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Christian Living

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$500,000 Medical Prize Unites Christian, Jewish Faiths

(L to R): AMHF Co-Founder and President, Dr. Jon Fielder with AMHF Co-Founder and Chairman, Mark Gerson, at the Thigio Healthcare Center in Kenya.

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Late last week, the African Mission Healthcare Foundation (AMHF) announced its four finalists to receive the inaugural Gerson L’Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Missionary Service.  The winner will receive $500,000, the largest-ever prize in clinical care.

In an interesting twist, the Jewish funded benefactor will be awarding the prize to long-term Christian missionary medical missions only.

The nominees include:

  • Dr. Jason Fader (Burundi) – As the only full-time surgeon in the region he serves, Dr. Fader’s prize money would expand a surgical ward and provide education for local doctors.
  • Dr. Stephen Foster (Angola) – Serving in this African nation for the last 38 years, Dr. Foster seeks to improve an area that has virtually no modern healthcare.  His prize money would fund a rotating internship to upgrade new Angolan physicians.
  • Dr. William Rhodes (Kenya) – A general and plastic-reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Rhodes will use the prize money to mentor young Kenyan surgeons while expanding hospital operations beyond the region where he serves.
  • Dr. John Spurrier (Zambia) – Serving in rural Zambia, Dr. Spurrier will utilize the prize money to improve HIV care for 4,000 patients in his region, improve electricity and water at his hospital, and provide suitable housing for medical staff.

Mark Gerson, an American investor and businessman, and his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson, is underwriting the substantial prize.   Mark believes the work of Christian medical missionaries in Africa is the greatest untold humanitarian story of this generation.

“Forsaking every comfort and convenience, they bring medical care to an entire continent’s poor,” he says.  “Often, in vast populations, they are the only physicians.”

The origins of the Gerson L’Chaim Prize actually begin on a bucolic college campus in western Massachusetts.    It started with a conversation between two Williams College students, Mark Gerson and Jon Fielder, about their future plans.

“He (Jon) was going through three or four different career choices all based on his scientific and mathematical gifts,” Gerson remembers.  “He was doing all these calculations about how he could help the most people in whatever field he was considering.  He kept coming back to medicine.  Medicine, helping people, and we were in the very beginning of the AIDS epidemic.”

For his part, Fielder never thought his life’s journey would lead him to Africa.

“Only God knew that,” says Fielder.  I wasn’t even sure I was going to become a doctor.  But then I decided to apply to medical school, and I certainly didn’t know I would end up as a medical missionary.”

Following college, the two former roommates each went in separate directions.  Gerson forged a career in the fast-paced New York business sector while Fielder took a far different path … spending a year in Calcutta, India serving as a volunteer with Mother Teresa’s medical mission.  Needless to say, it was quite an eye-opening experience for the young medical professional.

“I think one of the things that it taught me was that I could step out of my comfort zone, and that I could actually step outside the comforts of western culture living,” Fielder shares.  “At the end of my time in India I thought, ‘Okay, well I’ve done my time.  I’ll get on with my life and my career as a doctor.’  But it was pretty soon after that I knew I was being called back out of the United States again.”

That call eventually led him to Kenya where he served an evangelical protestant mission organization called Africa Inland Mission.  There, he saw how the AIDS epidemic was ripping apart a nation.  But from a closer vantage point, Fielder witnessed medical professionals who were literally holding things together with glue and band-aids.  The hospitals were old, the infrastructure was archaic, yet these facilities were the only lifeline in their communities.

From time to time over the next several years Fielder would share his challenging, sometimes frustrating experiences with Gerson, who was having great success stateside as the co-founder and chairman of the Gerson Lehrman Group, a knowledge brokerage and primary research firm.  While Fielder's stories were sometimes heartbreaking they exemplified the important work that faith-based organizations were doing in Africa.

“One of the many things I have learned from Jon over the years was about Christian medical missionaries,” Gerson says.  “Based on my faith  I never would have learned about it in any other way.  So, I learned about Christian medical missionaries from Jon by seeing his example as a medical missionary.  Through him I realized just how few doctors there were in Africa and how desperately needed his services were there.”

Gerson’s concern and Fielder’s continued care for people in Africa led them to co-found the African Mission Healthcare Foundation (AMHF) in 2011.  AMHF provides access to health services for tens of millions of Africans who fail to receive quality, life-saving care.  AMHF directly supports 70,000 patients annually and finances formal training of 100 African healthcare professionals.  But perhaps the most interesting quality of the organization is the uniting bond that is created by bringing the Jewish and Christian faiths together to conduct invaluable humanitarian work.

“I think we may be living in golden age historically when we speak of the Jewish-Christian fellowship,” says Gerson.  “The love that Christians have for the Jewish people, for the Torah, for the state of Israel is extraordinary.  So, in a sense it’s a very natural relationship.  Of course we have theological differences, but Judaism is structurally not a religion to proselytize.  We have a universal God but it’s the God of everybody, our God loves everybody.  We make no exclusive theological claims so it’s perfectly natural for us to be inspired by these great people of faith (Christians).”

“It’s really that fundamental respect for the human person,” adds Fielder.  “It’s mutual respect for human life and the value and dignity of human life.”

The statistics are staggering.  More than 50 million Africans need surgery today.  Only 20 percent of African women who need a C-section actually get one.  Most developed nations like the United States have one doctor for every 200-400 people.  In Africa, that number is one per 30 to 50,0000.  Undoubtedly, these statistics seem so insurmountable that the average person is inclined to just resign themselves to fate and do nothing.  Both Gerson and Fielder believe otherwise.

“Jesus makes it very clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan that our neighbor is not just the person next door,” Fielder shares.  “I would really encourage churches and Christians to really engage with a medical missionary. Find a medical missionary that speaks to you, maybe the part of the world where they are, the type of doctor that they are or something about their writing or their life story, and you will learn and be connected so closely with patients, and their struggles, and their communities, and their churches in Africa, and it’s really a wonderful way to be connected to those strangers through medical missionaries.”

Adds Gerson, “There’s a Jewish teaching that no, I can’t solve all the problems in the world, but I cannot sit without trying.  We are definitely trying.”

The Gerson L’Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Service will be awarded on November 28th.

Did you know?

CBN sponsors medical, dental, and optical missions that treat thousands of patients each month free of charge. Explore the life-changing work of CBN.

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