In 1977 when Cathy and I attended the Bill Gothard seminar in Dallas and were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit by receiving Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, everything in our lives changed. The change in our hearts and minds was instantaneous, but the visible changes in our actions were progressive. The quality of our relationship with each other skyrocketed, because we more clearly understood our marriage was literally made in heaven, and God had made us one flesh. That foundation enhanced our commitment to raise our 3 children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
In my professional life as a surgeon I understood more clearly it was God who had given me the skills to become a surgeon, and now He placed in my heart the desire to use those skills to minister the life of Christ through my professional life. My brother Berry Lee (Bubba) had 10 years of experience of ministry through his medical practice, and he began pouring his life and those experiences into me. The early years of witness were awkward in many respects, because apart from Bubba, I had never worked with any physician who had such a passion to minister. It was not the fact that there were none; I just had never been associated with one. The sad reality was the spiritual drought I had experienced in my 15 years of post-graduate medical training and then 7 years of private practice.
A specific vision God gave me very early was the idea of a medical clinic as a designated ministry arm of the local church. Since Jesus Christ is The Great Physician, it seemed a logical step for a church to offer the healing of Jesus Christ in the form of a clinic dedicated to excellent medical science. In addition to Bubba and me, there were 2 other like-minded Christian doctors in our church in El Dorado, and we met with our pastor on 3 or 4 occasions over a 1 year period to discuss and pray about such a clinic. An undertaking of this magnitude needed the leadership of one physician, and none of the four of us at that time were willing to assume that leadership role.
Approximately 7 years after these initial meetings with our pastor, Brother Tommy Kimball I placed a telephone call to Brother Charlie Martin, a pastor friend in Largo, Florida. I was inquiring if he would be interested in making a mission trip to South Africa with a mutual pastor friend, Brother Bill Stafford, who had an international ministry there to pastors. Brother Charlie said he had a conflict with the dates of that particular trip, but then said, “Brother John, I have something to ask you. We have been planning for over a year to open a medical clinic as a ministry of our church. We had a physician designated to be our director, but just last night he said he had to withdraw for personal reasons. We didn’t know where to turn, but prayed God would show us the man, and now you call. Would you be interested in becoming our first Medical Director?” I was stunned at his offer but began to wonder if perhaps God was opening a door. I got more details from him, and told him I would call him back within a week to discuss it further.
For Cathy and me to leave El Dorado we would be leaving family, life-long friends, a church we loved and where we both had leadership responsibilities, a town in which we had invested 28 years of our lives, and a very successful surgical practice. In going to Largo, Florida we would be going to a city we had only visited once, a church where the only person we knew was the pastor, an area where the closest family was Cathy’s sister Nancy who lived in Kissimmee, a 2 hours drive away, and we would be living on a significantly reduced income. On the surface, it seemed such a move made no sense, except the distinct impression God had opened this door for us, and He was testing our level of obedience. After Cathy and I spent many hours discussing and praying together and separately about the matter, we agreed to allow Brother Charlie to schedule a visit for us.
The First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks in Largo, Florida is a conservative Southern Baptist church and Brother Charlie Martin had been pastor for over 15 years. The church was large enough to need 12 pastoral staff members, and I would become #13 if I accepted the position. Everyone on the staff and all the church members we encountered were very supportive of this new medical ministry, and it was well-planned with all the necessary legal and medical pieces in place. The clinic was located in one area of the large Christian school, and as Medical Director I would also serve the school in a variety of ways. There were two major obstacles to our move apart from separation from family; the ongoing care of my elderly, invalid mother and a Florida medical license.
On returning to El Dorado to continue seeking God’s will, we were introduced to a Godly care-giver named Minnie Springer who had only recently become available to care for Mom full-time. Mom really liked Minnie and seemed to immediately bond with her and with her sweet spirit. Additionally a member of the Medical Clinic board at FBC Indian Rocks said his investigation concerning licensure revealed since I was board certified in general surgery, I would not be required to take the Florida board examination and could be issued a licence based on reciprocity. Now the two major hurdles seemed to be solved.
Without going into the agony of the hours of prayers, discussions, tears and anxieties of such a move, we finally decided to accept the offer. I would close my medical practice in El Dorado on August 31, and we would begin the move to Largo, Florida by October 1, 1999. It was both an exciting and scary time, but we were going with the belief this was the will of God for us. It has been our experience and one shared by most, it is much easier to discern the will of God than it is to obey it. Cathy and I were in for some rough waters ahead. —–to be continued.