The amazing power of God’s Word
María Emilia Schaller de Ponce
“My word that goes out of my mouth…will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11, NIV).
I became a Seventh-day Adventist in February 1982. Three months later, I completed my medical training, and entered medical practice. When I was baptized at the La Aurora church in Santa Fe, Argentina, the members welcomed me with a gift of a Bible, perhaps the best gift I have ever received. It stayed with me always—at work, at worship, at home. Avidly I read the life of Jesus and was taken up by the rich promises God’s Word contained. Joining the church had not been easy because my family was opposed. So I had to grasp firmly the promises of God’s Word, never letting go of that little Bible. I had to memorize and trust in those promises. I needed close acquaintance with the Author of those promises.
A few months later, while I was on rotation at a public hospital in another city, the guard announced the arrival of a new patient in the emergency room. I rushed to find Roberto shaking an empty bottle of a psychedelic drug. Evidently, he had swallowed the whole thing—a case of an attempted suicide. To make things worse, his wife was with him, completely drunk. Both were psychiatric patients, both were addicts. Immediately I sent him in an ambulance to the toxicology unit of another hospital because our hospital lacked the infrastructure to deal with the problem. He was given the proper treatment and sent back to our hospital for follow-through.
I admitted Roberto in a ward and called his psychiatrist, who set up a list of medications to be administered intravenously in a solution, and listed other factors to be considered. I became uneasy and shared my concern with a colleague. I was assured not to worry, as the patient’s body was probably used to huge doses of medication.
We left Roberto with the I.V. An hour later a nurse called me saying that Roberto was reacting in a strange way. I rushed to his room, and found that far from sleeping, he was very excited. The medications had produced results contrary to the expected ones. There was Roberto, shaking like a reed. His eyes were enlarged and filled with fear and anxiety.
When he saw me, he shouted: “Get rid of this I.V.! It’s no good; they always give me this, and it’s no use!”
I drew near to listen carefully. He lowered his voice, and this time pleaded, “Please, doctor, remove this I.V. It’s only making things worse. What I need is somebody to talk to. I need somebody to listen, and somebody who will talk to me.”
So I said: “Of course, Roberto, I’ll call your psychiatrist right away.”
“No!” he said. “He’ll just dope me up with more medications. He won’t listen or talk with me. Please stay and let’s talk!”
“Well, Roberto, I’m not a psychiatrist. Anyway, what do you want to talk about?”
“Look, I’ll talk to you about the best thing I can share with you. I’ll talk to you about Jesus.”
“About Jesus? OK, but there’s a problem.”
“What is it?”
“I’m a Jew!”
A real problem! I got up to contact Roberto’s doctor, when he shouted, “Don’t go away!”
“Roberto, I’m not a specialist, I need to call your psychiatrist. Besides, you don’t let me talk about the Friend who has helped me so much.”
“It’s all right. Talk to me about that Jesus.”
I still remember the contempt in his voice and the indifferent expression on his face when he referred to that Jesus. With a silent prayer, I opened my Bible and started reading about Jesus. I remember absolutely nothing about what I said. I just read the Gospels, since early in my Christian life that’s all I knew to share with others. After a while, I saw the unbelievable. Roberto had quieted down, stopped shaking, and finally dropped off to sleep.
The next morning I visited him again. He was seated on a bench in front of his hospital room. He was thin, emaciated, with a drawn face, and the anguish in his eyes reflected the long illness he had suffered. But he was waiting for me to come back and talk to him more about “that Jesus.” Again I opened my Bible and read to him a long time about Jesus and again I remember absolutely nothing about the content of my reading. Roberto watched me intently. His enormous eyes looked at me and sometimes rested on the Bible. He nodded agreement, sometimes sketched a question, or made a comment. As a physician, I reasoned, “This makes no sense. Here’s is a psychiatric patient, he’s loaded with drugs, he’s not a Christian, and here I am talking about Jesus. It makes no sense.”
Roberto was finally discharged, and was able to go home. I said good-bye, and thought he looked a little better. I didn’t take note of his address to visit him and to continue reading from the Word of God. Why did I fail to do that? Because of my ignorance of the power of the Word.
Sometime later, I returned to Santa Fe to take some specialized training. After three years, on an autumn afternoon, I was crossing a square in the city when a gentleman passed me. After a few steps he turned and said, “Hey! You’re a doctor... and let me see... you have a double name... María Emilia? Yes! You’re Dr. María Emilia. And I bet you can’t imagine who I am. I’m Roberto, that desperate man whom three years ago you helped, on that terrible night!”
I fell silent at what I was seeing. Roberto! This couldn’t be that patient I took care of on night duty in another city, three years before; but, yes, it was. His gaunt figure had filled out, his eyes no longer reflected despair, but serenity. The transformation was remarkable. Roberto noticed my perplexity and continued.
“Yes, doctor. I myself can hardly believe the change that’s taken place. Great things have happened in my life. When you talked to me about Jesus, I believed your words, and told myself that Jesus was going to help me. I left the hospital and one day, some Christian ladies found me. I told them my experience, accepted Jesus, and finally was baptized as a Christian. My life before that was real hell. I was on drugs. My children grew up alone, without a father. Now they’re teenagers and for the first time I am with them, I listen to them. My wife has also changed. Our family is whole again. I’m a different person, thanks to Jesus. Look, María Emilia, I’ll never forget what you told me about Jesus, I’ll never forget it. When you were talking to me, I believed in Jesus, took hold of Him, and knew that He would save me.”
I stood there astonished. I didn’t know what to say. Here was the man who three years before had tried to take his life. Now he was totally sane, with none of the anguish that had been there, eyes filled with peace and hope.
I can’t remember a single word I read to him by his hospital bedside. I only know I read the Gospels, for that’s all I knew of the Bible at that time to share with others. I even thought that perhaps I was wasting my time; what I was doing made no sense. But three years later on a bright autumn afternoon, I learned the lesson of my life: God’s Word has power to change lives and it will accomplish its purpose. As God promised long ago through the prophet, “My word that goes out of my mouth . . . will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Maria Schiller de Ponce, who holds degrees in medicine and theology, teaches in the School of Health Sciences at Universidad Adventista del Plata, in Argentina. Her email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.