A few weeks ago, I spent a week working with the Floating Doctors in their medical mission in Bocas Del Toro, Panama. We traveled by boat to remote clinics to serve the Ngabe people. These people live in villages where many do not have outdoor electricity and share an outdoor latrine. There are no TVs or computers. And there is a high infant, child, and maternal mortality rate. Despite having nothing, these people were very appreciative of what little we could provide for them.
While there, another doctor in attendance told us of his travels to several different countries to serve in other mission settings. There is poverty all over the world and so many people living in need. Many people go to bed hungry every night or suffer awful diseases that would be easily treatable if they could afford the cure.
Returning home, I was saddened to be leaving these people who needed so much. But then, I realized that we do not need to travel to find a mission; the mission is inside of each of us. In the US, many people are struggling financially. Many go to bed at night worrying how they can keep their homes or buy clothes for their kids. We do not need to travel to find people to help; we need to look inside ourselves and find how we can serve others.
Most people rather turn away and blind themselves to this need in humanity. We all do this when we walk past a hungry, homeless person on the street. Maybe that is not our mission. But, if we look, we each have one inside of us. There are many definitions of the word “mission” but the one I am referring to here is a purpose or goal with a strong calling or vocation. As a doctor, my job is to cure disease and help others feel better. But, my mission is to ease human suffering as much as I can throughout the world. I cannot achieve this mission in the scope of my daily practice. I must reach outside myself to find more to accomplish my mission.
The same is true no matter what type of work you do. There are many advocacy groups out there raising awareness of all kinds of diseases and social injustices. A person’s mission may be to raise awareness of breast cancer and save lives. We thankfully do not have the same mission because if we did, many people would be left out and ignored. And our mission cannot be one assigned to us. This is not a mission but rather a task.
How to find our mission inside of us?
- First, we need to look. Many of us go through our lives just getting to the end of the day, sleeping, waking up and then starting over again. Nothing wrong with that if that is where you are at. But many of us would like to step up and make a difference but we do not have the time or we do not know how.
- We need to know our passions and weaknesses. I have an especially passion for small children. This is one of the reasons I enjoyed my medical missionary trip so much: there were many sick kids who I treated. While I see many sick kids in my daily practice, most of them receive regular medical care and do not have such serious diseases. But in the jungle, I saw kids who may have never seen a doctor before. Many of them were infected with worms and I was able to improve their nutritional status just by treating the worms.
- We need to know why we want to follow a mission. Advocating for breast cancer is wrong if we are doing it just because we like the color pink. Rather, we need to do it to make a difference.
- Many people who have certain diseases become strongest advocates for that disease. Many of the strongest advocates for breast cancer are those with metastatic disease who know they are going to die. They are doing it to save other women; not themselves.
There are so many examples of “mission” out there, many medical as well as non-medical. While our daily lives consume most of our time, it is good to search inside ourselves every so often and find our mission, or purpose in life. Not all of us are called to save lives, but other missions are equally important. If each of us acts on our internal mission, imagine how much suffering and injustice we can stamp out all over the globe. Isn’t it worth a few minutes or hours or days of our time?
Dr. Linda Girgis MD, FAAFP, is a family physician in South River, New Jersey. She holds board certification from the American Board of Family Medicine and is affiliated with St. Peter’s University Hospital and Raritan Bay Hospital. Dr. Girgis earned her medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. She completed her internship and residency at Sacred Heart Hospital, through Temple University and she was recognized as intern of the year. Over the course of her practice, Dr. Girgis has continued to earn awards and recognition from her peers and a variety of industry bodies, including: Patients’ Choice Award, 2011-2012, Compassionate Doctor Recognition, 2011-2012. Dr. Girgis’ primary goal as a physician remains ensuring that each of her patients receives the highest available standard of medical care.