“Except for the selfish human heart, nothing lives just for itself.”*
These words, written by Seventh-day Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White, motivated dermatologist John Chung to examine his life and probe what it meant, in his professional practice, to love God first and neighbor second. “What does it mean when in the Bible, Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart?” Chung asked. “What does it mean in real life?”
As one of the October 28 group leaders at the Networking Walks during the 2022 Adventist Medical Evangelism Network (AMEN) conference in Myrtle Beach, North Carolina, United States, Chung shared an experience that is still transforming his professional life and outlook on selfless service.
“In Matthew 22:37, Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves,” Chung said. “But what does it mean in real life, in my daily professional practice? I have wondered more than once about it,” he said.
A Desperate Case
Chung, however, soon would have an opportunity to start answering his own questions. The mandate to put God and neighbor before one’s natural selfishness became extremely real when he welcomed a patient nobody else wanted to treat.
“It was a desperate case,” Chung said. “The 40-year-old woman had a case of a malignant invasive melanoma. From one of her feet [the cancer] grew like clusters of grapes, and she was in constant acute pain. A CT scan revealed that the cancer had already spread to her lungs and other organs in her body.”
Chung explained that the woman had sought treatment at other health care institutions, to no avail. “Every treatment she had received had made things worse,” he said. “In the last health care institution she had been, the woman had been openly told, ‘There’s nothing else we can do. Please leave and don’t come back,’” Chung shared. “The temptation was just as big for me to give up, to tell her there was nothing else I could do either, other than helping her get ready to die.”
A Long Prayer List
But Chung knew what he had to do. He keeps a long list of names of friends and patients in his phone, and next to each name he writes specific issues so he can pray for them every day. Chung gave the woman his cell phone number and told her he would pray for her. Morning and evening, Chung began to lift that woman up before God, asking Him to somehow help her and give her peace. He would call her often, to check on her and remind the family they were present in his morning and evening prayers.
“At the same time, it was important to somehow ease her constant pain,” Chung shared. He suggested to the family that in her case, the best he could do to help her was to amputate her leg above the knee. The woman acquiesced.
Meanwhile, Chung kept pleading with God. Lord, please help this lady, he would pray.
Looking for a Solution
Chung also called the incoming AMEN president, John Shin — a friend whom he describes as “a very godly oncologist” and who trained at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“John, is there any experimental medication or treatment currently being tried for malignant invasive melanoma?” Chung asked him.
Shin didn’t answer right away, but eventually told Chung about a new trial for melanoma taking place at Emory University.
Chung kept praying. God, what should I do?
Unlike trials at the NIH, which can be free, the Emory trial involved paying a significant amount of money. As the woman didn’t have any money, Chung ended up giving her his credit card and extra money for gas, so her husband could drive her to the trial location.
“Last time I talked to her, she is actually responding to the medication,” Chung said. “She has no pain, and the cancer is going away. She is doing well!”
A Test from God?
This experience reminded Chung once more about the importance of prayer. “Prayer makes a difference,” he said. “When you actually say your patients’ names and the specific issue they are facing aloud, your prayers will start making a difference.”
That “going the extra mile” for other people, putting them first can only be done when we take the focus off ourselves, Chung said. “I usually have so many things to do. I am a very busy professional. I know that if I focus on myself, I am not going to do it,” he said.
“It’s easy for medical professionals to say, ‘Sorry, there’s nothing I can do,’” Chung said. “It happens that sometimes, you come to a point where you say, ‘It’s not my problem; she’s going to die anyway.’ In those cases, it’s very easy to give up.”
But Chung believes that through lost cases such as the one he is still experiencing with that 40-year-old woman, God is testing him. “He sends people who everyone else has given up on,” Chung said. “He wants me to experience what it really means to love God and my neighbor.”
Partnering with God
Chung said that while we depend on Jesus and His name for healing, it pays to follow what God expects from us in our relationship with our neighbor. “We may have the temptation sometimes to put ourselves, our needs first,” Chung said. “In human terms, there is no end for what a selfish heart wants. But it feels so good when we move past our natural selfishness to focus on others. Living the abundant life is living for other people.”
At the same time, it is very rewarding to know that we can partner with God to benefit other people, he said. “It’s such a great feeling to experience that God is real,” Chung said. “We participate in God’s work. He does the work and brings the healing. But we are His partners.”
*Ellen G. White, Humble Hero (Boise, Id.: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 2009), p. 7.