*** DEBUG END ***

Interview: Stephanie McKeen, doctor

28 July 2023

‘Really, faith is easy when you must have it and you see God do stuff’

I was about six years old. I was watching TV shows about doctors and said: “That’s what I’m gonna do.” God uses everything to get his purpose accomplished. Even stupid TV shows.

I had a government scholarship to med school; so I worked for four years in an Indigenous reservation. Then I worked in a private clinic, then in a commercial group of doctors, then another government-supported clinic here in Bigfork. In 2004, I started in Emergency Room practice.

We called our situations “frontier medicine” because all the places were very remote, understaffed, and grateful. If we couldn’t do it, it didn’t get done. We sometimes rode in the ambulance, or on the air evac helicopter. We had to do it all. Obstetrics, paediatrics, and women’s health care were my specialty.

I’m called to crisis situations. I’ve always been good in desperate places. Although labour isn’t a disaster, it requires calm, self-control and the ability to control others in the room — but with love so that they feel cared for. The same is true with emergency medicine.

When I was first called to Mosul in 2016 during the war, I knew instantly and absolutely that God was calling me to go. When I married Dan in 2019, I could stop doing medicine for money and be available instantly for God’s next duty assignment for me. God’s provided more than enough; so we no longer have to work at all.

I’m registered and active in organisations who do international-disaster response. Some are Christian — Samaritan’s Purse and Cru — and some are not: Heart to Heart International, International Medical Corps, Project Hope. They contact me if they think I can serve them.

Almost always we’re sleeping communally, sometimes on the ground. All ages, degrees of dedication, and experience. Showers are sometimes available right away, but often it takes days to get that level of hygiene. Almost always it’s hot, although Mosul in winter was cold. Food is usually what the population is eating and it’s usually a disaster. Electricity is by generator. Most organisations use satellite hook-ups for WiFi, but we workers don’t always get to use it. Phone is unpredictable. Sometimes we cannot tell anyone, including family, where we are.

I’ve been in danger, yes. I’ve had violence done to me, yes. I did get sick one time. It was nothing to what was endured by those I served. Perspective is everything. Have I felt fear? Never. If God calls me to serve, it’s his responsibility to care for me. Psalm 91 has been my standard.

A young woman in Mosul had a son severely burned, and both of her hands were, too. Dressing changes daily were excruciating for them, and we couldn’t have narcotics in Iraq. She saw how we cared for her, her son, and others, and became a believer in Jesus. She’d come to morning services in her wheelchair, and the peaceful glow on her face was almost too much for me to bear, it was so lovely. On the day I left, I prayed to stay there and serve forever. As I was praying, she reached up with her bandaged hands and placed them in mine. It was a benediction I’ll never forget.

The hard places are where everyone thinks they know everything. They don’t need God. I honour every missionary who works in the US, or in other countries where the self is idolised.

Someone passed me in the hospital hallway here in Bigfork and said: “Why are you always so happy?” I didn’t answer: “I have the joy of Jesus and the love of God in my heart. What’s not to be happy about?” I just mumbled: “Oh, it’s a fine day.” I was scared, and I let it impact my witness. I’ll always regret that moment.

The Spirit within me is real. He’s ready and eager to relieve suffering if only the one in front of me will receive his love. In Mosul we had no narcotics. A trauma hospital without painkillers? I laid hands on every person and prayed, and the Spirit actually removed pain. God is a practical God.

I do not have to save anyone. I do not have to change the world. I only do what is in front of me right this minute. I believe that God will be more than enough. No meds in Mosul, but ask me about ISIS fighters coming to Jesus. Ask me about the lack of cholera in Bangladesh. Ask me about the second hurricane in the Bahamas. Ask me about forgiveness in Ukraine. When we have no one to turn to, no drugs, no surgery, no treatments — nothing but God — he always answers. How blessed I am to be a witness to these things.

Really, faith is easy when you must have it and you see God do stuff.

The poorest of the poor in the Western world are rich beyond comprehension, and have a safety net, whether we admit it or not. The attitude in the West is “me first”, and even the most generous have a limit beyond which they will not go. Most Westerners wouldn’t love an enemy. How often have you heard in church, from the pulpit: “Now let us pray out loud for every enemy we can name?” It was our love of ISIS fighters in our emergency room in Mosul that brought them to understanding the love of God for them.

I grew up early. Father married four times. Both mom and dad were alcoholics. Mom was a typical street bum, dragging me from place to place till I was 13. She was looking for God in all the wrong places, dragged me from church to church. As far as I know, she never found Jesus.

I missed a lot of school, but it never mattered. I never fitted in with anyone. I was mean and hateful, and it’s only God’s grace that kept me safe until I finally met him when I was 47.

I believed in God because the human body could not have been happenstance. I didn’t believe in hell or sin, though my marriage was godless and therefore hellish. After 20 years of verbal and physical abuse, I thought of divorce.

I listened to my daughter’s worship CDs. Nobody in their right minds likes religious music, right? But it’s simply God’s word with a good beat and great vocals. I was listening to scripture and I didn’t know it. What happens when God’s word is sent out? It accomplishes what God means for it to do.

As I was driving from Bemidji to Bigfork, listening to this music, I felt a presence in the passenger seat, as real as anything I’ve ever known. He said to me: How about now?” I was alone in the car. If I said “Yes, and it’s nonsense,” I wouldn’t have to tell anyone. What do I have to lose? So, I said “OK.” Instantly, I knew beyond any doubt that Jesus is real, he loves me, I’d been a sinner.

I repented, although I didn’t know that was the word for what I was feeling. I knew I was forgiven, set free of sin and lies of the world. Mostly I felt love and overwhelming gratitude. I cried and laughed and sang all the way home, windows down and the CD player blasting.

I started reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Piper, and Brother Lawrence. I read the Bible out loud from beginning to end. An Assembly of God church started up in town, and I become involved in the worship ministry. I went to seminary and got an MDiv — get the learning and keep the burning.

Jesus is my hope. I can hardly wait to graduate to heaven.

With every breath I breathe, I hope I’m abiding in him, which is prayer as I understand it.

Religion makes me angry. Praise and worship in the congregation of Spirit-filled believers makes me happiest. What a riot!

I love the gentle snoring of my husband.

I’d pick someone in the praise-and-worship industry to be locked in a church with, so we could just sing together and worship Jesus. That would be heaven on earth for me. Darlene Zschech, Lenny LeBlanc, Brian Doerksen, Third Day, Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, Laura Story, Robin Mark. . .


Stephanie McKeen was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)