American Medical Missionary Wins Prestigious Jewish Prize for Work in Liberia
- In 2017, Jewish philanthropistsMark and Erica Gerson
created a major prizeto honor the heroic work
of Christian missionarydoctors serving in Africa.
Known as the L'Chaim Prize
for Outstanding ChristianMedical Missionary Service,
the award gives the recipient $500,000
to help improve thecontinent's medical care.
This year's winner isAmerican doctor, Rick Sacra.
Dr. Sacra has been working
in the West African nationof Liberia since 1995.
In 2004, this familyphysician from Massachusetts
contracted the Ebola viruswhile treating patients
at a Christian hospital inLiberia's capital city, Monrovia.
Less than a year afterbeating the deadly disease,
he was back in the African nation
serving the poor and needy.
Rick joins us via Skype from Monrovia,
the capital city of Liberia.
Thanks for coming on the show
and congratulations onwinning the L'Chaim Prize.
First, what are some ofthe challenges you face
in bringing qualityhealth care to Liberia?
- Thanks so much, George.
The big challenges we face,number one is qualified staff,
just finding enough doctors,enough nurses, in this country.
Yet, some of the other challenges
are just the cost of providing care.
By the time you've paidyour electric bills
and bought your drugs,there isn't much left over
to pay staff.
And then finally, it's thosecritical patients who come
who are so ill and youneed someplace like an ICU
or a critical care facilityand we don't have that
right now in Liberia.
And so it's very difficult to manage
those types of patients.
- What does the prizemean for your hospital?
- So this prize is gonnamake a big difference
over the next few years.
Number one, it's gonna support us training
Liberia's first cohortof family physicians,
fully residency trained family physicians.
Secondly, it's gonnahelp us establish an ICU
and a critical careprogram at our hospital
so that we can take careof those sickest patients.
And finally, it's gonna help us construct
a solar electric installation
that's gonna help reduceour operating costs
and help make care more affordable here.
- Liberia was among three countries
that suffered the most fromthe Ebola crisis back in 2014.
What toll did the virus take
on Liberia's health care system?
Has it even recovered from that time?
- In 2014 and 2015, about400 health care workers
came down with Ebola.
Five of those were physicians.
It did leave a big hole.
A lot of those were our most experienced,
most capable health care workers.
But I will say, through the generosity
of people coming and sharingtheir time and expertise
and donations and contributions,
I think that Liberia is now alittle stronger than we were
in terms of health care before Ebola.
So the efforts of many different groups
have made a big difference andI think we've gone back now
to even past the levelwe were at before Ebola.
- You've served in Liberiafor over 20 years, sir.
What motivates you to dowhat you do every day?
- You know, ever since I was a child,
I was motivated by the words of Jesus
in the Parable of the Good Samaritan,
just his encouragement thatwe need to love our neighbors
and take care of those who are hurting.
I've just carried that withme ever since I was a kid
and learned that story in Sunday School.
And you know, every day, justthe relationships you have,
both the wonderfulrelationships I get to have
with my co-workers, Liberianhealth care workers,
doctors, and nurses, andthen the relationships
you get to develop with thepatients are so rewarding.
There's no job that's morerewarding than this one.
- Describe what life is likefor folks like yourself,
medical missionaries whoare serving in Africa.
- Well, I'll tell you,
it can be pretty draining emotionally.
We lose a lot of patients.
We find ourselves overwhelmed.
We sometimes don't have the equipment
to even make a diagnosis.
A lot of the times, we'reguessing as to what's wrong.
So those are sort of the negatives.
I think on the positive sideis, again, those relationships,
how close you become with bothco-workers and with patients.
I mean I have patients I'vecared for for 15, 16, 17 years
with terrible diseases, some of them HIV,
other types of problems, but seeing them
really experience theLord's love in their lives
and rise above those challenges,
that's the bright sparkthat keeps us going.
- You do more than meet the physical needs
of the people, right?
- Right, well you know,
when people come to the hospital,
of course, they're afraid.
They're afraid of dying.
In this cultural context,people are often afraid
of a curse or witchcraftbeing behind their symptoms,
They're afraid of the painthat they're going through.
And so we can help someof those things medically,
but some of them, we can't,
and for those, we really are blessed
that we're able to pray with our patients
and bring them to the Great Physician.
We recognize that we'relimited, but Jesus is not.
- As I mentioned, theL'Chaim Prize is presented
by Jewish philanthropists,Mark and Erica Gerson.
You've met the Gersonson several occasions.
What impact is their generosityhaving on the continent,
specifically in the area of medicine?
- You know, by funding thework of missionary doctors
who have invested a lifetimein the context they're in,
in the African context,the Gersons are really
putting these funds to maximum uses.
They're giving the fundsto people and organizations
that have invested so much in figuring out
what the needs are, what themost culturally appropriate
interventions are, andthese entities can make
really cost-effective use of these funds.
So I know that these fundsare making a big impact,
and not just a $500,000 impact,but even it's multiplied
because of the groups they're supporting
and how they're being used.
So I know in the other countries,they've had huge impact.
And I know that in Liberia,too, over the next few years,
there's gonna be a great impact.
People are gonna recognize this impact
not just for the next few years,but as doctors are trained,
that's going to impactLiberia for a generation.
- And to know that this isa prize that is put forth
by a Jewish couple,not a Christian couple,
but yet, they see the goodwork that you guys are doing
right there on the African continent
and they are moved in manyways by your sacrifice,
your sense of calling to minister
in these very, very difficultconditions, countries,
many times conflict zones.
Speak to that and to their own faith
and how that propels them toreach across the faith aisle
to help folks like yourself
to minister to the most needyon the African continent.
- My wife and I did have thepleasure of joining the Gersons
in their home and meeting them personally,
and you could just really tell
this was a conviction that came
from the very depths oftheir hearts to do this.
And they've just recognized that
how could they be obedient to their faith
and God in their Jewish faith.
They referenced many scriptures
about loving the stranger or the foreigner
or the one far off and how they saw
that this was the bestway for them to do that.
Yeah, it was remarkable to meet them
and to just see how they've really made
such a practical impactout of those convictions
coming from their hearts.
- And you are the thirdrecipient of the L'Chaim Prize.
Congratulations to you
and thanks for coming on the show.
- Well thank you so much.
What a pleasure.