Scalpel's Edge

A surgeon's notes

Good people and Death Eaters

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The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.  We all have got both light and dark inside us.  What matters is the power we choose to act on.  That’s who we really are.

Sirius Black (care of JK Rowling)

I have an unnatural relationship with the Harry Potter series of books (and movies).  Despite an aversion to reading “the next cool thing,” I read this series from the beginning.  I distinctly remember being on call surgical registrar at Monash Medical Centre one weekend when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released.  I took the book and read it curled up on the couch in the residents quarters between calls, desperately grateful that I had a quiet weekend.  I currently reread the series about once every eighteen months or so, either the audiobook version or on my kindle.  I am currently reading the stories to my kids each evening before bed.

As I reflect on my time here in Tansen, I have been asking what it means to be here as a missionary, as opposed to any other sort of volunteer. People come to Nepal all the time to work with the poor, and not all of them in a mission context.

I suspect there are more long term volunteers who are representing a faith, because of the community of support they can access.  On a simple level, our long term missionaries are usually sponsored financially by their church and Christian friends who donate money to pay for their needs, and pray, and give other support (like car parcels).  Equally, I think that is why Tansen Hospital has such a long history in Nepal (greater than sixty years).  Providing free and subsidized health care for the very poor is not a good business proposition and the financial support, volunteer personnel and donations that go with Christian mission subsidies that longevity.  There is no discounting the support that can be created by one or ten thousand people acting together to support an organization, and by extension, a group of people.

Beyond the organisational level, it makes a difference to me to be here as a missionary rather than a secular volunteer.  Firstly, I imagine as a secular volunteers, we would have focussed more when our accountant was telling us that wasting our savings on service was foolish. Second, my heart is different.  My personal version of mission is based around the greatest commandment:

He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

Matthew 22: 37-40

That is to say, I am much more passionate about service to the poor than teaching Christianity or theology.  I never wanted to be a Biblical scholar.  I feel uncomfortable talking about my beliefs with people I don’t know well.  I mean, I feel uncomfortable talking about the weather with people I don’t know well, so it’s not really surprising.  But I can love people, and I can be really good at that.  And my version of Christianity and mission basically boils down to a question – not what would Jesus do, but what can I do to love this person or that population?  What would I do right now if I loved the poor with all my heart?  What choices would I make if I loved my neighbor every day?  How do I act so that the people around me can just assume I love them, in the same way my kids do, even when they are pouring water all over the bathroom floor? 

At the moment in my work, that means caring for patients as best I can.  It means sharing my “lucky country” education with my colleagues, so they can look after the poor of this country for the next twenty or forty years.  Could I do that stuff in Australia? Absolutely.  I can teach and practice surgery, and even get paid for it.  So that leads to one of those self discussions – why Nepal?  Why not just stay in Australia?

I don’t believe that you have to be a volunteer to serve people in medicine.  I don’t believe that you have to work in the third world to serve. But for me, that is where I feel I can make the most difference, right now.  There’s undoubtedly a different need for surgical services in the third world, and a particular need in Nepal.  My skills as a fairly non-specialized general surgeon, very well trained, are worth heaps more here than in Australia.  And for the moment, that is why I work here.  

When I talk in Christian jargon, I describe that decision and logic by saying “I feel called to be here”, or that “I am meant to be here.” Those sort of phrases are a combination of truth and short hand, which makes me feel uncomfortable using them in secular discussion.  Jargon can help difficult explanations, but those phrases also have echoes of fatalism and destiny that don’t fit with my perception of mission and christianity. Christianity, in my experience is all about choice.

And this is where the Harry Potter series of books help me understand and discuss mission.  There is an overlying theme in the Harry Potter series about choice – the difference between good and bad intentions and behaviour.  This same theme is discussed in multiple literature and pop culture sources – good vs evil and the role of destiny vs choice, but we’re focussed on Harry Potter here, so let’s ignore Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and others for a moment.

There’s a pivotal scene in the second last book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, where Harry discusses the fact that he wants to kill the evil bad guy (Voldemort) and he thinks he is destined to do it, by a prophecy made before his birth.  Through discussion, he understands that events in his life have made him want desperately to fulfill the prophecy (of killing the bad guy), but it is still his choice. The key part of this for me is, in his position, with his history, there is no other logical choice.

It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death, and waking into the arena with your head held high.  Some people, perhaps, would say there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew – and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents – that the was all the difference in the world.

Harry Potter, via JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

One way a Christian missionary can be completely derailed is by focussing on the work they are doing and ignoring the reason they are doing it.  Great work is done, but without a focus on God.  For me, if I were to be here, doing the same thing, but without tying it to my central spiritual belief, it would not be at all the same.  From working with God, we suddenly get access to a whole load of support of others all over the world who care about us and this hospital and their prayers.  And we also get a touchstone.  A reason and a choice.  But being Luke and I, and having the experiences in life that we have had, this is the only place we can logically choose to work.  And that is what I mean by calling.

Anything is possible, if you’ve got enough nerve. 

Ginny Weasley

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