Equipped to Serve
Editor’s note: These four very different stories—all with the same focus—tell how CMDA equipped various members to better serve the Lord. Enjoy. Be blessed. Be inspired. Get involved!
Church Planters with MD Degrees
by John Yoon, MD
I would like to thank CMDA’s Center for Medical Missions and my sponsors for the Johnson Short-Term Mission Scholarship. This scholarship allowed me to participate in a short-term medical mission trip to Tulcan, Ecuador, January 11-19, 2008.
Unlike my previous experiences with medical mission trips, this short-term medical missions trip was intimately linked to church planting. I went with a medical and church planting team from Crossroads Community Church and E3 Missions (formerly Global Mission Fellowship).
Together our American teams linked up with local Ecuadorian pastors who selected four different sites in Tulcan, Ecuador, which they considered to be the most unreached with the gospel and medical care. Tulcan is a region north of Quito, near the border of Colombia. Our hope and prayer was that through meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the Tulcan residents, hearts would soften toward the gospel and God would establish a strong Christian presence that would continue long after we left.
The logistics of the clinics included a medical clinic (three licensed triage nurses, five physicians, and one licensed pharmacist). We also had an eye clinic staffed by an optometrist and an assistant who provided eye exams and free glasses. Fortunately, we had many Spanish translators as well. A pre-medical student from my church, Emily Weimer, had the opportunity to shadow the physicians as well as assist in the pharmacy.
The first day of clinic was a bit overwhelming as we gradually adapted to seeing many patients with complicated medical issues that were beyond the capability of our clinic to treat. The overwhelming physical needs combined with the sheer volume of patients who stood in line that day severely drained the physicians’ stamina.
This felt harder than residency, was my thought at the end of the day. We quickly realized that we would not be able to see every patient that came to the clinic. The physical needs seemed limitless. Turning patients away was heart-breaking but a realistic necessity in order to preserve the morale and strength of the team for subsequent clinic days. On subsequent clinic days, we became more experienced, efficient, and organized.
Meanwhile, a church-planting team as well as local national believers witnessed to patients while they were waiting in line, ministering to their spiritual needs. Our team leader emphasized that we were not just medical doctors but “church-planters with MD degrees,” so he encouraged us to share our faith with our patients. As a result, we spent a lot of time sharing our faith with patients, even leading several patients to Christ using the innovative E3 gospel cube approach. One of the evangelism teams working alongside the medical team remarked that they felt they had little to do since the medical team was already doing all the sharing during the clinical encounters! It was the first time that the team leader experienced MDs doing so much sharing of the gospel. Nevertheless, we experienced the tension between trying to see as many patients as possible, while also taking the time to address spiritual needs, which we viewed as “divine appointments” during the medical clinics.
In total with four and a half days of clinic, the medical clinic saw a total of 702 patients; the eye clinic saw 685 patients. There were many professions of faith as well and new churches planted during this trip. Please pray for strong discipleship among these new churches.
I came to this trip feeling somewhat exhausted and jaded from residency training. But God used this trip to encourage me spiritually and renew my vision for missions. I entered medicine because of American medical missionary role models who devoted their lives to serving Koreans during the early 20th century. I remember reading a story of an American missionary doctor who successfully treated one Korean emperor’s son, thus opening the door to future successful Protestant missions in Korea. Korea’s Christian heritage today is in part a fruit of these early medical missionaries. I wanted to be a medical missionary like them, someday. However, throughout medical school and residency training, a combination of stress, the disillusioning, secular learning environment, and personal anxieties related to the future were starting to erode away at my vision.
While in Ecuador, God renewed my vision of how medicine could be used to advance the gospel. On the first day of our trip, one elderly woman was openly hostile to our team, serving as the “chief instigator” of opposition against us. The next day, she came to the clinic and after receiving compassionate medical care was subsequently led to Christ by one of the physicians. The day after that, she openly hosted a Bible study in her home. This showed me how God can use medicine to soften the hearts of those initially hostile to the gospel!
Through this trip, God also began to renew my dedication to becoming a holistic healer. Through my training, I had become quite adept at treating physical ailments, while gradually neglecting the person’s other needs. Soon my medical care became more depersonalized as I started treating people as medical diagnoses, becoming more of a “body technician,” rather than a healer who treated the whole person.
Through the experiences of sharing my faith, praying with patients, and even leading some patients to the Lord, God began to heal the areas of my heart that had hardened during training. I had gone to heal but instead was healed, myself, by the grace of Jesus, the Great Physician. I thank God for healing the healer through this trip and renewing my vision to serve Him as a Christian healer who treats the whole person.
This was a life-changing experience for me, and one that undoubtedly will shape the direction of my medical career. I will further rely on His grace in making decisions that are in accordance with the vision He gave me at the beginning of my medical career. Dios le bendiga! (God bless you!)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Yoon, MD, grew up in Southern California and graduated medical school from the University of Texas Southwestern at Dallas. He is completing his third year internal medicine residency at Chicago and will be a research fellow in hospital medicine at the University of Chicago. He hopes to study professionalism, medical ethics, and quality improvement, particularly in the context of medical missions. He currently resides in Chicago with his wife, Mary, and their two daughters, Evangeline and Mary Sarah.
The "Saline Solution" Opened My Eyes
by William T. Griffin, DDS
Before attending the “Saline Solution” seminar, a formidable wall had developed in my mind between my profession and evangelism. On those rare occasions when I attempted to speak of the gospel to my patients, it was awkward and disjointed, thereby making it less likely that I would try again any time soon. My “Saline Solution” experience enabled me to integrate my faith into my practice, creating an almost infinite number of opportunities to reference the spiritual realm from within the context of patient care. By demonstrating the strong connection between the delivery of healthcare and the Christian faith, this seminar has made spiritual conversations with my patients almost as natural as breathing.
My wife and I drove about seven hours to attend the first-ever “Saline Solution” seminar in Asheville, North Carolina in November, 1995. A couple years later it was offered in Washington, D.C., so I attended once more, this time with two staff members. Then, when the course was presented in Williamsburg, Virginia, I couldn’t resist making the 30-minute drive to take it all in for a third time.
The title of the course comes from the fact that the body can only function at a specific pH; if it becomes too acidic or too basic, serious problems develop. In a similar vein, Jesus declared His followers to be “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). He alludes to the danger of becoming “tasteless,” which happens when we blur the distinctiveness of the gospel by being too much like the world. However, there is also the potential for the opposite error, that of repulsing the nonbeliever by giving them so much of the truth that they feel steamrolled. With this in mind, the goal of the “Saline Solution” seminar is to teach those in healthcare to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
So why would a person spend the time and money to attend this program three separate times? My answer: The course was full of practical ways to naturally proclaim the Christian faith, while still meeting the healthcare needs of our patients. In short, it helped me become more comfortable expressing my faith in the everyday practice of dentistry. Rather than contemplating “whether” to point to Christ, the issue became “how” to let Him show through everyday interactions with patients and fellow staff members.
The program helped me see that evangelism is, for most people, a process involving numerous steps and exposures to the gospel. The chart entitled, “Microdecisions of Faith” listed a continuum of stages that a person might go through in their transition from unbelief to faith. Very few non-Christians move from blatant disregard for Christ to transforming faith in one short step. Instead, it’s far more common for the Lord to use multiple exposures from a variety of sources. For example, a person who is hardened against the gospel might first experience the kindness of a Christian neighbor, and could come to the conclusion that perhaps all Christians aren’t crazy after all. Then at some point the non-Christian could experience problems in his marriage, and a Christian co-worker might have opportunity to share elements of God’s blueprint for joy in marriage. As a result of such positive interactions, the “soil” of this person’s soul has been tilled, creating a higher potential for the seed of faith to someday sprout. Paul’s described this collaborative process like this: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6).
I also learned through this seminar about the use of “faith flags,” which are short, matter-of-fact references that a person can make during everyday conversations, illustrating some basic truth regarding the Christian faith. They aren’t conversation-stoppers, and they aren’t meant to bring the hearer to his knees begging for God’s grace. Rather, they are honest references to the truth of the gospel as it affects the everyday affairs of life.
For example, after performing an examination in which all is well, the healthcare provider could casually mention, “It looks like the Lord has blessed you with great health; let’s try to keep it that way.” Now the patient may be an atheist, yet we know that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17), so the statement is justified. It may cause the patient to ponder for a moment, but it’s unlikely to be highly offensive. Another example of a faith flag would be an offer to pray for a patient’s concerns, whether they are health-related or not. In order for faith flags to be honoring to the Lord, they cannot be contrived or pre-meditated. We are not selecting from a list of possible “God-phrases” in order to try to manipulate the patient toward Christ. Rather, our comments are a natural outworking of who we are in Christ. We speak of what He has done, and what He regularly does, in our lives.
There is a major benefit to the use of faith flags that I did not initially anticipate. When we are regularly using faith flags as a way to communicate spiritual reality to our patients, we are concurrently reminding ourselves of the spiritual dimension of life, as well. As we give verbal attention to the works of God throughout the day, we are following Paul’s advice to “look…at the things which are unseen, knowing that… the things which are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 6:19, 20). Our fellow staff members can also be greatly encouraged by the use of faith flags.
A final reason for my great appreciation of the “Saline Solution” seminars is the awareness it gave me that there are so many other doctors seeking to proclaim Christ through their practices. At times it is easy for us to feel the despair of Elijah, who thought he was the only one in his day still speaking for the Lord (1 Kings 19:10). In truth, the Lord has His spokesmen throughout the world. Being at a “Saline Solution” seminar gives one the opportunity to rub shoulders with local Christian colleagues of a similar mindset, making it clear by their presence that the gospel has many ports of entry within one’s healthcare community. In addition, the small group discussions at the seminar were a powerful asset in envisioning how to personally apply the theoretical information that had been presented.
I simply cannot recommend the “Saline Solution” seminar highly enough. Participating in this program is the best way I have ever found to insure that the “salt” of my practice doesn’t lose its flavor. Because of what I learned there, sharing the love of Christ with my patients is no longer an awkward or rare event. Instead, it’s just a matter of communicating the goodness of the Lord within the context of my practice, so that others are brought one step closer to faith.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
"Completing Your Call" - A Life-Changing Experience
by William Poston, MD
I had the privilege of participating in the first ever “Completing Your Call” (CYC) program, offered by CMDA, which started in October 2007, with our “graduation” planned for the June 2008 CMDA National Convention. For me, the net effect has been to change my focus and, as a result, to engender changes in many areas of my life.
The program began with a weekend seminar experience, held at the CMDA national headquarters in Bristol, Tennessee. Dr. John Patrick’s Sunday morning two-hour sermon exploring “The Sermon on the Mount” was a profound focal point for me in preparing myself to “better serve” in all respects. Dr. Patrick equated the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” with asking, “Lord, how do You see us?” – a very effective way of eliminating pride from our spirit.
Dr. Dick Swenson was one of our featured authors who held a telephone conference with us in the CYC program. His way of helping us bring focus to our lives during this fascinating time in history was voiced in his fundamental mantra that “people are more important than things.” Dick’s commitment to people, especially his wife, Linda, and their children and granddaughter, brought focus into my life regarding my commitment to my wife, Kathy, and our kids, all of whom are now either in college or beyond. This imperative to focus on people, especially family, amidst the complexity of this life has become another valued outcome of the CYC program.
During the opening conference Dr. Al Weir’s story of his walk with Christ brought with it the lesson that truly listening to God’s call for yourself includes listening to God’s call for your spouse. I have personally thanked Al’s wife Becky for being so tuned into God’s call for her life. Prior to joining the leadership at CMDA, Al wanted to return to missionary work in Africa; however, Becky did not feel the call to Africa. As a result of Al’s devotion to Becky and their “oneness in Christ,” they eventually accepted God’s call to CMDA – our gain and Africa’s temporary loss (I am convinced God is amplifying Africa’s gain through Al’s and Becky’s service at CMDA).
In the same conference, Dr. David and Jody Stevens described a slightly different spin on the call to Africa – God overcame Jody’s concerns about life in Africa (30 foot snakes, etc.) to allow them to join as husband and wife in response to God’s call for their lives. Jody also was instrumental in David’s consideration of taking the leadership position at CMDA. These examples of faithfulness by the spouse have inspired me and Kathy to put mentoring medical couples on our list of priorities for completing our call.
One of Dr. Gene Rudd’s stories inspired me to place student mentoring on my list of priorities for completing my personal call. Gene shared about the spiritual desert he experienced in medical school, and then how he had recently returned to speak at a Christian student retreat for that same medical school. There he was overcome with joy when he discovered 120 Christian students participating in the retreat – students who were amongst the most spiritually mature he had ever met. The model of physician mentors there included five doctors who had limited and reorganized their practices so they could serve as mentors for these students.
At another conference during the course Dr. Carol Spears’ story of faith gave testimony to the fact that it is never too late to respond to God’s call to the ministry of medicine. After a successful career in business, Carol followed God’s call to become a doctor, even to become a surgeon. Carol also displayed enormous faith in God’s power and protection by returning to
Tenwek as a full-time medical missionary despite a harrowing experience of personal trauma when she had been there earlier as a surgical resident.
Dr. Bill Peel, one of our course directors and conference leaders, introduced us to the process of defining our true “giftedness” during an on-site workshop in Bristol. Although I was unable to attend that component due to family and work issues, the preparation “homework” for the meeting helped me determine that mentoring was a gift shared by me and by Kathy and it should be the focus for us as we seek to complete our calls.
There were a number of other speakers and writers who contributed to the impact of the CYC program. I am grateful to all of them. In the end, participating in the Completing Your Call program prepared me to better serve the Lord, and to better serve my patients, my colleagues, and my family by exposing me to these mentors who personify the completion of these commands in the book of Joshua: “Be strong and very courageous. Obey all the laws Moses gave you. Do not turn away from them, and you will be successful in everything you do. … I command you – be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1: 7, 9).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William Poston, MD, received his MD degree in 1974 from Duke University Medical Center. He completed his pathology residency at New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston followed by a pathology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York City. He has practiced pathology in Memphis, TN and Oxford, MS since 1980. He and his wife, Kathleen, have three children: Kathryn, a neonatal intensive care nurse in Memphis, TN; Will, an environmental science student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and, Elizabeth, a music major student at Belmont University, Nashville, TN. Dr. Poston’s hobbies include woodworking and gardening.
How the Lord Made “Plan B” My “Plan A”
by Karl Benzio, MD
As a kid, I was interested in understanding people, especially how and why they made their decisions. I wanted to become a psychiatrist, but I found that the Christian community frowned on psychiatry and was grossly unaware of psychological and emotional processes, addictions, and psychotropic medications. Yet Christians struggled with these issues just as others did. With my background in biomedical engineering, medicine, and psychiatry, God equipped me to start Lighthouse Network, a nonprofit ministry, integrating the three spheres of spirit, mind, and body in a way that would be scientifically cutting edge and biblically accurate.
My goals were to help people: 1) understand and be better at daily decision-making; 2) obtain better access to Christian treatment for behavioral health issues; and, 3) understand how to advocate for a biblical worldview within the context of understanding sound psychological and biological science. Sometimes I felt very frustrated when Christians spoke in the media, as they often failed to articulate the psychological aspects of the particular issue, often focusing only on spiritual factors. I would exhort these spokespersons, in my mind, but despite my good background in the sciences, I was not a gifted speaker. God had a plan to provide for me.
In 2004, I helped a CMDA internist from the Midwest find a Christian treatment program for one of his addiction patients. Several months later, he was asked through CMDA to respond to an interview request about marijuana potency and increased use. He remembered how I helped him navigate the addiction treatment options, so he consulted my expertise on marijuana. This time, after we spoke, he passed my name on to the CMDA Media Training ministry to consider for future training.
In 2005, Margie Shealy invited me to come to the CMDA headquarters in Bristol, Tennessee, for the Media Training program. What a fantastic opportunity! CMDA staffers Cathy and Joel Newton volunteered to be my hosts (ministry finances were tight), enabling me to afford to attend. Through the tutelage and teachings of Drs. David Stevens and Gene Rudd, and CMDA VPs Margie Shealy and Jonathan Imbody, I learned more in a short time than I had expected. The didactic trainings were fantastic. The mock interviews and pointed feedback equipped me to more effectively advocate for kingdom truths in a secular setting. The experience was encouraging and inspirational, and I returned home excited, less nervous than before, anticipating the various opportunities that might arise.
Since then, I’ve been asked by Margie and CMDA to present in many different settings in my arenas of expertise including medical, brain chemistry, psychological, sociological, and spiritual aspects all at once. I have debated Kevorkian’s lawyer on TV. I’ve addressed many issues, including sexual abuse, depression, addictions, suicide, HIV education to kindergartners, the effect of violent video games on future behavior, and various other topics.
The most impactful opportunity came in June 2007, after Margie connected me to a Focus on the Family legal advocacy ministry in my home state of Pennsylvania. A state congressman had fast-tracked a bill that would mandate all hospitals in the state to provide information and access to the “Plan B” emergency contraceptive to every rape victim. Even though we got involved “late in the game,” our protest hearing was granted. With little hope of turning the presiding opinion of “Why shouldn’t we help a rape victim erase any evidence of the rape?” I was given five minutes, and I had to prepare quickly.
So I contacted Gene Rudd, an OB/Gyn, to get a sex-ed primer and “Plan B” in-service training. Gene connected me to an OB/Gyn in Kentucky who had recently been interviewed on the “Plan B” issue, and he gave me some research studies and reproductive science. With this foundation and my background articulating the non-medical issues, I addressed the ramifications of decision-making of this importance on brain chemistry, personality, and future functioning. After that, I briefly broached the spiritual and moral slippery slopes related to the question, as a result of which the better-informed congressmen defeated the bill. There was even a Q&A afterward, after which one congressman said, “All things work together for good for those that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”
I am so thankful to CMDA for equipping me to be a good steward of my education and faith and for giving me the opportunity to speak boldly for my Lord. I offered up my meager loaves and fish and He multiplied my offering immensely. If I can do such a thing, anyone can. So I would encourage you to search your heart and see if God wants to use what you may have to offer.