Elizabeth Ostring: Dialogue with an Adventist family physician in New Zealand
Elizabeth Ostring was born in the very south of South New Zealand. n Shortly afterwards her parents, Douglas and Elsie Eliot, received a second M ^ marvelous gift that was to change their lives forever. A young woman wrote to them and enrolled them into the Voice of Prophecy correspondence course. In their study the Eliots discovered and accepted the teachings of the Bible and soon joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Before Elizabeth was 5, the family moved to Avondale College, in Australia, where her father, already an accountant, studied for a while and then joined the church work as an administrator.
Elizabeth received her early education in Australia and New Zealand. When in 1964 she entered the Medical School at Otago University in New Zealand, she was the only Adventist in her class. Her cheerful disposition and her commitment to Christian values won admiration and support from her classmates, who even shared their notes for the Sabbath classes Elizabeth missed. She graduated on schedule with flying colors, taking with her the ophthalmology prize. She had the distinction of being the second Adventist woman to graduate from medicine in New Zealand.
While on internship in Australia she met and married Roland Ostring, a surgeon. Her career and specialties covered services in Australia, Great Britain, Hong Kong, and now in New Zealand.
The Ostrings served as medical missionaries at the Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital in Hong Kong for 15 years. Since returning to their homeland in 1992, Dr. Elizabeth Ostring has operated a private clinic in Christchurch. She and her husband are the parents of twins, with a son completing a doctoral program in telecommunications engineering and a daughter in medical school. Elizabeth is a people-oriented physician. "There's more to life," she says and believes, "than anatomy, physiology, and psychology." And that "more" can be found in her commitment to "a God who suffers with His people and brings healing to them." Her life and ministry carry the theme, "Healing is walking in hope."
Dr. Ostring was interviewed while attending a meeting of the Seventh-day Adventist World Commission on Human Sexuality, at the headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, in SilverSpring, Maryland, U.S.A.
Was being a missionary part of your goal as a physician working for the church?
Actually, no. My husband and I were working at an Adventist hospital in Australia. He wanted to get his specialty in obstetrics, and we were planning to move to Melbourne, Australia. Just about that time we received a letter from Hong Kong inviting us to go there as missionaries.
Since we had already
planned to go to Melbourne, we decided to write back, thank them, and tell them that in a few years we might consider it. For some reason, however, we never got to write that letter.
A few weeks later, my husband received word from Melbourne that he could not go there, as training positions were being cut in half. It was then I remembered the letter that we hadn't answered. So we contacted the Adventist hospital in Hong Kong, asking if they were still interested in our services. In a couple of hours we got a phone call asking, "Can you come tomorrow?"
We were there six weeks later. We thought it would be a 12 to 15 month assignment. But we spent 15 years there, and we loved the experience! Our twins were also born there, and in the meantime my husband specialized in surgery.
As a family physician, do you get to share the gospel with those who are hurting and cannot seem to get past the pain to God?
Christianity is dealing with reality. We need to come in touch with hurting individuals. The initial reaction of many people who are hurting is to turn away from God and the church. Sometimes even deeply committed Christians may not come to church because of pain. They become experts with excuses to avoid going to church because of pain— emotional or otherwise.
We need to differentiate between church attendance and relationship with God. My basis for sharing Christianity is by stressing that healing comes from God. The message starts with a call to confess. Confession brings us to realize that God is able to forgive and to heal.
How has your life's work prepared you to the participation in the World Commission on Human Sexuality?
My work in Hong Kong has made me sensitive to cultural issues surrounding sexuality. Now, in New Zealand, I am involved with a local interdenominational group dealing with sexual abuse of children and women. I truly enjoy participating in this program, although it is sad to realize there are a lot of hurting people even in the church. In my own family we have experienced an enormous amount of pain and sorrow as a result of a close family member dying of AIDS.
In my experience, God has guided me through suffering and has taught me things that I would have never learned any other way. Now I can reach others whom I couldn't have reached before. This background helps me in what little I can contribute to the work of the commission.
What is the basic objective of the commission?
We are trying to identify and outline the biblical view of sexuality. We are also seeking to identify the problems our church faces around the world in the area of human sexuality and to find ways to deal with them.
How do you see sexuality portrayed in the Bible?
God has chosen to use in the Bible the intimate relationship of sexuality between husband and wife as a symbol of the close relationship He wants to have with us. Genesis starts with humanity being created in the image of God, and then comes God's command for Adam and Eve to participate in the creative activity of having their own children. In fact, God created our first parents as sexual persons before He gave them the Sabbath. But the devil likes to take all that is beautiful in God's creation and subvert it. It's no surprise that sexuality is under such direct attack from the devil.
Is there a particular group that the commission is targeting?
The church has a large number of hurting people. There is an enormous amount of pain, and a lot of it arises from sexual issues, such as family abuse, etc. I see this in my work every day, particularly with young people. The work of the commission is not only to define sexuality from a biblical perspective, but also to assure the hurting people that God loves them and can empower them to address the root cause of their problems.
If there is one message that you would like the commission to state to young adults, what would that be?
The pressures on Christian young people to engage in activities ranging from drinking to sex to drugs are enormous. The church often is quick to point out the sin involved, but slow to assure our young people that God loves them, cares for them, is ready to forgive them, and to empower them to live an upright life. Seventh-day Adventists are fairly conservative people and proper sexuality is something we are scared of teaching to young people. We need to emphasize that God made sex and that He meant for us to enjoy it within the parameters He established at the beginning. Sexuality is a beautiful gift and must be handled with care.
The basis of sexuality is the companionship and the communion with a person of a different sex in a monogamous relationship. It isn't meant to be altered from God's plans. It requires that a couple commit to one another and to God. That commitment is the basis of Christian marriage.
What will the commission do to implement the methods established for dealing with sexuality issues in our church?
We plan to provide resources to key individuals who will distribute them through family ministries programs, schools, and other venues. Some of these resources will be brochures and pamphlets written in a very informative, comprehensive, factual, and easy-to-understand manner. Other materials will also be developed, always keeping our youth in mind.
How do you plan to continue your healing ministry?
I would like to develop a ministry for single mothers, for whom I carry a personal burden. I am not a highly ambitious person or a crusader. But being in this commission has crystallized in my mind the work that needs to be done in this area. At the same time, I would like to continue dealing with the sensitivities of the family and family practice.
With so many opportunities and challenges you have faced in your career, how would you summarize your philosophy in life?
Trust God and He will lead you all the way. Once you have made a choice that your life belongs to God, when problems confront you, you have the power of the Almighty to rely on. You will find that the problem either has a lesson for you to learn or has a meaning for someone else—but God always has a way for you to work through it.
Interview by Dixil L. Rodriguez. Dixil L. Rodriguez is assistant news director for Adventist News Network at the Seventh-day Adventist Church World Headquarters. Her address: 12501 Old Columbia Pike; Silver Spring, MD 20904; U.S.A. Dr. Elizabeth Ostring's address: 16 Cintra Place; Casebrook, Christchurch; New Zealand.