Published: 10:18 a.m. Friday, Feb. 26, 2010
Before proposing to his girlfriend, Jeremy Gabrysch had to sit her down and come clean about his desire to make a life out of traveling the world and helping the underserved.
"He was really nervous about it," Christina Gabrysch recalls in the family room of their Oak Hill home. "He thought it was going to be a deal-breaker."
Jeremy Gabrysch, now a 33-year-old emergency room doctor at Seton Medical Center, had been on multiple relief efforts to Latin America. One summer during medical school, he worked at a hospital on the Mexico/Belize border; another summer, he built orphanages in Mexico City.
"I'd never been on a mission trip," his wife adds. "But I wasn't opposed to going on one. So when he told me that, I thought, well, if God's leading him there, and he's leading us to be married, then this is something I should do."
The couple, married in 2002, has since participated in five trips to South Sudan, an area rebounding from a tumultuous history rife with civil war. Their experience with African orphans there drew them to adopt Nate, a 21-month-old from Ethiopia, a year ago. It also inspired Jeremy Gabrysch to want to go to Haiti immediately following last month's devastating earthquake.
"I e-mailed a bunch of people who I knew from our Africa staff, and I said, `If any of you have any connections with a plane going to Haiti, I want to be on it.'"
Within a few days, he got a response. He had to be in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 48 hours to catch a flight to Haiti organized by the Christian group ReachGlobal, a division of the Evangelical Free Church of America.
"The Haiti trip, it obviously came up at the last minute," says Dean Schanen, chief of emergency medicine at Seton, "but people pulled together and we were able to cover his shifts so he could leave on time. If you can't go yourself, at least you can help him get there."
Gabrysch was gone for a week. He was stationed at the Hôpital Sacré Coeur, a private Catholic hospital located in Milot, at the northern edge of Haiti, opposite the destruction in the southwest. There Jeremy Gabrysch worked with about 30 other American medical professionals. They were overseen by Dr. Peter Kelly from Boston, who regularly travels to Haiti to perform eye surgeries through his organization CRUDEM (Center for the Rural Development of Milot).
Each day, helicopters would evacuate between 200 to 250 patients to Gabrysch and his colleagues. "Every single person who was coming off those helicopters in Milot had something broken and needed surgery," he says. "I saw some pretty bad gangrenous wounds."
Gabrysch's deep Christian faith was the driver for his volunteerism in Haiti, as well as for his and Christina Gabrysch's trips to Sudan and their adoption of Nate.
Jeremy Gabrysch subscribes to the ideals proffered by the Rev. Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Jeremy Gabrysch says Keller, author of The New York Times best-seller "The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism," appeals to the young urban intellectual.
"He's not teaching anything that's new, really," Gabrysch says. "Basically, he says that we're trying to answer the question, `Why are things the way they are, and what are we going to do about it?'"
Keller breaks Christianity down into a story of four chapters: Creation (God created everything), Fall (the story of Adam), Redemption (fixing all that was broken in the Fall, as made manifest in earthquakes and orphans) and Restoration ("when God will restore everything to a new heaven and a new Earth," Jeremy Gabrysch says).
Keller says we're currently in between Redemption and Restoration. Through his work in Haiti, Sudan, and Latin America, and through his adoption of Nate, Jeremy Gabrysch is effectively turning the page toward that final chapter.
"I do believe that I'm commanded by God to try to set things right where I can, to work for good where I can," Jeremy Gabrysch says. "And I believe that's what justice is. And I think that is a big part of the Gospel message."
Just because God compels, doesn't make it easy. The Gabrysches' first trip to Sudan was almost their last. They spent two weeks helping a Sudanese pastor build schools and teach basic health lessons.
"We did not really have that great of a time," Jeremy Gabrysch says. "We both got sick. It was really hard. I've never seen poverty like that. When we came back home, we thought, that was good but I don't know if we'll do that again. But for the next six months, I feel like we were really being called to go back and do more - and not to just let it be."
They had a "fantastic" time on their subsequent trip.
"Both of us felt like we were made for this," he recalls. "It was a real contrast to the first time we went. But to me that's just a testimony that God was at work."
"When I'm over there, I just love it," Christina Gabrysch adds. "I like the culture. I like the people. And I like that we can help them more than we can maybe help a fellow American."
Nate suddenly bursts into the family room. He runs after the dog and dives on the couch and smiles wide. Now that Jeremy Gabrysch is almost through paying off his medical-school debt, the couple is considering a long-term stay in Sudan. Jeremy Gabrysch says Nate would benefit from the experience of living in Africa. And the father has already witnessed the benefit to himself.
"The experience changes you," he says. "That's the thing about going to Haiti, or going to Sudan, or wherever, is that I hopefully have some small effect when I'm there, but the effect on me is drastic."