Dr. John Dreisbach was a medical missionary who spent most of his life on the missionary field in Africa. From the time he was a child, Dr. Dreisbach knew he wanted to dedicate his life as a missionary. He went to medical school and completed training as an general and orthopedic surgeon. He met his future wife, Bettie, at a Bible study when she declared to the group that she wanted to go to Africa to be a missionary. Beginning in 1948, the Dreisbachs dedicated their entire lives as missionaries.
In 1987, Dr. Dreisbach was on a brief sabbatical from Africa and was assigned to Ponape, an island in Micronesia. He was one of three physicians from the United States providing healthcare to the island natives. I was a fourth year medical student and spent two months in Ponape doing family medicine. It was there I had an opportunity to work directly with Dr. Dreisbach. Dr. Dreisbach also served as the visiting pastor for the only Baptist church on the island and preached every Sunday morning.
The Dreisbachs were very kind to me during my stay in Ponape, inviting me to their home and giving me an intimate look into their life’s work. One evening after one of Bettie’s wonderful home cooked meals, I sat through nearly two hours of a slide show that chronicled their many years in Africa. During this time, he trained hundreds of medical officers and led thousands to Christ. Dr. Dreisbach helped to build at least 10 hospitals. He ordered books and tools from the Sears catalogue and taught himself carpentry, masonry, plumbing, and electrical wiring so that he could literally construct these hospitals himself. Dr. Dreisbach developed an innovative surgical tendon transfer that replaced leprosy damaged tendons with healthy tendons from another part of the patient’s body, allowing patients to use their limbs once again. Surgeons from all over Africa and Europe would visit to learn from him. The Dreisbachs saw as many as 300 patients a day with Bettie, a nurse, assisting with the triage. One or two days a week, Dr. Dreisbach would operate. On Sundays, Dr. Dreisbach would preach. After the service, he would visit neighboring villages to spread the Gospel.
The movie, Beyond the Night, focused on part of his time in Africa. As I watched this movie a few years ago, I was struck by the accuracy of the depiction of the working conditions that they both endured. One scene vividly recalled a memorable slide showing Dr. Dreisbach operating on a patient on the dirt floor while Bettie held a flashlight because the generator, supplying the electricity, had failed.
As a physician, Dr. Dreisbach was a leader, teacher, innovator, and researcher. As a Christian, Dr. Dreisbach tirelessly preached the Word, often within a hostile Muslim environment. As a father, he raised six children, under extremely difficult and impoverished conditions; in spite of this, one of them eventually became a Rhodes scholar. Everything he did was focused upon God’s Kingdom in anticipation of receiving the imperishable crown of glory.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
1 Corinthians 9:24-25
Bettie Dreisbach passed into our Lord’s presence in 2000. Dr. Dreisbach was called home to be with our Lord, five years ago, on November 23, 2009. His legacy lives on with the many medical missionaries that he helped to train and equip, the hospitals he built, and the many patients he treated and helped. But his greatest legacy is how he allowed God to use him to be a great Christian and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. His foremost passion was to share the Gospel and God used him to fulfill his desire like few others.
In 1987, I was a young and impressionable Christian, having accepted the Lord 5 years earlier in college. I was a nascent physician about to enter residency. My experience with the Dreisbachs showed me that God can and will use you for great work if you desire it and dedicate yourself to taking the steps to achieve it. Now, during a very busy workday, I need only recall the tireless work of Dr. John and Bettie Dreisbach to remind myself that busy is a relative term. The world will always place demands upon our time and distractions can easily avert our gaze. Our attention should be fixed and riveted upon our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who will supply all of our needs.
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
Desire to be great in God’s eyes and prepare to delight in His unspeakable richness and glory.