African Christian surgeons and New York City firemen

Africa | Marvin Olasky

African Christian surgeons and New York City firemen

To end this tough year on a hopeful note: It’s just not true that we’re doomed to wallow in ineptitude. An article in The Atlantic spotlights the work of the Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS), which last year trained 43 residents—at 10 hospitals across the continent—on an operating budget of $550,000. PAACS has 28 graduates, all of whom remain in Africa, working for “underserved” populations.

“Underserved” is an understatement: Africa remains resource-rich but incredibly surgeon-poor, and many who are trained in African countries leave for better-paying jobs abroad. (I heard this often during a visit to Ethiopia four years ago.) The U.S. government spends around $8 billion on medically related foreign aid each year, but hasn’t done anything to fix this problem.

Here’s where Christ-centeredness is key: As Atlantic writer Brian Till notes, “All 28 PAACS graduates remain working in underserved communities. ‘It’s about that Christian heart,’ Jim Brown, the associate director of the Mbingo program, told me. ‘It’s about choosing to live sacrificially and not moving somewhere where you can make a buck.’”

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Till then brings in Bruce Steffes, executive director of PAACS: “‘About three or four years ago we were trying to get a program in Ethiopia, and one of the government ministers was very much against this,’ Steffes told me, explaining that the minister’s objection centered on the organization’s unwillingness to accept non-Christian trainees.”

Here’s the dialogue: “‘He said, ‘tell me what you’re doing here.’ And I said, ‘the truth is that we’ve put out a number of graduates and they’re all serving in rural Africa or in the cities where no one wants to work, and I’m willing to share everything I’ve got, from academics to teaching to testing. You can have them.’ And I paused, and said, ‘But it won’t do any good.’ I said, ‘the only reason I can get these people going out in these rural areas and serve in places where they have trouble getting a decent education for their kids, not have all the amenities of a city, not get paid well, is because they’re doing what they think Jesus wants them to do. Without that, it doesn’t work. You can’t convince other people to do this.’”

The government official, Steffes said, “looked at me for a few seconds, and said, ‘You’re right’”—and dropped his opposition to the project.

Wouldn’t it be great if Christians throughout the world had the reputation of New York City firemen: rushing in to help those in need when others are rushing out?

Happy New Year.

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