Eastern Mennonite University

Summer 2008

Snapshots of Cross-Cultural Health Service

The impact of Eastern Mennonite alumni on health care around the world merits its own book, but we have just a short column here. Let's pull just one thread from the tapestry of the life of Dr. Paul T. Yoder, class of 1950, as an example of ripple effects...

Yoder worked in Ethiopia for 21 years, initially the only physician serving 33,000 people in the district where he and his family lived. A young Ethiopian named Ingida Asfaw enjoyed studying science in school. He observed Yoder, Dr. D. Rohrer Eshleman (ThB '45) and other health-care providers in action at a Mennonite-run hospital in Deder, Ethiopia. Yoder made house calls in his jeep, which doubled as an ambulance. Impressed, Asfaw set his sights on becoming a physician.

Fifty years later at EMU, Asfaw '62 was named "Alumnus of the Year." He was now famous in his adopted-home region of Detroit, wearing multiple hats, including chief executive officer of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons of Michigan. Traveling frequently to his native land of Ethiopia, he is laying the groundwork for a heart hospital and a medical school.

EMU alumni who immerse themselves in cross-cultural settings for years are, or perhaps become, a special breed. They come to feel immense gratitude for the way the experience informed and transformed them, and they may find it difficult to re-settle back home.

Accompanied by his wife and three teenage sons, general surgeon and best-selling author Harry Kraus '82 has spent two years performing and teaching surgery at Kijabe Hospital in Kenya. "You come back here, see people who worry about things you don't see as that important, and you have to be careful – you can be judgmental," he said during a visit to his home city of Harrisonburg.

Kenton J. Zehr '83, former chief of cardiac surgery at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is now spending every other month in Perm, Russia ("684 miles east of Moscow, the last city on the Trans-Siberian railroad before you get to Siberia"), co-directing a team that performs 3,000 heart surgeries per year. "I see it as a privilege to be here, training residents, lecturing a couple of hours a week, and having legions of grateful patients."

Jan Emswiler '98, a nurse teaching at Aga Khan University in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, wrote to friends at EMU recently: "God, thank you for connecting me with the souls of others. Holy Spirit, teach me through these connections, make yourself known to me through these connections, use me in these connections."

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