06/14/06 — Local doctor heading to Africa

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Local doctor heading to Africa

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 14, 2006 1:50 PM

A formerly shy teenager content to work quietly in a lab went on to build a medical practice. She credits God's confidence in her with now pulling her in a new direction -- as a medical missionary in Africa.

Dr. Renee Valach is a pediatrician at Goshen Medical Center. She has been practicing medicine for 14 years, but said she felt led to go into medical missions as far back as high school.

"I feel God wants me to go. I feel like it's a calling," she said.

Having attended a summer camp after high school, she said counselors there encouraged the teens toward full-time Christian service. Once home, her mother reinforced the idea.

But shyness kept her from considering it seriously until she was in college.

"I did some short-term medical mission trips to Kenya and the Philippines and a non-medical mission to Romania with Campus Crusade for Christ in the late '80s," she said.

Interested but hesitant, she said she saw her role as being more isolated, like working in a lab where she didn't have to confront new people every day.

On a visit to Romania, she talked with several college students who told her their only concept of Jesus was from fables their grandmothers told or likening him to a "space alien."

"It was an eye-opener for them that an educated person would believe" in Jesus, Dr. Valach said. "Knowing God has been a very important thing in my life, it's a sad thing people live in some places where they don't hear anything at all."

As her own faith grew, Dr. Valach said her shyness lessened.

She is presently wrapping up her stint at Goshen Medical and will spend her remaining time in the U.S. studying a second language at the Institute for Cross-cultural Training at the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.

In August, she will travel to France to study French for nine months.

"I'll have to practice medicine in French," she said. "It's more than just holding a conversation."

Then next spring, she will travel to Gabon, a country in Africa near the Republic of Congo. While Gabon is a fairly stable country, the hospital where she will work is in the jungle, near the Equator.

The diseases will be different there, she said. Instead of hypertension and diabetes, there will be tropical diseases like yellow fever and malaria. There is also a high rate of HIV, she said.

But she is not afraid of being stuck with the wrong needle, she said. She is trusting that if God wants her to be there, He is going to watch over her.

The Christian Missionary Alliance is helping pay for her four-year tour in Africa. The missionaries usually stay for four years and come home briefly before returning to the mission field, she said.

"I think it's so you don't lose track of your own culture," she said. "You want to be able to fit in when you come back home."

Dr. Valach said she will miss the patients she has come to know in the past five years since starting her work at Goshen Medical Center. What she won't miss are the mountains of paperwork and filing that come with the job.

And while the paycheck might be an incentive for some, it is not what defines her.

"I don't see it as giving up a lot," Dr. Valach said. "Money hasn't been the most important thing to me. Folks here have so much and it kind of makes sense to go some place where folks don't have so much."