The following article was initially printed in the Adventist Medical Evangelism Network journal in the summer of 2015 (www.amensda.org)
When I first me him, Dale was a hefty 45-year-old, 5’ 11” and 278 pounds—all accented with a mischievous smile. A type 1 diabetic diagnosed at age 12, he subsequently developed end stage renal disease. About 19 years later he received a donated kidney from his adopted sister. Two years later he had a pancreas transplant, which failed after 18 months. Unfortunately, an ugly divorce resulted in high stress, leading to the loss of his sole functioning kidney. That calamity put him on dialysis for the next six years.
In short, Dale had had two pancreases and three kidneys, and none were now functional. His health, to put it mildly, was quite precarious.
When I saw Dale again, a year later, the situation was worsening. He was taken off the kidney transplant list because he could never control his obesity. Despite the prospect of being on dialysis the rest of his life, Dale didn’t lose weight; in fact, he was gaining it. And, rather than struggle with losing weight, he consulted with a bariatric surgeon.
“We could do surgery on you,” the doctor told him, “but you might not live through it.”
This was the last option modern medicine offered Dale, and it wasn’t a viable one. Even the most specialized knowledge from his endocrinologist and nephrologist was fruitless. Due to the restrictions of end stage renal disease, Dale’s life was constantly accompanied by hunger and thirst, not to mention exhaustion from his dialysis sessions.
“You know, Dr. Roquiz,” he said to me, “there were moments when I was about to give up. I would have stopped going to dialysis if it weren’t for my wife Gloria.”
It was then that we decided to make a bold move.
On a Friday afternoon, crammed into an exam room, the entire office staff gathered around Dale and laid hands on him. Each person prayed that God would empower Dale and give him victory over his appetite.
This insulin-dependent diabetic was then placed on a three-day fast followed by a vegetable-only diet, in addition to the 32-ounce fluid restriction he was already on. His sugars would be monitored every two hours at home, with the result texted to his primary care physician. He was given the book Victory through Christ by Ellen White and encouraged to spend time in prayer and Scripture. The focus of the fast was not weight loss but to have the patient learn to rely on Jesus in order to overcome appetite.
The following day, Sabbath, was the first day of the water-only fast. Dale attended the church campout and shared his desire for God to deliver him. Church members surrounded Dale and his wife and prayed that he would have the power of Jesus to overcome appetite for another day. On Sunday, day two of the fast, I drove to his house. On the front porch, Dale slowly rocked back and forth in his chair, enjoying the warm, sunny Idaho weather. I checked his vital signs and blood sugar. After adjustments to his insulin, we opened up the book of Esther.
“Dale,” I said, looking him in the eye. “When the people of God were in danger, Queen Esther took it upon herself to fast for 3 days and 3 nights. It was a life and death situation. Her life was at stake and the people of God were at risk of genocide. But Esther fasted and prayed for 3 days and God delivered her and her people. Dale, right now you are in a life or death situation. You are fasting for 3 days and 3 nights and just like Esther God can deliver you.”
Dale’s face seemed to soak in the encouragement. I closed our time together with prayer. On the final day of the fast he met with his primary care physician, had blood drawn for testing, and again his doctor prayed with Dale.
What we were doing with this man carried significant risk. From a medical standpoint, not much is known about fasting. Dramatic shifts in electrolyte abnormalities were expected. Indeed, during the fast, Dale’s blood work prior to hemodialysis revealed a potassium of 6.7, potentially lethal, but likely chronically elevated given no history of symptoms. On another night of the fast Dale woke up in night sweats from an episode of hypoglycemia.
About one month later, I ran into Dale at the clinic. I learned he had lost 35 lbs. His wife, Gloria, who fasted with him and went on a vegetable diet, also lost about 20 lbs. His abdominal girth went from 40 to 36. During the weekend, we biked the Hiawatha trail, stretching 15 miles. To my pleasant surprise, Dale was able to keep up nicely.
Three months after the fast, Dale stood up in church and gave glory to God for giving him the power to overcome appetite. The transplant doctors had him perform a cardiac stress test, an echocardiogram, chest x-ray and blood tests; he passed all with flying colors.
Dale is soon to get a new kidney.
One lesson from his story is that the physical conditions we often encounter actually have an underlying spiritual problem: a lack of self-control. In Dale’s case, fasting and prayer allowed him to come face to face with the true problem: appetite. Only by trust and belief in the power of God was he able to overcome.
In treating patients this way, our medical ministry offers a significant benefit over conventional medicine because it approaches the whole person. When a patient can no longer find the answers in themselves, when the wonders of modern medicine fail, the patient will come to what seems like a hopeless situation—hopeless but for the Great Physician, who alone can provide ultimate healing.
This story drove home another important lesson not taught in medical school: the power of sacrificial love.
Medicine teaches the physician to be objective and in order to do so a certain distance must be maintained between the physician and patient. Medical ministry is counter-intuitive in this respect. It means drawing close to the patient, even tying his soul to your own. The deepening relationship between patient and physician exerts an influence beyond conventional medicine. Upon putting Dale on a 3-day water fast, my partner did something I have not seen any other physician do: he himself went on a 3-day water fast as well.
As I talked to Dale about his success, he told me how meaningful and empowering it was for him to know his own physician cared enough to the point of giving up food for 3 days. The act of sacrifice carries tremendous influence on the patient mirroring Christ’s sacrifice toward us. “Surely He [Christ] took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” (Isaiah 53:4). Medical ministry is a relentless pursuit of Christ’s method in reaching people. In the case of Dale, it meant taking on the same suffering of the patient so he could be delivered.
When we understand and experience what was done on the cross, we are brought to repentance and compelled to change. This is the message patients need to hear in order for transformation to occur. But while a pastor may have the luxury of communicating this message through a well developed sermon, the medical missionary does this in a different, but sometimes more powerful, medium: relationship. It is in the relationship with the patient we are given the unique opportunity to demonstrate sacrificial love. The physician embodies the message. The message is the messenger. When we achieve the highest calling of this special work, patients will see the cross of Christ manifested. At its best, the medical missionary work is the very glory of Christ revealed.
Just ask Dale.