It's taken me three years to get my act together and actually sign up to one of these conferences, so I was certainly quite nervous about the whole affair on Friday 10 Feburary in joining 330 people, but by Sunday I felt encouraged, well-fed and certainly more prepared for the term ahead.
The Bible addresses were on Matthew 16, 17 and 18 by Mark Ashton, vicar of St Andrew the Great, a large student church in Cambridge. These three sessions were some of the most encouraging times of the weekend. Matthew 16 speaks of the identity of Jesus: both the authorities and the disciples misunderstood who he is. Peter however, recognised Jesus, declaring him in verse 16 to be the 'Son of the living God'. The chapter ends with Jesus' teaching that following him involves giving up our claims on life and taking up our own crosses. Personally I found it challenging to see that even the disciples and religious leaders failed properly to grasp who Jesus is, and we were all encouraged to consider whether we recognised Jesus as the Son of the living God in our lives. Matthew 17 followed on Saturday, with more about Jesus' radical kingdom and Matthew 18 finally taught us about how this kingdom is one defined by forgiveness and maintained by correcting one another.
The talks reminded me of who Jesus is, what a surprising King he can be and just what it means to be following him, living under his rule. As a medic being continually told that it is success in the medical field we should strive for, being brought back to God's purposes for our lives, as servants of Jesus, was very helpful. God has provided us with the gift of learning and working in medicine, but ultimately we are called to be members of Jesus' kingdom.
On Saturday afternoon, Peter Saunders, General Secretary of CMF, gave the conference address on 'Radical Discipleship in Medicine'. A version of it can be found in this edition of Nucleus (pp15-25) and I thoroughly recommend that you read it. It was hard not to leave the conference room after this itching to go back to medical school and get stuck in!
Review groups met on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. These provided a great chance to meet people from other medical schools, and opportunities for gentle gibes at those 'inferior' institutions (nothing like a good bit of friendly banter between rival schools!), whilst also providing time to chat and reflect upon the things learnt - a brilliant way to experience fellowship from other Christians facing similar situations.
There was a wide variety of seminars available; some with helpful teaching on Christian living and our devotional lives while others dealt with issues specific to doctors. A couple of the more unique seminars attracted my interest.
Chris Williams, a consultant psychiatrist in Glasgow gave a talk on stress and depression, with advice on how to help people from a Christian perspective. It was refreshing to hear a Christian point of view on how these difficulties can be tackled, since the only teaching that I have ever had has been in a secular setting. Discussing these issues, often not openly raised by Christians, was helpful and equipped me with practical guidelines on how to help those suffering in this way.
There was a seminar on medical politics by Leigh Bissett, past chairman of the BMA Medical Students' Committee and current medical student in Norwich. This also taught me a lot. I'd never quite got the hang of what the GMC, BMA and other organisations actually do. I left with a better understanding of medical politics and also clearer answers for how and why, as Christian medics, we should get involved. By becoming involved in politics we can influence decision-making at both a national and local level, putting forward Christ-centred opinions and arguments. With medicine being, by its nature, a policy-led profession, this will make it be practised in a way that better pleases God.
A chance to wind down
There was plenty of time for relaxation and study (for those who brought it!). The conference centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire provided great opportunities for walks. It was fantastic to have the chance to forget about the past week and spend some time in the countryside (a real treat for a Londoner like me).
Getting to know people better was another great highlight. A number of older students from my medical school managed to make the weekend. As they're often on peripheral placements it was great fun meeting up with them again and hearing all their horror stories from night shifts and A&E! Meals, small groups and free times also meant that I was able to meet students from other countries. It seemed that at every meal I was sat next to someone from another country: it was the first time that I had met international Christian medical students.
It was great to meet those from places such as Norway and the Czech Republic and hear about their experiences as Christian medical students, as well as find out more about their countries. I thank God for the number of countries represented – and think and pray about those who were there on their own from another country – that they wouldn't be discouraged and would continue to serve Jesus where they are.
Saturday evening provided the chance for more fun in the form of barn dancing (which, although I was initially reluctant, proved to be a surprisingly fun time!), a coffee bar complete with Six Nations rugby, and a praise concert.
I arrived at Swanwick on Friday after what had been a bit of a hectic week. None of my fears (such as having no-one to sit next to at supper!) were realised. Rather, I left having had a memorable time with friends, having come to know Jesus better and with a clearer understanding of why God has called me to medicine and quite how that could fit in with following Jesus. As a Christian, my main aim should be to serve Jesus, and yet, as a medic, I realised that I have the privilege of doing so in a number of unique ways.
On Monday morning, one of my friends asked me about my weekend, and I explained that I had been away with some Christians learning about the 'radical' King Jesus, and the radical life he calls us to. She then asked whether I would call myself radical. On Friday, I probably would have skirted round the issue and perhaps mentioned something about God's love. However, following the weekend, I was keen for her to see that I was 'radical' and serious about following Jesus; that he is a radical king who demands our all. I'm definitely booking up for 2007!