Student Healthcare Retreat

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

– Jesus (Matthew 11:28)

Sometimes we find ourselves burdened with the busyness and exhaustion of our day-to-day routines. This is certainly true for our healthcare students, who face heavy workloads and clinical training that often leaves them wondering why they entered healthcare in the first place.

This past weekend, roughly 60 healthcare students, residents and physicians from around the city held a mini-retreat at my church in response to Jesus’ call to rest in him. It was short – just 5 hours – but its impact far, far outweighed the time that was spent. Through vibrant worship, messages tailored toward faith and medicine, informal fellowship, and a small group that personalized Christ’s Cross to our lives, we came away renewed and ready to re-enter “the daily grind.”

As for my role, I had the opportunity to give significant input during the planning process, recommend one of our speakers, and offer our church for the event. During the retreat, I had many wonderful conversations with the students, our speakers and Scott Boyles, the Northeast Regional Director for CMDA (Christian Medical & Dental Association). Next week, I will be following up with one of our speakers (Dr. Corson) about his vision for local medical ministry, as well as with Scott about how we can work together to reach healthcare students and professionals in the city. I also anticipate processing the retreat with several of the student leaders from PCOM. As you can see, the value of the retreat goes far beyond the few hours it was held!

Thank you so much for making opportunities like this one possible. Christ is doing great things in and among Philadelphia’s healthcare community!

Bryan & Sharon

For prayer & praise:

  • Pray that the work God did among those who attended would last, and continue, in the coming weeks. In particular, pray that students would respond to the messages, desire Christ more fervently and find their rest in him, and that continue to encourage each other even when academic life makes that challenging.
  • Praise God for a simply phenomenal time of ministry to those who came. Everyone left refreshed, encouraged and reconnected to the Lord and others.
  • Pray for similar events in the future that already are being planned for next year.
  • Pray for fruitful follow-up conversations with Dr. Corson and Scott Boyles.

Full Speed Ahead

Dear Partners in Christ,

In my last update, I mentioned that so much was happening, I didn’t have time (or space) to share it all with you! Consider this Part 2 of “The Students Have Returned.”

Here’s what God has been doing…


– In just their second week of medical school, the first-year students had their first exam. As you walked around campus, it was easy to tell who the first-years were: they were the ones doing the ‘deer-in-headlights’ impersonations! As I thought about ways to serve them, I decided that putting together ‘study care bags’ filled with drinks, snacks, and a personal note of encouragement was the way to go. With a tremendous amount of help from willing volunteers from my church, we put together 35 ‘care bags’ and delivered them to the students two days ahead of their exam. They were very moved and, I trust, shown a taste of Christ’s own love for them during a challenging time.

– Just a few days later, we held a meet-and-greet BBQ at Ted’s (student president of CMA, the Christian fellowship) house for first-years. Although some were still recovering from the exam, we had a nice turnout of about ten students. Everyone was very friendly and it gave the student leaders and I a great chance to connect with and enfold the new students. Because med school is so intense, it’s especially important to start building relationships with them right away, before they disappear beneath the heavy workload.

At Philadelphia University (PhilaU for short; pronounced “Philly-U”)

– I met the PhilaU leaders at a potluck leadership gathering, and then had the opportunity to speak at their large-group meeting on the 10th. The leaders are working hard to make Cornerstone (name of their fellowship) a place not only for believers, but also for those who do not yet know the Lord and want to explore all that Christ has to offer. With that in mind, I opened my time with a YouTube video clip of real people sharing about their frustrations and difficult experiences growing up. The clip also opened the door to more spiritual topics as those interviewed were asked to reflect on whether they felt God was doing a good job of running the world. After the students shared for awhile, we turned to the first part of Lamentations 3 and found that, despite appearances to the contrary sometimes, God does care very much about our struggles and offers us moment-to-moment help in their midst.

– I plan on being a regular participant at Cornerstone’s large-group gatherings!

At Pilgrim

– This past Sunday, we organized a wonderful time of food and fellowship with medical and university students at the home of Tim & Becky Wainwright, Pilgrim members who live nearby. Although our numbers were not large, this was a great moment – the different ‘worlds’ God is calling us to reach (college students, medical students and young people near the church) were all present. This is exciting because students need to be vitally connected to a local church to experience all that God has for them. And, the local church needs their energy, creativity and gifts. We also had the opportunity to talk with the students about what they enjoy about Pilgrim, as well as what would make it even more welcoming to other younger people. Their feedback was helpful as we continue to strive toward this important goal!

For Prayer & Praise:

– Praise for a phenomenal start to the ministry year in every way!

Praise for some significant new support that God has brought in. Please pray for God’s continued provision in this way as we approach the year’s end behind our target levels.

– Pray for discernment in seizing the very best ministry opportunities since so many have presented themselves. One specific item for prayer is whether I should pursue a discipleship opportunity at PhilaU.

Pray for momentum and open hearts as I seek to gather a team at Pilgrim that is passionate about reaching the younger people around our church.

– Finally, pray for Sharon as she continues to experience fairly intense morning sickness. But we praise the Lord for many who have provided cards, words of encouragement and meals!

Out & About!

Dear friends in the faith,

What a great month it’s been! I have enjoyed an especially fruitful season on our medical campuses, and it has been my privilege to listen with sympathy, rejoice in God’s blessing, offer wisdom when needed, encourage for jobs well-done, and challenge where growth still needs to occur. God created me for moments like these! Let me tell you more about one of them.

“Jim” is a second-year medical student at one of our campuses, and I’ve been out to a number of their midweek gatherings. The students spend an hour in large-group bible study at their meetings, and Jim typically leads a portion of the study. I can honestly say that there are very few people – of any age- that I know who are better relationally than Jim. He is an encourager, shares openly about God’s work in his life, and instantly makes any group he is part of a welcoming place to be.

As I’ve participated in these bible studies and watched Jim lead, I noticed that he frequently makes self-deprecating comments and defers to another leader in the group. Over time, I began to get the feeling that people liked Jim, but they didn’t fully respect him. At the end of one particular meeting, I encouraged him first, then asked if I could bring something to his attention.

After he said “yes”, I simply pointed out that he often put himself down and asked another leader for support, then asked him if he noticed that, too. Although he had thought about it a bit before, a smile came across his face as he started thinking and talking about it with me right there. God was at work!

We continued talking, and I explained to him that he had tremendous potential to impact others for Christ, but that his actions were making it hard for others to follow him with confidence. I had to leave, but asked him to think about why he had adopted self-disparaging patterns.

When we got together a few weeks later to follow-up, Jim had obviously reflected a lot on our conversation. In a nutshell, he said, “I put myself down because it’s safer that way.” In His goodness, the Lord had shown Jim something very significant – it’s easier to ‘play it safe’ and not put yourself on the line than it is to ‘take a chance’ and lead boldly. The trade-off, however, is that we lose our influence with others, and Jim has begun to grasp that.

What a privilege to participate in moments like these. Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” I felt honored that God had used me to “draw out” the “deep waters” in Jim’s heart that night. Given Jim’s obvious relational gifting, it will be exciting to see how God will use this step of faith. I dream and pray that, years from now, other Christian men will be impacted for Christ through Jim because of it.

We are mindful, of course, that you make moments of personal transformation like this possible through your gifts and prayers. May God reward you for your critical role in the harvest He is reaping through us!

With Christian love,
Bryan & Sharon

We invite you to join us in prayer & praise over the following items:

Praise the Lord for a wonderful season of campus meetings and discipleship times. This past month has been our best ever with MCO!

Praise also for an encouraging time as we search for a new ministry position. We are confident that the Lord will guide us faithfully, and ask that you pray with us for His clear leading.

Praise God for His comfort & healing, since Sharon suffered a miscarriage last month. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away — blessed be the name of the Lord.

Finally, pray that we make preparations to “finish well” during our remaining time with MCO. We want to honor Christ and place the ministry on solid ground as we make our transition.

Time of Transition

Dear friends in the Great Commission,

We know that we have just recently emailed you, but we have some significant news to share in this short update. In God’s wisdom, He has shown us that it is time for our family to look for our next ministry calling.

We are grateful to God for our time with MCO, and still believe in the vision that drew us to this ministry. Although many factors played into this decision, the most important has to do with the significant administrative component of my current position, versus my gifting and passion to focus on teaching and discipleship. As we look ahead, I am looking forward to returning to a position that revolves around these gifts.

At this point, we plan on continuing with MCO through June 30th. So please do continue your financial support for us through MCO until you hear otherwise. We greatly praise the Lord for His provision of generous giving in December, and we finished the year in the black. However, a monthly shortfall remains, so your gifts are important to keep us financially stable.

Finally, please let us know if you are aware of any ministry opportunities. Over these years of partnering together, you have come to know us well, and we will eagerly consider any opportunities you bring to our attention!

We will keep you well-informed of the changes that lie ahead, as God shows us what the next steps will be. It is particularly at times like this that we are grateful that we do not stand alone in ministry. What a mighty God we serve, and what a wonderful team of supporters God has given us!

Warmest blessings,
Bryan & Sharon

Please join us in keeping these items before the Father’s Throne –

* Praise God for allowing us to minister with MCO for two years. In his kindness, He did great kingdom work through, and in, us.

* Pray for the MCO Board as they decide how best to move the ministry ahead, and for the city’s healthcare students, that the Lord would continue to provide for their growth in Christ.

* Pray that God helps us trust Him fully during this time – He is just as (perhaps more!) concerned with the process, and our character, than He is with the outcome.

* Pray that we continue to invest deeply in students during our remaining time with MCO.

* Pray for clarity as we seek to discern God’s leading.

* As a bonus for those of you who hung in there to read this far… praise God for baby #4, due in late September. We are still very early in the pregnancy, but we are pleased that God has blessed us with this addition to our family!

A Fellowship of Distinction

Dear partners in the gospel,

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, and to the breaking of bread and the prayers. – Acts 2:42

In my experience among medical students, it is exceedingly rare to find a vibrant community like the one in Acts 2. There are many reasons for this: never-ending school work, the fact that students are on campus for only two years, and lack of significant staff support. Sadly, the results of weaker community are evident, though understandable – isolation, discouragement, stagnant faith, and a ‘survival mentality’.

While this is ordinary for even Christian medical students, I am excited to tell you about a notable exception, the Jefferson Christian Fellowship (JCF). As I visited them again this past week, I was refreshed by their example of godly community. Large-group gatherings average about 30 (2-3 times the size of most medical fellowships) and consist of significant singing and scripture study. Before and after, the love the students have for Christ and one another is unmistakable. During my visit, the students stayed around until 10 o’clock, making for a three-hour meeting! Throughout the week, they gather for accountability, service to their campus and social events. One student even confessed that the fellowship was so inviting that his challenge was to devote enough time to studying!

Although this sort of fellowship is not as rare among college students (who have less coursework and more discretionary time), it is hard to overemphasize how unique it is among medical students. My humble prayer is that God would use our ministry to build this type of fellowship among our other Philadelphia medical campuses. Thank you for your faithful prayers, gifts and love that allow us to carry on this vital ministry.

For the King,
Bryan & Sharon

For prayer & praise:

– Praise God for his faithfulness to this group at Jefferson (JCF). He has created a wonderful fellowship of believers that he clearly delights in.

– Pray for JCF, particularly for ongoing faithfulness among the leaders. Since students are primarily on campus for just two years, it is harder to establish continuity, train up new leaders, and gain momentum for outreach and discipleship.

– As our administrator steps down to have her first child, we will have less administrative help. Pray particularly for the Board and I as we work out the details of the transition. On a final note, we’ll be changing how we handle the monthly prayer requests and receipting process. In the past, you received our monthly prayer requests along with an acknowledgment of your contributions. Going forward, you will continue to receive both, but they will arrive separately.

SMI Really Begins

During my first – and only – week at SMI last year, I was puzzled by the project calendar I received. The last day of the calendar said simply “SMI Begins!” I remember thinking, “It must be a typo, but it’s not worth saying anything.”

This year, I realized that this was no accident. In a very real way, “SMI begins” when it ends because, ultimately, its goal is to serve as a stimulus for change that lasts as we transition back to our ‘real-life’ settings.

For this final SMI update, then, I’d like to share with you excerpts from just one firsthand account of a ‘beginning’ that was made in Franz (pictured at left above) during project to give you a taste for what God has done.

“In my time here, my faith [has been] challenged. Let’s just say that the first Sunday I was here, my whole view of who Jesus is and what God’s Love means was shattered. “Jesus is necessary AND sufficient,” said Pastor Bret Nazworth of Harlingen Bible Church.

I’ve wondered, recently, with all of the confusion and the rough times in medical school, “Have I once trusted in Christ with all my heart? Have I but once given things over to Him fully?” I had to be honest and the answer was no.

So of course that night, I laid awake, asking myself if everything in my Christian life has been false, and if so, what am I doing here at Summer Medical Institute, spreading the gospel? What am I doing if I myself have stopped believing in [the gospel] because I’ve come to the realization that my faith was weak or that my faith was non-existent!??

I went up to Pastor Nazworth and told him that what he had preached shot me straight through the heart. He said, “Well, the answer to your question is relatively simple. You have to look at the object of our faith and that’s Jesus Christ.” He explained that in our works-based society, it’s easy to center things on ourselves and that even our faith is centered in ourselves. [What we need to do is]lay down our arms and just trust Jesus Himself.

Well now, wasn’t that a change! I had been looking to the wrong place the whole time! My whole life culminated in that moment and I knew once again, upon looking back at my life, that God had molded every event.

Well, despite all of the good that’s happened, I also realized that Christ still has A LOT of work to do in me, but at least this time, I won’t depend solely on my strength and I’ll know what it means, a little bit more, to trust in God. It’s not about my trust, but WHO I trust in.”

What a precious gift – to know that all of life depends on God, not on us. This is what SMI is all about – coming face-to-face with Christ in new and powerful ways that leave us changed forever. God continued his good work in each one of us this summer, and it has been our privilege to share that with you. We pray that you have been encouraged!

With gratitude,
Bryan & Sharon

Visiting Faculty

There’s nothing Christian medical students love more than time with a Christian attending.

If you’re new to the world of medicine, an “attending” is the physician who has primary responsibility for the care of a patient. So why is spending time with one of them such a big deal for a medical student?

The answer, at least in part, is found in 2 Timothy 2:1-2 –

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

I love this passage! Paul is telling Timothy, his son in the faith, to do for others what’s he’s done for him – invest in them deeply so that they will, in turn, invest in others. This is the process of Christian discipleship.

Medical students, like all of us, are looking for mentors – people who have gone before them, will come alongside them, and help them become who they’re meant to be in Christ. A godly attending, then, is so much more than a doctor – he or she incarnates what it means to represent Christ as the Great Physician, healer of body and soul.

This is why we invite attendings – and other healthcare professionals – to SMI. We want our students to see firsthand what it looks like to submit all of who they are, including who they are as medical students, to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Recently, we had the privilege of welcoming Dr. Rich Shoemaker (pictured above with his wife, Ana), along with his family, on project for a week. Rich taught on a variety of topics – Colossians 2, how a life in medicine affects marriage and family life, how to survive residency, and on his upcoming long-term service as a missionary physician in Liberia. The students got a rare, up-close look at what it means to actually live out everything they’ve learned.

Equally important, though, was just the opportunity to spend informal time with Rich and his family. His passion for Christ, his love for his family, and his vulnerability in sharing his journey with us are a gift the students get to keep long after his departure. Their time with Rich will shape what they aspire to as future physicians.

Please join us in praying that God will raise up many more mentor-attendings in the years to come.

From a mother’s point of view…

Hi, everyone. Sharon here. Here’s SMI from a wife’s point of view. I am obviously one-step removed from the inner-workings of the project, since my primary job here is to be a mother and wife. But here are some random thoughts & pictures for you to see the project through the eyes of a quasi-insider.

Bryan has mentioned the trips to Mexico already in a separate posting. The girls and I joined the team for 2 of our Mexico days so far, which was rewarding. I think my favorite part was seeing Carissa process just how different it would be to live in Matamoros. I believe this exposure is a partial answer to my prayers from over 15 years ago. Here’s a photo of me — in scrubs and all! — helping out in our “pharmacy”. I spend most of the day dusting off my very rust Spanish skills, translating things like “take one tablet every 4-6 hours for pain as needed”, then verbally explaining the directions to the patients in case they can’t read the printed instructions we give them.

I’ve also spent quite a bit of time doing hospitality. We decided that we’d like to have each student down to our home for a meal, to get to know them better and to check in with them in a smaller-group setting. The cafeteria is fine, but not conducive to deeper conversation. (We share the room with about 90 illegal immigrant boys who are also housed on-site.) So twice a week, I’ve been hosting lunches for our family plus 6-8 students at a time. It’s been a highlight for me to serve in this way, and to visit with each student more personally and intentionally.

Although I don’t get to participate in much of the classroom activities, last Thursday we did have a “Relationships Panel”, and all the faculty (Bryan and I included) were put in the Hot Seat to speak on / answer questions about relationships. Most of these students are at a point in their lives when relationships are quite relevant, and they asked a lot of good questions. It was good to have an opportunity to sit next to Bryan and talk about some of the things God has taught us through the scriptures about wisdom in relationships, and to share our experiences as a couple.

The kids have been having a wonderful time! Carissa turned 8 our first Sunday here, 7/1. The students threw her a surprise party. I think that was all it took for her to fall in love with SMI. Who can blame her? She has 40 medical students to hang out with anytime she wants. What could be better? Here’s a photo of her with her birthday girl hat.

Anna has also enjoyed all the attention from our community here. Being extroverted by nature, she thrives on the attention and on making people laugh. She does miss home sometimes, and has asked several times if we could “just get on a plane and go to our other house and get her sandals”. But I think both she and Carissa are going to go through SMI withdrawal when they no longer have 40 adoring fans to talk with everyday!

Matthew has done wonderfully, all things considered. In large measure, I would say the main reason is he has had a wonderful woman here to be his one-on-one. He’s learned how to use our names and use more complete verbal sentences during the past couple weeks, no small feat! Here’s a photo of him with Michelle Spatucci. She loved him so well, and he loves her. She left this morning, and her replacement is here now — Stephanie. She is a very sweet woman, so I think they will do well for the rest of our time here.

Final thoughts…

Being a part of the entire 4-weeks of project this year has helped me to appreciate how well-established and thought-through this project is. Things have gone incredibly smoothly, especially in light of this being Bryan’s first year participating. We have inherited a really wonderful mission trip to help with, and our student leaders are a really capable and servant-minded bunch of brothers & sisters.

It can be difficult to be here as a family. Bryan’s time is best spent, especially early in project, managing details and investing in key relationships. This is his calling, and therefore mine, too. Days are really, truly FULL. But it makes me especially thankful for the helper with Matthew (I wasn’t all alone those first 2 weeks of project!), and that God prepared me for this aspect of the trip. It also caused me to remember how dependent I am on the Lord.

This may seem to contradict everything I just said, but… It is both rewarding and important to be here as a family. I can’t imagine not being a part of SMI. The children are learning about the Lord, and seeing Christ in their teammates. The students have showed them love and attention. They are being exposed first-hand to another culture, to believers who live very differently than they do. They are hearing the gospel preached, and lived out in community. We are all benefiting from being a part of these things.

And it is also so important for us to be a family on project. About a week ago, I received a note from one of the students. This student wanted to encourage me, and let me know how thankful she was were that we were living on site. She said she wasn’t raised in a Christian home, and it meant a lot for her to be able to see us interact with the children, to see how we try to live out the gospel in our home… The note humbled me (because although I know people are watching, it’s always a bit scary to hear about it!) but also encouraged me. Even though we can’t be a part of most of the teaching in the classroom, and we can play only a minor role on the outreaches, God is blessing the desires of my heart to be here.

I’m already looking forward to next summer. 🙂

Thank you for your prayers, and please continue to pray. Next week, when we talk about “Return Training” and how to live out what we’ve learned in the rest of life… this is where the possibility of longterm impact for the Kingdom of God really comes into focus. Please pray for all of us, that God would help us deeply apply those things He wants to teach us, that we would be useful soldiers in the Kingdom, rooted in the hope of glory in us, Christ.

A Good Beginning

With orientation behind us, tomorrow marks our first outreach event for this year’s project. At noon tomorrow our six vans, filled with over 60 medical students, residents, physicians, translators and staff will begin the half-hour journey south across the Mexican border. Just minutes away, we will be conducting two medical clinics in the town of Matamoros. We are eager to begin!

Although tomorrow’s clinics constitute an important turning point in the project, God has already been at work among us, and we have much to be thankful for:

* A phenomenal leadership team that has experience with the ins-and-outs of SMI, and has ensured a smooth beginning both in terms of project logistics and creating a healthy spiritual climate.

* A number of terrific teaching sessions (“Institute Days”) on evangelism and local culture that will help us as do our outreaches.

* Several visiting faculty who have been a great help on many levels, offering both their teaching abilities and, more importantly, their very selves as they interact with the students.

* The support and encouragement of Valley Baptist Family Practice Residency (VBFPR), one of just several Christ-centered residency programs nationwide. They have worked with us tirelessly to make SMI possible.

* Many opportunities to get to know students on a deeper level. Our leadership team is committed to building relationships where real community and true discipleship can flourish.

By God’s grace, we expect each of these dynamics to continue throughout the project. But with orientation behind us, our thoughts have turned toward tomorrow’s outreach. Please pray along with us:

* That we would be faithful in sharing the gospel with those who come to our clinics, and that many would put their trust in Christ.

* That God would give us wisdom and ability to provide the very best healthcare we can, and that he would be glorified as we image him as Healer.

* That the majority of logistics would go smoothly, and that we would respond with faith and love when other details do not.

* That God would give the students a greater vision of what it means to practice Christ-centered healthcare as they participate in the clinic, and observe the residents and physicians as they consult with their patients.

Thank you for standing behind us in prayer. We pray that you will be encouraged with the fruit of your labors behind-the-scenes! We’ll keep you updated!

For the Kingdom,