6 Jun 2016
Since my teens, I always believed I would become a medical missionary and had Africa in mind. I grew up on a farm among a big family and thought that the practical skills of farm life would be good training for wherever God sent me. However, we had very little exposure to people from other countries – I remember we were all fascinated with an English fellow who worked on our farm and “talked funny”.
I grew up and fulfilled the first part of my dream by becoming a medical doctor, but I discovered that Africa was a very long way away. I went to work for a few years instead in Papua New Guinea, partly to see whether I could survive in another culture. I learnt about things like “island time”, about different ways of running a hospital, different priorities, and different ways of showing politeness and gratitude. These would prove to be valuable lessons for the future.
Later, after 3 years praying for a country to serve in, the Lord spoke through some friends and in 2003 I moved to Cambodia as a medical missionary.
As a doctor, much of my ministry is patient care. I love being able to improve patients’ lives by getting to the bottom of a difficult problem and finding treatment options that they can access. Sometimes I have to research for affordable drug options, or look in other countries for treatment options. One of the hardest things is telling people there is treatment that works but it is not affordable or available to them. The injustice and sadness of it gets quite heavy at times. Yet the Lord has used me in some special ways: three times I’ve been in the right place at the right time to meet adults with near-fatal congenital heart conditions. I been able to treat them while advocating, raising support and finding options – they each survived difficult and dangerous surgery and have good health and full lives again.
My other role is teaching medical students and doctors, and I love seeing the lights come on for them. It is a slow process because there are many gaps in their training, but I admire their perseverance, despite the difficulties and having to work in 2 or 3 languages (Khmer, French, English). Time spent with them is also a great opportunity to get to know and love them. I have been able to sponsor some young people through healthcare studies, and see them become blessings to others in their lives and work.
Living in another culture is not easy. A particularly low point was learning that some people who seemed to be friends and with whom I hoped for long close relationships were mainly just taking what they could get from the “rich foreigner”. It’s also hard to be away from my family in Queensland, especially missing major events like weddings, births and family gatherings.
Now, 13 years on since arriving in Cambodia, I know that missionaries are just people. God is much bigger and we cannot hope to understand His perspective. We have brains to plan and strategize but so often our plans come to nothing. We must each just find and do the work we’ve been given to do and trust Him to make sense of it in the bigger picture.
What does obedience to God’s call look like for you?