Missionary Doctor: Merry Christmas and Here We Go!

Our day of departure draws closer.  With only two days until Christmas, we are preparing to spend time with family over the holiday, a birthday just after Christmas, and then our move overseas before the new year. At this point, the reality of the changes ahead has not fully set in. While there are a few last-minute details to work out, we are essentially ready. We are thankful for your continued prayer. We had the opportunity to speak to a few churches and small groups before leaving, but did not have enough weekends available for all who invited us. For those interested, I share the substance of our message in this post. We also shared our testimonies, yet I will save those for future posts. We hope you all have a lovely Christmas! Our message:

I would like to share with you a poem written by Amy Carmichael entitled “No Scar?”

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

As we have pursued missions, many people have asked us how we can give up a comfortable life here in the U.S. to be uncomfortable, maybe even to suffer, for Christ. But what did Christ do for us?
Philippians 2:5-8 says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus was willing to give up heaven itself to come to earth and suffer, in order that we might be saved. If he calls us to leave our homes and take the gospel to those far away, even if it’s hard for us, even if we suffer, how can we not obey that call?

While in Togo for our three-week survey trip to the hospital there, I treated typhoid fever and saw syphilis, Hepatitis B, and tuberculosis. And I treated so, so much malaria.

On my first day in the hospital in Togo, two children who were about 2-3 years old came to us with high fevers and they were having seizures – they both had the most severe form of malaria (what we call cerebral malaria, where the disease has affected the brain) – partly because they had not been brought to us sooner. We treated them both appropriately and prayed over them – we pray for every patient we receive in the hospital there. I prayed the same prayer for them that I pray over my own children when they are sick: that they would be healed, that they would have strength, and that God would use them mightily in His kingdom. The next morning, the little boy was sitting up and eating- he was going to be well. The little girl had died in the night.

This is a daily reality in the hospital in southern Togo, indeed in much of Africa. And it’s heartbreaking. And yet, our goal is not primarily to make people well. Medicine is a great way to bring people in and to show them Christ’s mercy, but we are more concerned about showing them Christ.

John 1:4 says “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” We can’t give the people of Togo life. Only Jesus has that power. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6).

There are many medical needs in Togo, but the spiritual need is far greater. Many there worship ancestors and spirits. Child sacrifice is still practiced by some (it’s illegal, but it happens). Muslims are working hard to spread Islam in West Africa right now.

We do teach about medicine, clean water, and hygiene, but the heart of the issue is Christ – He is the only true answer for poverty, for disease, and for the murder of children. Christ said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

He changes hearts, He changes people, He changes communities.

Jesus is the answer now, just as He has always been.

We hope our unfolding story is an encouragement to you. I have no idea what God is calling you to do specifically. He may be asking you to do something big, difficult, and life-changing. He may be asking you to buy groceries for a neighbor. Yet, we are all called to share Christ wherever we are.

Brother Andrew was a missionary and Bible smuggler to communist countries. He said, “The real calling is not to a certain place or career, but to everyday obedience. And that call is extended to every Christian, not a select few.”

I encourage you to live in obedience to Christ today – your ministry may be right here or it may be far from here. Do it even if you’re not perfect – Christ is perfect in you. You may be familiar with the lyrics to the song “Come Ye Sinners, Poor, and Needy” by Joseph Hart that go, “if you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all.” Similarly, if you wait until you are perfect or until you feel ready, you will never go.

I would also encourage you not to be afraid of being uncomfortable. That certainly applies to going to a foreign country, but it also applies to moving beyond your own comfort zone – perhaps telling someone about Jesus.

Now, I was told by some people to go on more short-term trips to make sure missions was right for me. They would say, “what if you don’t like it?” or “what about your safety?” or “what about the health of your children?” It doesn’t matter. We are called. John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Philippians 1:29 says “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…”

But the good news is, the suffering is not the end! I started this message with Philippians 2:5-8, speaking of how Jesus was willing to suffer for us. But that is not the end of the story. Verses 9-11 say, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on the earth, and of those under the earth, And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The story doesn’t end in suffering. It ends in glory and victory.

Romans 8:17 says we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”

To echo the above poem, “And pierced are the feet that follow Me.”

Be encouraged – He has a mission for you. There may be some difficulty or discomfort along the way, but it’s worth it.

Live in His will for you today.

Summer Adventures

Seth and I arrived home from our 3-week trip to Togo in the beginning of June to face the seemingly insurmountable tasks that awaited us:
We had accumulated nine years' worth of stuff in our marriage-- we needed to sort through all of it and get rid of most of it.
We had an old rambling farm-house-- we needed to fix it up and sell it.We had determined what our financial needs would be for our three-year overseas commitment with Samaritan's Purse-- now we needed to raise those funds.

We looked around us and felt completely overwhelmed. "What do we do?" we said. "Where do we even start?"

We decided to do the only thing we could do. We took a 3-week family road trip.

Wait, what? Why a road trip?

First, there was a wedding and family reunion in Iowa.

I have a large extended family, and as many of them are missionaries, they live all over the world. It's a pretty big deal when they decide to get together, so when I heard that my great-aunt Marabel was hosting a family reunion at her old family farm in Iowa following my cousins' wedding, of course I knew we had to go. After all, it had been 10 years or more since Seth and I had seen some of these people. He and I were only engaged then, and none of my cousins were yet married. Now most of us are married with children, and we were eager to see each other again and introduce our children to their cousins. 
Chillin' with cousins on the porch swing.
We were not disappointed. The kids had a blast with their cousins swinging on porch swing, playing with all the fun outdoor games, and chasing cats around the barnyard. We adults got to catch up with each other and listen to the amazing stories of our older relatives. God has blessed our family richly as we have remained true to our commitment to follow him. As we sang "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" before parting at the end of the reunion, I thanked God for my family and the wonderful examples he has provided through them. Being with them was a refreshing time of true communion and fellowship.
Little girl cousins adorn the porch steps with adorableness.

Next, we took a quick family vacation in Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

After the family reunion, the next thing on our agenda was our pre-field mission training with the Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA) in Bristol, Tennessee. However, we had a couple of extra days between the end of the reunion and the beginning of the training, so we decided to spend those days in a sort of mini vacation in the beautiful mountain country in Tennessee. Our whole family enjoyed climbing the rocks and wading in the river.
Look, Mom, a cave!

Finally, we attended nine days of mission training and orientation.

While our children played with other missionary kids under the watchful care of some wonderful childcare providers, Seth and I, along with several other medical missionaries, attended a variety of talks, classes, and exercises designed to equip us for serving overseas with Samaritan's Purse. The first four days we spent with the CMDA in Bristol, TN. The last five days were at Samaritan's Purse headquarters in the beautiful mountain country of Boone, North Carolina. We met so many great people and heard so many amazing stories. It was humbling and encouraging to hear of the work God has done already through his people, and to understand that they are now passing that torch to us. While the load of information and training was a bit overwhelming at times, overall it was a fun and encouraging experience. Seth and I are very thankful to be working with an organization that is so dedicated to serving people with the love of Jesus.
These are only a few of the families we met who are going to be
serving as medical missionaries overseas. It was such a privilege
to train alongside such a talented and dedicated group of people.

Home again, home again... Now what?

So, as you may have gathered by now, we still have to accomplish all those tasks listed in the beginning of this post, and now we only have five months left before we leave for France in
December. It may seem like our trip was just an elaborate procrastination plan (and trust me, I am a master of those), but as a family we feel it was a very important time of fellowship and learning. As we face these obstacles that we must overcome before leaving for France by the end of this year, we are encouraged by the things we learned and the stories we heard from those who have gone before us. Since coming home from our road trip, we have made some decent headway in the sorting through of our stuff, and many of the things we will not be keeping are out in our yard being sold in a giant yard-sale that we started last weekend. 
Yes, that is all our furniture, too. Eating and sleeping on the floor is... interesting.
However, there is still a lot to sort through, and a lot of work to do on the house before we can sell it. We also are still looking for the people God has called to come alongside us as monthly financial supporters when we are on the mission field. If there is one thing we learned during this trip, it is that God always guides and provides for his people, and we can trust him to do so for us as well. However, one other thing we learned is that he does so through the church, and specifically in answer to prayer. 

Friends, will you pray for us?
  • First, join us in thanks and praise that God has provided Seth with temporary work since he graduated from residency. This temporary clinic job will allow us to meet our financial needs while still here in the U.S.
  • Secondly, thank and praise him for a smooth and peaceful trip and that we were able to attend and learn from our orientation as a family.
  • Ask for patience and wisdom for us as we decide what things to keep and what things not to keep as we prepare for this overseas move.
  • Ask that we will be able to fix up the house, and that God will bring the right buyer for it.
  • Ask that God will lead the right churches and individuals into our lives who want to be a part of what we are doing in Togo financially, and thank him for all the people that he has brought alongside us already, and for all the ways he has already provided for us.
Thank you for your prayers, friends! You are all such an encouragement to us, and we thank God for your support.

If you know of any churches or individuals who would like to hear more from us about how they can be a part of God's work in Togo, either through financial support or prayer and encouragement, please put them in touch with us! We would love to meet with them and tell them about what God is doing. Remember, we only have a few months left!

Missionary Doctor – Two Chills in Africa

Feeling much better after a quick swim.

Shortly after arriving in Togo, we were given the opportunity to hike to a “nearby” waterfall. For only a few hundred CFA per person, we hired a guide to show a group of six of us the way. We started out on a “road” which was mostly flat but found its way over a few hills. It was midday, so I blamed heat and dehydration for my fatigue as we climbed the slow inclines over the course of about an hour. Eventually, the rusty red colored dirt road came to an end where a single-file path continued into the jungle. Along the way we passed multiple goats, huts, and people who were sitting at fires or cutting wood. Naked children ran up to us with big smiles or waved from near their homes. We fell behind our guide a few times and had to stop where there were forks in the path and call out for him to come back and find us. At a small group of huts we turned to follow a path that led up the mountain. I am pretty sure the path was vertical. I was no longer able to blame the heat alone: I admitted to being out of shape. Once beyond the climbing, the narrow path continued with a wall on one side and a sheer drop on the other (so nowhere to sit and catch a breath). Ultimately, the path led down steeply to a small pool at the base of a lovely waterfall. Here we clambered into the water for a cold and refreshing dip. It was so cold, in fact, that I experienced a shiver on the continent of Africa for the first time. Rebecca asked if it was worth the walk, to which I replied “no” but have to say that it was a good experience overall in retrospect.

Hospital rounds with Dr Rafter (short term medical missionary
through World Medical Mission) and Chantal (Togolese PA).
Seeing a patient in the clinic with Ephrem (PA originally
from Rwanda).

The daily routine for me in Togo included participating in hospital rounds each morning and then usually heading over to the clinic in the afternoon. If I was on call (which was about every three or four days), I would head back to the hospital in the evening to round on all the patients again. I probably saw around 20-30 patients in the hospital each morning and not quite that many in the clinic during the afternoon. This ended up making for some long days, but this is exactly the work I have been called to. I was able to see and treat some very interesting diseases. It was very encouraging to watch some of these patients improve dramatically as we treated them. Several children with malaria and typhoid fever came in very sick and near death, but were laughing and playing by the time we sent them home. Children are the same everywhere. Some warm up to people slowly and others light up with the least attention. The children we treated were a blessing to me.

One man, who went by the name Felix, had been treated at the hospital months prior after a work injury. He had fallen from a pole and ended up having one of his legs amputated. I was able to pray with him and a few others after a bible study with one of the other missionaries in the housing facilities next to the hospital. The next Sunday, following baptisms at a local church plant, Felix committed his life to Christ. This is what it’s about! This hospital opened in Togo the year I was born, 30 years ago. Churches that those medical missionaries started are still there and have planted churches in neighboring villages. The hospital and clinic have proven to be effective ways of showing Christ’s love to hurting and dying people, but the impact of continued discipleship is evident in the daily lives of hundreds of people there who love Jesus and have been called to ministry and missions in their own homeland. Praise God.

The urgency of sharing Christ becomes real in the hospital. One man whom we believed to have suffered a stroke was not doing well when we rounded on him in the morning. I prayed over him even though he was in a coma. I asked Jesus to make Himself known to this man somehow because we were not able to share the gospel with him. Less than an hour later the man had died.

This is the young man with Hep B
shortly after praying with him
(days before his death).


I saw one 14 year old boy each morning for nearly two weeks. He had come to the clinic feeling unwell after being treated for malaria and typhoid fever for several weeks already. We admitted him to the hospital and gave IV fluids and medication. He seemed better after a few days so we sent him home. He ended up coming back even worse the next day. We later discovered that he was positive for hepatitis B and we thought there was a possibility of some type of cancer also. We had no way of treating him and he became worse each day. I walked to lunch one day feeling unwell and so took the afternoon to sleep. When I tried to get up for supper, I began experiencing violent shakes with chills. This was the second time I experienced chills on the continent of Africa. It was evident that I had a fever and so did not see patients at the hospital the next day. When I headed back to the hospital the following morning, I was informed that my patient had died. I had prayed with him for his healing and salvation. I know one of the pastors had visited him and his father several times, but I do not know what his last thoughts were. Did he call out to Christ? We had shown him love and told him whose love we were sharing with him. This is why we go.

Worship on Sunday morning.
Children reaching for my phone.
We were encouraged by many things in Togo: the spread of Christ and His church by missionaries and Togolese alike, baptism of brothers and sisters, the healing and recovery of many patients, smiling children, seeing people ask Jesus to become their Lord, and fellowship with other believers. Yet, Togo is full of people who have yet to hear the name of Jesus. There are Muslims throughout the country and many who are animistic. We have been informed that human and child sacrifice still happen in Togo. How dreadful that any should be sacrificed when Christ Himself has already paid that price for each of us. Pray that the knowledge of Christ would continue to spread through the efforts of the missionaries in Togo and through the Togolese believers.

Dr Fred Pfenniger rounds on a baby boy with multiple birth
defects including cleft lip and palate.

This short trip allowed me to learn and allowed me to serve the people of Togo and to serve the missionaries who live there. I learned a lot from Dr. Fred during morning rounds. He and his wife are finishing their two years at the hospital through World Medical Mission. They and some of the other long-term doctors hope to come back, but must return home for a time. The hospital is already hurting for more help and will soon be without four of its doctors. This is part of the gap that I and a few others with World Medical Mission seek to fill. The hospital can only continue to function while there are doctors there to run it – and two or three are not enough for a hospital as busy as this. Surgeons and obstetricians are also needed. Pray that the Lord would provide long and short-term physicians with Christ’s heart for people where they are needed.

Just after delivery.
We are home now (although the definition of home becomes less clear). We arrived after safe travels and have reunited with our children. There are many things that need to be done before we can move to language school and then to Togo, but we are trusting the Lord to provide. At this point, we need to find people to join us in our work by agreeing to help us with monthly financial support. We are currently estimating a need for about $4000 each month. We have no doubt that our Lord will provide when we obey His call on our lives.

We find at every turn hardship and difficulty, but there is always an equal measure of Christ’s own grace. We cannot wait to see what He will do. Worship Him today. Thank Him.

Dr. Seth

From Death to Life: A Day in Togo

I woke up Saturday morning not sure what to expect. Since I've come to Togo, I've learned that nothing ever goes the way you think it will-- but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Life here is definitely exciting.
I am very happy to see we will be outside
under the trees.
That day, the plan was for me to go to a funeral with some of the other missionaries while Seth rounded on patients at the hospital. I wasn't sure what to expect at the funeral, or even if I wanted to go, but I had been promised it would be a "cultural experience," and I usually like "cultural experiences," so I went.

The funeral was for a woman known as "Mama" Gnoyi (pronounced “NO-ee”), and she was so honored and loved in the community that her family expected to have a very large funeral, so they held the service in the courtyard of the local school to make sure they had enough room.
As far as I could tell, deciding to have the funeral service outside was a very good idea. There were hundreds of people there. If you've spent any time in this part of Africa, you probably know that A.) outside in the shade is always the coolest place to be, B.) coolness is always the number one priority, and C.) there are very few buildings big enough to hold hundreds of people anyway.
The funeral ceremony was pretty elaborate. Soon after we arrived, a procession of people marched in from the brush and placed the casket, which they had been carrying on their shoulders, in a shady area under the trees. The women of Mama Gnoyi's family walked around the casket a few times, crying and saying their farewells. Everyone was seated in plastic chairs around the casket. Then the service began.
One of Mama Gnoyi's relatives mourns by the casket.

Those who had been close to Mama Gnoyi made no attempt to hide their sorrow. There were some women who threw their arms over their heads and wailed with grief. Others sat silently with tears streaming down their faces.
At the same time, the spirit of the ceremony was one of celebration. Mama Gnoyi had lived a long, full life.  She had six children and forty-two grandchildren.
Mama Gnoyi's son (the man standing to the right) speaks
in French about his mother's life. The man standing on the left
is his translator, translating his speech into Ewe.

Her son spoke of how she had started going to church as a middle-aged mother, walking there with her children, and how she had come to faith in Jesus and been baptized. Her family had been “fetishers,” which is the word they use here for people who worship their ancestors, idols, and the spirits of nature. Some of her family still belongs to this tribal religion, so when the pastor got up to speak, he preached forcefully of how only Jesus can save. “We know where Mama Gnoyi went,” he said. “She is with Jesus now. The question is, where are you going? This tree can’t save you. This rock can’t save you. Your ancestors can’t save you. Only Jesus can save you.”

When I get tired of listening to a thrice-translated sermon, I
spend my time watching the adorable baby in the row behind
me. This lucky missionary lady gets to hold her, but I only get
to take pictures.

Of course, he didn’t say those things in English. He was speaking in the local tribal language of Ewe (pronounced EH-vay). He had a translator who translated everything he said into French, for the sake of those there who didn’t speak Ewe. Thankfully, my knowledge of Portuguese helps me understand most of the French spoken here, but whenever I didn’t catch something, one of the other missionaries helpfully translated the French into English for me.

Here you are never to young to play a percussion instrument!

Part of the celebratory feel of the funeral came from the abundance of music. There were three separate church choirs present, each of which sang several songs. There was also a brass band that accompanied us when we sang hymns as a group. The hymns were all in Ewe, but the tunes were familiar, so I sang along, having no idea what I was saying.

This is a picture of one of the hymns we sang.
This is what Ewe looks like written out.

When the sermon and the hymn-singing and the choir performances were done, the funeral procession to the cemetery began. Several men carried the casket on their shoulders (as they had when they brought it to the funeral service), and the brass band played as we all walked up the road as a group to the cemetery.

The funeral procession to the cemetery.

There wasn’t much to mark the location of the cemetery. We basically walked up the road for a few minutes, and then through the brush to a clearing under some trees where someone had dug a hole in preparation. Two men jumped into the hole to help lower the casket in, and then jumped out.
This was the special meal given to missionaries and other
honored guests; steamed dumplings made of corn and rice flour,
with a meat sauce. The dumplings are called "ablo."
They are delicious.

The pastor prayed, and several people started to throw dirt into the grave. Then we all marched back to the school courtyard where the service had been, this time to eat lunch. It is tradition here that the family feeds everyone who comes to the funeral (even if this means feeding hundreds of people). As guests of honor, we were given seats inside the school-room, and special dishes made just for us. Most of the other guests were fed from huge communal bowls of rice, out under the trees.

As we rode home in the missionary van, I reflected that I had seen the commemoration of the end of a life here, and I wondered idly what it would be like to witness the beginning of a life here as well.

The mother is prepped for surgery.
Back at the hospital compound, I went to the guest house dining area, where Seth was eating lunch. As I sat describing the funeral to him, he got a call from the hospital. One of the other doctors wanted him to come and assist with a C-section.  Remembering my thoughts during the drive home, I asked him suddenly, “Do you think I could come and watch?”
“Sure, I don’t see why not,” he said.
That is how, mere hours after seeing someone buried, I found myself in a surgery room waiting to see someone born.
The mother, who was being prepped for surgery when we arrived, was quiet and calm. When her contractions came, she would click her tongue against her teeth rapidly, sometimes crying out quietly in pain, but her eyes were closed and her face was peaceful. She seemed to trust that she was in good hands, and indeed the doctors prayed before surgery that God would guide them, and I prayed for health for the mother and the baby.

Seth swaddles the baby boy.
In the room was a cart where they would place the baby after he or she was born. Seth’s job was to care for the baby while the other doctors performed the surgery. While I waited by the baby cart, I was surprised to see Seth wheel a second cart in. The mother was giving birth to twins!

Baby boy is very alert and wants to look around.
The surgery went well, and both babies emerged healthy and beautiful, first the boy, and then the girl. It was the first time I had witnessed a birth that was not one of my own children, and I can think of few things that have filled me with more joy. Seth and I were able to introduce the twins to their father and big brother. The pride and happiness in their faces was easy to understand, even though we didn’t speak the same language.

After the girl is born, I get to hold her and Seth holds the boy.

I didn’t know Mama Gnoyi or her family, and I didn’t know this young mother or her family, but in both cases they allowed me the great honor of sharing in their pain and in their rejoicing. In these brief but powerful moments I felt I saw a snapshot of the promises of Jesus. Whether in birth or in death, I saw the glory of God and the fullness of life.

Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly... I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." (John 10:10 and John 11:25, NKJV)