The call to mission runs deep in surgeon Ted Watts.
He can’t pinpoint the exact moment when that began and may have been planted even before he called himself a Christian.
His journey to faith, and to mission, began when his brother, Tom, invited him to a Friday night youth club in the London suburb of Wimbledon where they grew up.
Ted, now the lead surgeon at The Good News Hospital in Mandritsara, northern Madagascar, recalls: “Tom, who is older than me, and one of my friends, Rupert, had been going to the youth club and invited me to go along one day.
“I knew it was connected to the church, but the main attractions for me were that it was something to do on a Friday night, with free food, table football and, because I was at an all boys’ school, the chance to meet some girls!”
From those beginnings has grown a faith and a passion to serve some of the poorest people in the world.
The hospital Ted now works in serves a predominantly rural community of around 350,000 people spread across the northern third of Madagascar, a vast island that covers a bigger land area than France.
His patients are mostly subsistence rice farmers, scraping a hand-to-mouth living from tiny patches of land. He often sees them when their illnesses are very advanced, because they are very reluctant to stop working for hospital visits.
Ted credits the church he grew up in; his brother, who is now a pastor; and successive summer camps for first bringing him to faith and then discipling him to a greater maturity.
As Ted’s faith was growing, so was his interest in medicine. He has Crohn’s Disease and spent significant parts of his childhood in and around hospitals.
He grew in his faith through university and medical school and met his future wife, Rachel, who is now a paediatrician, through the university Christian Union. On some of their earliest dates, they discussed what part mission might play in their lives together.
Ted says: “We both realised from very early on that we felt a strong call to mission. We discussed what we needed to do and how that calling might impact decisions about our future together.”
Ted first visited Mandritsara during his fourth year of university, spending six or seven weeks at the hospital and having his eyes opened to the reality of living in a very remote and hugely under-resourced community.
He says: “Until then, I think I’d been given quite a narrow view of mission – that you had to be teaching the Bible, or pastoring a church. But those few weeks broadened my view. It’s vital that you proclaim the good news but there’s also a value in caring for people, who are made in God’s image and who are suffering, or oppressed by poverty.”
Ted and Rachel married in 2006 and then spent more than a decade doing further medical, theological and language study. They have been serving with SIM UK in Madagascar since 2017, with their sons, Ethan, seven, and Jamie, five.
Ted is one of six surgeons at Mandritsara, some of them fully qualified and others in training. That is a huge improvement on the situation two years ago, when Ted was the only surgeon and effectively on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The hospital has 58 beds and the 225 staff treat a huge range of conditions, from women affected by fistula, to cancer; from broken bones, to complex neurosurgery.
More than 1,800 operations are carried out each year.
Ted says: “To anyone who says the mission hospital is dead, I would say ask them to come and visit us. We provide a vital service in a place where there is virtually no state provision for health care.
“And we have the opportunity to share the gospel as we treat people, which I would never be allowed to do in the UK.
“Most of the people here are animists, which brings a lot of fear into their lives, but in hospital they hear the gospel.
“We have a small service in each ward every day, with a Bible talk; there are three full-time evangelists and we always pray with the whole team before every operation.
“When they come back for follow-up treatment, we always ask them what they’ve made of what they’ve heard.
“Since the hospital started, at least 65 churches have been started in surrounding communities, so God is clearly at work here.”
Ted knows one of his main challenges is to equip the hospital for the day he and Rachel decide to leave. That may not be for a few years but that day will certainly come.
He says: “We trust God. If he wants the hospital to remain open, he will raise up the people to make that happen.”
That trust shows how Ted’s call to medicine is interwoven with his call to mission.
By Tim Allan
Interested in medical mission? Enquire about serving with SIM here.
- For the schooling needs of Ethan and Jamie.
- For Ted’s leadership challenges.
- For the hospital to keep the gospel front and centre of all it does.