by Monte Sahlin
One of the things that I always loved about being raised as an Adventist kid was mission stories. At a young age they took me all over the world. They were filled with adventure and the war with disease, suffering, poverty and evil. I learned to see the world through the eyes of compassion and hope.
For a couple of hours recently that experience was reclaimed as I read two new volumes by Dr. James Appel, a contemporary of my children who served until recently as a missionary doctor in Chad. He has an undergraduate degree in theology from Southern Adventist University and a medical degree from Loma Linda University, completed a family practice residency at a county hospital in southern California and then went off to be medical director at Bere Adventist Hospital, the lone doctor for 150,000, mostly Muslim, desert people.
His quiet courage and unrelenting faith comes through despite his unblinking honesty, even about his own frustration and despair on occasion. His stories of hand-to-hand combat with Malaria, HIV-AIDS, drunkenness, hunger, and all manner of disease and pestilence are simply heroic. It will renew your faith and your pride in your church to read these unadorned accounts of front line missionary activity.
Appel wrote the one book literally in the trenches. It is a collection of his Email and Blogs written to relatives, friends and distant supporters of his little hospital, written at odd moments in the haze of long days and sleepless nights. And it is precisely that flavor of random notes, unexpected events and one painful intrusion after another that makes this a really gripping read!
It even includes a romance. The young doctor falls in love with a Danish nurse in faraway Africa. They take an interlude in Europe to get married (which he skips over in the book) and more recently are the parents of twins. But his blog about her is a priceless expression of love.
Nasara: Dispatches from a District Hospital in Chad, will give you a very realistic, nitty gritty picture of the people who are battling the vast problems of public health and community development in the Southern Hemisphere. It will reassure you that a new generation is doing God’s work, unrelenting in their dedication and sacrifice.
The second book describes what Dr. Appel was thinking about theologically while he was doing surgery and delivering babies in rural Chad. Children of the East, is an extended Bible study on the topic of Islam. How does God see the seemingly insoluble, often violent differences between Christianity and the Muslim faith that includes one quarter of the Earth’s population? No small problem for a young theologian-physician to tackle and one that he admits being forced to consider because of the context in which he found himself working, a Muslim community.
Both books are self-published (with the help of an editor) and available on Amazon.com through the marvels of new technology. If you grew up like me reading mission stories, you will enjoy these volumes. If you did not grow up in that milieu, I strongly recommend that you read these books just to better understand the rest of us, if for no other reason. The experience will also provide you with other dividends.
More than anything, reading these two books gave me a strong sense of assurance about the new generation of Adventists. They are just as willing to give themselves to the work of healing and sharing faith as any Adventists have ever been. They are just as likely to take the risks of going to the ends of the earth, whether that be in rural Africa or the inner city of an American metropolis. They are just as deep in their theological thinking and dedicated in their reading of Scripture. God is working in the lives of new generations of His people.