Whenever you talk to Christians about missions, there’s always talk about the “call”. I’ve always found it a rather intimidating word. I don’t hear God directly speak to me in an audible voice or feel completelycertain about what I feel He says. I don’t want to put words in God’s mouth, or overstate the surety of a situation. So I find it difficult to say I feel “called” to work in PNG. Yet there is a real sense that that is where I am meant to be, what I was made to do.
I was born and raised in the “Bible Chapel” tradition, with a strong missional legacy passed on from my grandparents and their generation to my parents. We moved to Papua New Guinea in 1993, where Dad worked as an accountant for Christian Leaders Training College for nine years. When I was about eight years old, our haus meri’s daughter in law, Josephine, had a baby boy in the village. His umbilical cord was cut with a rusty razor blade and he sadly passed away about a week later from neonatal tetanus. It’s interesting what and how you remember things as a child, sometimes it’s even just memories of memories. I’m not sure what it was but something about the unfairness or preventability really struck me and I wanted to do something about it. To start with I was going to be a nurse, but thanks to some friendly advice from a nurse aunty that it would be better to be a doctor as they boss the nurses around, I have aimed to be a doctor since I was about ten years old. And a large part of that has always been so that I could go to back somewhere like PNG and help prevent situations like the death of Josephine’s son.
t’s all well and good to have an idea, but I was never quite sure of how to discern God’s voice and will in all of this and figure out the finer details like where to go or how to get there. The idea of asking people for support was particularly daunting – both the complete lack of control, and having to humble myself to let others help me.
As I’ve re-evaluated things over the last few years coming to the end of my training, the end of a relationship and having to start to make some big life decisions, I sat down and reflected on what is unique about me. What skills, life experiences and personality traits has God given me, that could be used for His glory? I have a decent brain, a collection of pretty useful medical skills, some cross cultural experience and the ability to speak Tok Pisin. I can manage without running hot water as I know how to use a bucket shower, have a good dose of the wanderer and can live off not much after being raised by a budget advisor and an accountant. So the idea of working in a medical capacity somewhere in the third world, particularly in PNG, seemed a perfect fit. When I discussed this with a friend, they said if that wasn’t a calling, they didn’t know what was!
The other thing that strikes me as I assess my life, comes from the Bible from the book of Luke – “to him who has been given much, much is required.” I have been so blessed to have a loving family who supported me to read and learn, I’ve never gone hungry, never really been sick, have never feared for my life and have a really rewarding job. I didn’t do anything to deserve it, it just happened to me. And it’s not that I feel guilty or pressured into doing something, more that I am so grateful to be in the position I am and feel a responsibility to use those gifts as best I can to help those who haven’t been as fortunate.
One option would be to work for an organisation like MSF/Doctors Without Borders. You don’t have to raise any money, they are well supported and have a large network. But while helping people medically is important, what I really want to share with people is the love that I have found in Christ. That motivates me to do what I do and that I think is fundamentally more important to their lives than their physical health. So it is vital to me that I work in an environment where I can share Jesus’ love with my patients and where the hospital cares for patients’ spiritual health as much as their physical.
So I decided to test the waters, setting off for seven weeks at Kudjip Nazarene Hospital earlier this year. It’s a 120 bed rural provincial hospital for the newly formed Jiwaka Province, about half an hour away from where I grew up in the Highlands of PNG. It was an amazing experience – with elements of going home, both fascinating and heart breaking medical challenges, remembering my Tok Pisin and enjoy the beauty of PNG.
One moment stands out in my mind. It was during an afternoon clinic a few weeks in, just like any other afternoon. I asked Dr Bill, a Kudjip veteran, to help me ultrasound a woman for an ectopic pregnancy and I said I hadn’t done a pregnancy test because if we saw something on the scan we wouldn’t need one. He just stopped short in his tracks and asked me if I felt ‘called’ to medical missions. To which I said well I don’t really like saying ‘called’, because I’ve never heard God directly say that’s what I’m supposed to do, but when I think about all the attributes and skills I have it seems a good fit. And he said after watching me for the last two weeks, he thought I was made to do this and maybe this was my neon sign from God.
A feeling also stood out to me – peace, particularly in situations that aren’t usually conducive to peace for me! It might sound silly, but I hate cockroaches with a passion. When finding myself with a large cockroach on the floor one night and no bug spray, I managed to walk around him and go straight back to sleep – unheard of for me! It’s just one example of how I felt God was with me throughout my time and I left with a real sense that Kudjip is where I am meant to be for at least the next few years.
Coming home was a bit like coming down from the mountain top, back to the winter rush at work, freezing cold, and the routines of everyday life again. And the reality of going back to PNG has started to hit, missing out on seeing a new nephew grow up, leaving my home and community, what it means to my medical career. If I’m overseas for much longer than a few years it will be hard to get back into a very different type of medicine here. Plus there isn’t exactly an abundance of suitable gentlemen callers in PNG for a single female unfortunately well-educated with a ticking biological clock! It’s felt a bit like counting the cost.
Yet the encouragements and confirmations have continued, the provision of exactly what I would have asked for in a house, the flexibility of a job in a generally very inflexible system and so many offers of help and support. It’s felt like God’s been saying “I’ve got this Rebekah, all you have to do is keep taking each step as it comes”.
So I’m moving through a door that seems to be wide open, moving to Palmerston North to get more experience in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, starting to raise support, and looking to go back to Kudjip Hospital from mid 2018 for two years.