August 6, 2019

From Aspiring Priest to Mission Station Medic

Vania Chew, Adventist Record

Born in Zimbabwe, Mark Turnbull grew up in a Roman Catholic family that attended church every Sunday. He was so devout that he dreamed of becoming a priest one day.

But his life was turned upside-down when his father was killed in a car accident shortly before Mark's 18th birthday. He didn't understand why his father had died. He decided to go to Australia, where his uncle resided, and travel around the country on a working holiday visa.

“One Saturday night in 1985, I went to Circular Quay [a popular tourist spot in Sydney] with a friend,” Mark said. “We saw a group of young people singing songs on the street and giving out books.”

Curious, Mark and his friend stopped to talk to the group and find out more about what they believed.

Mark was impressed by how easily the people responded to his questions and that all their answers came directly from the Bible.

“We spent about three hours talking. I thought my questions were getting harder, and they just kept answering them,” he commented. “I didn't know what denomination these people were, but I knew that they loved God and followed the Bible. I wanted to be like them.”

At the end of their conversation, a man named Richard gave Mark a copy of the book Steps to Christ.

“Do you go to prayer meeting?” Mark asked him. Richard said yes and wrote the details inside the book for him. Mark attended the prayer meeting and was again greatly impressed. He began attending church and Bible study and was baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist a year later.

Mark knew that he wanted to dedicate his life to God's service. Initially studying theology at Newbold College in the United Kingdom and Avondale College of Higher Education in Australia, he ended up completing a degree in biomedical science and then a graduate degree in medicine at the University of Queensland, Australia.

After a stint at Uchee Pines, a health institute in Alabama, United States, where Mark also met his wife, Naomi, and some experience at Maluti Adventist Hospital in Lesotho, Mark planned to head to Vanuatu as a medical missionary.

“Naomi and I chose Vanuatu because we felt Vanuatu was the nearest and neediest place outside of Australia,” Mark said. “In 2005, we purchased a small fiberglass boat in Port Vila and went to Torba province in northern Vanuatu. We wanted to step forward in faith and go there as volunteers.”

Gradually Mark established a small mission station, a midway stop between remote area clinics and hospitals. When someone donated a Maule aircraft, Mark started doing medical aviation work.

The aircraft made it possible for Mark to pick up patients and fly them to his station for treatment. His work as a doctor is recognized and respected by the Vanuatu government, and the locals know him affectionately as Doctor Mark.

When Mark and Naomi first arrived in the province, there was little local Adventist presence. The couple helped to build up a church plant there and eventually started Matafanga Adventist Primary and Special Needs School at the request of Vanuatu Mission.

“It has outstanding academic results, and it's the only school in Vanuatu that seriously caters for special needs children,” Mark said. “It’s been running for six years. We have close to 100 students and are thankful for volunteers from the South Pacific Division who help our team of teachers.”

With the approval of the Vanuatu Mission, Mark and Naomi’s next dream is to establish a wellness center that offers organic food, massage, and other lifestyle treatments. They are dual citizens of Australia and Vanuatu and have adopted two children from Vanuatu.

“We are blessed — we have a church, a mission station, a school, and hopefully soon a wellness center,” Mark said. “And by God's grace, our journey all started with someone handing me a copy of Steps to Christ.”

The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Record.