“Because God Sent Me”
When they asked Martin Salia why he passed up other opportunities in order to serve as the chief medical officer and the only surgeon at the Gissy Hospital in Sierra Leone, the 44-year-old physician said, “I took this job not because I want to, but I firmly believe that it was a calling and that God wanted me to.”
The 60-bed United Methodist hospital serves one of the poorest neighborhoods in Freetown. It also provides a school, eye clinic, and maternal and child health center. Although Dr. Salia was not treating anyone with Ebola at Gissy, as one of only a few surgeons in the country, he was in constant demand at other hospitals. He said, “I’m confident that I just need to lean on him, trust him, for whatever comes in, because he sent me here.”
Martin Salia died of Ebola on November 17, having been air lifted to the Nebraska Medical Center three days earlier in critical condition.
Anyone who has ever been a patient in the ER or ICU knows the anxiety of waiting for the doctor or surgeon to come, hoping that he or she will be able to do something to stop the pain, to calm the erratic heart, and to bring healing to a troubled body. It’s no exaggeration to say that Dr. Salia brought that gift of healing to others even as he took their condition into himself.
He said he did it “because God sent me here.”
The Mystery of Why
Reading Dr. Salia’s story during Advent got my imagination going. My mind leaped across the Annunciation to Mary, the birth in Bethlehem, the years of teaching and healing, the cross and the resurrection, all the way to the Ascension when the Risen Christ returned to be “seated at the right hand of God.”
I imagined some incredulous seraphim who never could quite understand the love of God for this sin-sick, rebellious, hard-hearted planet pulling the Lord aside and asking, “Jesus, why did you do that? Why get all tangled up with those messy humans? Why take their sickness into yourself? Why the suffering, the cross, the grave?”
Charles Wesley imagined that possibility when he wrote:
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
Wesley’s answer was:
He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
Perhaps Dr. Salia offered the answer to that seraph’s question when he said, “I took this job because God wanted me to…because he sent me.”
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace:
hail, the Sun of Righteousness.
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.