If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

~1 Corinthians 13:3, NIV 


The African sun was leaning toward the horizon, and all the heat stored in the earth was beginning to radiate upward. Clinic at the Gimbie Adventist Hospital had ended early, so I grabbed my camera and hiked out beyond the compound walls. Earlier I had seen a grove of acacia trees, and in them at least one colobus monkey. With a little luck and a little patience, I hoped to get some pictures of their characteristics white faces and plumed tails.

In the rural western part of Ethiopia, Gimbie was my home and school for six meaningful weeks during my fourth year of medical school. I cared for every patient I could with my limited medical knowledge, was challenged by the ravages of disease, and was blessed by a greater intimacy with God.

I found my vantage point on the edge of a dirt road, the reddish clay pushed up and crumbling. The corpse of trees lay directly in front of me, filling the foreground of a rugged, yet beautiful vista. The same dirt road I was sitting on snaked around a large boulder and widened to accommodate a group of kids playing soccer. The players were from the village; I recognized a few of the orphans who were cared for at the hospital. The best dressed had torn t-shirts and shorts; none wore shoes. The ball had long ago given up on holding air and bounced around erratically.

As they played, I prayed, thanking the Lord for the incredible opportunity to be sitting exactly where I was. A thought came strongly to me, This is what I was made for! Indeed it was, on at least two levels. First, the challenges and rewards of medical mission work stirred a passion within me that I was only beginning to recognize. If God’s plans for us are linked to our deepest desires, as some have suggested, then this was a powerful glimpse of what God had in mind for me.

Years have passed since I sat on that hill, yet I have only begun to grasp the second layer of meaning. While I was made to serve overseas, more importantly, I was made to live in communion with God. There is meaning in serving those who have almost nothing, but even more in serving with the Creator.

As Paul said, as quoted above, if I “have not love, I gain nothing.” If Paul were writing to me, perhaps he would have said, “If you serve every day of your life overseas, but are disconnected from the Source of love, it will be worthless.”

God’s will for each of us is to continually learn of love from its Source, and then to share that love.

Brenden Hanks, LLUSM class of 2005, is an anesthesiologist in Parker, Colorado. He enjoys serving overseas.