God’s timing, God’s way

I was just 14. A high-school student, I lived a normal life, happy and content, with a family of eight siblings on the beautiful island of Newfoundland, off the northeastern coast of Canada. One day, abruptly and without warning, my life was shaken by the sudden death of my father. He was just 40. My eldest brother, age 17, became advisor to our widowed mother. The future looked bleak and barren.

My dream was to become a nurse. Not just a nurse, but a nurse in a mission field in a faraway country where I might start a school of nursing or perhaps an orphanage. Would my dream ever come true? How could I pay for my education? All I knew was to wait. Wait upon God for an answer.

The waiting led to a deeper commitment. Immediately after completing high school, I was baptized in the gentle waves of the ocean not far from home. A year later, I left the island to study nursing in an Adventist college on the mainland of Canada, and soon transferred to a college in the United States where I could earn a bachelor of science degree in nursing. The journey to the first degree was filled with financial and other challenges, but God had already prepared the way.

One step at a time, I experienced His leading, and before long I was marching down the aisle to get my degree in nursing. No family member was present to witness the event. For five years I had not gone home, and home was 5,000 miles away. But soon I would to make my own home, when I married John, a ministerial graduate I had met in college. Soon after, my husband and I headed for the seminary – he to continue his theological education and I to work on a master’s degree in education (there was no graduate program in nursing then).

Becoming a missionary

A few months after John began his ministerial internship, we accepted a call to serve as teachers in the Far Eastern Division of the world church. My dreams as a 14-year-old were now beginning to unfold, one at a time, all with God’s guidance and blessing. Against all odds, I had become a nurse, an educator, the wife of a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, and now a missionary. Together, my husband and I began our first international assignment as teachers at Hong Kong Adventist College.

The college was charged with the responsibility of preparing workers for China. This mission was uppermost in everyone’s mind, and we began our preparation by taking up language study – Mandarin, the language common in China, even though Cantonese was the predominant dialect in Hong Kong.

But China itself was going through tremendous political and social unrest as the Cultural Revolution swept over the country. The mid-1960s were uncertain times. The unrest and violence on the mainland spilled over into Hong Kong. Streets of commerce and peaceful centers of shopping in the British colony suddenly turned into unruly sites of political protests and demonstrations. Violence was an inevitable part of such scenes.

That was also the time when our firstborn, a beautiful girl, was born at Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital. Late one evening, after visiting me and the baby, John was driving home to the college at Clear Water Bay, when he passed a truck parked on the side of the road. The truck driver yelled out into the darkness, “Puo-loh! Puo-loh!” As John processed the sounds that registered in his ears, he remembered that “puo-loh” is Cantonese for pineapple, slang for handmade bombs placed in different areas of the city to create violence and chaos. He slowed, stopped, and investigated the road just in front of the car. Indeed, a live bomb lay waiting for impact. As he watched the police detonate the bomb a couple of hours later, the evidence of God’s intervention in saving his life was plain and powerful. Could there be any doubt that God was guiding our lives for His purposes?

John continued to study the Chinese language with increased interest and even taught New Testament Greek to his ministerial students using Mandarin. Meanwhile, a second hospital was under construction in Hong Kong, this time on Victoria Island. With two Adventist hospitals, there was clearly a need for a school of nursing. The mission and union leaders asked me to take up that responsibility. The task was not mine, but God’s. Sure enough, an Adventist nursing training program took shape. By the time we left Hong Kong five years later, the second class of students had graduated from Hong Kong Adventist Hospital School of Nursing.

Graduate study

At the end of our first term as missionaries, as we were planning to return to the U.S., the Far Eastern Division placed a fresh challenge before us: take further graduate study and return to start graduate programs for the church in Asia. We loved Asia and its people. Where there are bonds of love, every challenge becomes God’s opportunity.

Graduate study was eventful, with both of us enrolled fulltime in doctoral programs. Changes in financial support and the birth of our second daughter added new and special challenges. The markers on the road to the future were not clear all at once, but I knew God would reveal them one at a time. Sufficient is His grace and strength for the challenge of the moment. We completed our studies, and New Year’s Day 1979 found us in the Philippines, where we joined the growing community of the Far Eastern Division Theological Seminary and Graduate School located on the new campus of Philippine Union College in Silang, Cavite. These programs attracted bright students from across the vast territories and rich cultures of that region and from even as far away as Africa. To serve and live there was like being in a little United Nations.

There, the next challenge presented itself to me: the need for a graduate program in nursing to prepare faculty and leaders for the many Adventist healthcare institutions and schools of nursing throughout the Far East. Students from Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, and the Philippines enrolled in the new program. Teaching such a diverse group of highly-motivated students in such a rich cultural context was deeply meaningful and rewarding.

An expanding ministry

Ten years later we faced a different kind of challenge. Our two daughters were ready for significant educational transitions. The first one was ready for university, the second for secondary school. It was time for our children’s needs to have priority and that meant returning to the United States. As we returned, there was great discussion about the possibility of a collaborative project in China jointly sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and a generous Hong Kong businessman. Loma Linda University Medical Center would oversee the construction and operation of a new modern medical facility – Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital (SRRSH) – in China. The very possibility of such a project was exciting, even though we were now leaving Asia and I had no idea if or how I might be involved. Twenty years after the Cultural Revolution and our stay in Hong Kong, a door was opening for the presence of Christian workers in China in a way unimagined earlier!

We returned to the United States and joined the faculty of Loma Linda University. The SRRSH project moved steadily forward and soon there was a need for nurse leaders to go to China to work alongside Chinese nurses when the hospital opened. A graduate student in the school of nursing decided to go when she finished her program. She was the right person for the challenge, modeling not only professional nursing but also God’s love. More than one of the nurses at SRRSH became interested in Christianity.

The global ministry of Loma Linda University was soon to take a new turn. For years the Loma Linda University School of Nursing (LLUSN) had received requests from around the world for scholarships to prepare faculty for sister institutions in other countries. LLUSN responded, offering one or two scholarships at a time. Sometimes the students struggled with English and took up to three years to complete a master’s degree. Our global ministry was thus limited. But then God inspired another way. The global shortage of nurses and of nursing faculty demanded a different approach. If we could bring more and more students from around the world to Loma Linda, why not take LLUSN’s graduate programs to the world? Thus was born a new challenge.

An off-campus graduate program was developed. Visionary donors provided financial support. The first experiment of an international off-campus master of science program in nursing was launched in 2005 with nearly 50 students from 24 countries. Most were from Adventist institutions, but some were admitted from countries where the church once had a presence but no longer does. Eight students came from China. Half of the total group attended classes in Thailand, the other half in Argentina and South Africa. Instruction was the same as at Loma Linda University and provided by the same faculty. A rich cultural exchange among students and between students and faculty enhanced the educational experience for all – faculty as well as students. Through role modeling of Christian values and integration of faith and learning, students observed Christianity in action and described it as life-changing.

But soon we discovered that master’s degrees were not enough. A growing number of Adventist universities around the world are adding graduate programs of their own to maintain a qualified faculty and help meet the needs in their own country. In institutions offering a master’s degree, it is necessary for faculty to be prepared at the doctoral level. Again, it is difficult in many countries for Adventist faculty to obtain access to and support for doctoral study. Loma Linda University School of Nursing offers a Ph.D. in nursing, but at present it requires students to come to the main campus for a four- to five-year period to complete the degree. To serve the world field effectively, we need a format in which students can come for shorter periods and continue in their faculty roles in their home country. In addition, scholarships are necessary to make this possible. This is the next missionary challenge to conquer – a challenge that God will solve in His own way, in His own time, one step at a time. All He needs is human instruments who seek to do His will and His way.

In that seeking, I have found my joy. From the teenage girl, shocked by her father’s untimely death and troubled by a future that seemed dark and uncertain I have become a person who has seen life in all its tragedy and triumph, uncertainty and fullness of joy. The way was paved and readied by the One who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” All I needed to do was place my dreams, my hopes, and my life in Him who never fails.

Patricia S. Jones (Ph.D., Vanderbilt University) is professor of nursing and director of the Office of International Nursing at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California. She is also the associate director for health ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A. E-mail: jonesp@llu.edu.