The last 8 years I practiced medicine as a general surgeon in El Dorado, Arkansas, I was fortunate to have an overseas gall bladder ministry which had its’ beginning in the above pictured Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria! A gall bladder ministry sounds strange indeed, and the way it all came about can only be explained by God’s providence.
Cathy and I were involved in the ministry of The International Congress on Revival (ICR) for several years before we began attending the oversea’s conferences. The purpose of the ICR conferences was to bring European pastors and their wives to a central meeting place in Europe and fully fund a 3-4 day meeting in which they could rest and receive encouragement from God’s Word. As a member of the ICR Board, our President Bill Stafford kept encouraging Cathy and me to attend a conference with them, and we finally agreed to go to the conference in Salzburg, Austria in 1991. The American team who travelled to this conference were largely unknown to Cathy and me. Brother Bill and other ICR board members had told us about Wayne Barber, Bill’s pastor at Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee and also Costel and Mia Oglice, who were Romanian missionaries working with Kay Arthur’s Precept Ministry. Costel and Mia would arrange their Romanian travels to allow them to be present at the conferences and serve as Romanian translators. There were usually 10-15 Romanian pastors and their wives present, and the Oglice’s translations made the experience more meaningful for those attendees.
The ICR team usually arrived at the conference city a few days ahead of the scheduled meeting to allow the team time to rest and perhaps experience some of the Austrian and Bavarian beauty and culture. The day following arrival in Salzburg a side trip was planned into the Bavarian Alps and all were excited to see among other things, King Ludwig’s castle. To give some American perspective, the castle depicted at Disney World is King Ludwig’s castle.
The drive from Salzburg to the castle was approximately 2 1/2 hours, but the tour bus was very comfortable and the fellowship inside the bus combined with the awesome scenery of the Bavarian Alps made the time fly. Upon entering the castle we had a tour guide and the magnificent castle did not disappoint. At one point in the tour Cathy and I were seated on a small bench when Mia Oglice engaged us in our first lengthy conversation with her. She asked what kind of doctor I was, and I told her I was a surgeon. She then asked if I specialized in some type of surgery, and for some reason I told her I specialized in “gall bladder surgery.” I had been asked that same question many times, and I never once told anyone I specialized in gall bladders. I certainly did perform many gall bladder surgeries however. I was just being a little silly with my answer.
The instant I gave my answer and before I could say I was just joking about the specialty, I noticed Mia’s complexion and facial expression change markedly. I thought perhaps I had said something amiss and asked Mia if I had offended her in some way? She said, “Oh no, not at all. I was just thinking I have 5 pastor’s wives in Romania who are suffering deathly pain from gall bladder disease on a daily basis. They are unable to get proper care and surgery in Romania for many different reasons, and I have been praying for God to open a door for them to receive what they need. Perhaps you are the answer to my prayer!” My immediate response to Mia was, “I would not be able to travel to Romania to operate on them, but if you can get them to El Dorado, Arkansas, I will be able to do their operations there. I believe I can arrange with our hospital to get their care done at little to no cost to them.” Mia’s response was one of delight and excitement as she said out loud, “Praise the Lord!” in her deep Romanian accent. She followed up by saying a few of the women would be at the conference, and she would introduce them to Cathy and me. The others she would contact in Romania within a week or so following the meeting. She and Costel were scheduled to go into Romania for the next 2 months.
On the last day of the conference, Costel approached me and said his “precious Mia” had developed severe abdominal pain and would I mind checking her? Cathy and I went to her hotel room, and she was indeed having classic gall bladder disease symptoms which she had never had before. I gave her a few pain pills which helped some, but her symptoms persisted. I told Costel it would not be wise for them to continue travelling into Romania, but he must take her back to Chattanooga that she might receive surgical care. It took her pastor Wayne Barber to convince them to obey my suggestion, and they boarded our flight back to the states the next day.
The following week I received an unexpected phone call from Costel saying they were coming to El Dorado for me to operate on Mia. I was surprised because they had good insurance and could get their care done by any number of good surgeons in Chattanooga. They did come to El Dorado, and she recovered very well from the operation. I even received a call from Kay Arthur prior to the operation, who I believe wanted to make sure of the qualifications of the surgeon who was scheduled to operate on “her Mia.” We became life-long friends with the Oglice’s and were able to introduce them to our family and many Christian friends in El Dorado.
Over the course of the next six months to one year, there were 5 other couples from Romania and the Ukraine who came to El Dorado for medical and surgical care. The relationships we built were life changing for all of us, and with Cathy hosting many of them in our home, we believed we were used as God’s hands and heart for those dear Christians. God will always use our willing hearts for His glory when we are listening to Him. He will even speak to us in a castle 5000 miles from home!
PS: After the 5th operation on the European pastor’s wives, our hospital administrator told me he wasn’t sure our hospital could afford to continue my oversea’s referral practice!