Two new doctors arrived at Nkhoma last week. These were the first to come since most foreigners left our little community in March. They were in their final year of Tropical Medicine training in the Netherlands, and had been looking forward to this rotation for a long time. When they came, quarantine guidelines were still in effect, even though they had previously negative COVID tests. So as they spent their first week resting in the nearby lodge with minimal exposure to our community, I set about trying to use that time to start them off well.
Before they arrived, I dropped off a dozen books in case they got bored. I dug up books on Chichewa, Malawi’s history, and books on cultural tips for cross-cultural workers. After Catherine and I used Zoom to help orient them on their first day, I gave them a few more sessions myself on Sustainability and Prevention and Burnout and Resilience. We’ve had a few too many visiting doctors take too much on their shoulders too early, exhaust themselves, and leave the hospital not much improved from where they found it. So this forced quarantine time was my perfect opportunity to try and influence our new teammates before they moved into their work at the hospital and got too busy to think about long-term things.
My talks had been designed with people interested in long-term mission work in mind, so the fact that neither of these new doctors cited spirituality as a source of motivation or strength posed a bit of a challenge. But if they were going to serve alongside us for six months, they needed to understand the importance of Christianity to our community anyway, so I didn’t really adjust my slides at all. They had learned about he importance of community health, and so I introduced them to some of the opportunities and challenges around here. I shared how Greg an I were looking to pastors to lead their communities towards wholeness, in part because of the unique position of pastors in this country, and in part because of the difficulties with existing preventive systems on the community level. I’m sure that doctors coming from a part of Europe where less than 5% of individuals attended church would have a different perspective on the role of the church in grassroots wellness initiatives, but that didn’t stop me from sharing my vision.
We also talked about human suffering. Whatever it was that motivated these doctors to pursue Global Health, I knew that they were going to encounter brokenness and devastating health outcomes here on a level that few western healthcare providers have ever seen. Where I usually talk to Christian doctors about the theology of suffering and the need to not have Messiah complexes and take everything on our own shoulders, here I talked to these doctors about the importance of coming to terms with an understanding of good and evil, suffering and forgiveness. We even talked about the concept of grace, that it is a gift of healing and right relationships given when one deserves a harsher justice. We talked about the need to have grace with others and grace with ourselves.
Tomorrow they start work in the hospital. Over the last year, I have seen dozens of doctors starting out serving on our wards, and dozens of doctors leaving after their time is over. We will try to prepare and support them. We will pray for them. We will encourage them when times get hard, and I will continue trying to re-center them with ways of thinking of boundaries and sustainability. Only God knows the hundreds and thousands of lives these doctors will impact, both during these months with us and into their new careers. It would be interested to see if the intense lectures and resources during their week of forced quarantine at all impacts their perspectives and their trajectories.