In 1977 when Cathy and I attended the Bill Gothard seminar in Dallas and were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit everything in our lives changed. The change in our hearts was instantaneous, but the visible changes in our lives were progressive. The quality of our relationship with each other skyrocketed, because we more clearly understood our marriage was made in heaven, and God had made us into one flesh. The commitment to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord escalated.
In my professional life I understood it was God who had given me the skills to become a surgeon, and now He gave me the desire to use those skills to minister the life of Christ. My brother Berry Lee (Bubba) had ten years of ministry experience through his medical practice, and he began pouring those experiences into me. The early years of witness were awkward, because I had never worked with any physician who had such a passion to serve Christ. I knew there were others, but I had never been associated with one. The sad reality was the spiritual drought in which I lived for the fifteen years of post-graduate medical training and seven years of private practice.
One vision God gave me early was the idea of a medical clinic as a ministry arm of the local church. Since Jesus Christ is The Great Physician it seemed logical for a church to offer His healing in the form of a clinic offering excellent medical care. In addition to Bubba and me there were three other like-minded Christian doctors in our church in El Dorado, and we met with our pastor on three or four occasions to discuss and pray about such a clinic. An undertaking of this magnitude needed the leadership of one physician, and none of us at the time were willing to assume that role.
Approximately seven years after these meetings I placed a telephone call on a Monday morning to Brother Charlie Martin a pastor friend in Largo, Florida. I was curious if he had any interest in making a mission trip to South Africa with a mutual pastor friend, Brother Bill Stafford. Brother Bill headed an international ministry there to pastors and their wives, and they met annually near Johannesburg. 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. 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 back within a week to discuss it further.
For Cathy and me to move to Florida would mean leaving family, life-long friends, a great church, a town in which we had invested twenty-eight years of our lives, and a very successful surgical practice. Largo, Florida was much larger than El Dorado, and we had only been there once. The church also was much larger, and the only person we knew there was the pastor. Although Cathy grew up in Florida her closest relative to Largo was her sister Nancy who lived in Kissimmee a two hours drive away. In accepting the director’s position my income would be significantly less. On the surface it seemed such a move made no sense. However, I had the distinct impression God had just opened this door, and He was testing our level of obedience. After Cathy and I spent many hours discussing and praying together and separately, we agreed to allow Brother Charlie to schedule a visit for us to Largo.
The First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks in Largo, Florida is a conservative Southern Baptist church, and Brother Charlie had been their pastor for over fifteen years. The church was so large they had twelve pastoral staff members, and I would become the thirteenth if I accepted the position. Everyone on the staff and all the church members we met were very supportive of the 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 their large, adjacent 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 our separation from family; the ongoing care of my elderly, invalid mother and a Florida medical license.
On returning to El Dorado and continuing to seek God’s will, Cathy met a Godly care-giver named Minnie Springer, who had only recently become available as a full time care-giver. Mom really liked Minnie and seemed to immediately bond with her. Additionally a member of the Medical Clinic board at FBC Indian Rocks gave us very encouraging news. His investigation 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 license based on reciprocity. The two major hurdles now seemed to be resolved.
Following many hours of agonizing prayers, discussions with family, and the tears and anxieties of making such a move, we 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 moving with the confidence this was the will of God for us. It has been our experience and one shared by many thoughtful believers, it is much easier to discern the will of God than to obey it. Cathy and I were in for some rough waters ahead.