Overcoming Obstacles To Medical Missions: What About My Debt?

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Everybody knows the value of medical missions.  Using your medical skills to bring  healing and spiritual transformation in under-served areas.  Knowing that what you bring to the table is desperately needed.  Teaching nationals so that they can carry on, and expand, your work.  The ‘perks’ of having more time with your family, a less frenetic lifestyle, and freedom from malpractice concerns.

But, serving abroad brings many challenges that can easily stop you from going.  In my next two posts, I want to look at two obstacles – one on the front end, one on the back end – and how they can be overcome with God’s help.

In this post, I want to look at the obstacle of debt.  Today’s medical students can easily graduate with up to $300,000 in debt.  By the time you finish residency, the interest can leave you with twice that amount.  Faced with that, it’s easy to conclude there’s no way to go overseas, or, serve somewhere where you’d make significantly less than the norm.

Enter MedSend.

MedSend is a ministry that will pay back your medical student loans over ten years so that you can get to the field right after residency.  Yes, you read that correctly: MedSend will pay back your student loans for you so that you can fulfill your dream of doing medical missions.

In a phone conversation earlier this week, I spoke with a development officer from MedSend about how it works.

The first step, often overlooked, is to make sure you’re called.  You need to ask God to burden you with a passion for a people and/or place.  You need to go on short-term trips to explore your calling.  You need to spend lots of time in prayer.  And you need others to affirm that this is, in fact, God’s leading.

After that, the next step is to officially partner with an approved (by MedSend, but there are many) missions organization like Samaritan’s Purse.  Once you’re onboard, with them you still need to raise your support to pay for the expenses you’ll incur in your new location.

Once those things are in place, MedSend becomes involved and begins paying back your loans so that you can go and serve.

Right now, MedSend is sponsoring approximately 150 healthcare professionals around the world, including those in domestic under-served areas.  They represent about 40 different specialties and fields such as medicine, nursing, pharmacy and veterinary medicine.  So, there’s a place for everyone.

If you’re not sure about the idea of medical missions, are you open to exploring it and asking God what He wants, whatever the cost may be?

The good news is that, if God is calling you, your debt doesn’t need to get in the way.

Following God Into The Future

As we think about our future, the examples of those who’ve gone before us can be powerful.  During my time in seminary, I can remember wanting to be like our senior minister, a great scholar who seemed like he could do it all.  So, during my final year in school, I started applying to PhD programs abroad.

A few days ago our local healthcare students organized a half-day retreat we call “Intermed.”   We didn’t advertise it this way, but our informal theme was something like “Academia, Foreign Missions & Everything In Between: Finding Your Future in Healthcare.”  To that end, we had two terrific speakers – Dr. Smith (name changed to keep a lower profile), who works at a local teaching hospital, and Gary Klein, a modern-day Indiana Jones providing primary care and training future pastors in the Dominican Republic.

So, what did we learn about pursuing God’s calling for our lives?

I’m going to write a post about the key takeaways from each of their talks, but first I want to take a step back and think about what we learned by looking at our speakers more generally.

As I did in my seminary days, it seems to me that we often romanticize the idea of calling, looking at others “ahead” of us as a sort of ideal.  Part of that is good: we see in others what we hope to see someday in ourselves.  Part of it, though, can come from our distance to their situation: we see the joys and successes with little real sense of the hardships that come with it.

More specific to the callings of our speakers, we can idealize both academic medicine and frontier missions.  Academics are the brilliant ones, well-respected, on the cutting edge of medicine.  Foreign medical missionaries have boundless faith, and do more with less as they serve the poorest of the poor.  Though these callings are worlds apart, they both have an aura that is almost surreal, alluring and unattainable at the same time.  We imagine that people like this must have it all together.

In light of this, our speakers did two things that were absolutely priceless.

First, they both affirmed that there are a million different ways to serve God in medicine.  They both said, multiple times, that their present callings are just two examples of entirely legitimate paths to serve the King.  At the end of the day, they are meant to be windows – we’re meant to see through them to God’s particular calling for our own lives.  That requires deep reflection, prayer and insight from others.

Second, both our speakers were humble and vulnerable.  They let us in on their shortcomings and failures.  Ironically, that was much more inspiring than if they had taken a more polished approach.  Sadly, even among Christians, this is all too rare, and it leaves us with a sense that we can’t be like the people we want to follow.

As for me, I never did make it overseas for doctoral work.  My wife became pregnant with our first child at just the “wrong” time to make it work.  With ten years of hindsight, I can see now that I was pursuing an image of what I thought I should be rather than what God had called me to be.  The story He has written for me is so much better than anything I could have authored.

So, back to you.  As you look forward to where God may be leading you, who are your heroes?  Do you have a realistic, balanced view of who they are, and what their life is really like?

Based on this weekend, I want to encourage you to do three things:

  • Make sure that you’re following God first and foremost as you make career decisions.
  • Get close to another Christian who’s doing what you want to do.  Find someone who’s willing to “let you in” on who they really are and what their life is actually  like.  This will benefit you (both) in ways that go way beyond medicine.
  • Commit to being this kind of person for others.  Start now, even if it’s small, by being an example worthy of following, yet equally real about your need for Christ.

May God direct your path as you lean on Him!