A Team Approach

Again and again, the Bible emphasizes that our ministries for the Lord are meant to be a team endeavor.  Jesus sent the disciples out two-by-two.  Later, Paul talked about the church as one body with many parts.  Peter described God’s people as a temple, made out of “living stones.”

As another year of ministry continues, Sharon and I are so glad we aren’t in this alone.  God has provided other co-laborers to share the work with us, making it far more effective for the Kingdom.  In this update, I want to take a moment to introduce you to our local CMDA Ministry Council and how they’re impacting students in the area.

Dr. Charlene Brock, a pediatrician, mentors our leaders at Drexel, all of whom happen to be female this year.  They get together for bible/book study, prayer and mentoring.  Charlene has done a fantastic job balancing her career and four children for many years, and is a terrific role model for the students.  She also serves as our Council Chair and has been a great resource for us personally.

Dr. Jerry Hric is a neonatologist, and he and his wife Susan have been hosting students from “SOM” (the medical school in nearby Stratford, NJ) for a weekly bible study in Philippians.  They have been instrumental in rebuilding the ministry at SOM, which had been weaker over the past year or two.  Jerry has also been on campus frequently and helped the leaders in thinking strategically about reaching unbelievers.

Drs. Jim & Thanh Kirkpatrick have been critical to strengthening God’s ministry at Penn’s medical campus.  Jim, a cardiologist, has gathered medical faculty for weekly prayer and fellowship, launched a faculty-student mentoring program, and encouraged his colleagues to become more involved.  Thanh, a pediatrician, has done a great deal in recruiting female physicians to mentor the female medical students, even approaching her bible study to fill in needs that could not be met by others at Penn.

Ms. Deborah Moss is a nurse practitioner at Esperanza Health Center in North Philadelphia.  She has helped host and organize monthly medical outreaches sponsored by MCO, and has a huge heart for holistic outreach in urban environments.  As a nurse practitioner, she also helps our ministry remember that healthcare is much broader than physicians.

Dr. Rich Shoemaker is an emergency physician and serves the Temple campus along with his wife, Ana.  Last year, when the leaders were all women, they hosted the leaders at their home regularly for dinner and mentoring.  This year, they have continued to host an annual fall retreat at their family’s mountain home.  This is a real rallying point for the students as the year begins, helping to build important relationships that will continue throughout the year.  Rich also mentors some of the men on campus, and models for them how to invest in others.

Dr. Jim Weidner is our newest council member, and, along with two other physicians, is heading up the newly-formed CMDA physicians group in South Jersey.  This group meets monthly for encouragement, fellowship and prayer.  Jim’s site will also be accepting students from the new (opens fall 2012) Cooper Medical School for their pediatric rotations, which will open up additional opportunities for outreach and mentoring.

Finally, I’ll mention briefly that God gave Sharon and I another wonderful home bible study breakfast last week.  Even though exams are upon the students, 18 came out for another wonderful time of study, fellowship and prayer.  This past weekend, I (Bryan) also had the opportunity to do give a medical evangelism workshop for 35 healthcare students/professionals from one of our partner churches at their retreat at the shore.  Many are excited about receiving a fuller version of the training.

I hope this begins to give you a feel for all that God is doing through our team.  It’s far, far bigger than Sharon and I.  In addition to our ministry council, I’d like to also acknowledge specifically the efforts of Dr. Loren & Anne Chen, Dr. Karen Fritz & the Medical Campus Outreach ministry, Drs. Steven & Joy Greer, Drs. Josh & Susie Uy, and Aaron & Dr. Amanda Wonnacott to name a few.

It really is true, as Jesus said, that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  We are so thankful, though, that God has provided these co-laborers in reaching healthcare students and professionals here in Philadelphia and South Jersey.  Together we are making an impact that will last!

Finally, I’d like to specifically ask for your prayers for our financial situation.  As of this month, our account has been in the negative substantially (about $6,000) for the first time in many years.  This has been primarily the result of the extended financial downturn.  While CMDA is able to ‘float’ us for a time, if our account reaches a $10,000 deficit part of our salary will be withheld until this corrected.    We are working hard to do what we can, but understand that we need God’s blessing for our efforts to be successful.  So, please join us in concentrated prayer in this area.

That said, we are entirely confident in God’s call to this ministry, and thus, in His desire to provide all we need.  Thank you, faithful friends, for your giving and prayers.  We value you more than you could ever know!

Warmly,

Bryan & Sharon

Please join us in these prayers & praises:

  • Praise God for all He’s doing on our area campuses through our ministry team!
  • Praise God for a great medical evangelism workshop and breakfast bible study in our home.  Please pray for the next one on Oct. 29th.
  • Pray that our students are able to grow in their relationship with God.  As exams bring greater stress, this gets much harder.  We need wisdom in terms of how best to help the students at this time of the year.
  • Pray for the one-on-one, and smaller group, meetings many of us have with the students.  These are key times of impacting them for the Kingdom and, again, much wisdom and the Spirit’s power are needed for that to bear lasting fruit.
  • Pray for God’s blessing on our ministry account, as we continue to need new supporters and a small ‘cushion’ in our account to weather difficult financial seasons such as this one.
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From The Field

Part of our team debriefing right after the outreach.

With our first SMI Philly outreach under our belt, I wanted to send you a report “from the field” that I hope will encourage you and guide your prayers over the next three weeks as the project continues —

Yesterday afternoon, we held our first Summer Medical Institute (SMI) Philly outreach for the year.  Based in Philadelphia’s second-poorest community, we offer free health screenings and discuss spiritual matters with anyone and everyone who wants to.

Although we held four hours of training the day before, including what to say when we knock on doors and how to address spiritual concerns, we came away with a profound sense that there’s really no script for this kind of thing.  In all honesty, that can be kind of scary, and all of us had some level of anxiety even though most of us had done it before.

After all, following Jesus can land you in some pretty interesting situations.  Like a community hair salon, where we wound up spending our entire afternoon.

At first, I’ve got to admit, it was a little awkward.

Although the owner had invited us, when we opened the door we discovered other members of our team were already there due to a change of plans.  No one on our specific team had ever done the screenings we were about to offer.  Demographically, none of us looked like we belonged there, something that was not lost on the salon’s patrons.  And, as a guy, I felt a little out of place.

But, there we were, and we weren’t about to miss the opportunities God had put before us.  So, with hair dryers blazing all around us, and our interpreter as our primary ‘lifeline’ between us and the Spanish-speaking customers, we started screening anyone who was interested.

Our last interaction turned out to be our best one.

“Maria” (not her real name) is a woman in her early forties, and she was clearly worried about her health.  Although she had been seen by a local clinic, she was not getting adequate services for her high blood pressure and GI issues.  Without getting into all the details, she had been eating just once a day to avoid embarrassment at work.  And, as the single parent of a two-year-old, she was (rightly) scared about what would happen to him if her health didn’t improve.

Although we weren’t able to do much for her medically on the spot, we did connect her with Esperanza, the local, Christ-centered clinic that will provide excellent care for her.  And, although she wasn’t ready to discuss spiritual concerns deeply in a public setting, she responded to our offer of pastoral follow-up, even requesting a worship service in her home.  Only God knows how Maria’s story will end, but our team left encouraged, feeling privileged to be part of God’s work and believing she will receive the medical and spiritual follow-up she needs.

So, although the day didn’t unfold anything like we expected it to, God’s script was better than ours.  And that’s exactly what we needed to see – practically – on our first outreach.  Strengthened by that experience, we’re resolved to trust Christ for every interaction we have over the next three weeks:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

If there’s any ‘script’, it’s Him!

Please continue to pray for us, the people we’ll be meeting, and our partners who will be following up in the days ahead.  Thanks, as always, for your heartfelt prayers!

With Christ’s love,

Bryan & Sharon

SMI Outreaches Starting NOW!

Students in small groups during yesterday's evangelism training

In just a few hours, we will hold our first Summer Medical Institute (SMI) Philly outreach of the year!  We will be offering free health screenings as a service to the Hunting Park (in North Philly) community, and using that as a bridge to share about Christ to anyone who will listen.

Here are some quick prayer requests for our outreaches and other aspects of the project:

  • Pray that the evangelism training I led yesterday would be helpful as we do the outreaches.
  • Please pray that our team of 20 students and other healthcare providers would trust in God, not ourselves, for every moment of the outreach.  Pray that we would not be fearful of rejection and not knowing what to say in difficult interactions.
  • Pray that we would be mindful of the spiritual battle all around us, and ask God for help ‘in the moment.’
  • Pray for the people we will meet on our outreaches.  Many of them are un/under-insured, in significant poverty, and facing many other challenges most of us have not experienced.  At the same time, this is a blessing because often a sense of physical need translates into a sense of spiritual need, and we have much to learn from them.  We long for them to know Jesus deeply.
  • Of the 20 students on project, only 4 this year are men, so pray that I (Bryan) would invest in Alan, Dan, Luke, and Sam deeply.  At the same time, I am so thankful for Sharon, who is spending a good deal of time on project and ministering to the women, so please pray for her as well.
  • Please pray for the many graduate healthcare “faculty” who will be joining us at various points throughout the project.  They will model for the students how to care for “the whole person”, but more importantly just “living life” with the students and investing in them informally.  Pray for us, also, as we do some teaching throughout the project, the next session being Thursday morning.
  • I’d like to express real thankfulness for Medical Campus Outreach (MCO), another medical ministry in the city, and Esperanza Health Center, a local Christian clinic, who are sponsoring SMI and have invested so much of their time and resources in this project.  So many people have come together to make this project a reality, and we are truly grateful to be joining them in this Kingdom work.  Please pray that God blesses them in every way.
  • Finally, I will be at SMI Texas next week (Monday 18th – Friday 22nd), serving in a similar capacity, before returning for the third and final week of SMI Philly. Please pray for my time at SMI Texas, where roughly half of the students are from the Philadelphia area.

As always, we are thankful for you, our partners in this work.  We have a deep sense that you are there with us through your prayers and gifts that make it all possible.  We can’t wait to share more with you as the project unfolds.

God at Work

Dear friends,

It’s been another great month of God’s work, with exciting ministry opportunities everywhere. Here are some highlights:

Neighborhood Outreach

This month, we held our first team meeting to begin dreaming and praying about reaching the increasingly young neighborhood around our church (Roxborough and Manayunk). One of the unique things about our neighborhood – and church – is that it features two very different groups of people – “old-timers” who have been raised in the neighborhood, and “new-comers” who are often here for their education or their career. The challenge our church faces is reaching and keeping those who have settled here more recently without losing those who have always called it home. This is no easy task – apart from the more obvious, superficial differences such as age, these populations gravitate toward different music, relational styles and just about everything else you can think of. The potential is certainly there for disunity!

I was very pleased, then, to see a great demonstration of unity at our initial meeting. From the outset, it was very clear that what I feared could be two different “sides” was in reality one diverse group with a single passion – reaching our neighborhood for Christ. Although the meeting’s goal was primarily to get the ball rolling and build relationships, already I can see some core convictions emerging – the desire to involve dissimiliar voices in the process, the need to reach out in word and deed, and the belief that developing relationships are essential to successful outreach. This process has been tremendously energizing for me, and I’m excited to see what the Lord is going to do in and through us!

On Campus

At Philadelphia University, I joined the students, as usual, for their Wednesday night meeting. This time, though, was different – instead of meeting at our typical location, the students decided it was time to reach out to their classmates. So, we offered free food and drinks to everyone who came by at one of the main dorms, and it was a huge success on many fronts.

First, it was a major step forward for the students in the fellowship. In the past, the group has struggled with being inwardly focused, so their desire to move outward was a wonderful start. The evening also gave me a great chance to connect with the students. During slower times, we had a chance to talk and process the outreach as it was unfolding. But my favorite part was watching unbelievers wrestle with the gospel in action. Time and time again, a look of shock and disbelief came over their faces: “Why are you doing this?!”

Peter, one of the student leaders, gave this great response, “As Christians, we believe that God has given us lots of stuff for free” [in other words, He’s been gracious!]. So, we want to do that on campus here.” Judging by the looks on the students’ faces, that didn’t quite explain it for them. Still, you could see them wrestling with the idea of grace, with getting something they hadn’t earned. We pray that this small experience of God’s kindness will begin to lead some of them on to its fulfillment in Christ.

At PCOM, I continue to enjoy large group meetings, men’s bible study, and getting together with students. A recent conversation with Sarun, a third-year student, reminded me of how vital medical ministry can be. Sarun has been on his family practice rotation, where he’s observed an older physician caring for his patients. A woman came in for something relatively minor, then confided to the doctor that her marriage was falling apart, but also that she did not necessarily want a divorce. The doctor, recently divorced himself, off-handedly suggested that she get a “bed-and-breakfast” divorce, which would allow her to essentially live as though she were single yet maintain her married status.

As I thought about this, I was fascinated. For one thing, it reminded me that physicians occupy a critical place in their patients’ lives. We depend on being physically healthy for pretty much everything we do, so we understandably place a great deal of value on our doctor’s advice concerning our body. At the same time, moments of physical suffering are moments of personal searching, and it’s natural to look for spiritual help during these times of crisis. Without perhaps even knowing it, that’s what this woman was looking for, and her physician was prescribing much more than medicine that day – he was also prescribing deeply significant, moral advice. Unfortunately, his counsel was not only uninformed, it was biblically-misguided. The issue is this: due to their position, the question is not whether physicians will give spiritual counsel, but what kind of spiritual counsel they will give. I work with medical students so that, when the times comes, they will stand in Christ’s place as healers who minister faithfully not only to the body, but also to the soul.

Thank you, friends, for standing behind us with your encouragement, prayers and gifts so that this work can continue. Together we are making a real impact for the kingdom in Philadelphia and beyond!

In and by His grace,

Bryan & Sharon

Please join us in lifting up these praises and prayer requests:

  • Praise for God’s faithful work in our church’s neighborhood, as well as on campus at PCOM and Philadelphia University. Everywhere we turn we see clear signs of God’s gracious blessing!
  • Please pray for wisdom as our new neighborhood outreach team considers its next steps. We are working not only on what God is asking to do, but on developing a specific vision that will inform the particular decisions we make. This is the critical piece.
  • Pray for my discipleship with Steven, one of the male leaders at Philadelphia University. Please pray especially that God helps Steven fully forgive a family member who has treated he and his family poorly. I’m excited to see what God will do through him as he is freed from this burden.
  • Pray for my times with Ted at PCOM. His schedule has recently made it harder to get together, but we’re looking for times where this will still be possible.
  • Finally, we praise God that Sharon is now 15 weeks pregnant. Please continue to pray that she feels better, as this has been slow in coming.