Q&A with CAC alumnus, missionary & neurosurgeon Will Copeland
1. Where are you and your family currently located? How long have you been there?
My wife Alisa and I and our 6 kids are living in Bomet, Kenya. We have been serving at Tenwek Hospital through Samaritan’s Purse since September 2016.
2. What is your mission while you are there?
Tenwek’s mission is to share the love of Christ while providing compassionate, affordable healthcare to our patients, and to provide discipleship as we train local Christian surgeons committed to carrying on this same mission. There has never been a full-time neurosurgeon here, yet the need for neurosurgery in East Africa is great, with an estimated one neurosurgeon for every 9 million people, compared to one for every 65,000 in the United States. That leaves each neurosurgeon in East Africa to do the work of nearly 140! Our family intends to live and serve at Tenwek as long as the Lord directs us. It is our goal to firmly establish neurosurgical care here, eventually to include a residency program.
3. What is something you and your family have learned since being missionaries?
We have learned firsthand that God uses ordinary people to do His work. Growing up when I heard someone was a missionary, I immediately put them on a pedestal. I assumed I wasn’t as committed as them, or didn’t read my Bible and pray as much as them, or struggled with temptation more than they did.
But Alisa and I are just ordinary people. Coming to Kenya hasn’t changed that. I still struggle with my selfishness and short-sightedness, thinking my plans are more important than God’s and that I can accomplish good things for Him without truly relying on Him. Yet He is teaching me that even in my ordinariness, when I surrender myself to Him, my desires to His, He will use me as He exalts His name in this world.
4. What is one thing you’ve seen God do in the past year that changed your perspective?
My first day at the hospital last fall, Joseph, a 63 year old man, came in to casualty (what we call the ER here) after developing a sudden severe headache, followed by a seizure. His head CT revealed a hemorrhage that suggested a ruptured aneurysm, however, we didn’t have the capability to perform the proper studies to locate the aneurysm.
Despite not knowing where the aneurysm was, the pattern of bleeding was suggestive of a particular location…I’d hoped. It’s definitely unnerving opening somebody’s head not knowing what you’re going to encounter. Sort of like walking through a minefield, if I can use that analogy. But thanks to my t(rusty) old dental microscope, I was able to find the aneurysm. Only problem was that as I was dissecting out the aneurysm and preparing to clip it, the scope overheated and stopped working! My patience having already been tested with the many smaller obstacles I’d encountered just to get Joseph to this point in time – on the operating table, his aneurysm found, and ready to be clipped – my first inclination now was to be ticked! You’ve gotta be kidding me! God you brought me all the way out here and now you’re going to let this happen?!
After a few failed troubleshoots at trying to fix the scope, I scrubbed out and paced the empty OR halls alone, racking my brain as to what to do next. Should I abort and leave Joseph with a ticking time bomb in his head? Could I clip this thing with my loupes and someone holding a flashlight over my shoulder? I remember squatting down in the hall and asking the Lord for wisdom and decided I’d at least see what I could do with my loupes and a flashlight. As I scrubbed back in I made one last attempt to turn the scope back on, not expecting anything to happen. So you can imagine my sense of relief as I saw that round light from the scope illuminate the surgical field. I knew that God had provided.
Joseph’s case was a much-needed example that first week that the Lord can accomplish healing here, regardless of whatever limitations I might perceive.
In the hospital I am often doing cases I’ve rarely (or never) done, and even in those cases I’ve done many times, I’m often without some piece of equipment and am left needing to improvise. I’ve found myself in the middle of many cases feeling in way over my head, being keenly aware of my own limitations as a surgeon, and asking God to intervene. That is a humbling situation to be in, but God has demonstrated His provision time and time again.
5. Your wife just had a baby! How excited are you? In what ways will this new addition change the way your family operates?
Yes! We just welcomed our sixth child, fifth daughter, into the world on May 24th. There is always a period of adjustment with a new baby, but already she is bringing such joy to our family. I don’t know that it will change how we operate that much…Alisa and I had to switch to a zone defense a long time ago.
6. You and your wife both grew up in Little Rock and graduated from CAC. What is one thing you gained from CAC that helped prepare you for what you do now?
Growing up going to CAC, we were surrounded every day by teachers and other adults who had made the choice to serve Christ by serving others. It was this type of example early in our lives that influenced us such that we’re now hoping to serve as they did.
7. What are ways that the CAC family can help support you and your family?
It is so encouraging to us to have others get excited about the work the Lord is doing at Tenwek. There are lots of ways to get involved. We need people who are committed to praying regularly for our family, for the patients at Tenwek, and for our community here. We also need people who want to partner with us financially. And if you are able to come serve alongside us for a period of time, we always welcome visitors.
For details on how to join financially with our family, visit www.samaritanspurse.org/wmmgiving. If you are interested in learning more about the work at Tenwek and other ways you might get involved, feel free to email Alisa or I at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.