Monday, March 21, 2016

An open apology

Most of the time I write a blog post, I imagine that the people reading it want to know about the stories and lives of my patients in the hospital. On some occasions I branch out. And lately I've struggled with something a little different.

My fellow missionaries.

Not the ones who serve alongside me at Kudjip. I mean the cadre of missionaries around the world – of whom I know a small collection – working to improve lives and share God's love in a myriad of ways.

By nature I feel I am a competitive person. At four years old, I joined my first soccer team – the Hawks. We had uniforms of silver with black vertical pinstripes, black shorts and black socks. I played goalie for one game and let in a bunch of goals. I quickly got out of the goal box into “midfield” - though positions at that age are laughable in soccer. We barely had a winning season.

I can't remember anything else about being four, but I remember my first team. Throughout my life I have LOVED soccer – the competitive nature, the teamwork, being outside in all weather and how the skills were so international.

In high school, once I stopped messing around being a rebellious teenager, I crushed my school work and standardized tests, carrying the same attitude into undergraduate studies and medical school.

Clearly one of my proudest moments

In some ways I like this nature – it pushes me to excel, to accept challenges and to hit problems head on and work hard.

But there is a downside, and I'm learning it, albeit slowly.

I struggle comparing myself and my ministry to other missionaries frequently. Competing with my co-laborers.

We have friends serving in parts of the world that I can't even mention. We have friends serving in parts of the world with the worst health statistics in most categories. We have friends serving in battle zones - in the backyard of ISIS. We have friends in some really difficult places. And recently I've encountered various “movements” which emphasize certain parts of the world neglected by missions.

Why do I find myself disliking these movements?

Because the place I work is surrounded by tropical jungle and lush gardens? Because the majority of this island is “Christian”? Because the temperature varies from 55 to 85 degrees? Because my mission field isn't in the 10/40 window or on somebody's list of tough-to-reach places? Because I'm not the “best” missionary I know? 

Our rugged mission field

Sadly, yes.

So I've had a bit of a bad attitude. I haven't acted on it much, but isn't it wrong to even harbor ill will toward your brother in your heart?  More importantly, I'm realizing the effect it has on my own ministry here. Am I minimizing the kinds of things I can do to show God's love among the PNG highlanders because I'm too preoccupied with how my efforts stack up against someone else?

This week I've sat down and joined my hands in prayer with patients who won't survive a year, a month or even a week. I've prayed for them full of nothing but tears. I've told people they have HIV and that their lives will never be the same. I've told a young mother her child is dying of cancer and there's nothing to be done for them. I've told a husband that his wife and mother to his four children will not live through her hospital stay – and been sadly proven right within a couple of days. I've pushed the last few breaths into the life of a young man that I know would have survived if he lived in a country with intensive care units.

But are none of them considered “high priority” because they are not on somebody's list or in the "window"?

 So close ...

 In my exam room, the operating room or walking the wards surrounded by the sounds of grieving family members - have I allowed myself to believe that?  And to question if my time and energy is worthwhile in this place?  Sometimes, I have.

(Note: obviously this is not necessarily the belief of those involved in difficult places or these kinds of movements, but my own personal challenge)

So I apologize to my comrades around the world for having a bad attitude - thinking that my ministry needs to compete with others.  But also to my ministry here in PNG because I've let that competitive spirit skew my perception of the sacred work that we've been given to do, each in our different ways to different people.

And going forward, I pray that I can learn to better appreciate whatever way God allows me to bring genuine healing and hope to people, families, the mountains of PNG and, in some way, the world that He desperately hopes to restore.

“O most loving God, who in the Person of Thy Son Jesus Christ didst manifest Thy love to man by relieving all manner of suffering and healing all manner of disease, grant Thy blessing, I pray, to all who in any corner of the world are serving in Christ's name:
All ministers of the gospel of Christ:
All social workers:
All missionary workers abroad:
All doctors and nurses who faithfully tend the sick.
Accomplish through them Thy great purpose of goodwill to men, and grant them in their own hearts the joy of Christ's most real presence.”

-John Baillie

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