Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sharing the Good News, Breaking the Bad News

Medicine on the mission field is an interesting profession. The frustrations of practicing good medicine in the third world can be overwhelming, and the day to day struggles of working with a staff that is culturally very different can bog anyone down. However, the hardest thing about medicine, on the mission field or at home, is telling a patient that their illness is terminal. This is especially hard in Haiti, where doctors usually don’t tell their patients any bad news, but always hold out to them a little hope. Haitians are hope-filled people, and cling to any chance that they might get better. So, when I tell a patient, “you have cancer that is incurable” or “you have end-stage heart failure”, I often get a blank stare in response, or words of denial. Some patients cry, others ask ‘what else can we do?’ Sometimes there are a few more things that can be done, but many times we have exhausted the medical possibilities by the time we give them the bad news. Breaking bad news like this can be very draining, especially if it happens on a regular basis. However, thank the Lord, breaking the bad news isn’t the end of the story at a mission clinic like ours.

Sick people tend to think about the future. Very sick people tend to think about death and life afterwards. That’s what is so great about working in medicine as a missionary. The people we come into contact with are ripe for hearing good news. They want to hear that there is hope- in this life and in the next. When I worked in Seguin, we had a local preacher come and share the gospel with our patients three days each week. Here at Christianville, the staff of the clinic takes turns sharing the gospel each morning. So I get to share the good news every Tuesday morning. Two weeks ago, I talked about my river experience, and explained how I called on the Lord in my time of need, and He was there to rescue me. I explained to my patients that He heard my voice because He knows me… because I walk with him daily. I urged them not to wait until they were in the middle of the river to cry out to God, but to call on Him today, and start their relationship with Him. Two people responded to the message that day. Sandy was able to pray with them to receive Christ. Another day, several weeks ago, Marie (our pharmacy tech) was preaching to the patients. A young man responded to the gospel message. Sandy prayed with him to receive Christ. Later on, I saw him in my exam room and gave him an HIV test, because of a suspicious rash he had. The test came back positive, so I counseled him. I found out he had accepted Christ that morning, because he was worried about his future after death, and wanted to get his heart right with God. Even though I had to break the bad news about HIV to him, I was able to share with him in the joy of finding life eternal. We see people coming to Christ each week at the clinic, and that is what medical missions is all about.

Last week, an old man was carried into my exam room by his crying family members. He had had a stroke, and was very weak on his right side. He could not say more than a couple words, and they were very slurred. I gave him some medicine to help prevent another stroke, and gave him the bad news that usually the damage done during a stroke is permanent, with very little that medicine can do to improve it. I gave him physical therapy tips along with medicine, and sent him on his way. Today at church, an old man got up to give a testimony of God’s goodness. He looked remarkably familiar to me. He said that he had been carried into the clinic this past week. I didn’t think it could have been the same man, though, because this old man in church was holding the microphone with his right hand, was walking without a limp, and was speaking clearly and without difficulty. But as he told his story, it became clear that it was indeed the same man. God had healed him. And he gave his testimony to the church, not to give glory to the clinic or the doctors, but to God alone, the great Physician, who healed his body. I’m glad that in this instance, the ‘bad news’ I gave him and his family was turned into a testimony to the whole church congregation of the good news that God is alive and powerful, and heals our infirmities.

Several years ago, when I was first entering college and debating what type of missionary I wanted to be, my choices were Bible translation, business administration, or medicine. While I’m sure God could have used me in any of those areas, I’m glad He led me into medicine.