The Question That Changed Our Lives
by David Drozek, DO
Today's Christian Doctor - Summer 2001
"Why is it that our Christian young people are planning on careers in the secular world, waiting for God to call them into Christian service? Why not rather plan a career in Christian service, and wait for God to direct you otherwise?" Those words found root in my heart as a 17-year-old high school student, attending the annual missions conference at our church. I had already decided to pursue a career in medicine, and had recently read several biographies of missionaries. A few nights later, I had committed myself to prepare to become a missionary doctor, unless God directed me along some other route. This question changed my life, for sure, but it’s not the question this article is about.
Having been raised in a Christian family, I received Christ at an early age. I value the emphasis my local church placed on study of the Word of God, which helped equip me with a working knowledge of the Scriptures.
I always enjoyed science, particularly the life sciences. My first serious aspirations were toward veterinary medicine. As a young teen, I spent the day with our local vet. But, it seemed that every time a real challenge faced him, he recommended that "it wouldn’t be worth it" and euthanized the animal. That turned me off. Instead I set my sights on human medicine, where I believed the challenges would be met in a different way. (Little did I know that within 25 years, some would advocate the same approach for humans!)
I received my premedical training at Cedarville College, a small Christian school in Ohio. While there, I met Becky Stewart, my wife to be. We both participated in summer missions programs to Africa that helped solidify our commitment to a career in missions. We were married after my first year of medical school.
While at Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, I was involved in the new student chapter of the Christian Medical Society. That was an important time for learning to integrate my faith into the secular world of the state university. My internship and general surgery residency at Doctors Hospital in Columbus, Ohio was a fairly dry time spiritually. I attended church when I could, but found myself in a permanent state of sleep deprivation. Whenever I sat down to study, I fell asleep. I did no better with my Bible reading and prayer time. I spent so little time at home during my internship year that I cannot even remember the layout of our apartment, other than the stairs to the bedroom!
I am thankful that we had no children during that period of our marriage. Becky had a social work position with handicapped adults, and was active in church. We practically lived separate lives that happened to intersect when I had a rare early night home or weekend off.
Toward the end of the residency period, my call requirements lightened. As chief resident my last year, I had control of the schedule, and was able to regularly attend, and actually become involved in church activities. We were challenged greatly in a Sunday school class taught by Bill Mowry, a missionary with The Navigators, who currently is working with CMDA students at The Ohio State University. That was key to beginning a spiritual renewal in my life.
Following residency, we moved to K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan. We found a wonderful Christian community on base, and became involved in a local church nearby. This particular church was different than our prior denominational affiliation. We were so attracted by the love among the believers there, and their desire to impact the world for Christ, that we quickly settled in. The change in denomination required a rethinking of my personal belief structure, which was a very healthy process. I found myself still committed to the same core beliefs that I had always confessed, but found also that I was becoming more tolerant of those who differed in the nonessentials of the faith, and even began questioning the validity of some of my personal beliefs in these nonessential areas.
While enjoying a relatively low-paced life in the military, we grew to love the outdoors of Michigan’s UP, and began our family. Our first two children were born on the air base. This was a time we look back on with very fond memories, and continue to cherish our visits to the area to see our friends and familiar places.
As we neared the end of our four years in the military, we began to investigate full-time missions possibilities. We were initially disappointed to learn that, because of my shift in thinking on one secondary issue, we were no longer acceptable to the mission board we had always considered most likely to be our sending agency. Thus began a search for other options, none of which seemed right for us.
Then we noticed an advertisement in the CMDA classifieds about a general surgeon in Norwalk, Ohio who was looking for missions-minded surgeons to join his small rural community practice and participate in committing significant time to ongoing short-term missions. We talked, things clicked, and we moved to Norwalk. We loved our new associates, our new community and our new church—again a denominational switch that continued to broaden our sense of Christian fellowship.
We settled into a nice routine, four and a half days of work, every other weekend off, home for dinner most evenings, church involvement and new friends. We chose a relatively modest lifestyle, saving funds for our extended short-term missions trips. We also enjoyed hosting medical students on surgery rotations, trying to model a Christian lifestyle with emphasis on things other than high patient volume and high income. The students often joined us at home for meals, and at church.
Then, to our disappointment, my partner was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, leaving me a solo surgeon in a two-surgeon practice! Fearing a return to an out-of-control life, we quickly recruited new associates, again using the CMDA classifieds.
About this time, two significant events occurred. One of our pastors gave me some information on a new men’s movement called "Promise Keepers," and asked that I co-lead a men’s group in our church with my nurse’s husband. This began an exciting time of spiritual growth, which led to my involvement with Promise Keepers (PK) as an "ambassador," a lay representative for them in our community. This led to many speaking opportunities and church relationships that would later prove very valuable to God’s missionary plans for our lives. One of the highlights was the opportunity to be the first protestant to speak from the pulpit in the two best-attended masses in the Catholic Church in our community. I was able to present the gospel of Jesus Christ woven into a presentation of The Seven Promises of Promise Keepers.
As I was enjoying the privilege of being an instrument in the vitalization of men for Christ, one night a fellow physician poured out his heart to me concerning his perceived failure in caring for a patient. I then realized how difficult it must be for physicians to find someone with whom to share their struggles and concerns. Certainly you had to be careful whom you told about a bad medical decision or a malpractice suit. Would a PK-type small group work for physicians? We invited some of our physicians and dentists to attend, and had a surprisingly good response. So began our local CMDA group. At the suggestion of a physician’s wife, we also began a couple’s meeting that had even better attendance! The sense of need was certainly there!
Another major factor in my life occurred again through the same pastor who had encouraged me to lead the men’s group. He asked me to begin to meet with him regularly for mutual encouragement and accountability. (The pastor, Wes White, by the way, is the brother of Russ White, who was one of the first doctors with MedSend, currently working at Tenwick Hospital. Wes, a missionary-kid, is on the way to Scotland as a missionary. Another brother is a missionary in Austria. His father was a missionary doctor in Africa!) Wes was a tremendous influence. He said his job as a pastor was to comfort the comfortless, and make the comfortable uncomfortable. He was good at the latter. His honesty was so abrupt at times that on occasion I dreaded our meetings!
He constantly asked, "What has that to do with the kingdom?" He challenged me to make my practice a ministry. That required a shift from seeing my practice as a way to raise money to support ministry, to actually become the center of ministry. This led to a purposeful aggressive use of the practice to reach people for Christ and support local Christian ministry. Besides becoming the local Promise Keepers headquarters, we challenged our patients with literature from Focus on the Family, played Christian music, displayed Christian magazines (with the help of CMDA!) and became active supporters of our local crisis pregnancy center. In the hospital environment, I had the opportunity to serve on the ethics committee.
It was via the crisis pregnancy center that we were contacted about the adoption of our son. We were pursuing a cross-cultural adoption of an African sibling group. A young woman from the community was expecting a biracial baby that she wanted placed in a Christian home. We joyfully added Jacob to our family! During this wonderful time of growth, fulfillment and ministry excitement, we began to look into building or purchasing a house—not just a house, but a "Doctor House." My accountability partner turned up the heat, asking, "What does THIS have to do with the kingdom?" The week before we had planned to close on "The House," he preached a sermon from the pulpit, directed at me, that left no doubts in my mind that I was not seeking the kingdom in this matter! We decided against the house!
It was shortly after turning down the house that we again began to investigate full-time missions opportunities. We had always been open to possibilities, but had become rather comfortably entrenched in our community and local ministry. We investigated a full-time opportunity in Nepal, and moved toward taking a sabbatical to check it out. But the doors appeared closed. More out of frustration, I looked in Today’s Christian Doctor and saw an opportunity to go to Honduras with a team in April 1996. It was the only opening available for a general surgeon. So with my wife’s support, off I went for two weeks.
As soon as I got off the plane in Honduras, I knew this was it! Only once before had I felt something so dramatically; that was after the first date with my wife! As the two weeks progressed, God placed the people and land of Honduras on my heart in such a way that I knew I had to come back! But my wife was in Ohio, unaware of what God was doing in my heart! I prayed, telling God that I was willing, but that He would have to somehow impress the same on Becky’s heart. When I reached Miami on the trip home, I called Becky. I did not tell her that I felt called to Honduras, but simply explained what I had seen. She simply said, "How soon can we go back?"
That began a new life for us. I am convinced that we would have missed it all if we had bought "The House." The house would have consumed our time, thoughts, energy and finances. Instead, we began looking for a hospital in Honduras in which to work, then a mission board, then a sending church and then financial support! It was an extremely humbling experience to move from the position of being the one who provided funds for missionaries, to being the one who was asking! God provided all our needs and saw us through the transition of leaving our church, community, practice and family as we headed for Costa Rica in August 1998 to begin learning Spanish.
A year later, we arrived in our new home in Balfate, Honduras. Our work is on the rural north central coast of Honduras where we are serving the community of the very people that God first placed on my heart in April 1996. Our sending agency, Mission to the Americas, has loaned us to The Cornerstone Foundation, which is building a 30,000-square-foot hospital. We opened our clinic two days a week in February 2000, and hope to soon expand to five days a week, begin doing hernia surgeries and offering limited laboratory, radiography and eyeglass services. Over the next two years we hope to complete and phase in the hospital.