God Said, “Do It”: How Dr. Lela Lewis Surmounts Challenges in Ministry and Motherhood

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God Said, “Do It”: How Dr. Lela Lewis Surmounts Challenges in Ministry and Motherhood

With a sunny smile that she shares generously throughout a busy week of patient care and planning logistics, Dr. Lela Lewis clearly enjoys what she does. She also leaves everyone wondering how she balances her roles as president of Your Best Pathway to Health (YbPTH), mother to four young children, and professional obstetrician/gynecologist.

Through her work with YbPTH, a nonprofit Seventh-day Adventist organization that has provided free healthcare services to more than 20,000 individuals since its inception in 2013, Dr. Lewis has been instrumental in advancing the combined work of the Adventist health message and the gospel. Pathway to Health has received attention from the national media, city officials, and other government officials, and has attracted volunteers from across the United States and the globe.

The Compass Magazine sat down with Dr. Lewis to talk about last week’s mega-clinic in Los Angeles, how she finds balance, and her dreams for Pathway to Health.

Compass Magazine: Perhaps we could start by asking how you got involved in Pathway and what your current involvement looks like.

Dr. Lewis: I was just the newly elected Pacific Union ASI president, and Don Mackintosh was there [at the conference]. In part of his sermon he essentially said, “It’s nice that we have conventions for ourselves. It’s nice, ASI, that you have a conference. But what are you doing for the people around you? What are you doing for the community where you are having these conferences?” He showed a video of a secular organization providing some free healthcare.

I don’t know—something shot up and down me. It was like God said, “Do it.” And I said, “God, I have no idea how to do this.” And God said, “Do it.”

Nobody had any idea how to do it, myself foremost. But God said, “Do it.” I took it to the very first board meeting with me as the newly elected president. They said, “How are you going to do this?” I said, “I don’t know, but God wants this to be done.”

From there, with many tears, much blood and sweat and perseverance, but also dependence, on our knees, God brought it together. The first event happened and we called it Bridges to Health, and from there, Pathway to Health was born, going national.

You’ve been to a couple places now.

[Los Angeles] is our fifth city. We did San Francisco, Oakland, San Antonio, Spokane, and now Los Angeles.

Lela Lewis is interviewed by Jay Wintermeyer of the Upper Columbia Conference at Pathway to Health - Spokane

Lela Lewis is interviewed by Jay Wintermeyer of the Upper Columbia Conference at Pathway to Health – Spokane

What’s your biggest challenge in coordinating Pathway to Health?

The biggest challenge…that’s a hard question. It’s a hard question because there are unbelievable challenges.

When you do what Jesus wants you to do, Satan fights. But it doesn’t matter because Jesus has already won. But there are more challenges than I can ever possibly describe. The good news is that with the challenges comes the reassurance that you are doing the right thing and the promise that He has already overcome and He will overcome.

Praise the Lord! That’s such a witness. Can you talk a little bit about how you manage your personal family life—you have three kids?—and…

Four children.

Plus you have your leadership in Pathway to Health. So I can imagine that’s a challenge in and of itself. What has been your experience?

My kids are very much involved in Pathway to Health. In fact, all of them claim it as their own baby, if you will.

My 7-year old son has been planning all year long. He wanted to have a special role—he and my 5-year old daughter. They actually were the ones who begged to hand out GLOW tracts. And they did. This year’s children’s program actually allowed the little ones to go out and hand out GLOW tracts to the people in line, which was wonderful. That was my son’s desire.

In fact, he would come to me throughout the year and bring me his little quarters and nickels. He’d say, “Mommy, Mommy, put this in the bucket for more GLOW tracts. Mommy, Mommy, buy us some more GLOW tracts for the people.” So they’ve been saving their pennies and their quarters to help.

These teen volunteers from Fountainview Academy in British Columbia served as dental assistants at YbPTH-LA. (Photo by Sheri Christie)

These teen volunteers from Fountainview Academy in British Columbia served as dental assistants. (Photo by Sheri Christie)

 

Our goal [in Pathway] is to get everyone involved, from the young to the old. It doesn’t matter what you do, how old you are—everyone should be able to have a role, I think. This is what it is: it’s just ministry. So anybody 13 and over is able to “work the floor,” we say. Those younger than 13 go to the children’s program, but they also have various outreach opportunities as well.

So my oldest daughter is 13, and she was my special assistant this time around. She came around with me and did everything I did. It was just phenomenal to see how excited [the young people] are, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

What’s a lesson that you’ve personally taken away, a blessing that you have received?

For months and months we would come over to Los Angeles. I don’t live here; I live in Arizona. So we’d come over to Los Angeles and try to meet with the various dignitaries.

I was driving on the road [on I-10] one day as we were coming to plan, and I looked over at the LA Convention Center and all the millions of cars zooming by. I just started praying and said, “Dear Lord, please help the citizens of Los Angeles.”

We think of just zooming cars, just thousands of people zooming by, but Jesus knows every single person in every single car and every single person in every single house. And they’re just as important to Him as I am to Him.

I said, “Dear Lord, You know who Your Holy Spirit is reaching right now. Please reach them and bring them to Pathway and let us reach them for Your kingdom.” I just started fasting and praying for the citizens individually of Los Angeles.

It transformed me individually because it made me think about Jesus’ personal love. Not just collectively—because He does love everyone—but His personal love for every single person.

What advice would you have for mothers or women in ministry?

Being a mommy and being in ministry and being a professional is hard. It’s hard.

I’m talking to you as a woman—I don’t think that our male counterparts understand necessarily how hard it is. But you know what? I think Jesus has given us a special role, that we can involve our children and it can become their ministry as well. There is a balance, and Jesus can provide that if we keep our priorities straight.

What are some practical tips that you have [for women]? I know we talked about your family and ministry, but also regarding your professional life and ministry.

For example, I’m starting a new job right now. I’m going to start as a laborist, which is essentially an ER doctor for OB. What that allows me to do is shift work. When I have coverage for my kids, then I can go do a 24-hour shift. And then I can be mommy [when I’m done]. And then I’m only mommy, and then I’m only doctor. That, I think, is going to help me get a little better balance.

I’ve also for the last 4 or 5 years had a nanny. That has helped me a lot just to keep my house in order and my kids in order. Finding the perfect nanny is hard, but God will help you do that too.

A big concern for a lot of working women is finding balance. Do you find that balance is something that you get along the way as you…?

This is what I think: if your goal is to serve God, then He will bring everything else in line.

You have to, to make it happen.

It’s what excites me. It excites those of us who love Jesus; you can’t help it! When that happens, you want to involve your children; you want to make your work come into that same structure.

There’s nothing wrong with paying one’s bills—that’s a good thing, but if your focus is “pay the bills, pay off my education debt, make myself a nice home, and get myself very secure, and, oh yes, when I have time to do ministry, I’ll do that as well,” it won’t be the right order.

How do you feel about how Your Best Pathway to Health – Los Angeles has gone? You were telling us about it earlier, but I’d love to get it on record for our readers.

A patient's thank-you note (from Pathway to Health LA Facebook page)

A patient’s thank-you note (from Pathway to Health LA Facebook page)

I am really excited about how it went, in particular for two reasons. Number one: yes, our numbers were spectacular, the highest we’ve ever had.

But much, much greater than that was to see and is to see our Adventist hospitals—Adventist Health, Glendale Adventist Medical Center, Simi Valley Medical Center, White Memorial Medical Center, Loma Linda University Health—and the Southern California Conference, Southeastern California Conference, the Pacific Union, the North American Division, the General Conference, everybody—working together for one common goal. Our Adventist hospitals were just thrilled with the idea.

It’s been my dream, for as long as I can remember, to…[pausing as voice breaks]…transform our Adventist health message to what God wants it to be. I have seen, over the last few days, CEOs of our hospital networks and of our hospitals on the floor as general volunteers thrilled to do service for God. That is thrilling to my soul.

In some ways, you’ve given them a vision that has always been there but just needed to be seen in action.

I haven’t done that, or any other person. This is something that Jesus has been telling us to do for 160 years. You know, when we listen…

What big dreams do you have for the future for Pathway to Health? What would you do if you could not fail?

[long pause] I wish, I hope, that this will result in a mighty transformation of God’s church. I believe it will. I believe it will. As we have clasped hands with the gospel ministry, I think it can transform our church. We can quit bickering and fighting about this and that.

Let’s get to work, let’s get done, and let’s go home.

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Michel Lee is a Ph.D. student studying religion in the United States at the University of Texas at Austin.