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Called: Dr. Sam Fabiano – A scalpel and a Bible

By Mercy Kambura

The patient lay on the operating table. I stood over him in my green scrubs, hands to my chest. I had done this procedure countless times, but I knew as much as everyone else in that room—like life itself, surgeries are unpredictable.

I looked at my patient, knowing his trust was in me and his faith was misplaced. I crossed my fingers already in blue gloves, and asked, “If you don’t wake up from this anesthesia, where will you end up?”

It was not a rhetorical question—I wanted him to think about it and be sure. I’d then pray for him before cutting him. He lived and will live in the next life because he decided to follow Christ on that table.

This is what being a missionary surgeon means. You meet people at their most challenging times, and sometimes, you don’t know how the surgery will go. I have a window of opportunity to ask someone, “Is your life right? I want to make sure you have an opportunity to set your life straight.” Sometimes, we know it’ll take a miracle for people to survive some surgeries.

I didn’t always think I’d be a doctor—it was a tough choice between medicine and aviation. I loved science, and after moving from my home country in Angola to study Biology and Chemistry in Namibia, I enrolled at Concordia University in California, USA, for my pre-med studies.

I finished, returned to Namibia, and started an organization caring for people and kids affected by HIV/AIDS. One day, I saw a sickly child with an emaciated body and a huge belly. I thought, “Some day, I’m going to come back and help these people.” The suffering drew my heart, and I wanted to be used to bring them some relief.

I went to medical school in Russia, and returned to Namibia to start work in a mission hospital. I wasn’t a surgeon then, but many colleagues urged me to study and become one. The calls were incessant and I wondered, “Is the Lord speaking to me?”

I applied to the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons. PACS combines surgical and biblical training to equip residents to be leaders in the Church and community. They have trained surgeons in 14 African countries.

I returned to Angola to work in the same mission hospital with SIM. One lady visited us; she had recurring breast and advanced ovarian cancers. I knew she would not get better, and we chatted for a few minutes. I talked to her about her prognosis and asked, “Can I pray for you?”

She was very calm after the prayer. When her daughter-in-law came to get meds for her, she said, “Thank you for praying with her. Today is the first day she has been peaceful in a very long time.”

We don’t just operate on people; we offer them hope. We build relationships and show that we care for their lives here and after.

Opportunities to reach out

Fewer doctors want to become career missionaries—it’s less lucrative and less glamorous living in a rural place and working more hours. But it’s one of the most fulfilling jobs ever. The investment in people is unquantifiable. It’s eternal.

As a missionary doctor, you have many cases; some you may never do in developed countries or urban centres.  Everyone gets to learn from you; even the grounds people and nurses, as they watch you serve people with eternity in view.

It’s humbling to see how people must hustle for medical care. Some walk for a week to seek medical attention. Good medical care changes families. The help is visible; you see the joy in their eyes.

Unfortunately, there are too many cases and too few doctors. Leaving the comforts of your home country is challenging and hard, but it’s rewarding.

Please pray:

  • For the surgical team we plan to start training; that we find the right people with a heart for the nations.
  • For more people to train the surgeons—short- and long-term.
  • For missionaries serving in hard areas and for their children.
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