Sharing My Faith: From My Practice to the Mission Field
by Frank Imbarrato, MD
Today's Christian Doctor - Fall 2014
David Platt recently wrote, "As we follow Christ, He transforms our minds, our desires, our wills, our relationships and our ultimate reason for living. Every disciple of Jesus exists to make disciples of Jesus, here and among every people group on the planet. There are no spectators. We are all born to reproduce."
This story is about my journey of learning to do just that—to follow Christ, to be transformed into a disciple, to reproduce and make disciples, to make Him my ultimate reason for living. It is a journey that takes me from my practice to my local community to the outer reaches of the world. It is a journey of tremendous blessing and grace. And it is a journey that continues to transform, refine and nurture me.
"…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8, NASB).
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS IN MY JERUSALEM
My conversion to biblical evangelical Christianity occurred in 1994. My loving, faithful wife Karen had been brought to saving faith two years earlier, and through her faithful witness and the perfect patience of Christ, my sin, pride and arrogance were broken down. Christ demonstrates His "perfect patience" in showing mercy to us who are outcast (1 Timothy 1:16). With broken humility and the chains of self-reliance torn away, our new lives as a family in Christ started to take shape.
My practice in family medicine was busy and thriving. Even though it was early in my career, I was already overextended with family responsibilities, the delights and busyness of children and the demands of private practice, hospital care and nursing home responsibilities. It was evident that our family was my first and primary mission field as I had neglected my marriage and family during those early years. God began shaping our family into a Godly home as we started keeping our focus on Him, growing in the Word and being guided by His grace.
GOD’S STRENGTH AND BOLDNESS IN MY JUDEA
As God’s grace became evident in my life and I sensed His call on my life, I heard about CMDA and became a member in 1996. Soon after, God launched my busy family practice office into His fruitful mission field as the result of a live conference of the Saline Solution with co-authors Walt Larimore, MD, and William C. Peel, ThM. My wife, Catholic office administrator and Jewish physician assistant joined me at this eventful seminar, none of us having a clue the impact it would have on our lives or our practice of healthcare.
The lessons we learned through the principles and techniques outlined in the Saline Solution curriculum revolutionized the practice. Because we were now focused on the goal of being salt and light in our practice, we launched and implemented several changes in the office. We now make prayer—both amongst our staff and with our patients—an integral part of the daily care in our office. Even non-Christian staff members in the office embrace this atmosphere as they demonstrate a focus of love and compassion that is evident to our patients. It sets our office environment apart from others, a fact that is noticed by many. As a result of the work of the Spirit, I’ve seen many come to Christ, including my office manager and physician assistant. Our Christian witness has challenged countless others to consider their relationship with the Lord, leading many to make credible professions of faith over the years.
God has richly blessed the fruit of intentional and faithful witness of His gospel through ongoing transformations in the hearts of numerous patients, families and staff members. We praise God that we have been able to maintain our distinctiveness in an increasingly darkened world and that He has blessed the incarnational engagement of those who have maintained their witness to our needy patients and culture.
THE IMPACT OF WITNESS AND SERVICE TO THE OUTER REACHES
Our call to make disciples moves far beyond the borders of our families, patients and colleagues. It extends to the outer reaches of the globe. And transformed hearts that have experienced the living God will radically be moved to greater things for the Lord. So the next step was God leading me to join a medical missions trip.
My first short-term medical missions trip with Global Health Outreach (GHO) to the remote mountain village of Uspantán, Guatemala was riveting in its impact on God’s call and direction in my life. As we were preparing to leave, I remember sobbing, not understanding how the least, the lost and the last would be cared for and sustained, even while I was trying to trust in God’s providence and sovereign hand upon them.
Since that time, the strong pervasive influence of mission service has radically transformed the hearts of my family, my practice, our community and even our church. Evangelical healthcare mission service has impacted every sphere of my life. GHO and healthcare mission trips have allowed my family to serve together and have also launched a new vision for our local churches to be part of God’s work beyond the local and regional borders of our community.
There is tremendous intimacy in relationships that develop when hearts and minds submit and serve together by stepping out of their comfort zones on the mission field. My children have had the privilege of serving; in fact, experiences on the mission field influenced my son Greg’s career decisions and he is now a third year resident in neurosurgery. The friends and fellowship experienced on the mission field are relationships built on the foundation of Christ and solidified through the power of the Holy Spirit. The common bond of servitude has allowed long-lasting, deep friendships that foster and encourage greater kingdom work for the King of Kings. God has used GHO and CMDA to raise up many of us to be used for His purposes in discipleship and service. Dear friendships and bonds of fellowship have taken many of us through doors that only God could have opened.
When I was called to lead GHO teams in service, it opened up opportunities for greater outreach in our church community. Over the last several years, scores of people, especially youth, have been exposed to the wonders and miracles of mission service to the least, the lost and the last. The impact on individual hearts and even the mission/vision focus of the church has been transformed by stepping out in faith and boldness to serve destitute and poverty stricken areas for the cause of Christ.
EXTENDED MISSION FIELD IMPACT IN OUR SAMARIA
After years of serving on the international mission field, it becomes part of your DNA to be missional in all you do. The natural consequence of God changing minds and hearts, mostly mine, was to recognize the tremendous need for Christian healthcare influence in our local area of Hudson Valley, New York. Although there are wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ including solid churches that are faithful to the gospel, there is an increasing darkness and a void of gospel awareness and outreach in this region. This is probably not unique to the Northeast, but it is very tangible in New York.
We organized and formed CMDA-Hudson Valley, a local chapter of CMDA, praying the Lord would impact the extended local healthcare community through witness and discipleship for His greater purposes. There is a dryness in the oasis of complacency among the healthcare community where we live, but the handful of faithful, dedicated servants who labor in our local chapter are a wonderful example of perseverance and endurance in dry times. Some wonderful fruit has been born from the ministry, but our hearts burn to see greater involvement in the community of our healthcare professionals.
One exciting ministry born from this local fellowship is Christ Health Care Ministry (CHCM, which is unrelated and independent of CMDA). CHCM is an initiative to provide free faith-based healthcare in our community to the impoverished, homeless, uninsured and undocumented immigrants. There are currently two sights in our area providing gospel-based free healthcare for the needy population. The fruit of that evangelistic outreach has been exciting as it has crossed over into other domains of the community. We have been able to work with, witness to and disciple students from a local college through the ministry.
Additionally, I am blessed and privileged to serve as medical director for My Choice, a pregnancy resource center in our community that provides gospel-based outreach and support for abortion-minded and abortion-vulnerable women. They receive love and truth in the name of Jesus and are treated with His love and dignity whether they choose life or not. Finally, I am honored to volunteer in a long-term Christian residential recovery center for women who are being delivered from their addictions and prostitution. The powerful testimonies of these broken women are only surpassed by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit healing them and regenerating them.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
The transformed life of servitude and faith is a wonderful life dedicated to the Great Commission of Jesus to make disciples. As His disciples, He desires that we be faithfully present and obedient regardless of where He has us. To be faithfully present doesn’t mean to be comfortably present in obedience. We desire to live redemptive lives, ready to make disciples and to see Him receive all honor, praise and glory for who He is, and for His kingdom purposes of advancing the name and person of Jesus Christ and His gospel!
Where are you on your journey? Perhaps you are just learning how to share your faith with your patients in the office or with your colleagues at the hospital. Maybe you are ready to "Go" as God has called you out on your first short-term missions trip. Possibly God is calling you to greater boldness and courage to impact your local community and church in servitude and discipleship. Wherever God has you on His path for your life, He asks that you follow Him, to be His surrendered disciple, to share the gospel, to advance His kingdom and to make disciples of all nations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR