Good morning. Let’s start with a prayer.
God, I pray that you would speak through me this morning. I pray that you would open our ears, and our hearts and our minds to what your Word has to say. I pray that my words would be encouraging and challenging. I just pray that you would speak through me this morning. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.
Prayers for West Africa:
The church and Ebola
• Updates on Dr. Kent Brantly, church member, physician battling Ebola
• Liberia’s new war: After decades-long conflict, churches pray for peace, healing
• Churches of Christ in Guinea, Sierra Leone share stories of fear and hope
• In Texas, Liberians visit Church of Christ to pray for Dr. Brantly
• Texas doctor with Ebola known for ‘compassionate heart’
There are going to be some pictures playing behind me that are just part of my story. Excuse me if I read most of it this morning.
My name is Kent Brantly. I’m the youngest son of Jim and Jan Brantly. I’m the grandson of Kermit and Ruby Brantly and Ralph and Ruby Snell. I am the father of two precious children and the husband of Amber. I am the brother of Krista Brantly. I’m the nephew of Frank and Lou Ann Black and Bob and Joan Dixon, and Tom and Jincy Snell, and the cousin of Steve and Melanie Faidley, Nathan and Tracy Snell, Michael Dixon, Murry and Kim Dixon.
I went to preschool here at Southeastern, under the direction of Carolyn Jackson. I learned to read shape notes in Kay Johnson’s Wednesday night singing class. Anne Cushing taught my seventh-grade class in that room, right up there. I went to Spring Mill Bible Camp, where my counselors included Royce Cole, Craig Hill, Jim Woodward, Jack Jackson, Bob Herndon, Clint Davis and many others.
I was baptized on May 6, 1990, right here in this baptistery, on a Sunday night by my granddad. I went on Trek with Julie Whitsett and James and Christie Cushing. I rode my bike 400 miles, side-by-side with Josh McDaniel and Jason Anderson. I went on mission trips to Kenya and Honduras with Dennis McDaniel, the Lance family, Sarah and Rachel Cole, Michael and Erik Cole — and Jennifer Cole. That’s a lot of Coles.
I was in a small group with the Whites, the Andersons, the Lances, the McDaniels, the Hammels, the Marlows, the Coles, the Yorks and many others over the years and we shared life together. I grieved and cried and rejoiced and swam and skied and celebrated birthdays and worshiped and prayed and played and grew up with my family — my church family — here at Southeastern. And every one of you who knew me when I was a little boy or who saw me grow as a teenager or who offered me friendship as a college student or graduate student, every one of you has touched my life and shaped who I am today.
I’m reminded of the words of the apostle Paul to young Timothy when he said in 2 Timothy 1:3-9
I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother, Lois, and in your mother, Eunice, and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
So why am I telling you all of this? Why did I drag my family 1,000 miles in the car to introduce myself and remind you of who I am?
I’ll tell you why. I do it for the same reason Moses instructed the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6
to tell their children why they follow God’s laws. To paraphrase, Moses said, “When your children ask why you do these things, tell them, ‘We were slaves in Egypt.’ He said, ‘Tell them your story.’” It is by recounting the past, retelling and reliving your own story that we remember where we’re going — and how our story fits into God’s story.
In October, Amber and the kids and I are moving to Monrovia, Liberia, to work as medical missionaries at ELWA Hospital. For two years we will live and work and serve among the people who, until the last 10 years of peace, had known nothing but the violence and devastation of war for the previous 20 years.
I’ve never been to Liberia. Until last November, I knew nothing about Liberia and I had never met anyone who had ever been there. So how is it that, less than year later, I’d be taking my family to this far-off place?
It’s because God has a call on my life. And he has used relationships and experiences in his church to clarify, to strengthen, to confirm, to affirm and to reconfirm that calling.
I never heard the voice of God say clearly, “Kent, you need to become a doctor — and go to Liberia to be a missionary.” I never heard that. What I heard were the words and actions of you, my friends, my family.
You encouraged me to memorize Bible verses, supported me to go on my first mission trip, showed me faithfulness and priority of values by your example of using your vacation time every year not to kick back and indulge yourselves, but instead using it to serve and teach and encourage the children of this church — at Bible camp, or VBS, or youth group mission trips. I heard your words of encouragement when you said “I’m proud of you.” I heard your words of affirmation when I made wise life decisions. I heard your words of love and forgiveness when I made poor decisions.
It may not seem like much, but when you connect the dots, you see a grand picture that God has used to draw my life in a certain direction.
I share my story because it reminds me of who I am, of where I’ve come from and where I’m going. On difficult days, when I want to give up, or when I wonder if I’ve made the right decision, retelling my story reminds me of how God has brought me to where I am.
During our time in Liberia, we will be under the oversight of the Samaritan’s Purse post-residency program. This is a two-year program for young physicians immediately out of their residency training who feel a call to a career in medical missions. We’ll have the opportunity to be mentored by an experienced medical missionary couple for two years, learning not only how to practice medicine in a very resource-limited area, but more importantly, how to use my career in medicine to truly minister to people — to be a missionary, and not simply a doctor doing good deeds in a needy place.
The application process for the post-residency program is a very involved process that includes a long, written application as well as an in-person interview. Amber and I each had to fill out a written application and answer questions — both about our professional qualifications as well as our spiritual background. One question stated very plainly, “The post-residency program is designed to provide a stepping stone to a career in medical missions. Please relate to us your calling to full-time medical missions.”
Please allow me to share my answer to that question:
“Like any good, churchgoing kid, I loved hearing the stories and seeing the pictures of visiting missionaries who would give their report to the congregation. I was especially interested when those missionaries were one of my two sets of uncles and aunts who served as missionaries in different African countries. So mission work has always been interesting and personal to me.
“Then in college, as a Bible major, I was required to do a summer ministry internship between my junior and senior years. Many of my friends worked as interns in various churches around the country, but I chose to do a mission internship in East Africa, splitting my 10-week summer experience between three difference mission teams in Kenya and Tanzania.
“It was a life-changing experience, and I learned a lot about Christ and culture during that summer.
“It was during a team devotional time during the end of the summer when I visiting Bible teacher taught a lesson about our position as slaves to Christ. It was through that lesson and the experiences of that summer that I began to recognize that, because of my commitment to Christ, I was his slave. And that meant that, wherever he wanted to send me, wherever he called me, I would go. I had already made the decision to follow him, so as long as I continued in that decision, the choice was already made. I would follow.
“Then the realization hit me. What if he called me to be a missionary in Tanzania? I had a great experience that summer, but at that moment, Mwanza, Tanzania did not seem like an appealing place to spend the rest of my life. It was hot and dry and smelled like rotten fish. But the fact of the matter was, if God wanted me to be his missionary to Tanzania, I would be just that.
“My saving grace, though, was the second part of that lesson. God provides everything we need to be faithful to him.”
Let me repeat that line. “God provides everything we need to be faithful to him.”
“These lessons resonated in my heart as I returned to Texas to finish my senior year of college. Nearing the end of my senior year, I took inventory of my life to decide what would be my next step. Graduating with a degree in biblical texts, the natural progression would be to become a preacher or Bible teacher. I felt ill-equipped to do either. I was beginning to feel the Lord’s tug on my heart, that wherever I was, whatever I did, I would be, above all else, his servant.
“So, as I looked around at my options, I decided I needed some tangible skill to use in God’s service. My dad is a physician, and medicine has always been interesting to me. So I decided to take the first steps toward applying to medical school. This would require another year of science prerequisites, and I ended up back in Abilene for a fifth year of college.
“That summer, before my year of science classes, I went on another trip, with my church, to El Salvador and Honduras where, among other things, I participated in a medical brigade. As I sat with the missionary nurse practitioner one day, seeing patients in a makeshift clinic, in a church building, I began to feel the impact that a medical missionary could have on the lives she or he touched. And my decision to pursue a medical education was confirmed in my spirit.
“Incidentally, I met a young pre-nursing student who taught me to measure blood pressure that week. Now she’s my wife.”
While writing this answer and reading it to Amber, we discovered that it was that very same day, during that summer in Honduras, when we both felt the Lord’s confirmation of his calling on our lives. God is good.
After I decided to pursue a medical education, God took the reins, and nothing since then has gone as I expected. Time and time again, God has used my life circumstances to remind me that he is sovereign, that he is in control. And through my pre-med work to the MCAT, to medical school matriculation to marriage, to residency, God has clarified and strengthened his call on my life to serve him as a medical missionary.
He has used relationships and conversations to reinforce his calling. And he has provided coworkers along the way, like my cousin Stephen Snell to augment that call and to share in the dream and the vision that he has continued to develop in my life.
While I still do not know exactly where God is calling me, I have no doubt — no hesitation — that he has called me to be a full-time medical missionary. And as I dream about what that will look like in the years to come, my heart leaps with excitement and joy, knowing that he has called me.
Now, I did not simply sit down one day and connect all these dots and say, “Oh, obviously God wants me to be a medical missionary in Africa.” No, rather, I allowed your words and your actions to help guide me as I moved forward in my walk with God.
And as I moved, God directed my path.
David Stevens, the CEO of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, in a talk about finding God’s call for your life, once said, “It’s hard to steer a parked car.” In other words, if you are sitting around, waiting to hear God’s voice, waiting for him to direct you toward a specific plan for your life, then you’re like a parked car, unable to be guided or directed.
God has placed a call on all of us. Greg preaches to you every Sunday and asks you to respond to that call, to apply God’s word to your life, to walk the walk of a disciple.
Scripture is bursting with this call.
But my favorite passage that expresses the call God has placed on every one of us is this — 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
God has placed this call on all of us. But we must continually move in the direction of this call if we desire for God to direct our steps, to guide our paths.
It’s hard to steer a parked car. So what does your calling look like? When you retell and relive your life story, what dots is God longing to connect? How does your story fit into God’s story?
When you look at the way God has guided you up to the present, how has he equipped you to participate in his ministry of reconciliation — of reconciling the whole world to himself?
I’ll close with Paul’s challenge to the church at Corinth, which came immediately following the passage I just read, 2 Corinthians 6:1-2
As God’s fellow workers, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,
“In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.