Genae and I met while traveling the world on a year-long Christian mission trip called the World Race. We have always had missions and adventure in our blood. In 2011, we journeyed to eleven countries throughout Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Australia. We saw God miraculously open deaf ears and blind eyes in Mozambique. We experienced raw community with men and women who were not afraid to show their scars. Our hearts pulsed with life as we traveled overseas, witnessed God’s power, and grew in community.
We returned from the World Race and were married six months later. Then began the journey of marriage, medical school (Rochester, MN), residency (Birmingham, AL), and the wonderful blessing of children! In 2018, we took our then-family-of-five to Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya. I worked in their Emergency Department treating tuberculosis, malaria, eclampsia, botulism, and many other conditions that I had only heard about in textbooks. It was rewarding and rugged. Our family thrived. We prayed about going overseas after residency, but felt God leading us to move to Wisconsin to be near to my parents.
Two months after following God’s lead, my dear mother Nora was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer. We knew why God brought us back up north. For the last three years, I have loved my job as an Emergency Physician with the Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, WI. Genae has shined homeschooling our children and keeping our fridge stocked with incalculable gallons of milk! We have enjoyed rich times with my parents, Bob and Nora, as my mom underwent chemotherapy with incredible resilience.
Then, in December 2020, God began to speak to us again about overseas medical missions. We prayed and listened to stories about missionaries. I started to have dreams about medical missions. Our dear friends Stuart and Lindsay Ostby trail-blazed a path when they decided to move their family to West Africa for Stuart to serve as an OBGYN physician and Lindsay as a nurse.
But, when the rubber meets the road, it is incredibly difficult to consider uprooting our family from our comfortable life and moving overseas. We wrestled (me more than Genae) with sacrificing an incredible income, a beautiful home, and a job I truly enjoy with wonderful colleagues. Then, while reading my Bible this past spring, I was cut to the heart by Luke 8:14, where Jesus describes the Parable of the Sowers.
”And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares, and riches, and pleasures of life.”Luke 8:14, ESV
I realized that what chokes out fruitfulness in the Christian life is not outright sin, but something that looks a lot like the American Dream. Cares. Riches. Pleasures. These are not evil things. But, when my heart cares more about comfort and pleasure than listening to God, I am in trouble.
My mother’s death this past July also reminded Genae and me of the brevity and uncertainty of life. Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” We did not want to pretend we would answer God’s call into missions someday in the distant future. Who knows if we would have that “someday”? So, we began to heed the advice I heard from missionary physician, Dave Stevens, about how to discern God’s will. He once told me, ”Jake, it is not easy to steer a parked car.”
We started to move and prayed God would steer us. We applied for the World Medical Mission Post-Residency program through Samaritan’s Purse, which pairs Christian physicians within five years of residency with overseas Christian hospitals in third-world countries. We interviewed with the program and were accepted. As we walked through the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, NC after our interview day, our hearts burned with a desire to serve in full-time Christian ministry. We yearned to integrate our Christian faith and my medical practice to serve ”the least of these” in countries in dire need of health care. That led us to where we are today, preparing to follow Christ’s call and move our family of eight to Kudjip, Papua New Guinea in January 2023!