HomeNewsPrayer UpdatesFrom runner to missionary doctor… thoughts of an American in East Africa

From runner to missionary doctor… thoughts of an American in East Africa

Growing up, my identity was wrapped in that of being a runner. Many of the greatest long-distance runners in my sport hailed from East Africa—Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and surrounding countries. The only time I seriously competed with East Africans was when I was 20 years old and in a college cross-country race… and even then I was 2-3 minutes behind the Kenyans who dominated the 5 mile competition. Around that time, I committed my life fully to the lordship of Jesus Christ, and running became far secondary to following Him. As I progressed in my medical education, my dream of being a sportsmedicine doctor was reshaped by the Lord to being a doctor to those that had basic health needs unmet.

Fast-forward to age 40, when I am helping to open a mission hospital in South Sudan, and have occasion to visit an established mission hospital in the heart of the Kipsigi tribe in Kenya. On the surgery schedule, I see all the names that I used to hear as those of the marathon and 10,000 meter greats from Kenya. I have learned that it is not all Kenyans that are naturally gifted runners, but only those of a particular group of tribes (Talatchin—including the Kipsigis, Maasai, and others). And when one sees where they live, you can understand—hilly, forested, temperate (not too hot to run for long distances), and elevation of 7-8,000 feet. Yet I don’t run while there, but observe a radical hysterectomy done to attempt some treatment for an advanced case of cervical cancer in a patient with AIDS.

Then, we visit Uganda shortly after Kiprotich, a Ugandan, wins the London 2012 Olympic marathon gold. As I run one morning, some schoolchildren start running with me, and I reference their recent Olympic medalist. They have a blank look about them, as they obviously have never heard of him or much about the sport of athletics. For most people in the world, life is about surviving day to day, not extras like sports.

I still enjoy running, but now I run with my wife through the jungle, so we can have a few moments peace to talk and relieve the stress of work and life in East Africa. Occasionally I run with one of the South Sudanese high school boys, which usually ends up with me close to death, walking, while they finish the run well ahead of me. Or, I am humbled when a drunk man or a schoolgirl of 11 keeps pace with me for a good distance—wearing flip-flops and a school uniform.

I dreamed of being a great runner and keeping pace with the East Africans. But thanks to the call of the Lord Jesus Christ, I find he has given me the greater gift of a calling with purpose-- of being part of His work of redeeming people for Him. And yet, He hasn’t taken away the enjoyment I have in running, and has actually given me some of the greater desires of my heart (see Psalm 37:4)—an amazing wife and children with whom I get to journey through this life, and with whom I also do run with the East Africans. Our good God hears our hearts, but knows what we want and need better than we ourselves do.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 19:16

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Share the gospel of Jesus Christ and strengthen His Church through medical care and education, discipleship, and loving the people of South Sudan as a family.

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