For some the urge to travel across the globe to work in another country is a call to adventure, for others it is a smart career-building move. For Paul Groen, fresh out of Baylor College of Medicine and his internship in family medicine, it was a call to serve. And more specifically, it was a call to serve God.
Macky Groen, was on a rigorous career track completing her Masters degree in Nursing Administration at Columbia University when she felt a similar tug on her heart to devote herself to mission work in a Third World country.
Macky got there first and was just starting her third year of nursing in the bush of Nigeria when the handsome new doctor arrived. Their clinic consisted of eight women, nurses and educators, and one male doctor. The entire group worked and socialized together and everyone got to know each other quite well. Paul wisely treated each woman with equal attention and respect, careful not to betray any favoritism. Yet when he was given the opportunity to invite a select young woman to entertain on a friend’s veranda, supervised of course, it was Macky that got that call.
Their individual life choices had brought them together in this remote region and between that and the intense daily collaboration between them in their work, their love sprang from a deep “knowledge of the heart,” as Paul described it. They were meant to be. Paul and Macky married in Nigeria and spent a total of 10 years there together before finally deciding to return to the States when their two sons were of school age.
After completing a residency in orthopedics, Paul practiced medicine in Wheaton, Illinois outside of Chicago while they raised their sons. Their boys, initiated by their early childhood years in Nigeria, travelled with them on numerous trips back to Africa for short-term teaching stints. As a result both are “Third World citizens” comfortable wherever they might land.
Seventeen years of medical practice was enough, as both Paul and Macky were eager to get back to what they felt was their true life calling. This time, they formed a not-for-profit organization called Doctors on Call for Service, or DOCS, in order to develop the partnerships within countries like Kenya, Rwanda and the Congo to provide local medical education.
Their work was very successful. Rather than losing talented young people who trained abroad and failed to return home, Kenya and Rwanda developed their own capabilities to train medical professionals with the help of DOCS. “We were a catalyzing force in those countries and they were quick to draw on other resources to build their own training centers,” shared Paul.
The Democratic Republic of Congo was another story. Here, in a region rocked by years of war, genocide and sexual violence, there has been an even greater need for the outside assistance and support of DOCS. They focused their efforts in the eastern city of Goma which was at the center of the refugee crisis resulting from the genocide in Rwanda and two Congo wars. Understandably, success has been slower in coming there. The Learning Center that they built in Goma was soon destroyed by the eruption of the volcano Nyiragongo in 2002.
Undaunted, Macky and Paul strengthened their efforts with dedicated volunteers and a board of directors consisting of medical educators, business people and physicians based in the U.S. The Learning Center has been rebuilt and is serving their training efforts in that region. Only two years ago did Macky and Paul decide it was time to pass the reigns of the organization over to others to carry on their work.
After so much excitement, not-so-glamorous travelling, and hard work they are satisfied with their lives and are now enjoying the cultural riches of Sarasota from the comforts of Plymouth Harbor. Both of them relish the expanse of blue sky and water outside their living room windows. “We spent years in the dry, dusty bush and look at us now – surrounded by water!” Macky says with a smile. Paul enjoys walking the Ringling Bridge in the cool, early mornings and being surrounded by other interesting residents at Plymouth Harbor.
“Maybe we lived an exciting life, but I think the people here at Plymouth Harbor are really stimulating!”