When I came to faith in Jesus in my late teens in the early ’70s, it dramatically transformed my life. As I explored the person of Jesus, I found someone who loves like no other. He loves out of His very nature and desires that all who follow Him be continually transformed into a personification of that love–which is intimately tied into obedience. We obey what we love, not out of a rigid requirement but out of a natural desire to express that love. We can see this in Jesus’ relationship to His father, whom He obeyed willingly, out of his deep love for him.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, my wife, Laura, and I were living in Jerusalem. We were deliberating about going into Bible translation, but we weren’t sure if that was what God had called us to. We knew that we wanted to go to an area of need where we could show the love of Jesus in a developing country, we just didn’t know where we would go or what we would do.
In 1980 we met a 19-year-old believer who had completed his first year of medical school in the UK. I asked him why, as a believer, he had decided to study medicine, because I myself had never thought about that. He said, “I’d just like to see if I could alleviate a little bit of suffering someday in some small corner of the world in the Name of Jesus.” A light bulb went on in my head. I went home and told Laura that I thought we ought to go back to the U.S. and see if I could pursue medicine, then practice in the Third World.
Laura was pregnant with our first child, and I was involved in studies at Hebrew University when, at the end of that year, we returned to the U.S. and I started pre-med courses at the University of Colorado.
Because I had no science background, I did poorly in all of the sciences. It took four years to take all the pre-med courses, and I ended up with a degree in Biology.
Then, because of my science GPA, my MCAT scores and my age, I couldn’t get into medical school. I was 31. We decided to continue our work with an inter-racial, inner-city ministry in Jackson, Miss., where I was the lab technician at the health clinic.
No Giving Up
As men, sometimes we get plans in our heads, and if we feel strongly about them we continue to beat on doors. It’s one thing to do that when it’s just you, but when you’re involving your spouse (and by this time we had three children), that’s another thing. We lived below the poverty level for the first 18 years of our marriage, but Laura never once said, “You know, you really ought to give this up.” We always felt that this was a joint effort. We were in it together, and it was void of our egos. We wanted to minister for Jesus and the Kingdom. He was the only reason we pursued medicine, and that’s why we were able to continue on.
People would say, “Rhodes, don’t you get it? God is trying to tell you what He wants for you.” But we never felt that God was leading me away from studying medicine. We still had the overwhelming desire to try and alleviate a little suffering in some small corner of the world.
When I talked to the dean at the University of Mississippi medical school, he told me that the only chance I had of getting into med school would be to re-take all of the pre-med courses and get straight A’s. Even then, he couldn’t guarantee anything.
So I went to Jackson State University and repeated all of the courses. I got all A’s except for one B.
I reapplied to med school and, after my fourth try, I was accepted at the University of Mississippi in Jackson. I had to take four years of medical school and five years of general surgery training before, finally, we were ready to go.
During my final year of general surgery training, I learned about an opportunity in Kapsowar, Kenya. After praying about it, that’s where we decided to go. I spent a year in private practice in the U.S. doing the board exams for general surgery and preparing for our new life in Kapsowar.
We arrived in Kapsowar in 1999, and living here has had an impact on all of our children’s lives. It has influenced their relationship with God as well as what they want for their futures. Laura says the years raising our children here were good years because we were so together. She calls it a “family project.” Our oldest son and daughter, Zeke and Abby, returned to the U.S. for college. Abby completed her degree at Colorado State University and after she married, she and her husband, Tim Hereford, spent a year with Samaritan’s Purse in Indonesia.
After a year at a private Christian college in Ohio, Zeke decided to return to Africa. He worked with Samaritan’s Purse in Darfur, Sudan, for a year, and is now back in the U.S., where he is studying pre-med.
Havvah is 19. She has worked with me in the operating room since she was 12 or 13, and she is now a nursing student. Our youngest, Jude, is still with us in Kenya.
“This is what we raised them for,” Laura says. Now they are mostly on their own and they have their own vision.
Ministering in Kapsowar
We have an 80-bed mission hospital in Kapsowar, where I serve as the surgeon with four medical doctors. I am continually learning how to best express the love of Jesus to each person whom I meet and minister to. We pray with all of our patients and many of their family members before patients undergo surgery. I have the opportunity to counsel many of them–confronted with very serious or life-threatening problems–regarding their relationship with the Almighty. I have the chance to point out that the same God who loves them enough to heal them desires to bring spiritual healing to them. I am assisted in huge ways by our hospital chaplains and nurses as well as others who continually teach me how to better relate this appropriately in our particular cultural context.
I advise anyone who wants to enter the mission field to have the desire to go deeper with God and a strong recognition that each one of us is given a single lifetime to experience our Creator in this world’s context before entering eternity. I would also encourage them to be in agreement with their life partners as much as possible in regard to their desire to follow Jesus and obey His call. Those contemplating marriage should make this their No. 1 priority in choosing a partner. My greatest gift has been Laura. She is the most special person I’ve been privileged to know, and I have had the opportunity to journey with her for 33 years. We have dreamed and shared visions and struggles and have had much good fruit because of our mutual devotion to God.
It took 17 years to complete all the school and the training to get to where I am. I was 27 when all of this began. Now I am 53–and I feel like I’m just getting started!