Ken and I were both disappointed in each other for not responding to the altar call.
Did we both each really want to move to Africa instead of taking the easy path of staying put in our new home in North Carolina? Were either of us hearing God’s call, but waiting for the other to have the same clarity? Can God call a person through their spouse?
The only way to sort this out was to pray and let the Holy Spirit do the sorting.
For many years, Ken and I had decided that when it came to important decisions to trust the Holy Spirit to bring us to agreement. In fact, for years, I wanted children, and Ken didn’t, until God changed Ken’s mind. On important issues, I don’t want to convince Ken to do something he is resistant to doing, so I don’t. I trust that the Holy Spirit will bring us together as we each follow Him. So my prayer for us is that God would always make our hearts one, especially on big decisions.
So we didn’t talk about moving to Africa a lot — to each other. We read Scripture, we consulted other believers who have walked similar journeys, used our God-given reason, and waited.
For me, issues of social justice have long been close to my heart, and it has made its way into my home through two adorable African children who have opened my eyes to not only parenthood, but the world. Biblical social justice has also heavily influenced my approach to the classroom. One day as I was preparing for a class, I came across a really interesting interactive page on the website of the World Health Organization. It details the person to physician ratio in every country. (Give it a try!) What I saw was mind-boggling.
There is roughly 1 physician for every 400 people in the United States. In the Congo, it is roughly 1 to 10,000. In fact it is the same or worse in most of sub-Saharan Africa. In Liberia, there is 1 physician for every 72,000. How can one physician treat so many patients under normal circumstances, much less during an Ebola epidemic? Note that the countries below in yellow below have fewer than 1 physician for every 2000 people. Do you notice a geographic trend in healthcare shortage? I did, and my heart sunk. Why had I never seen this before?
Then one day, riding in the back of the van, Palmer asked me, “Mommy, why are there so many doctors in America, and none in Africa? My baby brother died because there weren’t any doctors.”
Any answer I could come up with sounded hollow. “Doctors don’t make enough money in Africa, so they stay here or come here after being trained in Africa,” or “Many places in Africa don’t have the right kind of schools to train doctors,” or “People cannot afford to go to medical school there.” Ultimately, I knew what the Holy Spirit was asking through my son was: Why am I here, when there is a much greater need in Africa?
“If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion–how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” — I John 3:17-18 NLT
“For I was hungry
and you gave Me nothing to eat;
I was thirsty
and you gave Me nothing to drink;
I was a stranger
and you didn’t take Me in;
I was naked
and you didn’t clothe Me,
sick and in prison
and you didn’t take care of Me.’
“Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?’
“Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’
“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:42-46. HCSB
“But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works—this person will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22-25 HCSB
I could not forget what I had heard. I could not forget what I had seen. I could not forget that my children lost beloved family members because of the disproportion of healthcare workers around the world.
And I was one of those healthcare workers.
At the same time, there is no easy solution. If I go for one week, two weeks, or more and only see patients, it will still be only a drop in the bucket in a continent dealing with desperate medical needs. Could there be a better solution? A more sustainable solution?
With my years of teaching in medical education and my love for the church, God began to create a vision in me for how He has already uniquely gifted me to serve the people of Africa.
But would anyone let me do it? Would people think I was crazy for even wanting to pursue healthcare in West Africa? Was God calling me long-term or short term? What about Ken? How was the Holy Spirit speaking to him? What would the children think? Was God speaking to them too?
After a whole month of not talking to each other about it, Ken and I sat down to talk about how God was working in my life, and in his.
And then it would be time to talk to the children.