By: Dr. Fred Van Gorkom

Veterinary medicine uniquely provides credibility within different cultures. People can use their skills to serve in areas where traditional ministry work may be more challenging, and it may more easily open doors to discussions that otherwise may hardly occur. Years ago, when I first began serving in Ethiopia, I told everyone, “Just call me Fred”. Not long after, I was called into a high ranking government official’s office for questioning.

This frowning official thought that he was questioning an imposter. He was astounded, “If you really are a veterinarian, why won’t you let anyone call you Doctor Fred?” I quickly prayed and explained that I follow Jesus who told us to not be called by any special names. He examined my credentials and sounded like a judge handing down the verdict: “Well, in this country, you are to be called Doctor Fred,” he ordered.

From then on, I was Doctor Fred and credibility was restored. This credibility is what permitted me to serve on a team to help Somali refugees after the war—to be the first foreigner, for the past 10 years, allowed in those areas of the southeastern Ethiopia’s Ogaden region.

A few years later, while living among semi-nomadic Bunna who rely on their livestock for survival, a man brought me his distressed and pregnant cow. I determined it was uterine torsion so we laid her down. I reached in and stabilized the calf while they rolled her—and we delivered a live healthy calf! “Oh Doctor Fred!” they exclaimed in awed tones, “We couldn’t have saved that one. Both the cow and the calf would have died.”  From that moment on they had listening ears when we taught them things beyond veterinary medicine, such as the importance of drinking clean water, nutrition, deforestation, erosion control, childhood education, forgiving their enemies—and Jesus.

There are many benefits to training others in veterinary medicine, one of which is that it can often lead to the trainees gaining credibility within their own communities. One example of this occurred when we trained a group of Ethiopian evangelists. They were delighted to learn how to deworm cattle and goats! Later when we held mobile clinics they were able to participate with the respect of their community and had the opportunity to share the Gospel with those who would never listen to them in other circumstances.

Yet another wonderful example was when the Ethiopian government assigned a young graduate named Bukelitch to our village. She had very little training, and no medicine or equipment—not even a hut. We invited her to train at our vet clinic, which was a modified shipping container with a galvanized-pipe cattle chute.

She was a quick learner and after several years, she courageously opened her own vet clinic. The location she chose was on the outskirts of town where women have no credibility whatsoever. We were very proud of her but also a bit concerned. I asked if the herdsmen respected her and she grinned, “Not at first,” she said. “But when they see that my medicine and advice really works, then they listen and respect me.” That’s when she is able to share the Gospel.

Similarly, Keith Screws is one of our partners who works with our short-term host in planting churches.  He told me about a time when his team went to a Maasai village in Tanzania where they were limited to speaking with five people.  However, the following day the veterinary team arrived and while treating livestock, they were able to talk to the chief about Christ. He asked, “How do I know this God of love you talk about really exists?”  Keith then pointed to the caring veterinarians.  In a few short days, more than 60 people made decisions to follow Christ, and a new church was planted!

Veterinary medicine provides many opportunities to build relationships in challenging environments which can lead to open doors to share the gospel. Whether you’re serving overseas, training others and passing on your skills, or serving within your own community- your unique abilities can be a vessel for Christ’s love. God has given you skills in veterinary medicine so that the credibility you have by His grace can be a powerful tool to advance His glorious Kingdom.

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