Steve Withington is an elder at South West Baptist Church. He is a health professional and a recent past board member of Christian Medical Fellowship New Zealand (CMFnz). This is his story.
Tell us a bit about your medical background
I am currently a rural hospital specialist working part‑time in Ashburton Hospital and a part-time senior clinical lecturer with the University of Otago, training future rural hospital specialists and other rural health professionals for New Zealand and the Pacific. I am also engaged in rural health research.
In the past I have worked as the director of both the Danish Bangladesh Leprosy Mission and the Leprosy Mission Bangladesh, as an internal medicine specialist at Ashburton Hospital, and as the executive director and physician at LAMB Hospital in northern Bangladesh.
What does Christian Medical Fellowship New Zealand (CMFnz) do?
CMFnz is a network of Christian doctors and medical students. It supports the work of Christian doctors both here and overseas, acts as a national voice on medical and ethical matters, and offers training to healthcare professionals who seek to be more effective witnesses to Christ in their workplace. This training is called the Saline Process. Saline, of course, is an essential fluid treatment that doctors use to resuscitate sick patients. It reminds us of the need, as Jesus said, to be salt (and light) in our world.
What has been your involvement with CMFnz?
I have been a member of CMFnz on and off since I was a medical student in 1981. I stood down from the CMFnz board in June 2020, after two years. For the last 12 months I held the advocacy role for CMFnz, in its stance on ethical issues affecting society in general and the medical profession in particular. These issues include euthanasia and the End of Life Choice Bill referendum, but also legislation regarding abortion and cannabis, and ongoing ethical issues around equity of access to health and health care, and the interface of technology and health.
What is the connection between your faith and your choice of service and profession?
My faith was pivotal in my choice to enter medicine, to leave it for a brief time in favour of church-based youth work, to combine working in medicine part-time with part-time pastoring (at South West Baptist) from 2006 to 2012, and in the call to be involved in medical mission in Bangladesh for 11 years. I am passionate about supporting the call, preparation and ongoing service of others in medical mission.
I have always sought to be a Christian health professional, i.e. to express my following of Jesus in my work life, and other aspects of life, with sensitivity and respect. I’ve also always been interested in how we, as Christian doctors and medical students, can encourage our fellows to be followers of Jesus in healthcare, medicine and society, and to integrate our faith into every aspect of our lives.
The journey from student to doctor is not an easy one. There are many pressures of time, travel, emotion and exhaustion, and faith needs nurturing along the way. People sometimes need pointers and/or mentors to help answer some of the profound ethical and existential questions that crop up in this journey—like how to walk humbly and grow, with resilience, when things don’t go as well as we hoped in the healing process.
Jesus was and is a healer, and it is a privilege to seek to follow him in seeking the health and healing of individuals and communities in our times, with many and varied challenges. As Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, NIV). It was this Scripture in the Bengali language that inspired my return to Bangladesh in 2013 and that continues to inspire my desire to serve him here in New Zealand—in hospital, home, university, neighbourhood and church.