I was happy to read in Monday’s (July 9, 2007) Presbyweb about my very good friend, Brett McMichael, and the prospect that he may be nearing an end to his search to find a suitable kidney donor. (See Missionary's bid to find kidney may be near end) However, I want to elaborate on few things that are just touched upon in the article. While many of our missionaries have done extraordinary work, I believe Brett is an example of mission work that truly fulfills what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
My family and I had the privilege of getting to know Brett in 2001 when we were living in Zagreb, Croatia. At first, we were impressed with a man possessed of vision and passion for bringing healing to children in the hospitals of Croatia. But as we got to know more about Brett and his work, it became clear that he is one of those rare individuals who are able to transform reality with their dreams.
The first miracle we became aware of regarding Brett’s work is the effect he has had on Croatian hospitals. He has by his own resolve and risk-taking transformed the approach of Croatian hospitals in how they treat children and how they relate to parents. Before Brett, treatment for children was very impersonal and parents were not permitted to stay with their children in hospitals. Through Brett’s influence and example, he developed and inspired a new atmosphere of personal involvement and interactive treatment for children. He also educated hospital leaders to welcome and encourage parents to stay with their children.
It is important to emphasize that Brett’s work and influence, while centered in Osijek and Zagreb, was a nationwide influence. He was invited to train and assist hospital caregivers throughout all the major medical centers of Croatia. He became one of the very few people who could walk into most any hospital in Croatia and be accepted by the staff as a respected colleague and peer. My wife, Jackie, spent some time working with Brett in Zagreb, and she observed firsthand the complete trust and respect that the doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators placed in Brett and his opinions.
Brett has been the consummate missionary in making sure that his work became multiplied far beyond himself. He was able to leave Croatia having developed entire programs led by Croatians and supported by Croatian society. Perhaps the most renowned of these programs in Croatia is the development of camps for children who have various challenges. Brett started these in 2001. Since then, he has developed camps for children with cancer, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and others. This is doubly incredible when you consider that this is in a culture where parents are extremely protective of their ailing children, and simply did not let them go off with other people, even if they are trained professionals. Brett overcame this cultural barrier. Since the success of that first camp in 2001, these camps have become a national institution, with involvement and support from all sectors of Croatian society: businesses, entertainers, churches, and politicians.
(Photo of Fuzine, a retreat center in the Croatian Alps, where Brett's camps take place)
When I was visiting Zagreb in the summer of 2006, some mutual friends of Brett and mine told me a most amazing story of how much Croatians support Brett’s work. It seems that in 2004, the largest bank in Croatia had wanted to give a special gift to a humanitarian work that has been most significant in its impact on Croatian society. They chose the group Brett had gathered for putting together the camps for children with illnesses. This gift was worth well into the six figure range in US dollars. And as if this wasn’t amazing enough, in 2005 the same bank, the Croatian national television network, and the Zagreb Dinamo (a major European soccer team) worked together to do a television reality series about men trying out to make a soccer team that would play the Dinamo in a nationally televised game. The proceeds from the game were to go to support the work of Brett McMichael’s summer camps for ailing children.
While all this is impressive, it is important to remember that Brett’s work has had a positive effect on Croatia far beyond just changing how hospitals approach the treatment of children and providing a cause celeb for businesses and entertainers. This has affected a whole society. The change in attitudes in medical circles has been one of many strands of transformation for a country that has struggled to free itself of a communistic mentality in governing, has suffered incredibly to fight a war of independence from the former Yugoslavia, and has courageously fought corruption in its economics and politics.
Sure, Brett did not do this by himself, but he did what all good missionaries should do --- contribute to the overall good and progress of the people he is working with. There is no doubt whatsoever that Croatia is a far better country with a far better approach to treating sick and suffering children because of who Brett McMichael is, what Brett McMichael has done, and the Lord who Brett McMichael so faithfully serves.
KEEP THE CELEBRATION GOING!