Thank you for your interest in our journey! I hope that the details below give you a glimpse into a calling that was birthed many years ago and to our delight has now coming to fruition. In February of 2012, Ashleigh and I pursued an opportunity to serve as missionaries in Kenya with World Gospel Mission (WGM). We were accepted shortly thereafter and are currently serving a two-year term in Kenya as part of WGM’s Missionary Discipleship Program.
While the open door to serve abroad is new, our desire to pursue full time mission work is not. This calling actually began back in 1997, before we were even married or in medical school! Though we anticipated a possible move to the mission field after residency, the pathway did not open at that time, and so I decided to join a private urology group in my hometown of Marietta, Georgia. My plan was to be involved with short-term medical mission trips and perhaps long-term missions “down the road.” Private practice certainly turned out to be the wise choice following training, as those years gave me valuable time to prepare medically, emotionally, and spiritually for this work. However, through a number of pivotal and timely events, it became clear to us that it was time to take this step of faith.
I understand that this decision may come as a surprise to many, but it is fueled by a genuine desire to fulfill the Great Commission though a specific calling that God has given us. In April of 2013, I joined the staff of Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya, an approximately 300 bed mission facility run by WGM. The wonderful group of physicians who work at the hospital are predominantly from the States and each has chosen to pursue a career in mission work. One of the unique and exciting privileges I will have at Tenwek is the opportunity to train general surgery residents though a program called the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS). PAACS residents come from across the continent and are committed to staying in Africa after their training to provide surgical care.
For those of you who have some time on your hands and want to know a little more, grab a cup of coffee and let me tell you “the rest of the story” …
I cannot give a dramatic or miraculous story of how I came to a saving faith. I had the blessing of being raised in a home where God was loved and where the principles of scripture were taught and trusted. In all aspects of my life I was blessed beyond what I deserved. I attribute that to God’s great kindness and to the unwavering faith of my parents. During junior high school, at what I thought would be an ordinary church summer camp filled with swimming, basketball and late night pranks, the eternal intersected the temporal in my life. I heard a simple yet profound message that sin was not only inescapable, but also that I was absolutely powerless to change my course toward eternal separation from God because of it. I felt the weight of that guilty verdict with gravity that only God’s Spirit could convey. The explanation that followed of how Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, and subsequent resurrection could take away my sins forever set my heart free, and I put my trust in Him. That is how my Christian walk began.
But while I had no hesitation turning my sins over to the Lord, I hesitated in turning my life completely over to Him. This was not a conscious decision, but rather a failure to understand what it meant to be a follower of Christ. Through the years this has been a work in progress and is my real testimony – that the Lord does not merely want our sins, but asks that we abandon all aspects of our lives to Him and for Him.
On a number of occasions the Lord has demonstrated His sovereignty over my life, perhaps to discourage me from clinging so tightly to things that I mistakenly believe I can control. I am reminded of the time as a teenager when I lost control of my car at high speed, careening into a telephone pole, pivoting into a ditch, and smashing against a tree, without a broken bone, bruise, or even the slightest hint of bodily harm. It was perhaps no coincidence that this accident occurred just days after I had prayed from the depths of my heart that the Lord would show me a sign of His love for me, expecting a much gentler response.
Then there was the time I underestimated the brutal undertow and torrential waves of the Honduran ocean as I rushed into the water to help some children in need, being swept quickly out to sea. As we all gasped for air and our strength began to fail, we were saved out of nowhere by a stranger on a jet ski – a very unlikely hero given the impoverished, remote island we were visiting that day. Perhaps an angel, but only God knows.
On a less perilous note, there was the time I fulfilled every conceivable prerequisite to make myself a highly qualified candidate for a urology residency training program, but failed to match into a position following medical school. The Lord later granted me access into the specialty of urology, but not before He made it clear who opens and closes the doors.
The events above are an important part of my journey to the mission field, because without complete trust that the Lord has not only called me, but will also sustain, I would have no confidence to go out to the nations. This calling was given to my wife and me in 1997, when a dear pastor and man of great faith spoke a word over us that he felt was from the Lord that we would one day pursue medical missions. At the time we were caught completely off guard, as we did not come from missionary backgrounds or have an inclination toward the mission field. But God’s still, calm Spirit confirmed in our hearts that the calling was from Him and a love for a people we did not yet know began to develop.
After completing my engineering degree from Georgia Tech in 1997, I enrolled at Tulane University for medical school. “Coincidentally,” I learned that Tulane had a unique program where students could obtain a master’s degree at the school of public health while obtaining a medical degree. I applied for a spot in the International Health and Development program, and was not only accepted, but received a scholarship to pay for the extra expense of the public health degree (an unlikely gift given that I had no prior international work experience).
Ashleigh, being three years younger, was highly motivated to complete her elementary education degree so that she could join me in New Orleans, and to her credit was able to do so in just under three years. She then taught elementary school for two years, one in a challenging public school system and one in a Jewish day school. While these years contrasted greatly, they were both an amazing time of seeing God’s hand at work in her life, allowing her to meet many physical and spiritual needs of others. We continued to grow in our faith during this time, especially during our last couple of years in New Orleans, where we tutored inner city high school students at Desire Street Ministries and attended an inner city church named Castle Rock Community Church.
Through a number of divine interventions, which are too numerous to recount here, God cleared the way for a urology training position in Richmond, Virginia. Our program was short two residents during the majority of my time there, so the workload was challenging. However, the additional caseload proved beneficial in the long run. Following my training in 2007, we moved back home to Marietta where I joined Urology Associates. As mentioned above, joining a private practice was the right decision after residency and helped prepare me in numerous ways for the road ahead. But I believe that God also used this time to show us first hand that true contentment could not be found in the “American Dream.”
I had finally reached the finish line of my arduous journey: five years of undergraduate work, four years of medical and public health schooling, one year of general surgery internship, one year of bio-engineering research, and four years of urology training. I had a wonder wife, four great children, abundant material blessings, and a life amidst the southern charm of Marietta, Georgia. But the calling was unfulfilled, and our hearts were not settled.
As time passed, I began to wonder how I would discern when and where to go. Taking a lesson from many believers of the old testament, I began to fast and pray. I asked the question: What steps do I take in the pursuit of a calling? A year earlier, I had the opportunity to go on a short-term medical mission trip with a group of local physicians (including my father) to Tenwek Hospital in Kenya. This was an inspiring experience and reignited my passion to pursue work on the mission field. So I sent an email to Tenwek’s urologist (from Nigeria), whom I had gotten to work with while I was there. He gave me some general advice, but I didn’t see any writing on the wall or an angelic directive. I had simultaneously contacted the CEO of the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons, who expressed to me the desperate need for missionary urologists in Africa, which are virtually non-existent. In fact, the continent is estimated to have fewer than 400 urologists for a population of approximately 1 billion people. By contrast, the U.S. has around 9000 urologists for just over 300 million people. To put that into perspective, the U.S. has one urologist for every 30,000 citizens, while Africa has one urologist for every 4 million.
Two weeks after sending the emails mentioned above, I received a response that I will never forget. I still remember the time and place I read it. It came from the CEO of PAACS, who notified me that the urologist at Tenwek had just decided, completely unexpectedly, to move back home to Nigeria. The final line of that email read, “Your interest may well be entirely God’s timing. Please pray.” As so I did pray, and as I pressed forward from there, the doors began to open one by one.
I realize that any physical needs that I am able to meet in Africa seem insignificant in the face of the overwhelming shortage of healthcare providers here. But the ability to pass on urologic skills to general surgeons in training allows for God’s economy of multiplication to take effect. Yet in reality, I know full well that the results will be completely the Lord’s. My responsibility is simply that of obedience and trust.
In recent years, the Lord has stamped two scriptures indelibly on my heart. The first is from Psalm 103, which states that “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” The second is from Ephesians 5: “Look therefore carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” While these verses may not seem like the epitome of encouragement, they motivate me to sift through the superficiality of this present world, to put aside my goals and aspirations, as altruistic as they may be, and to redeem my brief time on earth for His glory, with an urgency that is justified only in the context of eternal truths.
So join with me and follow along! I hope that our journey encourages you to discover and pursue God’s calling in your life! Whether it’s in your own community or on the other side of the globe, I would encourage you to seek after the place where God would not only call you, but also stretch your faith to fulfill a vision that can only be accomplished in His strength.
Paul G. Espy