It was the first time that I’d learnt that holding back tears was impossible
I held his tiny hand as his grandmother cradled him.
My eyes examined, but my heart broke.
Years later in reflection, I didn’t realise that this moment would live with me forever as a defining moment in my medical journey.
What had started off as a scabies infection was now secondarily infected with bacteria and I couldn’t imagine the pain that he would be experiencing.
The skin on his hands was indistinguishable, now a mix of red inflammation, yellow pus and peeling skin that I’ve never seen before.
This was rural Zimbabwe, not suburban Perth.
I knew how to treat this. That was easy. We had brought medications with us and we could arrange follow up for this beautiful 18month old boy.
But what wasn’t easy was the confronting and contrasting thoughts that were running through my head of my son Samuel, who was home in Perth with my wife Kylie.
I imagined he would be playing, maybe drinking some warmed milk, bathed, clean and dressed, waiting to be read to before bed.
He would have been spoiled at my mum’s house, as it was Thursday and then fed a home cooked meal and would go to sleep that night in his own room, extravagantly furnished and decorated as our first child.
I asked myself this disturbing thought, “How could two boys be born across the world at the same time, experience such different lives?”
“IT ISN”T FAIR” I screamed in my head.
Tears welled up in my eyes.
I bit my lip, hard. Glassy eyed, I paused and lowered my head, causing a tear hit the dusty ground.
Jill, the registered nurse working with me asked “Are you okay?”.
My lip would have been bleeding. More tears.
My thoughts were,“Not okay, not okay not fair, don’t cry, don’t cry, get up, go!”.
I excused myself quickly, obviously affected by what I’d seen.
Sure I missed my family, but more than that it was the disparity in the quality of life, the extreme poverty and the unfairness of it all, manifested in one scabietic, staph infected little hand, that overwhelmed me.
It represented the poor hygiene and living conditions that this little boy didn’t choose:
It was the poverty that he was born into.
A country with an unstable government and citizens in despair.
The clear and sharp contrast of my comfortable life in Australia as well as being an educated and well paid professional.
I hadn’t come on a mission trip to Zimbabwe expecting to be affected in this way. To be honest, I am not sure what I was expecting.
I was the only doctor on our trip and the days had been long and the lines of people waiting to see us had seemed endless. But we all summoned an energy that was supernatural, as we saw the broken, sick and dying around the city of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.
Seven year reflection
I have never talked openly about this trip, let alone written about it.
But not a week passes, that I don’t reflect on my life-changing experience in Zimbabwe.
As many who have been on missions and overseas medical trips will attest, the experience can be so overwhelming, that the details and some of the heartbreaking moments can be lost, but all blend into one central theme.
The central theme from my trip is distilled into everything that I write about and the lens by which I am learning to live through each day,
Extreme thanksgiving and immense gratitude for everything that I had been given
When I returned home, I realised how rich I truly was.
I lived in a leafy upper-middle class suburb in Perth. We owned two cars, had cash in the bank for emergencies and a house with four rooms, two of which were vacant every night. More than that, we had surplus cash each week, which was mostly spent on sushi but we also saved and took fantastic holidays as a family.
As a trainee doctor my income may have been lower than my specialist colleagues, but it undeniable that we were extremely comfortable.
But compared and contrasted to the rest of world, we were in the top 1% of income earners, earning more than $43,500(AUD) a year.
In the developed world, we often fall into the comparison trap, fueled by social media and our inherent insecurities, this is the enemy of gratitude.
The disparity of wealth which I had experienced, affected me quite significantly and it was disturbing to me how much I had taken for granted in my way of life:
The safe environment, free from civil war and unrest.
Reliable banking systems and economic policy
Solid infrastructure, electricity and clean water
Free world class health
Abounding opportunity and freedom for anyone willing to work hard and have a go
The purpose of wealth
The disparity of wealth affected me significantly and changed the way that I looked at money.
I could never look at it the same way again.
Its purpose had changed.
It wasn’t to be stored in the bank, hoarded for generations, for an easy life for myself in retirement.
I’d seen first hand and had a revelation that:
The reason of having more, is to give more.
This is the true purpose of wealth.
I had spent the great majority of my life running to get rich, in acquiring assets and becoming a more valuable professional, to earn more money.
But my trip to Zimbabwe placed me on a different course, because I’d learnt that:
To truly be rich, it is about being rich to others
Being rich to others isn’t necessarily about money, but about using our gifts, talents, energy and time to serve others. That is how we become rich!
Whilst it may be exciting to chase riches and financial independence, I believe that nothing else will make you feel as rich, as being generous to others, especially those who may have no way of ever repaying you in this lifetime.
Think about the last time you gave to someone in need and saw a tangible change in their circumstances and outlook, how did it make you feel?
That is the true meaning of being rich.
The way forward
This theme has changed my life, because the process of giving has been an absolute antidote to greed and want in my life.
It is impossible to give generously from your heart and to continually be in want
So how can we move forward in being rich?
My advice would be to give of your time, your talents and if you can, your wealth.
Maybe there is social cause that is close to your human experience or you may have time to be able to give of your expertise or presence.
Giving is sacrificial is an act of servant leadership. We lead by making a difference in someones elses life.
If you want to see love, mercy, goodness and the cause of justice advanced in the world, it is up to you to find your own unique way of giving unto to others.
My trip to Zimbabwe showed me that whilst large and logistically complicated acts are greatly valued and help immensely,
Simple, sacrificial acts performed regularly throughout your life will have a significant impact on the lives of others but most of all the value to your heart and soul is IMMEASURABLE
Giving and money
With respect to money, one way that I have found which keeps you connected to an increasing or variable income is percentage giving.
Because as you earn more, you are able to give more as a percentage of your income. The best way is to start small (1–2%) and grow it each year.
As much as I am concerned about my net worth, God has powerfully shown me that what matters most, is what I do with with what I’ve been entrusted with.
If you are reading this and do not feel rich by way of comparison, bank statement or circumstance, I challenge you to
At the end of life, it will be about your family, in the richness of time that you’ve spent with them but also about the people you’ve impacted along the way with your generousity, not just with money but with your gifts, talents and time.
Please live intentionally.
Love always relentlessly, it is the only way.
Enjoy your health, please do.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, please share it and join the conversation below. It would mean the world to me. Thank you!
Dr Jonathan Ramachenderan
Zimbabwe Mission Trip 2010 Picture Album
Jason James — Cosmos Health Director, Registered Nurse and fearless Leader
Stephen Dewing — Team Leader, Pastor, Wise Counsel, Prayer Warrior, Pilot
Cathy Weaver — Lead Registered Nurse and wise decision maker
Gillian- Registered Nurse, Compassion, understanding, comforter
Karina Caldwell — Physiotherapist, public health advocate, passionate leader
Luke Caldwell — Pastor, Leader, Mentor, Helper
Jonathan — Doctor
Tecla — House keeper
Unkelele — Groundskeeper and driver
These are couple of the organisations that we send our love to each month (this isn’t an endorsement or advertisement but rather the organisations we’ve had a personal connection with)
Cosmos Health Care — Brilliant healthcare mission organisation that I went to Zimbabwe with. Always looking for volunteers
Compassion Australia — Champion of the local church and empowerment of the community.
OM (Operation Mobilisation) — We support OM due to personal relationship with our neighbours who are serving in the mission field
5 comments on “How a life changing trip to Zimbabwe taught me to be rich”
Amazing Jonathon as usual. And yes, it did bring a tear to my eye. We are so blessed in this country..Janet
Dear Janet thank you, I am sorry to have brought a tear to your eye. You are absolutely right, we are blessed beyond measure. Going on this trip changed the way I think about our health system and when I catch myself complaining, I give myself an internal rebuke!
Hi Jonathan, visiting dear friends in Pakistan at the moment.
Identify with so much of what you shared. …. Even though I have experienced this on our journeys with the ships I was overwhelmed yet again by the daily suffering of many and the disparity of those that have and those that don’t.
AND yes reminded again of the immense privileges I enjoy by being born Australian.
(Crying too over our country’s treatment of the men on Manus.)
Thank you for sharing.
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Dear Althea, thank you for reading and replying. It took me while to understand that whilst I couldn’t help everyone, there were few, close to my heart, whom God has impressed on us, that we could help.
Can I please say Althea that Matthew and you are examples to many of how to live in the developed world but have a heart and mind for those who are suffering and in need around the world. Thank you!
I love reading about your experiences on earth. This experience touched me, as it did you. We have such a rich and abundant life on earth, I love that we share it with others. Your words are music to my ears 💕💕