As many of you know, Mike Lee has been running the "BlueHealers" site for several years now to raise support for Medical Ministry International by auctioning Duke basketball tickets.
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When Mike learned that his friend Dr. Timothy Berg and his family had relocated to Rwanda to serve the patients of Kibogora Hospital there, he wanted to help. Dr. Lee had met Dr. Berg while working with him at a hospital in Kerrville, Texas from 2001-2005. After securing continued support for Medical Ministry International from a longtime supporter of the site, he changed the benefactor of the auctions to Samaritan’s Purse last year in order to support their work.
Earlier this year Dr. Berg and his family prayerfully made the decision to extend their commitment to serve the people of Rwanda. Since Samaritan’s Purse is primarily geared toward shorter term missionaries, the auctions now support the Berg’s work through the Christian Health Service Corps.
The Bergs are currently back in the United States visiting family, raising support, and getting their affairs in order before returning to Rwanda at the end of the year. Below is an interview that Mike conducted with the Bergs during a recent visit in order that we could learn more about where the auction proceeds are going.
Mike: When did it first occur to you and/or Linda that you felt called to use your training to serve the poor outside of the United States?
Tim: Really it began when I was a medical student. I had an opportunity to work in Macau (now China). And then as a resident, I was able to go to the Dominican Republic on a short term surgical trip. I enjoyed these experiences so much that I knew I wanted to do more, and took further trips when I finished my residency, and after we were first married as well, so really it was always in the back of my mind.
Linda: After college, I worked for a youth ministry called Young Life. During that time, a group of staff went to visit a border city in Mexico one time with our regional director’s wife, Paula. She saw me playing with the kids in the street, and afterwards told me, "You’d make a great missionary. I could really see you doing that. Maybe God created you for that." I deeply respected this woman, and so took her words to heart. From that point on, I thought about serving Christ overseas, and the desire to do so grew and grew.
What ultimately led you to decide that it was time to go?
We had taken a few short mission trips to Haiti with our four children, initiated by our children, who became involved in raising money for an orphanage there that they found on youtube one day. Those trips reignited our desire to serve overseas. We realized our window of opportunity for serving with our children was closing, as they were growing up quickly, so we decided to "throw caution to the wind" and just go for it.
What was your family’s reaction?
Our family’s reaction was mixed: Some of our children were excited for the adventure and the chance to help others, and some were sad to leave their friends and afraid to leave the USA. One child’s objection was particularly poignant, stating, "If we go, we’ll just fall in love with the people, and then we’ll have to leave them in a year. I just want to stay with the people I love now." It ended up that we stayed longer than a year, but this concern seemed to underline the hardest part for our children, that of being uprooted in their teen and pre-teen years.
Some of our siblings were excited for us and very supportive, others were afraid for our safety and wishing we could find a way to "serve the poor" in our own country. All of them were doing what they did out of love for us, though, so it wasn’t really a problem. We knew they all meant well.
Tim, what were some of the unanticipated challenges of going from being a surgeon in Texas to a missionary in Rwanda?
One of the biggest challenges was doing cases outside of my specialty or cases I wasn’t familiar with, particular orthopedics. I realized there were some patients who wouldn’t receive any care at all if I didn’t do something.
How was life in Rwanda different than you expected?
One big surprise was how safe we felt. One of my concerns when we went, with a very recent violent history, was for my family’s safety. Now we kind of laugh sometimes about how completely safe we feel when there. In fact, my wife is more nervous about our kids’ safety when we are home on furlough than when we are in Rwanda.
Did you ever question the decision you had made to go?
Of course. Especially when the kids would cry at night with homesickness or when we were just completely physically exhausted, which was often. But, when we would think about it and pray, we kept coming back to the reason we came in the first place, and that sustained us.
How hard has it been to make the transition to being back in the United States while you've been back visiting family and raising support?
In some ways, it hasn’t been any harder than everyone else’s lives are here in the USA. In other ways, it has been pretty stressful – we are trying to cram in two years’ worth of visiting family in just a few months, travel to speak about our mission, catch up on out of date doctor, dental and orthodontist appointments for a family of 7, support kids in college and high school, and adjust with our newly adopted six year old son, who didn’t even speak English when he joined our family!
How difficult a decision was it to return to Rwanda?
Well, we knew the need, and after being there for two years, we felt we had only begun to get started with the journey. I use the word "journey", because we didn’t really know how we were going to return, but we did feel like we should. One of the most difficult things was maintaining a sense of a stable home for our kids in the turbulent teen years. They’ve been amazing through it all, but we did feel the tension of trying to give them enough stability from which to spring into their upcoming new, independent lives.
What are your plans from here forward?
Our plans are to stay in Rwanda for another four years, build relationships and see how we can help the hospital develop its mission to serve the people of that area. After four years, we will reevaluate and pray to see if we should stay longer.
On a lighter note, Tim, I know that you went to medical school at Wake Forest. Was that your first affiliation with an ACC school?
My brother and sister had gone to the University of Virginia and as we traveled through the Carolinas to visit them I found myself beginning to yearn to go to school somewhere in the Carolinas. When the opportunity arose to go to Medical School at Wake Forest in Winston Salem I was really excited and jumped on it. I stayed on in Surgery and had many great years there. I still have such good memories of that time of my life.
Were you ever much of an ACC basketball fan? Any particular memories of watching games, while you were at Wake Forest or otherwise?
When I arrived in the Carolinas I was surprised with the fervor of ACC basketball. Coming from Alabama where football is king, I had seen very little enthusiasm for basketball. I will never forget my first ACC basketball game at the old arena there in Winston-Salem. When we came into the building the entire arena was literally rocking and this was 30 minutes before the game even started!
We used to get block tickets as medical students and we would often get great seats, even right behind the bench. Those were the glory days of the ACC! Guys like Johnny Dawkins, Ralph Samson, Len Bias, Michael Jordan and James Worthy were playing. When I saw those guys, literally10 feet from me, handling the ball, shooting and passing… wow! It was a thing of beauty and something I will always remember.
Another great memory is how we always played pickup games at the Wake gym when we had some time off. One Saturday afternoon there weren't many of us playing and an older professional guy came with his younger nephew to join in the game. I matched up with the guy. Since he was a bit older and shorter than me I thought to myself, "No problem here". At first he mainly passed the ball off and stayed outside. It was a good natured affair, low key with some joking around, but towards the end the game got close. The competition rose and we began playing for keeps. It was then that I realized my confidence was misplaced. I gave the old guy plenty of room way outside and he just knocked down a couple of crazy long shots. So then I tightened up and he showed me a step I couldn't believe, just leaving me and my friends. He started swishing short jumpers and taking layups. They finished strong and as we shook hands all around he introduced himself. His name? Skip Brown. Yes, the Skip Brown who was the First Team, All-ACC shooting guard for Wake in the mid 70’s. After that I didn't feel so badly. I mean, getting beat by Skip Brown put me in pretty good company!
Are you able to follow American sports at all in Rwanda? Do you even have time to try?
For me, mainly it's the San Antonio Spurs. I love their team play and how they've stuck together for so long. I love how they win with unrecognized talent. I love their humility. I see a lot of sports teams now emulating what that organization has done. I don't have too much free time in Rwanda but I try to listen to the important playoff games and if I can get fast enough internet I will watch it by streaming.
Thank you both, Tim and Linda. I appreciate your taking the time to let your supporters over at DBR get to know you a little better.
You can learn more about the Berg’s experiences in Rwanda by visiting bergfamilyafrica.blogspot.com