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Mixing Long Term Missions with Partnership

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Mixing Long Term Missions with Partnership

by Dr. Stan Pletcher


"How are you able to leave your practice and partners and go to the mission field for an extended period of time?"

I've been asked this question over and over again.  Certainly, most missionaries on the field are full-time and were forced to make a choice;  work as a partner in a practice, or serve full-time in the missions field.  It's an either or proposition.  The approach I and my practice partners were able to use was unorthodox.  Through much prayer and wise counsel and the abiding grace of God I have been blessed to serve here in Ecuador while maintaining my partner status.   This is difficult and it cannot happen without the Lord's direction or without partners who have the same passion for missions as I have.  There are advantages and disadvantages to what we have done, so the purpose of this article is to share a few of the ways in which this has worked in our case. 


When all is said and done, the bottom line is that this has been clearly orchestrated by God.  Nonetheless, it did take a lot of "stepping out in faith".  Time after time we've seen God's hand at work as crisis after crises was resolved in the 11th hour by the Lord's intervention.  Oftentimes key pieces of the missions puzzle weren’t in place when important decisions had to be made, but doesn’t God usually require this of us?  Doesn't He want us to abandon our fears and replace those worries with a simple childlike trust in Him?  There are tons and tons of examples about trusting God in the bible, but one of the examples that stands out the most is Isaiah, the prophet.  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8) Isaiah said this, volunteered for action before he knew what he was getting into!  Isn't that awesome?  It's especially inspiring when you understand the hardships and troubles that Isaiah would face.


God's plans require flexibility.  All of us know this and we were reminded of this periodically.  Our plans changed in ways  we did not expect according to where we felt God had called us.  For us, this was recognizing that we should return to Ecuador for a second year.  This was especially hard because many important problems and details were not yet resolved including concerns about my practice and our children’s education.


I received the call to begin an ophthalmology program in Shell, Ecuador in November 2009.  As my contact and I spoke, I envisioned the great things that could happen here- eternally significant things.  I was excited and I let the hospital director know that given CEN's sizable network of Christian ophthalmologists, starting a program in such an exotic, family friendly location with a rich missionary heritage (Nate Saint - "The End of the Spear") would be an attractive location for many people.  Without hesitating I said that it would be easy to find someone for this start up program.  At the time, I really wasn’t thinking that we were being called and so it didn't occur to me that we would be the first family to go.  And yet, just a short month later our hearts were stirred and we began to sense that perhaps this was the Lord's way of calling us!


Some of the challenges to believing God would care for and handle every detail happened in the early, hectic part of the "go" process.  I could not imagine how things would be resolved with my practice.  How would my partners react?  Would they think I'm nuts?  Would they ask me to step down?  What about my patient slots? After all, I've practiced with this group for 12 years.  My patients and I have wonderful relationships.  My wife loves our home and her animals.  My kids would be pulled away from school and their best friends.  Questions blitzed us.  Still, as numerous and challenging as the questions were, one detail after another continued to fall into place and our peace about going to Shell, Ecuador grew.  That doesn't mean that it all made rational sense to us at the time.  God's ways are not our ways.  His thoughts and ways are His own (Isa 55:8) and it is His plan so we just tried to trust.


Admittedly, my practice partners were taken by surprise.  However, because they are followers they wanted to be supportive and began to pray for me and to think through the logistics of what this change could mean for the partners, staff and patients.  For this, I am unspeakably amazed at their willingness and generosity to share in my mission.  I am humbled and grateful for their help.  There is no way our family could have had this life changing experience without their behind the scenes participation.


Another key question was still up in the air.  What about my patients?  Who will care for them?  My partners are already working hard and booked.  This is where the Christian Eye Network became a real blessing.  CEN supplied the need for our practice in a wonderful way by connecting us with an ophthalmologist who was ideal for our situation.  Because CEN is made up of ophthalmologists in every stage in their career it really is a wonderful platform for God to work in marvelous ways.  God is, after all, the Master social networker and I don't mean that irreverently!


The physician who would fill in for me, Dr. Chip Platt, happened to be in transition in his career.  Just like I had questions about my family's adventure, Chip was facing some of the same questions too.  "Was God really calling the Platt family to Michigan?  To his credit, Chip thought about it and prayed about it and considered it even though it meant tough choices and major life changes for the whole family.  Soon after we first talked, Dr. Platt said that he would fill in for me while I was gone.  Unbelievable! Simply Unbelievable!  Somehow Chip and the Platt family began to embrace this strange notion of helping to care for my patients while filling his need for a short-term ophthalmology job.


Some of the other side blessings involved include being able to work 6 weeks side by side Dr. Platt introducing patients to him and doing surgery with him.  Dr. Platt was able to learn from me as I learned from him meanwhile helping reassure me that my patients would be in excellent hands with someone with an excellent bedside manner.  (My main secret concern was that my patients and staff might rather find working with him more desirable than me and not want me to come home!)


Other times of stepping out in faith include a decision to return for another year despite no real commitment from the arrangement for my patients.  As many of us know, these are times that test our faith to our Lord.  (In arrears, I apologize to my partners for involuntarily testing their faith at the same time.)   The beauty in this was that as we are patient in the Lord, He works out the many details of our lives.  Even as Dr. Platt was unsure of his future, God revealed the plans several months after our decision that were to be best for his family and they "just happened" to coincide perfectly with our timetable.


As we all know, following God’s will isn’t always easy or neat.  It can be messy, messy stuff.  I’m also sure that we made mistakes in some of the arrangements and details.  There have been tough times for all parties involved during the many decisions that had to be made.  You will encounter these times too- that's going to happen.  When it does, I want to encourage you to keep your focus on being obedient to the Lord, and faithful in prioritizing your relationships.  These are more important than your finances and other seemingly key details.  This is hard to do- very hard, especially when our culture is saturated with messages contrary to this.


In all of this, I certainly owe much gratitude to my wife and children for the enormous sacrifices they had to make.  Also, to my head partner, Dr. David Cooke for his time and commitment to help out in the arrangements and to Dr. Platt and his family for their flexibility and willingness to do something very few families would have considered.


Part of the reason I feel moved to write this is because I know that there must be more physicians out there who felt the way I did;  that they wanted to go on extended trips but couldn't imagine abandoning their practices, partners, or patients.  I want you to know that our network is strong and constantly growing.  We know physicians who would be willing to fill in for you during your absence on short and medium length trips. As a community I want to encourage you to consider mission opportunities as they arise. I know there is incredible potential for us to work together as a stronger community to further His kingdom.


In His Grace,

Dr. Stan Pletcher


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