Spend time with Mark and Erica Gerson and you'll quickly discover their passion for helping those less fortunate is rooted in love.
"Love is always an action word," the 49-year-old Gerson told CBN News. "When we commit to loving somebody or something it means we have to do something to manifest that love."
The Gersons say the deep love for their faith compels them to give away millions of dollars of their personal wealth each year to fulfill their Jewish obligation to love the stranger.
"The Bible never tells us to love our children because it is something we will do without the Bible's help," Gerson said. "We will love our children even if nobody instructs us to do so. Yet, the Bible tells us to love the stranger over and over again, 3 dozen times, because loving the stranger is not something that comes naturally, it's not something that comes easily."
"When we learned some 20 years ago about the work of Christian missionary doctors in Africa and how they are sacrificing everything in order to serve the poor by bringing healthcare for those who would otherwise not have it, we said, 'this is what it means to love the stranger.'"
This week, the couple pledged a record $18 million to support the work of African Mission Healthcare, which Mark co-founded 11 years ago.
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African Mission Healthcare says this latest gift from the Gersons is the "largest private gift ever" to Christian medical missions.
"A single gift of this magnitude is virtually unheard of in African clinical medicine," Dr. Jon Fielder, African Mission Healthcare's (AMH) chief executive, said in a statement. "This tremendous generosity will enable care for hundreds of thousands of people who would otherwise be without.
The Gersons are joined in their generosity by the United Bank of Switzerland (UBS), which has agreed to add $2 million to the Gerson's gift for a total commitment of $20 million — through the UBS Optimus Foundation.
"We are very pleased to support the efforts of AMH as they seek to create enduring and improving health systems where everyone in Africa has access to quality, compassionate care," Tom Hall, managing director of UBS's Philanthropy Services, said in a statement. "Transforming health systems that meet the needs of women, children and others at risk in Africa is also one of the critical priorities of the UBS Optimus Foundation. African Mission Healthcare (AMH) shares these same priorities and executes with remarkable effectiveness and efficiency."
The funds will also go towards training the next generation of African medical professionals.
"It will enable training for thousands of healthcare professionals who will collectively provide care to millions of patients in the generation to come," Dr. Fielder, who co-founded AMH with Mark Gerson, said in a statement. "It will sponsor thousands of life-changing surgeries, adding tens of thousands of years of life to mothers who currently lack access to quality healthcare."
Since its founding in 2010, African Healthcare Mission says it has invested more than $30 million in training, equipping and providing clinical care at 47 Christian mission hospitals across 16 countries in Africa.
"These investments have supported direct care for more than 670,000 patients and will enable more than 9.8 million future patient visits," said an AMH statement. "Additionally, more than 3,000 medical professionals have been trained and 19,000 surgical and corrective procedures have been sponsored."
Gerson often refers to the Christian medical missionaries who serve on the continent as 'sacred people' who perform their sacrificial services in the name of their Christian faith.
"The number of lives that these Christian doctors save and transform per dollar invested while building the institutions that will amplify care in Africa for generations is staggering," Gerson said in a follow-up statement. "We hope that the matching component of this gift will encourage more people to further enable these missionary physicians to do their sacred work as the indispensable source of care to millions of people in Africa."
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The Gersons are no strangers to philanthropy in Africa. In 2016, the couple established the L'Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Missionary Service.
Africa Mission Healthcare says the $500,000 prize money award is "the largest for direct clinical care in the world, (and) supports the life-saving efforts of a long-term medical missionary and his or her home institution."
The first L'Chaim Prize award in 2016 went to Dr. Jason Fader, an American medical missionary serving in a remote village in Burundi.
The 2017 prize went to Dr. Russ White, a cardio thoracic surgeon at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya.
The 2018 recipient was Dr. Rick Sacra who risked his life to serve patients at the height of 2014 deadly Ebola virus outbreak in Liberia. Sacra contracted the disease, and narrowly survived. Months after recovering, he was back helping patients at the Christian hospital in Liberia's capital city.
CBN and the Gersons have also partnered on several projects on the continent to provide quality, compassionate care to patients.
Gerson told CBN News that his family firmly believes the Bible verse in Malachi 3:10, that when you help the stranger, God will pour out His blessings.
"God says, 'test me' and I believe it's the only test that God uses in the Bible," Gerson said. He says, test me, give to charity and you will enjoy blessings yourself. And it is so true. No one has ever made a donation to serve the African poor by supporting Christian missionary physicians and regretted it," Gerson insisted.
"It has been a blessing of Erica and myself to be able to partner with these sacred people, these doctors who are working in Africa in the name of their Christian faith, to serve the poor and it's something that we always want to do more of," he added.