*For security reasons, some of the names and locations in this article have been changed.
The man who lived on the mountain became convinced that the mountain’s goddess had grown angry with him. There could be no other reason why he was so sad all of the time. So, one day, he took a goat, went up on the mountain, and made a sacrifice. But the goddess was silent.
Growing desperate, the man took medicine, but nothing changed.
In time the man explained his dilemma to the doctor who had prescribed him the medication. The doctor seemed to know something about the man’s trouble. He explained that there was another God who really did reign over the mountain. Not because of anything we had done, this God actually came down to us from on high. In fact, God became the priest and the sacrifice for us.
The man was stunned. To imagine–God came down and became the sacrifice, like the animal the man killed on the mountain.
As he learned that his sins could really be forgiven in Jesus, something strange happened. His medication began to respond, and his depression lifted.
A Healing Community
Not every one of his patients has a biblical-theological eureka moment like this, but psychiatrist Luke (MDiv, 2019), had witnessed firsthand the power to Christ to fundamentally change lives.
“One lady came to us suffering from anxiety.” Luke says. “We gave her a New Testament in her native language. She started reading the gospels and hears Jesus say, ‘my peace I give to you.’ No god she was familiar with had ever said that. We did nothing–all she did was read the scriptures. Her relative took her copy, but she came back for 10 more gospels.”
As he learned more, Luke hungered for training to communicate the gospel better. Providentially, Luke met a Westminster graduate who invited him to teach a course on depression and anxiety in 2013. For his work, Luke was paid with a copy of Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. What Luke read in the book opened up a whole new approach to ministry.
In his work with a Christ-centered hospital association, Luke saw fruit, but it was still a primarily medical model of outreach. Patients would come to him for medication, and he might get a chance to pray with them or share some scripture before they went home. “[South Asia] is a place where people are still very spiritual. Unlike in America, you can still pray with them, and it isn’t such a strange thing,” Luke says.
Luke began to see the possibilities of what a vital church family could provide. “We saw a lady who was suffering from postpartum psychosis. Her family had sold everything, including their cow, to have the priest pray for her. When the mother didn’t recover, the priest said she had a big demon and threw sacrificial fire on her, burning her face. With nowhere else to go the family went to a Christian pastor. The pastor met the woman, prayed with her, and told the family that it appeared to be a medical issue.
“The entire 15 member family came with her to our hospital where we cared for her. While she was there, the nearby church, which was not well to do, began to feed and take care of that entire family. One of the women even came to feed the mother’s baby . . . I can give medication and give guidance about psychosis, but the potential for the church is so much greater. This family saw the church caring for them, and each of them came to Christ because of this witness. I had been saying ‘Bring better healthcare through church,’ but this way more people are coming to the church.
“That’s what I want to see happening. I want to see the church become the healing community.”
The Authority of Hope
In 2013 things started coming together for Luke to realize this vision for training in the Bible. Just two years earlier, he and his wife Jen adopted Adam, a baby boy who suffered from a rare birth deformity and had been abandoned at Luke’s hospital. During a hospital visit to North Carolina that year, Luke traveled to Philadelphia and met with Ed Welch and Mike Emlet, counselors at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). The idea was to get them to come to South Asia for a conference. They agreed, but they also suggested that Luke consider pursuing an MDiv at Westminster.
“Then I met Timothy Brindle [Senior Admissions Counselor] and Steve Carter [Vice President of Campus Life and Dean of Students]. They encouraged me a lot. They knew I needed a scholarship if I was going to study, and they put a lot of effort into making that happen.”
Luke’s family decided to move to Philadelphia.
“The way God put everything together was incredible . . . We came to learn about Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and we found a house a mile away from Westminster.”
At Westminster, Luke found incredible aids for his counseling in unexpected places, like Libbie Groves’s Hebrew II Course. “I was surprised to find how even a language class like Hebrew II can inform how I counsel people. Libby was teaching Psalm 121–‘Where does my help come from’–the pilgrims are walking from Jericho to Jerusalem. It’s a dangerous road. The Psalmist is asking them, ‘Where does your help come from?’ That’s a feeling that people with anxiety and helplessness can connect with. The Psalmist offers comfort by saying, ‘fix your eyes to the mountain where your help comes from.’”
“There were times I would sit in Dr. Tipton’s ‘Doctrine of Christ’ class, and just be crying.” Luke says. “I wouldn’t have known the deeper meaning of scripture without this. All of these courses have helped to shape my theology, and from theology comes counseling. I’ve seen this in my CCEF internship. All the doctrine courses are very alive as I talk to people… You don’t think you have any hope when you come to the end of every medication you’ve tried. This is where a sound doctrine of God is so important… In Dr. Garner’s Prolegomena class we were learning all of this stuff, discovering the authority of hope when you see everything through scripture.”
Return to South Asia
Luke has been back to South Asia every year since coming to Westminster and has seen the progress in how he relates to patients. “It used to be difficult to connect scripture to people’s everyday problems. That has become easier.”
After graduation, he and Jen will to return to South Asia to begin a biblical counseling ministry. From what he’s learned at Westminster, and from his experience in the field, Luke is convinced that much mental health care ought to be done at the church level as a caring community.
“In [South Asia] they are medicalizing spiritual problems,” Luke says. “Pastors are sending marital problems to psychiatrists. There is a place for the specialists, but the church can participate in 80% of this kind of care.”
But despite the obvious impact the gospel is having, the place to where Luke’s family is going is less than friendly to anyone coming in the name of Christ. There is great personal risk involved in their decision, and Luke asks that we encourage readers to pray for their work–“It is spiritual warfare.”
As they prepare to return, Luke and Jen are finalizing the adoption of a 2-year-old girl in South Asia. They have 3 beautiful sons and are still grieving the death of their eldest, Adam, whose adoption and disabilities were what initially led them to Philadelphia. He passed away during the summer between Luke’s 1st and 2nd years at Westminster. Jen, who continues to write about caring for those with disabilities, plans to work as a nurse, perhaps helping with local midwives as well, but will primarily be homeschooling their growing family. Luke will be applying his Westminster education to his biblical counseling practice, sharing a better understanding of texts like Galatians 4:4-6,”But when the fullness of time had come, god sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”
South Asia is filled with a fear of shame. “If I did not have these verses, and know what they mean” Luke says, “I could not tell my clients there is no shame, and share the hope of Christ with them.”
Please pray with us for Luke and his family as they return to South Asia this year, carrying the light of the gospel with them.
If you’d like to learn more about Luke and Jen’s ministry, you can send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.