Following God Wherever He Leads

As promised, this post is about what we learned from Gary Klein at our recent Intermed gathering.  Gary’s messages were rich, full of insight fueled by 20 years of providing primary care and pastoral training in the Dominican Republic.

Everything he shared was wonderful, but I believe we learned two key things.

To communicate the first lesson well requires sharing (with Gary’s permission) the story of what happened to Gary and his family just after they arrived in the DR for their mission work 20 years ago.

In those early days, Gary and his team saw every patient that showed up at their clinics.  At one of them, at nearly 2 in the morning, a witch doctor showed up, blew a powder in his face, and said, “I put a curse on you.”  Laughing the curse off, Gary continued seeing patients and was thankful to return home, noting that his family was fine.

A few days later, though, one of his young sons drowned in an accident in their backyard.  Needless to say, it was devastating, and Gary began to reconsider the reality of spiritual warfare and the witch doctor’s curse.  Courageously, he decided to go ahead with the next clinic.

Things were going well when, all of a sudden, Gary received word that someone had fallen into a well with deep water on their clinic site.  It was another one of their sons, and he didn’t know how to swim.  Although his son was rescued and recovered, he and his wife were deeply shaken and ready to leave the country before anything else happened.  Who could blame them?

This time of despair drove Gary and his wife to prayer.  Even though they were devastated, they knew that God had not abandoned them.  What did He want them to do?

In the meantime, with another clinic quickly approaching, the villagers from that community approached Gary and told him they wanted nothing to do with him or his clinic.  Word about the tragedy had spread quickly, and the witch doctor was threatening anyone who dared to come.  Again, Gary and his wife committed the matter to prayer.

Soon after, Gary received the news about another tragedy.  This time, a bus full of people had unexpectedly hit a patch of gravel and fallen down a steep embankment. Gary anticipated that everyone had perished, but this had not happened: instead, only the witch doctor had been lost.  It was a miracle, and, all of a sudden, the villagers contacted Gary and told him that they not only wanted him to do the clinic, but, free from the witch doctor’s control, they also wanted to hear about Jesus.

During his 20 years in the DR, Gary’s ministry has treated 175,000 patients, many of them during the crisis in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti.  (Haiti shares an island with the DR).  Of those, over 6,500 have come to know Christ.  Countless supplies and medical care has been dispensed in Christ’s name.  National pastors have been trained not only spiritually, but also taught everything they need to know to be truly self-sustaining, a real rarity in impoverished countries.

And yet, Gary emphasized again and again, due to the early challenges, how the ministry almost ended before it began.  The lesson he – and we, through him – learned, was to persevere in the face of difficulty.  Although we want it to be, God never promises it would be easy.  In fact, He tells us that “ll who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).  Are we willing to persevere in His calling if it turns out to be much harder than we thought it would?

The second lesson Gary shared with us also comes from the story of God’s work in his life and ministry.  Before going to the DR, Gary essentially told God that he was open to going for 5 years – no more!  Over time, though, God showed Gary that He doesn’t make deals with us, or, relate to us as if we’re equal partners in a corporation.  While this is scary because we can’t control the outcome, it’s better because God is far wiser than we are.  Only He can shape our lives in a way that brings Him the most honor and us the most good (see Romans 8:28).

In a way, both of these lessons really boil down to one poignant question: are we willing to submit to God’s loving, wise ownership of our entire lives?  I know that, for me, this is a process and I continually find (and re-discover) areas where I want to hold out and negotiate.  Perhaps you can identify.  Thankfully, God is unbelievably patient, bearing with us and bringing us along one step at a time.  Let’s re-commit to yielding all of who we are to Him.

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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!