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Make a DifferenceResponding to God's Call to Love the World
By Melvin L. Cheatham
W Publishing GroupCopyright © 2007 Melvin L. Cheatham
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGod Calls Us to Love
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. -JOHN 15:12
I was standing near the pit, the place believed to have been the lions' den into which King Darius the Mede threw the prophet Daniel more than twenty-five hundred years ago. Charged with disloyalty to the king because he prayed to his sovereign God, Daniel was thrown into the pit to be devoured by ferocious lions. But Daniel was in God's favor, and the Lord protected him so that he was not harmed.
As a small child I had dreamed of visiting ancient Babylon someday. I wanted to gaze into that pit where Daniel had once stood, surrounded by lions. I also wanted to see where other exciting stories had taken place in that historic city of Bible times. These were only dreams of my childhood that I never imagined would come true. Then, more than a half-century later I was among the ruins of the city of Babylon. It was thrilling to realize that King Nebuchadnezzar's chariots had once rolled on the excavated streets where I walked.
On the walls of buildings bordering those ancient streets were images of dragons, molded in bold relief on fired-brick building blocks. Some of the glazed tiles that had once adorned the famous Ishtar Gate were still there. Continuing on from the remaining walls of one building to the next, I searched for evidence of Babylon's famous Hanging Gardens, but nothing remained. What my Iraqi guide identified as "the pit, the lions' den" was still there. For a moment I imagined that in that darkened pit there might still be hungry lions crouching in the shadows, growling, flashing their sharp teeth, ready to devour their prey.
Entering the reconstructed banquet hall of Nebuchadnezzar's palace, I stood before the high wall said to have been where God caused a hand to appear and to write the words, "MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN"-words warning Belshazzar, successor to King Nebuchadnezzar, that the days of his kingdom were numbered. The Bible says, "That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain" (Daniel 5:30). Perhaps you are wondering why I was in the ancient city of Babylon. I will answer that question later in this chapter.
I first heard about Daniel and the city of Babylon when my mother read Bible stories to me. Later, I heard the stories told all over again in Sunday school. Our family went to church on Sunday mornings and evenings and sometimes for mid-week services. My father was an elder in our church, and I admired him very much and wanted to be just like him. At age twelve I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
After years and years in school I was finally handed my diploma as a Doctor of Medicine. Sylvia and I were married the day before medical school graduation, and we were ready to find our place together in the world.
Faithfulness in church attendance became an important part of our life together. When we were blessed with the births of two sons and a daughter, we read to them those same Bible stories we had heard as small children-one of them about Daniel in the lions' den.
Hearing the Call
Neurosurgical residency training seemed to go on forever, but finally, at age thirty-four, I was a fully trained neurosurgeon, ready to begin living life in the fast lane. Every day in my practice meant long hours in the operating room-all too often becoming an all-night marathon. The work was hard and demanding, but I felt good about my life as a neurosurgeon. I was helping people who were sick and injured, and I felt this was what God wanted me to do.
Approaching my fiftieth birthday, a certain "sameness" came to my life and my practice. Sylvia and I were very happy. We enjoyed the rewards of success and didn't mind living our lives in overdrive, but something was missing. We both felt "a still, small voice" was asking for our attention. We knew it was the Lord speaking to us, not in an audible voice but through His Holy Spirit. We felt He was saying, "I have blessed you in so many ways, but what have you done for Me in the living of your lives?"
We began to search for answers to the question we believed God was asking us. As we were doing so, I heard about an urgent need for a neurosurgeon in Peshawar, Pakistan, to help treat the wounded people fleeing over the Kyber Pass to escape the war in Afghanistan. I telephoned the number for the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar as many as thirty-five times but was never able to make a connection. Perhaps this was God's way of saying, "No, this is not the place I want you to go."
Then early one morning in 1984, as Sylvia and I were having a second cup of coffee before my busy day in the operating room, I was channel surfing, looking for the news. "Quick, go back," Sylvia said. "I think its Billy Graham!" I returned to the program in question, but it wasn't Billy Graham; it was a young man who looked and sounded like Billy Graham. Then the name "Franklin Graham" appeared on the television screen. This young man was further identified as the eldest son of Dr. Billy Graham and president of Samaritan's Purse, a Christian international relief organization. Franklin Graham shared that he had not always followed in his well-known father's footsteps. He then told how, one night when he was twenty-two years old, he had gotten down on his knees, confessed his sin, and given his life to the Lord.
As we watched, Franklin showed photographs he had taken at Tenwek, a Christian mission hospital in Kenya. They showed three or four patients in the same hospital bed, and more on the floor underneath. Then he looked directly into the television camera and said, "We need Christian doctors who will go to mission hospitals like this one to bring medical treatment to patients who will otherwise not receive care." In that moment, Sylvia and I felt we heard God's voice speaking to us. Almost in unison we said, "Yes, we'll go!"
I called the number on the screen. Becky Williams, the placement director at World Medical Mission, the medical arm of Samaritan's Purse, listened as I told her I was a neurosurgeon. I told her that my family and I wanted to volunteer to go to the mission hospital in Kenya, the one Franklin Graham had just been describing. After a long moment of silence she questioned whether I would be able to perform any neurosurgery at Tenwek Hospital. She seemed to politely imply, "I don't know if we can use a brain surgeon in a bush hospital in Africa. You see, what we need are real doctors!" That was a really big lesson in humility for a somewhat full-of-himself neurosurgeon from Southern California! Still, Becky Williams was very encouraging in terms of possible opportunities for short-term missions service somewhere else in the future, and she sent an application for each member of our family.
Going with God's Plan
After a few weeks Becky called us and asked if I would be willing to work short-term in South Korea. This would be at a large hospital where a visiting professor was needed to lead the training program in neurosurgery while the hospital's neurosurgery department chief came to the U.S. for more training. There was only one problem: we didn't want to go to South Korea! The plan our family had in mind was to go to Tenwek Hospital in Kenya. Still, we prayed about it, and then I called Becky and said, "Yes, we'll go!"
I could never have imagined that God's plan for my life would also call me to do work for Him in North Korea thirteen years later.
At Presbyterian Medical Center in Chonju, South Korea, I worked as a visiting professor of neurosurgery. Sylvia worked in hospital administration and taught English to Korean hospital employees. Our teenage children worked in various capacities in the hospital. Even though we had gone to Presbyterian Medical Center to be "givers," we found that we were the "receivers," and our lives were changed.
Sometime after we returned from South Korea, Becky called to say that Samaritan's Purse had received good reports concerning our work there. Then she said, "They are really desperate for doctors at Tenwek, that bush hospital in Kenya, located fifty miles from the nearest town. If you are willing to do general medicine, general surgery, and deliver babies, along with whatever neurosurgery you might be able to do, perhaps we can use you there."
I didn't say it but I thought, Fine, I can do that. After all, I used to be a "real" doctor!
Along with eighteen duffel bags and suitcases filled with medical equipment and supplies, our family of five flew to London and then to Nairobi, Kenya. From there we were flown in a Cessna 206 missionary aircraft to the mission hospital at Tenwek, where we landed on a grassy landing strip.
My first neurosurgical patient at Tenwek Hospital was a twenty-six-year-old Kipsigis tribesman named Stanley Cheborge. Stanley had lost his right leg to bone cancer several years before. Now he was experiencing pain in his back and his remaining leg. When I operated on Stanley's spine and found it was riddled with cancer, I knew he would not have long to live. I found time to talk with Stanley each day as I monitored his postoperative recovery and his response to impending death, and I was captivated by his strong Christian faith. Whenever I had a few minutes between operations on other patients, I found myself going to Stanley's hospital room to listen to more of his compelling story.
Stanley told me he had once been a very aggressive, mean-spirited, ruthless, conniving person who lived only to please himself. When illness and personal loss entered his life, he had lost his leg at Tenwek Hospital, but he had found Jesus Christ and accepted Him as Lord and Savior, and his life had been completely changed. Through my close friendship with Stanley Cheborge I came to realize that God works in mysterious ways. He used a one-legged African man who lived in a mud-walled, mud-floored, grass-roofed hut to lead a neurosurgeon from Southern California to make a midcareer change and redirect how he was going to live the rest of his life.
After those first mission trips to South Korea and Kenya, Sylvia and I continued to serve short-term assignments in Christian mission hospitals. But in the years that followed, things began to change in the world. Increasingly, assignments through Samaritan's Purse were not only to Christian mission hospitals, but also to places where wars were being fought.
After the fall of Communism, Christian relief work through Samaritan's Purse took us and many other volunteers to Somalia, Rwanda, the former Soviet Union, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Congo, Central and South America, and to other places of war, conflict, natural disaster, and great need around the world. Over and over again as we have done the Lord's work, we have seen Him provide help that has made an important difference in the lives of those who are hurting. Ordinary people, just like you and me, have responded to God's call to bring help to the sick, the suffering, the wounded, and the seemingly forgotten people in our world.
As Jesus demonstrated during His earthly ministry, God's plan calls us to bring help, healing, and hope to people one person at a time. One person who is willing to show God's love and share the gospel with others who are in need. One person like Franklin Graham, who was once a self-described rebel, but now leads both Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. And one person like Stanley Cheborge, an African tribesman who lived only to please himself until he accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and experienced new birth.
What then is the irresistible yet undeniable truth that is common to the lives of Franklin Graham and Stanley Cheborge? I believe it is that each of these men has been able to hear God's voice! If you and I were to listen, what will we hear Him saying to us? At any moment He may be saying different things to each one of us, but the Bible tells us the command to love Him and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves will be prominent in His words for us. Jesus said, "God so loved the world ..." (John 3:16; italics mine).
The prophet Daniel lived more than five hundred years before the birth of Christ, and he loved God totally and completely. God honored Daniel's love, obedience, and faithfulness to Him by using him to bring help to the people taken captive in Judah and exiled in Babylon. With God's protection and help, Daniel served King Nebuchadnezzar, King Belshazzar, King Darius the Mede, and King Cyrus of Persia. God kept Daniel free from harm even when Darius the Mede cast him into the lions' den. Throughout a lifetime that extended into his nineties, Daniel was given the power to serve, and to survive, in high places because his love for God never wavered.
In the book of Daniel we read that King Nebuchadnezzar loved only himself and had overwhelming personal pride. God warned Nebuchadnezzar of the perils of pride when He spoke to him through a disturbing dream that only Daniel could interpret. God warned Nebuchadnezzar that he would live for seven years away from other people in the presence of wild animals in order that he might be humbled. After seven years, when Nebuchadnezzar would come to acknowledge that heaven rules, his kingdom would be restored. However, in spite of God's warning, Nebuchadnezzar remained prideful and God carried out his sentence. Seven years later Nebuchadnezzar was humbled, and as he raised his eyes toward heaven his sanity was restored. Then he praised God, saying, "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down" (Daniel 4:37).
One of the greatest tyrants of modern history is Saddam Hussein, former president of Iraq. Hussein has lived as a man of pride with a heart of evil, even envisioning himself as the Nebuchadnezzar of our time. Saddam Hussein and his regime are responsible for much of the danger facing our world today. Because of Hussein's evil ambitions, a reported one million Iranian soldiers and an estimated eight hundred thousand Iraqi soldiers lost their lives during the eight-year war with Iran, initiated by Hussein. He is believed to have caused the deaths of thousands, if not millions more of his own people, and he brought terrible hardships and suffering upon the rest of the Iraqi people, qualifying himself as one of the most evil rulers in history.
It was because of the suffering of the Iraqi people that Franklin Graham sent our Samaritan's Purse team to Baghdad in the early summer of 2000. Our mission was to see if medical relief could be given to the Iraqi people without violating the restriction guidelines imposed by the UN embargo on that country.
Our team of four flew to Amman, Jordan, where we met with the Iraqi ambassador to Jordan. He showed us public health records that listed appalling statistics concerning the healthcare status of children in Iraq. Among children under five, deaths from diarrhea were up 1300 percent from March 1989 to March 1999. Respiratory illness deaths were up 1380 percent, and deaths from malnutrition were up 3500 percent. In spite of these healthcare needs, Saddam Hussein had just finished building his seventeenth lavish royal palace. He was also in the process of building the largest mosque in the world while spending large sums of money to rebuild the ancient city of Babylon for his own glory.
In 5:00 a.m. darkness, we loaded our gear into a large four-wheel-drive sports utility vehicle that had been dispatched to take us to Baghdad, and then we began our journey toward the Jordanian border with Iraq. Three and one-half hours later we arrived at the border. After clearing our credentials with the Jordanian officials, our driver proceeded toward a twenty-foot-high concrete structure displaying the likeness of Saddam Hussein, his smiling face welcoming us to Iraq.
At the Iraqi border station, we were told to get out of our vehicle. We watched as customs officials disappeared with our SUV in a cloud of dust, taking it to some undisclosed destination for inspection. In the small, one-story customs and immigration building we surrendered our passports and were told to sit down in a large room with oriental carpets on the floor and smiling photographs of Saddam Hussein on the walls. After waiting for more than an hour, the Iraqi officials handed us our passports and escorted us to our vehicle, which had just been returned following a thorough inspection. We continued our journey toward Baghdad, traveling at speeds of eighty-five to ninety miles an hour.
Excerpted from Make a Difference by Melvin L. Cheatham Copyright © 2007 by Melvin L. Cheatham. Excerpted by permission.
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