Stephen Hogg reports.
Stephen Hogg is a clinical medical student in Cambridge.
Stephen Hogg & Anbesan Hoole (Cambridge) and Jack Strain (Bart's) went to Ukraine along with around 100 Christian medical students, doctors and other healthcare workers from Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Moldova and USA.
Intermedicus camp was arranged jointly by the Christian Youth Medical Association of Ukraine and the Belarusian Christian Medical Society. It took place during August 2015 in the stunning rural village of Dubechne, north of Kovel, in north-western Ukraine. We went to encourage and edify our Christian brothers and sisters serving in healthcare, and were hungry for what God would show and teach us there.
A typical day
A typical day on camp involved morning exercise(!) at 8am. Breakfast was at 9am followed by the morning meeting, during which there would be a time of praise and a Bible talk on the supremacy of Christ and the importance of submitting to him in every area of life. Following this, at 11am we would have small group time before lunch and afternoon activities. Afternoons also frequently involved a trip to the gorgeous lake 15 minutes' walk away.
The free time was a great chance to get to know more people on the camp. It was so encouraging, humbling and enriching to hear about what it's like as a Christian medical student in Ukraine, and to hear of how their relationship with Jesus permeates their lives in their respective medical schools. The evenings involved testimonies, a short Bible talk, praise and some entertainment followed by supper and time around the campfire. The timetable had a great balance - there were lots of great things going on, but also plenty of time to relax and enjoy fellowship with one another.
In the afternoons, a range of seminars covered topics such as mission in healthcare, staying fresh and growing as a Christian, relationships, and a biblical approach to medical ethics. Artsiom Adamenka (CEO of the Belarusian Christian Medical Society) tasked each of us with preparing and leading one seminar.
Anbesan shared some reflections on a Christian approach to global health, particularly focusing on 'the Nazareth manifesto' as laid out in Luke 4. Jack opened up Colossians and provided a helpful, practical overview on how its contents can enable us to stand firm and grow as Christians serving in healthcare. I led a seminar exploring the biblical perspective on medical ethics at the start of life, particularly looking at abortion, a little at new technologies, and at contraception. We were particularly indebted to our translators who laboured over our English scripts in order to interpret for us, and who enabled us to receive and respond to questions from the floor.
In addition to preparing our seminars, Jack, Anbesan and I were asked to construct a national presentation for 'international evening.' We shared some reflections on CMF in the UK before Anbesan gave a whistle-stop tour of the entirety of British history, I played some quintessentially British music in the form of Oasis' 'Wonderwall' and Jack taught people about cricket using a video of Freddie Flintoff's greatest over and a cricket dance based on umpire gesticulations...it was quite the scene!
Glimpsing the new creation
A particular highlight was the opportunity to sing songs of praise around the campfire. After the evening meeting on the Tuesday, Jack and I picked up the guitars and were singing 'Amazing Grace' when a few of the girls wandered in and started singing along in Ukrainian! This was at around 11pm - at 1.30am there were still 20 of us sitting around, uttering songs of praise simultaneously in English, Ukrainian and Russian! It felt like a glimpse of the multitude from every tribe, tongue and nation uniting to ascribe glory to the Lamb (Revelation 7).
It was really quite special that, despite the language barrier, we could still encourage and build one another up through psalms, hymns and spiritual songs! One of our prayers before the camp and in the first day or two was that God would enable us to build good relationships with the other campers despite the language barrier. This prayer was wonderfully answered - praise God!
Lessons and challenges
God taught me a whole lot more than I expected as I reflected (what a med student word!) on my time in Ukraine. It was an incredibly enriching and eye-opening time. We met people who told us what being a Christian in healthcare in Ukraine was like, we learned about the church in Ukraine, were hugely encouraged by its growth since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and saw something of the challenges Christians face there.
In the UK we've been blessed by generations of wonderful Bible teachers and relentless evangelists, by a rich tradition of detailed, careful exegesis and continued commitment to the discipleship of the next generation. This is something I have often taken for granted. During the Soviet era, there were no opportunities for formal theological education. As the church emerged afterwards, it took time and gentle, loving persuasion, largely through a significant influx of missionaries from America and Germany, for those who had led the underground church through this era to see the need for formal education in study of the scriptures. In the UK, we stand on the shoulders of giants, and it is important that we play our part in seeing to it that the gospel reaches the ends of earth, generation after generation.
In the UK, we probably don't spend much time praying for those leading our country and are largely apathetic rather than patriotic. Ukrainians adore their country and continually give thanks to God for it. They are gentle, kind, loving, genuine, humble, hard-working people. They were a challenge to our often dry, ungrateful, cynical hearts. In addition to this, we witnessed global health inequality, hearing a story of a young boy critically ill with TB meningitis, a disease that is both preventable and treatable in the UK. We met people who work in situations of potent persecution yet are unwavering in their commitment to the cause of the gospel. One example we saw of this wholehearted devotion to the king's service was a man with degrees in law and theology, who gave up a lucrative career to work in Donetsk with orphaned children.
We also met some phenomenal medical missionaries who have served for over 20 years in Ukraine. Through them, I now have a much clearer idea of what a life of medical mission would look like. I can now pray about this and consider it with greater clarity. We will all be called to respond to the Great Commission in unique ways, just as we are all unique parts within the body of Christ. But it is my hope and prayer that God would grant each of us, throughout CMF, wisdom and discernment to enable us to be most useful in the construction of his kingdom.
How we can pray
Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and Belarus. Pray for those in positions of influence within these countries in these uncertain times. Pray that Christian people would find strength in their eternal, certain hope of Christ's return and their subsequent reconciliation to him in heaven. Pray for CMF groups meeting and growing together, particularly in Kyiv and Dnepropetrovsk. We have given a set of resources for the Human Journey course to a final year medic studying in Kiev; pray that this would be helpful in facilitating the growth of Christian medics there. Pray that God would tear down our idols of prosperity, of earthly treasure, and that responding to the Great Commission would be our primary aim and that his glory, majesty and splendour would truly captivate our hearts.
'For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' (Romans 8:38-39)