April 11, 2016 by Pastor Ben McIntire
Over the past several years I’ve been preaching and teaching about the importance of vocation in our lives. No matter what we do, our vocatio (Latin for “calling,” think vocal/voice) can be heard if we listen to the Spirit. All the things we do, from changing diapers to selling groceries to building homes to brain surgery, can be done in service to Christ. As Christians, we are called to serve others in love, and all the varied gifts we have been blessed with are important in that service.
Often when we talk about ministry, we talk of being “called to serve God.” I have certainly felt this myself. And I am humbled and grateful to have been able to serve Salem Lutheran in Creston and St. Mark Lutheran in Storm Lake over the past seven years. But in the past year or so, I’ve been discerning another calling to take the ministry I can offer in a new direction. This discernment is toward an old dream from back in high school, which was to become a doctor.
The trouble started, as it so often does, when I read a book: Mountains Beyond Mountains, a biography about Dr. Paul Farmer by Tracy Kidder. Dr. Farmer’s mission was to serve the underserved in Haiti and from there to bring healing to the world. Reading puts ideas into your head, and sometimes you can’t shake them loose. Also, my aunt Jan is a cardiologist, practicing in North Carolina, and her example of faithfully using her gifts and abilities to bring healing to people has always been an inspiration to me. Finally, as I pondered these things, Monica and I travelled to Tanzania to visit our companion congregation and the direction I was considering just felt right. What I feel like I am being called to do is offer a ministry of healing, which means going back to school to learn how to be a physician.
I’m being intentional about pointing out that I don’t consider this new pursuit to be “leaving the ministry.” Far from it. It is precisely the calling, the vocation, to serve the needs of others that draws me to this difficult new profession. As I said, this is a dream reawakened from high school and my first year at Iowa State University when I began college as a Pre-Med student. After taking those first science classes, I realized the level of intensity and commitment required and was simply too immature to devote myself to the task. That is something that has changed in me. At this point in my life, I am far better prepared and equipped to focus on this challenge, both academically and spiritually.
What this means, is that I will return to college this summer, taking Chemistry I and II, and then take more courses as a part-time Biology student at the University of Nebraska – Omaha next school year. I plan to take Biology I and II along with Organic Chemistry I and II during the first year, also earning Nebraska state residency. Then I will continue taking classes in the summer of 2017, becoming a full time student in the fall of 2017 and into the spring of 2018. After completing courses like physics, genetics, microbiology, biochemistry and neuroscience, I will be prepared to take the MCATs (Medical College Admission Test) in the summer of 2018.
In addition to the coursework and MCAT, application for medical school is a rigorous process! It is a year-long process that involves plenty of paperwork and interviews. I will begin that process in the summer of 2017, and I plan to apply to the College of Medicine at University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) which is also in Omaha. So after two years of biology coursework at the undergraduate level, I will have four more years to complete medical school. After that, residency can last between three to five (or even more) years. Finally though, right about my fortieth birthday, I will earn the letters behind my name, MD.
Someone asked me if, as I contemplate the many years of education ahead of me, I wished that I had applied myself better right off the bat when I was 18 and starting the Pre-Med program at Iowa State. Truthfully, I answered that I have no regrets about the path my life and career has taken. I am so grateful and humbled to have learned the knowledge and skills of my theological education at seminary and to have served for these past eleven years of seminary and ordained ministry in my “black collar job.” And I truly believe that what I have learned will help me excel in a “white coat,” serving people in the healing and curing ministry as a physician.
I am so grateful to those who have helped me along the way as I wrestled with this decision. I am thankful for the guidance of my aunt, Dr. Jan Levene; my friend, Dr. Jim Gerdes; Dr. Lisa Shepherd for her continued advice and support; Dr. Lisa Mellmann for her academic and career advice; and people in the congregations I have served for teaching me so much about care, compassion and love. But most of all, I thank God for my wife, Monica, for being understanding, supportive and willing to go on this crazy adventure with me.
Stay tuned to this blog for updates on the progress of this dream, the McIntire family, and what kind of ministries we will be involved in during the transition to Omaha. May God bless you and inspire you each day to follow where the Spirit leads you!
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Ben McIntire