Dr. Samuel Todd Stephens, MD, DTM&H
During my second year of medical school, a good friend and spiritual mentor of mine encouraged me to pursue an elective at a medical mission hospital during my 4th year. I had little interest in it at the time, but took his advice. I remember calling him later during my fourth year and asking him where he had gone. He replied "Rwanda", and I remember asking him "What continent is Rwanda in?" such was my geographic acuity. But several months later, I was descending through the clouds over Kigali, Rwanda en route to a 2 month rotation at Kibogora Hospital that changed the direction of my life.
I worked under Dr. Al Snyder, a seasoned missionary surgeon from Michigan. I was so impressed with him. There was nothing he could not do, and not do well.
- Difficult abdominal surgeries, truncal vagotomies and gastro-jejunostomies, perforated peptic ulcer, strangulated hernia, sigmoid volvulus
But what I remember most about Dr. Al was his gentleness and his great love for the Rwandan people. Dr. Al was a medical giant to me. He didn’t walk on water, but the water only came up to his ankles. I walked in his shadow for 2 of the best months of my life. He embraced me as medical student, challenged me, and even chastised me.
My three passions: my pursuit of medicine, my heart for service and my love for Christ were woven together for the first time into a beautiful tapestry of medical missions. I came home with a new pair of glasses through which the world has never looked the same to me.
I suspect you are here today because you, at your core, have a desire to serve. That’s what attracted you to medicine in the first place. The Bible teaches that "God has created us for works of service", whether that is across the street or across the ocean.
I returned home, completed a family medicine residency program here in Wichita at Via Christi. I worked 2 years in Olathe, Kansas primarily to pay off some school loans, and then my wife and I headed to Quebec, Canada for a year of French language study in preparation to serving in French-speaking Rwanda. I completed a diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium in French. Then, because of ongoing political instability in Rwanda following the genocide of 1994, we served 2 years at Tenwek Hospital in western Kenya. Following this, we served 4 years at Kibogora Hospital in Rwanda. We had two children in Olathe, KS and I delivered my third in Kenya and my fourth was born in Rwanda.
We returned home in 2002 and I returned to my hometown of Minneola, KS and worked 5 years with my father, who also is a family doctor and my hero. I was contacted by Via Christi about helping to develop an International Family medicine Fellowship in 2006 and we moved to Wichita in 2007 to help direct this.
I know that the most fulfilling time of my professional life was when I was serving as a medical missionary on a remote hillside in Africa, giving of my life, my time and my medical skills to those who couldn’t possibly pay me back.
It my joy now to influence the next generation of family physicians to go and serve and to do so with excellence and compassion those who are the poorest and most underserved.
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