“Nathan’s Response to Being Told He Won’t Be the Topic of Every Blog Post”

OK, I’ve been negligent in keeping up with blogging. Here is a summary of where we are at in regards to the transition to the mission field.

The visit to Wheaton, IL, for the board meeting of the St. Luke’s Healthcare Foundation (Owns Soddo Christian Hospital, the hospital to which we are going)

We visited Wheaton, IL, recently to attend the annual board meeting of the St. Luke’s Healthcare Foundation. This foundation owns Soddo Hospital and we had an informative time getting to know them as they got to know us. We spent three nights in Wheaton and were privileged to share a condo with Duane and Jackie Anderson, the orthopedic surgeon essentially in charge of the hospital and his wife. They answered our long list of questions and we learned more about their needs and how we could help. Duane and Jackie are a wonderful couple, full of love and compassion, and we are excited to be their neighbors (they will be the other occupants of the duplex in which we will live). They are expecting their first grandchild this January so we hope Nathan will be an acceptable substitute in the mean time.

The foundation is composed of an energetic group of individuals, including a lawyer, a former hospital administrator, a financial adviser, a construction owner, a doctor and several other helpful individuals. They have an ambitious plan for the growing hospital and we are proud to be able to pitch in for the work. Here are some prayer requests that came out of the meetings:

1. Good relations with the local government
2. Continued cooperation with the local churches
3. Discipleship of new believers from the hospital
4. Raising of funds – especially for a new electrical generator (their current one is being overworked), a new well (more water will be needed for expansion), new residential housing on the hospital grounds (both for the surgical residents and visiting physicians), and new hospital wards (two)

Meeting with Bruce Steffes, MD, CEO of PAACS (Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons)

During our visit in Wheaton, we were also pleased to spend a short period of time the CEO of PAACS, Dr. Bruce Steffes. Bruce is one of the most productive, energetic and articulate men I’ve ever met. PAACS is lucky to have him. He gave us some advice regarding our beginning at Soddo. First, in a view to the long haul, he strongly recommended I not begin clinical duties at the hospital for at least two weeks after arrival at Soddo. We have to support each other as a family during the initial adjustment phase. “Go to the market with your wife,” he said, “learn how to cook, shop, take care of a child and live in a third-world setting.” Statistically, he says the most common reason for leaving the mission field is family problems. A sobering thought and good advice for a type-A kind of guy.

After 31 years of being a student, it is a challenge learning to transition to the role of a teacher. This year at Baylor has been helpful as I have worked with the residents of my own prior residency. Next year, however, will be a whole new ballgame. Though I will not technically be the program director at Soddo for a couple of years due to PAACS rules regarding experience requirements for program directors, I will clearly be immediately stepping into a leadership role of the residency program. This is a daunting challenge and I will need all of the Lord’s grace and guidance to make it work. I recently spoke with a general surgeon who spent a couple months helping with the program last year. According to him, the residents of Soddo have had a long string of short-term general surgeons for the last three years and they are most in need of someone who will be there long term… someone constant, to whom they can look as their leader. Imagine a sports team whose coach changed every month or two. Though young and inexperienced, I pray I can at least provide an abiding presence with these young surgeons and help lead them to maturity as doctors.

“I am Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, your senior drill instructor. From now on you will speak only when spoken to, and the first and last words out of your filthy sewers will be sir. Do you maggots understand that? Sir, yes, sir!!”

Carrying the responsibility for the excellence of new surgeons has been a particular burden for me lately. How high do I set the bar? As I’ve spent this last year working with residents at Baylor, I’ve discovered a disjoint between my level of expectation regarding my own performance as a resident and my expectations of the residents with whom I work. As a consequence, I don’t think I have led residents to the highest possible level of their potential. I am encouraged and inspired by the fact, however, that as Christians, we are called to an even higher expectation. The standard to which we ought to compare all of our activities is no less than Jesus Himself. We should do all things with excellence, serving as unto the Lord. This of course is beyond our abilities but I believe that God will give us the grace to proceed. These residents will be among some of the first graduates of a training program that bears Christ’s name. I pray that their excellence, and ours, will be a testimony to the goodness that the Lord offers to the world.

Saying goodbye to Dallas

Becca and I are wrapping up our time here in Dallas and it will certainly be difficult to leave. We have loved our time here and it will always provide fond memories for us. As an Army brat, I’ve lived in a lot of different places growing up. I’ve actually spent more consecutive time here in Dallas than anywhere else. I met my wife here. My son was born here. Lifelong friends are here. I learned my profession here. God has led me considerably further down the road of my faith here. June 25 will be my last day at Baylor Medical Center (two more call days to go…) and our family will drive away July 8. Though we are excited about the changes to come, we will miss what we are leaving behind.

Saying goodbye to family and friends

We will be taking a 3000 mile “road trip” to visit family and friends around the southeast US before leaving for Ethiopia. These goodbyes will certainly be the hardest. We are so thankful for the wonderful and supportive relationships the Lord has given us in our family and friends. We are who we are because of them. We pray that these relationships will be sustained across an ocean in the years to come.

A new beginning

We have purchased tickets (one-way) to Ethiopia for August 4. We hope to be on the same plane as the Anderson’s for the journey to Addis Ababa. Though we are saddened by what we are leaving, we are looking forward to the blessings the Lord has in store for us as we serve in Soddo. Our time with the leadership of the hospital has invigorated our anticipation of what is to come. There will certainly be challenges but we are trusting that Christ will be with us, as He has promised. Looking forward to updates from abroad!

Love, Paul Gray

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