years and we moved to Nashville, Tennessee for his first job in private practice. When I left the ministry, it had 60 women in it and about 70 children. I left confident that what God had blessed once, He would continue to bless.
As things happen frequently in a medical marriage, we returned to Rochester after six happy years in Tennessee. This time my husband was going to change jobs and work on staff at the Mayo Clinic. Was I ever surprised at what happened when my new neighbor came to greet me. She immediately invited me to this “great Bible study for wives who were married to physicians and dentists”…the very same one that had begun in my kitchen in 1988! I cried tears of joy. God brought me full circle and He desired me to be a part of this rewarding and exciting ministry again.