by Jack Hoehn, June 18, 2017: Jack retires from family practice and moves on with a 3-week trip in Europe.
Walla Walla shrinks out my window as my flight heads away, anywhere away. Behind me are 31 years of my fourth career (after child, student, mission doctor, and lastly, family physician). There are strands of continuity through each of these jobs, so the child had a physician father and nurse mother, and was in Africa for his sixth birthday. The student was always religious–class chaplain multiple times–so his medical choice of missionary jungle doctor was not entirely unanticipated. Adventist can be in each stage from Adventist Health Medical Group, back to Mwami and Maluti Adventist Mission Hospitals, back to student delegated to a General Conference, back to kindergarten and cradle rolls. Each learning from the previous, each changing into something similar but new. Leaving childhood was the only painless transition, but student status had small pangs.
It was, however, soul challenging to leave my peak career of jungle doctor. I gave 13 years of my youngest and quickest brain, strongest and most durable body, and 24/7 service for months at a time, with only truncated Sabbaths and those wonderful hours in Deanne’s arms to nourish me when I was “Mr. Mwami Adventist Hospital” in Zambia for 6 months as the lone physician. I did what was not possible because I didn’t know it was not possible. 150 active beds with an average daily occupancy of 169 patients (think mats on the floor, multiple kids in one crib), 200 outpatients a day, every caesarian section to save a mother and her baby from mutual catastrophe, every hernia repaired, every abdominal tumor excised, every burn skin grafted, every scalp vein found for a dying child with malaria dehydration, every cheque signed, every medical supply order sent, every recruitment letter seeking for partners, all staff conflicts, all political fence mending, and all grant application being done by one missionary physician, some wonderful nurses, and a Zambian staff for 6 months.
Finally, hepatitis took me down for a 2-week jaundice and a 3-month furlough, and three wonderful partners then joined me in Zambia and made the rest of that African Mission Doctor chapter a delightful story of mission medicine and ministry. Even then when it came time to leave, withdrawing from the little kingdom that you have given your prime to was not easy for the little king. But God gave me permission to leave it to others and become a family physician, and He did suggest Walla Walla.
Now, after 46 years as a physician and after 31 years of family practice, I have earned the trust of 3,000 families and given advice, helped fight our diseases, wept over losses, prayed for courage, and smiled and boosted their successes and recoveries. It is wonderful to have been paid to be a friend, counselor, and pretty good dermatologist for these wonderful people. But it has not been pain-free to pull back and away and say that Adventist, medical, surgical, emotional, and administrative care for them is now to end. The hugs and thanks, the few more elephant gifts (well over 100 now), the cards, the visits just to say good-bye, the exuberant kindness that seems to forget all my weaknesses and only remember the good–has been a weight of unwarranted glory that this 71-year-old retiring physician has staggered a bit under these last days.
“Deanne,” I said with emotion, not logic, “should I be leaving these people?” And Deanne with spousal love said, “Jack, you are 71 now and should not be working ten-hour days.” So I leave before they have to suggest I leave, and before they learn how dispensable every human is. “Blessed are those who rest from their labors,” the choir sang to me in church last Sabbath.
The Old Country
Decades of frequent-flyer miles are taking Deanne and me not to Tarshish but back to the place I grew from a teen-ager to a man, and have been refreshed and blessed by ever since, Europe–what my older immigrant relatives called “the old country.”
The best unthought decision I ever made was when on whim I signed up for a year of college “abroad.” And learned the humility of a second language, the privilege of viewing one’s own culture from outside as I spent nine months in Austria. I spent every Thursday in Salzburg, Austria. So now, as I cross the Salzach River and view that imposing castle on the hill behind the ancient city, walk the cobblestones Mozart walked, and enter the mighty cathedrals humans built by love and by coercion, I delight that that book store is still where it used to be. I still find Mohnkuchen with thick rich poppy seed paste. I see the antiquarian that I once sold an inherited gold coin to, to finance a missionary’s vacation years later.
Friday night all the churches in Salzburg had special services including musical concerts, so we sat in St. Peter’s Stiftskirche, with its overexuberant rococo interior gilded with the lord bishops who traded on the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” they claimed to have inherited from St. Peter. The ability to decide one’s destiny based on compliance with the church’s doctrines gave the Roman Catholics great power and prestige.
Holding onto the Past
And I am amazed at how strong those traditions are to move beyond. Youngish successful-looking men, thoughtful women nicely dressed, dip their hands in the water and sign the cross as they leave the cathedral. Their pastors rise from rank to rank till archbishops dress in clothes of Roman pagan priests with their same miters and crosiers. They bejewel their robes with golden threads and wear white gloves that make gay pride parades look tame. They gild their churches with acres of gold leaf. They dress up skeletons as “catacomb saints” with silver and jewels and park them in the sides of their churches as objects of worship. And they call themselves Christians!
Christ of the animal shelter for birth, of the no-property-beyond-his-clothes, represented by the biggest buildings in the town, the greatest concentration of wealth in the country, and the wealth and power expositions called holy festivals? Christian pastors as earthly princes with armies and forts?
Good men and good women come so short of the glory we were created to have. John Knox attacked women as rulers. Martin Luther attacked Jews as deserving persecution. John Calvin permitted the execution of doctrinal opponents. Those who loved the church and wanted to reform it were burned at the stake. Ellen White hid her sources, perhaps even from herself.
It is normal, it is natural, and it is holy to progress from stage to stage in life. It is disease, it is retardation, and it is sorrow for the progression to stop, to move backwards.
So Jack is ready to move on. He was a child, he was a student, he was a jungle doctor, and he was a family practitioner. And now he must be something else. Grandfather? Builder? Volunteer?
So faith must also move on. It is failure, it is retardation, and it is disease to move back or to refrain from moving forward. My Adventism must not go back to what was in 1844, 1863, 1888, 1953, or even 2016. Not back to Old Testament faith. Not back to apostolic faith. Not back to Crusader faith. Not back to Reformation faith. Not back to historic Adventism.
Forward to a faith that offers relevance to people today, not to people of yesterday. As Sigve Tonstad wrote, if we interpret Revelation as we have in the past as opposing “deism, relativism, nihilism, nationalism, communism, rationalism, skepticism, humanism, liberalism, secularism,” we are talking a language no one today speaks. Instead he points out that if we are to meet today’s issues the church must be talking instead about new sins and errors: “capitalism, colonialism, racism, sexism, Nazism, fascism, nativism, consumerism, triumphalism, militarism, Trumpism.” These are words my children and grandchildren understand and care about. These are the issues a relevant and useful Christianity will be talking about today. Will we use the Bible to talk about Christ’s attitude to these things? Yes. Will we use the Bible to talk about women covering their heads in church? No. Do we focus on wedding rings, hot drinks, eggs, spices, and mustard? Are we still offering the world a 19th-century prophecy of end events?
Jack is moving on with life. And he is moving on with faith. Europe and the old country is beautiful to visit and wonderful to admire. Tradition is comfortable. But Jesus no longer lives there; He lives here now, and if we want to live with Him we must be willing to move on from His concerns today, into His progressive concerns tomorrow. “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is risen.”