Competence and confidence

I’ve been talking about a lot of big ideas in these posts: how to share the love of Christ in healthcare ministry ‘over there.’  You may get the impression, “Hey, there are a lot of big ideas here.  Am I competent to do this?  How can I have enough confidence that I can make a difference?”  You are not alone!!  This was one of the biggest lessons Paul learned as an apostle, and I believe there is a way that the Lord Jesus develops our confidence and competence as we follow Him, serving others through healthcare.

This morning I was reminded of this lesson by my pastor, who was teaching a group of men about competence and confidence.  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:4,

“Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.  Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.  He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant — not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

As a Western-trained medical doctor I do have some professional competence. But when I go to use my competencies in a cross cultural setting, I quickly discover my limitations!  Aside from learning new and exotic diseases, I must learn a new language!  And a new culture!  I can’t retreat into my own competencies.

I remember a trip to very rural Ethiopia in the late 1980s, away from the mission hospital I worked in. There were not hospitals or clinics within a 6 hour drive. A family arrived with a 3 month old baby who was unconscious. The child’s parents had left her with a young teenager to ‘babysit’ while they were out in the field working; in her inexperience she had thrown the baby up onto her shoulder and accidentally threw the the child over her shoulder onto the child’s head.  On exam I found a depressed skull fracture and a very limp unconscious baby. What to do?  There was no neurosurgery here, and she would not likely make it more than an hour away.  We had reached the end of our competencies; we had reached the end of our options.  It was so painful to return the baby to the parents arms with a grim diagnosis and no medical options.  Eventually I did hear that the child died.

Our own training does not usually prepare us for the amount of suffering and death that we see — including what we might consider as preventable death. Eventually it takes an emotional toll as it begins to build up more and more.  Our competencies, even when we have some basic medical infrastructure, are constantly stretched in ways that they are not stretched here in the USA or our home country.

In the end if our confidence depends on our competence, we lose hope.  But when our confidence is not placed in ourselves, but in Christ, we find hope. We minister to physical needs, and that is good. But we also serve others by sharing the hope of promises that God has made in Christ. Because of His death and resurrection there is hope both in this life for eternity. No one came from a higher place (in heaven with God) or descended to a lower place (death for the sins of the world).  We have hope because of His resurrection.

With this hope, we can use our competencies with the assurance that we don’t have to have all the answers ourselves.  We don’t have to ‘have it all together.’ We are called to be His servants, loving others as best with can and with good competence, but knowing that ultimately our confidence does not rest in ourselves.

Where do you find your confidence challenged?

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Doctor, epidemiologist, husband, father, Christian missionary physician

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