When we received the email from missionary surgeon Dr. RussWhite about the urgent need for an orthopedic surgeon for Tenwek Hospital in Kenya, we responded that we would be willing to go, but that there were some major hurdles that needed to be overcome. Russ, likely out of years of personal experience and faith, very wisely answered, “Dan, if God wants you there, things will fall into place.” Following, as Paul Harvey says, is the rest of the story.
Russ, however, soon became very curious about the specifics of these major hurdles. “Well,” I said hesitating, “I have educational debt. “OK,” Russ said, “is there anything else?” Going deeper, I said, “Yes…I also owe the hospital system in Ohio repayment of a stipend I received over the past year. Since I am now no longer going to be joining them, they understandably want their money back, and it is due by August 1, 2008.” (Early on, Heather and I had decided that we were going to be honest about our situation so that their decisions would be based on the truth.) “Is there anything else?,” Russ said. “That’s about it,” I said, “aside from the fact that we just endured a long 5-year residency, we have four young kids, and we don’t feel worthy to go!”
Regarding the educational debt, Russ reminded me of the non-profit group Project MedSend, commissioned by the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA) in the early 1990’s to develop funding to repay educational loans for healthcare workers headed for a career in medical mission under the authority of a recognized mission agency. Since their founding, they have provided over 360 grants to medical missionaries all over the world, several of which are at Tenwek. “Let me make a few phone calls,” Russ said. Amazingly, a day after he sent the original email, Russ and Beth traveled back to the states for a two week stint, thus enabling him to make several phone calls on our behalf, without having to worry about his hospital responsibilities.
Russ called me back later that day. “I spoke with Samaritan’s Purse, and they said ‘no, problem.’ They already know you since they organized your trip in 2006 and they said you could be a part of their post-residency program, which is a two year commitment. So we have the missions agency worked out,” he said. “About Project MedSend, you missed the deadline for the board meeting scheduled for next week. The next meeting after this is not until October,” Russ said. I was discouraged. “However,” he went on, “since our need is so urgent, they agreed to add you on to next week’s agenda if you get your application to them ASAP. That night, I wrote like crazy and gathered all of our financial data, and submitted our application the next day.
Detroit Lakes MN
The next hurdle to overcome was the repayment of the stipend to the hospital system in Ohio, due August 1, 2008. Although smaller in amount than the med school loans, because of the pressing nature of the deadline, it seemed insurmountable. “I have some thoughts on this,” said Russ. “World Gospel Mission, the agency that runs Tenwek, may be able cover the entire amount of the stipend by the deadline of August 1st, with the agreement that you would pay them back at least half before leaving for Kenya. We can deal with the second half at a later time.” That sounded fine, but nearly impossible. I had no clue how I could possibly make that amount before leaving for Kenya. Certainly no orthopedic group practice would hire me if I had plans on leaving in a few months, nor did it seam reasonable to get a job pumping gas at the local Pump n’ Munch (for you Rochester folks).
One day, a Mayo Clinic Consultant, out of the blue suggested, “Dan, why don’t you do orthopedic locum tenens work before leaving for Kenya?” “That sounds great,” I said, “but I wouldn’t have the slightest clue were to begin.” I had heard very little of these jobs in which a physician temporarily fulfills the duties of another. As residents, we received hundreds of recruitment emails monthly, and routinely I would just trash them. However, the last week of my residency career at Mayo, I received a random email from a locum tenens company in Florida advertising an urgent need for an orthopedic surgeon with a Minnesota license for the first two weeks of July. I had a sense that God was up to something, so I gave the recruiter a call. I told him our hopeful plans of going to Kenya soon as medical missionaries. The recruiter said, “Wow, that’s interesting. There is another surgeon who is an orthopedic medical missionary from Kenya who we place on jobs when he is home on furlough.” “Really, what’s his name?” I asked. Amazingly, it was a man Heather and I had met while in Kenya in 2006. We had dinner with him and his wife, and in one evening had a deep connection with them. It was as if God was saying, “Just trust me.” At first I argued with God, “But I had planned to use the first two weeks of July to study for the Boards.” My program director’s words from my exit interview were still ringing in my ears…“You’d better pass your exam!” Again, I heard, “Just trust me.” So I committed to those first two weeks in July. Two days later, the last day of residency, I received word from Project MedSend…they approved the grant for our educational debt!
A Faithful Missionary
So as a newly graduated resident from the Mayo Clinic, I jumped off the cliff, and took my first locums job in Detroit Lakes, MN. A good friend and fellow resident told me, “Dude, you are going to get killed up there, especially over the July 4th weekend.” This added to my anxiety about being in a new environment, as a new graduate, with no consultants to fall back on, in a town the triples in population over the Independence Day holiday, as the only on-call orthopedist, with the most important test of my career coming in about two weeks. But I was filled with peace, and by God’s grace, my patients and I survived. Moreover, I discovered locums work is perfect preparation for missions…and it pays extremely well! Amazingly, by the August 1st deadline, I was able to pay my half of the stipend with this one locum tenens job.
But were did the money from the second half of the stipend come from? Later, Heather and I found out that Russ had volunteered it out of his own White Family Ministry Account. We were both humbled when we saw their faith and amazing generosity, because we experienced, in a very tangible way, what grace is all about. After we found this out, however, we became resolved that we were going to pay this back (with God’s help) before leaving for Kenya. Two locum jobs later, we literally had just enough to pay the second half back to into the White’s account.
Four Gold Coins
Before I wrote that check, I received a phone call from my locums representative. “We have a job for you in Arizona!” he said. “This is perfect,” I thought. “Now I will be able to pay back the second half and have a little financial cushion to fall back on!” God must have heard that because two days later, I got another phone call telling me that the job fell through. I still had to make the payment, as I committed, but now no safety net. “Just trust me,” I kept hearing. A few days later, I remembered that several years ago, my dad, an avid coin collector, had given each of his children some gold coins as an early inheritance. “Keep these for an emergency, and if you ever need to sell them, I will buy them back,” he said. Well, I thought, now is as good a time as any, so I called my dad and he agreed to redeem them back, thus providing again, just enough, until we leave for Kenya.
All these events have strengthened our faith in God, confirmed His calling, and taught us His sovereign ability to provide for all of us, if we would just trust him. My prayer is that our story will encourage you to see Jesus Christ as the greatest treasure you could ever have, that he is able to provide, in all ways, in every need, so far beyond our feeble attempts. I invite you to trust Christ today, and find all the satisfaction your souls could ever desire in Him.