‘God has really brought us together’, said the hospital director at the end of our short-term trip. Perhaps he did not mean it in quite the way we might, but I believe it was heartfelt. We have been visiting the hospital in this small town on the river annually for several years, for seven to ten days at a time, teaching and building relationships. We have seen the town grow and develop a lot, and the hospital move to a new and improved building; a microcosm of what is happening throughout the entire country.
What Have We Achieved?
What have we achieved from nearly ten years of teaching in the hospital and giving English lessons in the local secondary school? In measurable terms, perhaps not a great deal, but I believe that we managed to show them that we cared. We tried to encourage and equip them, modeling holistic care for patients, and we gave what we hoped was reasonable quality and relevant teaching. Perhaps of most importance, however, we kept coming back; it was not just a one-off project. What we did was certainly noticed. When two of us were interviewed on the local television channel, the interviewer asked afterwards if we watched a local medical soap opera in the evenings. Before we could respond, the hospital director told him, ‘No, no, they are far too busy to watch television. Every evening they discuss the patients and pray for them.’ A good comment, even if not entirely accurate, though we did wonder how she knew!
I might argue that the most significant effect of these trips, however, has not been on our hosts, but on us. From the group who joined that very first trip in 1999, five are still involved in overseas work in one way or another, while at least three others have committed to working full-time abroad. We were challenged to learn more about the country, pray more for the people, and in many cases commit to using our holidays to come back year after year.
Eventually, the annual trips came to an end. The need was less as the hospital improved, fewer people were able to join the team, the welcome for the teaching of English decreased, and we agreed that that particular work was coming to an end. For me, the next move was working in a hospital in the west of the country for six months. The change was good, but I left knowing that the greatest need was not to work there as a doctor, but to train and equip others. In time, this developed into returning as a long-termer, language learning in the country, and then four and a half years using English to teach medical students coming from abroad. This too came to an end when my university contract was not renewed because I was too old! I thought that this might be the end of my work abroad, but another direction was found, and I am now teaching medical English to younger doctors in a local hospital. How long that will be for, only the Lord knows, but he has been faithful and will continue to be so.
How Times Have Changed
Things have changed a lot since my first visit to the country more than twenty-five years ago. Back in those simpler days, one could almost turn up at a hospital, do some teaching, give a few opinions, even treat patients, and disappear again. Now postgraduate qualifications are expected, people who can speak the language are preferred, proper work visas and medical licences are essential. The people have changed too. Doctors’ standards of living have increased dramatically, but patients have also changed. While much more can be done for them, patients have also come to expect much more. This means patients don’t always trust their doctors and sometimes disputes occur over the cost of treatment or if things go wrong.
The basic needs of patients and those treating them have not changed, however. They still need to hear a message that everyone is valuable in the sight of God. Patients still need holistic care from those who see them as needy people, not just a source of income. Doctors and nurses, especially the believing ones, need friends and encouragers who can help them to take a stand and have integrity in their workplace.
So are you willing to come alongside them and live by example?
Teaching in East Asia