Good Friday morning ...
My father died of prostate cancer in 1974 at the age of 60. I was 29 years old, a seminary student anticipating the fall arrival of my second child.
His death was a heavy loss for my family and for me personally. It was my father who subtly, throughout my life, had such an influence on who I was and what I was to become. His quiet, steady, faithful demeanor served as a lasting role model for me and still to this day impacts who I am and how I act. Sadly, as often is the case, I treasured my father more after his passing than before, but those treasured memories will live on until I die.
And so, it was with great concern that I learned last fall of another personal role model who found out he too had prostate cancer. Though younger than I am by more than a decade. Dr. Steve Friberg has become much more than a partner in overseas missions, but a friend and confidant. For the past almost 20 years he and I have worked together in northern Tanzania where he serves the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania as a medical missionary. In that role he oversees a number of bush clinics from his village home in Ketumbeine.
Steve was born in Tanzania of missionary parents serving in the Arusha area. He would grow up among the Maasai, learning their culture, accepting their traditions and understanding their primitive way of life. Though he would attend boarding school at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya and then university and medical training in the United States, he was always intrigued by and felt called to serve among those he knew best. And so, he returned to practice medicine where he grew up. Along the way, he married Bethany, a child of missionaries who served in Nepal.
We first met in Kimokouwa at a village clinic abandoned by World Vision. We would spend the next three weeks rehabbing that clinic to become a functional dispensary for meeting the medical needs of this small community. Dr. Steve and Bethany at the time had twin boys, Nyika and Zaka who turned four during our time in Tanzania. They were preparing to move into a rehabbed building in Ketumbeine to make it their permanent bush home.
Over the years our relationship developed with one encounter after the other, teaming together with youth and adults from the States, working on various projects, sharing our lives and faith and without even knowing, attaching ourselves as family. I recall many evening discussions sitting around their kitchen table, in the near dark, listening to the 8pm BBC broadcast on a squawky transistor radio, then discussing heavy matters of family and world importance ... always with a strong spiritual focus.
My partnership with Dr. Steve has had a tremendous impact on me personally. I would not have continued to expose myself to the hardships and rigors of primitive living for weeks at a time were it not for this man. I believe God fashioned my life from an early age to be able to meld my gifts and talents with his to form a partnership that completes each other.
And so, it has been for the past eight months that I have been praying for my friend and partner, Dr. Steve. His encounter with prostate cancer was discovered early on and thankfully he was in the States at the time, so he was able to begin his regimen of treatment quickly. In January of this year he was permitted to return to Tanzania where he spent the month visiting his clinics and informing his colleagues and staff of his condition. Back in the States he continued his treatments until early May when he was permitted once again to return to Tanzania for several months. It was there that my friend Fred and I spent a week with Dr. Steve and Bethany in their Ketumbeine home as we visited and encouraged pastors and evangelists in the area.
At present Dr. Steve is back in the States preparing for his son's wedding tomorrow. It will be a joyous celebration, no doubt enhanced by the good news Dr. Steve received from his oncologist last week that his "treatment is working well" and he is expected to "keep working in Tanzania for a couple more years before changing the treatment regimen." Already, we are planning for future team efforts.
So, please join me in thanking our gracious God for His merciful care over this dedicated man of faith. None of us know how long we have on this earth, so it is vitally important that we daily assess our given time and make the most of it. We have all been called by God to serve in our vocation (teacher, brick layer, doctor, bus driver, whatever) and in that vocation to exude the faith planted in us as a quiet witness to the world around us. Such has been the life of Dr. Steve, a simple, dedicated pediatrician serving His Lord in Tanzania.
"Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." [Colossians 3:17]
Have a great weekend in the Lord ...