Dan, Heather, Jeremiah, Tory, Emma, Tye, Claire, Levi, Josie, Jane and Ethan

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Miracle or Coincidence?: A Gift of Faith for Jeremiah

Since moving to Phoenix, Jeremiah has been a working fiend. In fact, he loves to work, partly because he enjoys physical labor, but likely more so for the end result of his labor…cash. He has quickly discovered that having money means freedom to do and have more “things.” So along with homeschooling, he has been mowing lawns, chopping down trees, organizing sheds, making towel racks, demolishing small structures, cleaning, etc. After saving for some time, he came to Heather and me and said he wanted to use some of his money to fly to Rochester to see some of his friends prior to leaving for Kenya. As a father, I wanted to reward him for all his hard work, so I used some of my miles on Northwest to secure a free ticket. However, he had to pay the fee that Northwest charges for traveling as an unaccompanied minor, and he was agreeable to this.

The day of his departure came, and he very excitedly packed his bag. I took him to the airport, checked him in with the ticket agent, and ushered him through security. Because he was traveling as a minor, he was made to wear a pinkish-colored wrist band identifying him as such, which he was NOT particularly fond of. He was convinced he could travel alone, and now he had to wear a wrist band with pretty patterns and bold lettering for all to see. I was able to go with him directly to the gate, and we sat down together, waiting for him to board the plane. When his name was called over the loudspeaker to come to the gate counter, I figured they were going to allow him to board the airplane early, before everyone else. But as we approached the counter, in perfect airline fashion, without a shred of compassion, the gate agent announced loudly that Jeremiah would not be flying today. Confused, I asked “Why?” “The weather service is predicting thunderstorms in Minneapolis this afternoon and when this occurs, unaccompanied minor ticket reservations are canceled. You’ll need to go back to the ticket counter and rebook his ticket for tomorrow,” she said. I wonder what my face looked like at that time, because in my mind I had this overwhelming sense of absurdity. Firstly, there are thunderstorms predicted every afternoon in the Midwest on warm days. Second, NWA never mentioned random cancellation as a possibility on their website, although it was clear that if a plane was re-routed due to weather, the minor would be provided a hotel, meals etc., and the thought of this was exciting to Jeremiah.

At first, I felt like putting up a fight, but thankfully, my spiritual higher cortex took over, convincing my fleshly emotional limbic system, that a) a fight with an airline employee would be a futile attempt, and b) it would not be a good example to Jeremiah of patience and trust in God. So instead, I turned to Jeremiah, and said, “why don’t you just pray and see what God does.” I must admit, I had my doubts. His eyes were already welled with tears, and he said, rather matter-of-factly, “Dad, I already have.” We made our way back through security to the ticket counter. I wanted to speak directly with the ticket agent who originally checked us in, primarily because the gate agent told me a hold was placed on Jeremiah’s ticket, supposedly preventing check-in, long before we even arrived at the airport. I thought I would try to make her feel a little bad. She saw us approach the counter, and had a rather ashamed look on her face, so I decided (thankfully) to let it go. Jeremiah was mostly concerned that this mishap was cutting into his precious time of freedom and friendship in Rochester. So I asked the lady if she would extend his ticket a day. Happy to have something to offer as penitence, she heartily agreed, and found a return flight a day later and at a much better time than was originally booked.

Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a familiar face. I turned to see a former Mayo Clinic resident I had done a rotation with as an intern, five years ago. We had kept casual contact throughout our residencies, he in anesthesia, and me in orthopedics, and we periodically worked together in the OR. “What are you doing in Phoenix?,” I asked. My wife and I just finished our oral anesthesia boards in Scottsdale and we are flying back to Rochester. At first, I did not make the connection, but the penitent ticket agent said rather excitedly, “you know, if they would agree to travel with Jeremiah, he could fly out today, and you could get a refund on his unaccompanied minor fee!” My friend and his wife had a puzzled look on their faces, but after the agent explained the situation, they both said “sure, no problem. In fact, we can just drive him to wherever he needs to go once we get into Rochester!”

At that moment, we all had a sense that we had just played a part in something that was miraculous. Afterwards, the couple just said, “That was weird.” I was compelled to explain to them that God had just divinely arranged our meeting, and how amazing it was to witness that firsthand. The ticket agent was joyously redeemed from her corporate iniquity as she issued Jeremiah’s refund for the minor fee. Jeremiah just immediately ripped off the wrist band! I then grabbed his face and told him, “Jeremiah, God answered your prayer and gave you a very special gift.” And, I think, possibly for the first time, he believed it for himself. As I drove away from the airport, I was overwhelmed with a sense of awe and gratitude that God would do this for my 11-year old son. For I have been praying that God would build faith in him and all our children, that He would become real to them, and that they would somehow sense their calling to missions. Then God reminded me that he loves Jeremiah far more than I do, and that he is building faith in his life for Christ’s glory. Amazing…as a father, there was no other place I would have rather been that day.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Homeschooling, Packing, Ortho Boards...

I always thought it would be challenging to prepare to go overseas as a missionary, but I can honestly say, we really had no clue. And I am actually thankful for that, as ignorance is bliss, and had God laid out too much of the big picture at one time, we would likely have run the other way!

Homeschooling: CHAOS 101

At Tenwek, most of the physician families homeschool their kids, of which there are quite a few. Heather spent numerous hours ordering the material, preparing the lessons, gathering supplies, and gearing up. Since we are not arriving in Kenya until the end of November, and we do not want our kids to fall behind, we started homeschooling here in Phx last Monday…Jeremiah in 6th grade, Emma in 4th, Claire in 2nd and Levi in Kindergarten. Let’s just say that four kids, in four different grade levels is not a one person job! Let me paint a picture for you: Jeremiah in one room doing a Math CD, Emma playing her violin, Claire listening to phonics, and Levi singing at the top of his lungs in the background…all at the same time! Seriously, it is going well, but we would greatly appreciate your prayers for wisdom and strength, especially for Heather, as she assumes this primary responsibility and hones our strategy, and for our children, that they thrive and learn in this environment, both here and when we are in Kenya. Also, we are praying for a teacher to come and help with the schooling of all the children at Tenwek.

Packing: "You want to bring that?!

Between tutoring Emma in math, grocery shopping, playing with Levi, etc., I have been researching our options for getting our essentials to Kenya. Since we are going for two years initially, and will likely be staying in a furnished home or apartment, we will not be packing a container. So, only what we can bring as checked baggage on our flight to Kenya is all that is coming with us! 6 people, and 12 boxes with a maximum weight of 50 lbs and 62 linear inches per box. That seems like a lot, but when you consider home schooling materials, books, orthopedic supplies and text books, clothes for two years, etc. etc., the weight begins to add up. Yesterday, we spent the entire day going through the remaining stuff that we did not sell or give away in Rochester, repacking the items that we will not be bringing to Kenya, and beginning to stockpile the things we will definitely “need.” Of course, one person's need is another person's want (or what Dad may define as a want). For instance, is Jeremiah’s underwater spear gun an essential? Please pray that God gives us physical strength to pack boxes with wisdom and efficiency. We want to have everything packed before we leave for training in three weeks!

Orthopedic Board Exam Results: Pass or Fail

On July 18, 2008, I traveled to Chicago along with 715 other people to take Step One of the National Orthopedic Boards (the written exam). I honestly thought it was one of the hardest exams I had ever taken, and I was seriously wondering if I would even pass. The irony is that this issue of board certification was a major stumbling block for me, and for others who feel a calling to full-time orthopedic mission work directly after residency (see “Our Story” below). Last Thursday, a confidential letter addressed to me from the ABOS arrived. I took it outside, and with my entire family around me, opened the letter. The first line read, “Dear Dr. Galat: I am pleased…” That was all I needed to read! I was relieved and Heather looked at me and rolled her eyes, inwardly saying “of course you weren’t going to fail.”
What does this mean? Now I am officially considered board eligible, having passed the first step toward full board certification. The next step, the oral exam (Step 2), is normally taken, according to the Board guidelines, after two years of consecutive practice in the US, and this is the step that I will not be able to complete by going to Kenya for these two years. However, I have 5 years to take this second step…otherwise I will have to retake the written test to remain board eligible. Please pray that over the next two years, God would speak clearly to us about the longer term plan. Samaritan’s Purse will be our sending agency for these two years. But if we feel called to return to Kenya, then a whole new set of questions arise: “do we stay in the states for the two years of practice required for board certification, or do we just go?” God will direct.

Thanks for all of your prayers and support. We appreciate you so much. Our desire is to be a team with you and work together for the poor and underserved for Christ's glory!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Photos from our trip in 2006

Entrance to Tenwek Hospital with new surgical wing in background.

Heather with Kenyan family whose son is about to have surgery.

Enjoying dinner!

Sunset on the African plains.

The Great Rift Valley!

Photos from our trip in 2006

One of the many exotic flowers in Kenya.

Elbow surgery with Dr. Mike Chupp.

Kipsigi family at Tenwek hospital.

Falls located on Tenwek Hospital property.
A hydroelectric dam supplies all the power to the hospital.

Our Story

Many people have asked how we got to this point. Here is a brief synopsis.

The Foundation 1991-1995
Heather and I actually met on a mission trip to Brazil in 1991. That kindled our relationship, and four years later, we were married. Since the beginning, we have together felt a calling to overseas missions.

Trinity: A Call to Medical Missions 1996-1998
After Heather finished nursing school, we moved to Chicago where I began graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I had been wrestling with my career choice, whether to pursue medicine or ministry, and I hoped seminary would help me decide. However, God used our time at Trinity to integrate these two visions into one unifying purpose: international medical missions. At that time, we committed our lives to this calling, if God should open the doors. So we applied to medical school and I was accepted to the Ohio State University (go Buckeyes!).

OSU: Medical School 1998-2003
After graduating from Trinity, we began medical school at OSU in Columbus, Ohio. Our time there was very good. Our young family grew; we lived in a great house that we built ourselves with the help of my dad; and we attended an excellent church with a strong emphasis on missions. During my final year of med school, our vision was still medical missions, but in what context? I considered general surgery, emergency medicine, internal medicine, and family practice. But after scrubbing my first total knee replacement, the decision was easy…orthopedic surgery.

Mayo Clinic: Orthopedic Residency 2003-2008
Despite the fact that Heather said she would be willing to go anywhere for residency except Minnesota, we ended up at the Mayo Clinic in…Rochester, Minnesota! This was a challenging move for us in many ways, to a new place, new friends, etc. But we were both convinced that this was where God wanted us; and it was a great experience. Honestly, our vision for missions had wavered at times during the tough years of residency. But through it all, God was faithful, and sovereignly intervened at just the right times. This was especially evident in 2006, as we made plans for a short term mission trip to Kenya. While planning for this trip, we met Russ and Beth White, missionaries at Tenwek Hospital, who were visiting Rochester while on furlough. They invited us to come to Tenwek during our planned trip to Kenya, and see the orthopedic needs there. Samaritan’s Purse assisted with the arrangements for this trip, and in September 2006, we spent two weeks in Kenya working with Tim Mead at the CURE Children’s hospital in Kijabe, and with Mike Chupp, director of the orthopedic department at Tenwek.

A Different Path 2007-2008
After this trip in 2006, we were ready to go. However, to get board certified in orthopedic surgery, the Board requires a minimum of two years of practice in the States after finishing residency. Many people advised me to finish board certification before leaving for Kenya. Others warned about individuals they knew with a call to full-time international missions who lost that vision after starting practice.

Although I sensed God calling me to trust him with this issue of board certification and just go, I instead took a different road, and made plans to join an orthopedic practice in Shelby, Ohio after finishing residency. It looked like the perfect job because it was near my family in Ohio, and provided a month of mission sabbatical yearly. The thought of earning a good income while doing part-time mission work greatly appealed to me.

But, as the year progressed, we became aware that this was not God’s plan. Why? Because while at Trinity years ago, we made a commitment to full-time international missions if God opened the doors, and I was straying from that commitment. And God had to discipline us to keep us on track. Proverbs 3:11 became personal: “my son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”

A Step in the Right Direction May 2008 - Current
In May 2008, we started over, and began to ask God “What do YOU have for us?” We were holding to Proverbs 3:5-6: “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 straight your paths.” Then, the last week of May, we received a general email from Russ White at Tenwek Hospital asking for prayer that God would urgently provide an orthopedic surgeon for Tenwek. Heather and I looked at this email and said, “Could this be for us?” I emailed Dr. White and explained that we would be willing to go if God opened up the doors. There were some major hurdles, financial and otherwise, that had to be overcome. But to make a long story short, in three short weeks after receiving that email, we were miraculously on our way to Kenya.