Sunday, March 16, 2008

Love, Sacrifice, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Note of introduction: For those of you who do not know, I am completing my surgical residency this summer, and plan to go to Africa for 9 months to work as a surgeon in a missionary hospital in Kijabe, Kenya. This is the first of many posts/notes that I will be making to document my experience. This is primarily a way for me to communicate with family, friends, financial supporters, and anyone else who might be interested in my trip abroad.


Today, while washing my hands at the scrub sink outside the operating room, I remembered why I became a surgeon. One of my colleagues came along side me to wash her hands and started a polite conversation. The brief discussion wandered into current events, and she recalled my interest in going to Kenya next year as a medical missionary, and she asked me if the recent civil unrest there after the disputed election in December had changed my mind about going. At first, I tried to assure her that things seemed to be calming down since those first few violent weeks, but she insisted that it would be foolish to plan a trip there at this time. She expressed her opinion that ethnic animosities in African nations make law and order impossible, and that I should not risk all the hard work that I have invested in training myself to be a surgeon, just to go to some violent part of the world, and risk injury to myself. I paused for a moment as she cautioned me, and I finally replied:

“It is true that some harm may come to me in a country on the brink of civil war, but the people who need medical care there cannot afford for me to wait until it’s convenient to serve them.”

The reason I’m in medicine…is to serve. Not to serve only when it is safe and convenient, but to serve those in need even when there is a cost to me. Do not get me wrong. I do not have a death wish. I would like to enjoy peace, safety, and prosperity, but sometimes we have to accept less than ideal circumstances to serve where the need is great. I’m not endorsing that one walk into the midst of trouble without considering the dangers involved, but we must be willing to face some adversity to do anything worthwhile.

Real service requires sacrifice…and my secure surroundings may need to be compromised in order to serve the most needy people. While on the surface, it may seem that just being a surgeon is a noble and service-oriented profession, and that one does not need to go overseas to serve, but the question of true service is measured by sacrifice and motivation. It is not sacrificial for me to work in a prosperous surgical practice, when my fundamental motivation is financial gain. I would be primarily serving myself (especially, since I don’t have any financial dependents.) I’m not discounting all private practice surgeons as being self-serving individuals. A private practice surgeon can still make his primary motivation to care for the sick, while earning an honest living to support himself and loved ones and doing something he enjoys. But for me, it is clear that I have a unique opportunity to serve, and that the greatest good I can do with my skills at this point in my life is to serve an underserved population that might not have access to any surgical care if volunteers are not willing to forsake more lucrative and comfortable practice settings.

So I was able to answer my colleague confidently. “Yes, I still want to go to Kenya this year.” I remembered why I have endured all of these long hours and sleepless nights. I did not come this far to serve myself, but to serve others. Of course, I would like to have some degree of financial and personal security, but if some increased risk of violence to my person is necessary to make the situation better for the hundreds of thousands who have been recently displaced by this unrest, than how can I turn a blind eye to their needs. Additionally, I have faith that God would not let my service be in vain. My fundamental belief about the world is that every act of kindness, love, or goodwill (no matter how small) makes the world a better place, and that every act of selfishness, fear, and hate (no matter how small) makes the world a little more hostile and broken. I want my life to be one that is marked by service, and not fear or selfishness. I believe that my service will be a seed that will yield a real harvest of goodwill and positive change. Do not think I am naïve. I understand that I may suffer in the process, but I have faith that God will provide me with what I need to endure any suffering no matter how great.

***

My colleague described Africa and Africans as they and them, but she described the US and Americans as we and us. She rationalized that we were somehow different from Africans and did not deserve to share in their suffering (unless it could be done conveniently and comfortably in a controlled-manner). But what must become clear is that Africa is we, and that in these modern times, the world is a single global community. If Africa hurts, America will eventually hurt too. But if Africa is healed, America and Americans will benefit. Think of all the creativity and intelligence that is wasted in parts of the world where poverty, underemployment, and illiteracy are so stifling that one is relieved to merely survive the day.

It’s not just the moral thing to serve those in need, but it is prudent as well. If the problems of the world’s poor and oppressed people are ignored or hidden, then the poor and oppressed will become bitter, and bitterness will turn to hate, and hate eventually spills over to the rest of the world. And hatred in someone with nothing to lose is a dangerous thing. (As an aside, Western media is controlled almost exclusively by business interest that want to obscure the worlds problems from our consciousness so that we will continue to be dutiful consumers of things we do not need, but this is a topic for another day.) On the other hand, if the poorest most oppressed individuals are given hope (for instance: opportunity for education, means to achieve financial advancement, political and civil liberty, and in my case access to quality health care), then that seed of hope will inspire more self-realization and social stability/growth. And while I don’t expect that I can save all of Africa by taking care of a few sick individuals, I do believe in the power that a little kindness can have in the world. Love can create a domino effect. Perhaps I will inspire one of my friends to dedicate his life to serving others, and he will inspire another, and another… Or perhaps, some child that I treat in Kenya will remember the dedicated surgeon who treated him, and he may dedicate his life to easing suffering instead of inflicting it. My faith makes me believe that any one person’s selfless act can make a difference and interrupt the cycle of human suffering that often seems inevitable and insurmountable.

***

To whom much is given, much is required. I have been given much. I have been given health, a sharp mind, education, and medical training, just to name a few of my blessings. Now is the time in my life to serve those who have been given less. I understand that some sacrifice may be necessary, but when I consider what an opportunity to heal broken bodies and spirits that this will be, I can’t help but get excited about going away. And this leads me to my last point.

A friend of mine thought that the reason I was going to Africa was guilt. He thought I was being compelled by some religious conviction to respond to the poverty in Africa, and prodded by the guilt and shame of my middle class lifestyle. But there is no reluctance in my heart to go. I am going, because I think this is what is going to make me happy. I know there may be trials, but I also know the joy that comes when I serve others. While I obviously enjoy the thrills of life (like a vacation getaway to the mountains), I don’t know of anything that provides more lasting happiness than loving others. I believe that we were designed to love and serve other people. We all know that loving and serving brings joy to marriage, parenthood, and family life. But it also brings happiness to our professional life and to our civic life. The happiest most fulfilled people in the world are those that find ways to serve others in every facet of their life. Likewise, it is difficult to truly be happy if someone is spending a large portion of his time doing something that serves no one, and a sure recipe for misery is to spend all of one’s time serving oneself.

The American Declaration of Independence states that one of our inalienable rights is the “pursuit of happiness”. And while everyone is free to pursue happiness in the way that they see fit, many Americans have found themselves pursuing status, wealth, fame and power as an end. In my opinion, these things can’t make anyone happy. They are not an end, but a means to achieve happiness. They can only make one happy if he recognizes that wealth and power are resources that can allow one to love and serve other people more effectively. Wealthy people can be pitiful and miserly folks, but those rich individuals who realize that their wealth allows them to employ thousands, influence civic and political process (for good), and give away millions to worthy causes are able to avoid the pitfalls of self-indulgence. Wealthy philanthropists are some of the happiest people in the world. It’s not what they have that makes them happy, but what they are able to do with it.

The word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek words phila and anthropos which literally means “to love - human beings”. Whether you call it the “Golden Rule” (do unto others as you would have them do to you) or the Mosaic Commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, philanthropy is not a religious requirement to avoid damnation…It is a guideline to pursue and attain happiness. I am pursuing happiness as I embark on this trip to Kenya. I have not been coerced or pressured by guilt. I believe that there will be sacrifice required, but it will be a small price to pay for the fulfillment of living a life of purpose.

Sadly, some of my friends and colleagues have been very critical of this decision. They cannot see why someone who is just about to realize a major leap in his pay scale after so many years of training would delay those financial rewards. Further more, they shake their heads and lament why I would put myself at risk by going abroad for 9 months to a country struggling to maintain order. I shake my head too…knowing that they may never be able to pursue the happiness that is found in service, because they are too busy pursuing the American dream (or nightmare) that has been sold to them in our consumer media. They may continue to chase “happiness” and occasionally experience a thrill, but I don’t think they will ever attain happiness until they find a purpose in their life that is focused on “loving human beings”, whether it be their children, family and friends, their community, or strangers in a far-off land.

Serving the people of Kenya is a pursuit that I believe will help me attain happiness. I hope I can continue to grow in my dedication to love my neighbor as myself. Moreover, I hope that my trip is an inspiration to others to find new ways to love their neighbors as well. I believe that faith leads to more faith, that hope leads to more hope…that love leads to more love…and that all three lead to happiness.


Yours in the pursuit of happiness,

chad


Love is the master key that opens the gates of happiness.

~Oliver Wendell Holmes

4 Comments:

At Sun Mar 16, 11:25:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Hi Chad -

Your post brings tears to my eyes and joy and fullness to my heart. God is using you in a very powerful way. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to spend so much time with you in the clinic. My prayers are with you as you follow your calling. I look forward to seeing you again after my surgery.
Blessings to you my friend, John

 
At Tue Apr 01, 08:10:00 PM, Blogger John Bates said...

Dear Chad,

I am a friend of John Coonley and sing with him in the North Shore Christian men's choir, Praise God for how he intends our steps to join our lives with His servants to glorify His name. A few weeks ago the choir had prayed that I find a church wher God would have me serve. Several days later I found myself sitting in an "African" church (a long story for another day). The Pastor, Jeremiah Githere, is from Kenya and pastored churches there for many years. At our next practice I was about to share the answered prayer I had received when John got up and told us about His God-intended meeting with you. My heart leaped and mind mind was overwhelmed as I considerd this "coincidence" LOL. I met with Jeremiah since then and shared all of this with him. He would love to haer from you and hear how God has gifted you to serve Him in Kenya. His e-mail address is githerejn@yahoo.com. We continue to uphold you in prayer and can hardly wait to see how The Lord will accomplish what has begun in you.

By His Grace,

John Bates

 
At Sun Apr 13, 11:44:00 PM, Blogger Cherise said...

Those are some thoughts and I concur fully. Follow your vision for without vision "the people perish". I look forward to hearing more of your life journey and my prayers and support are with you all the way. Grace and Peace, Cherise

 
At Wed Jul 02, 04:08:00 PM, Blogger Evang. Ro* said...

Chad,

I don't usually read blogs but I am looking forward to following yours. For all that you've said, I could envision every word.

Your blog, has made it all the more worth-while, to encourage and pursue my personal mission; ministering/working with women in gangs, in the LA, Miami area.

You are going to do exceptionally well. The LORD has made your hands, mind and spirit to prosper. In addition, He has given you a multitude of warring angels who are responsible for your protection and well being(see Psalm 91).

Glad to have you as my Brother-In Christ...

Evang. Ro*

 

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