American Medical Missionary Wins Prestigious Jewish Prize for Work in Liberia

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(Picture courtesy: Steve King, Worcester Magazine)

Dr. Rick Sacra, the winner of the 2018 L’Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Missionary Service, spoke with CBN’s senior international correspondent George Thomas about life as a medical missionary in Africa.

Jewish philanthropists Mark and Erica Gerson created a major prize in 2016 to honor the heroic work of Christian missionary doctors serving in Africa.

“The Christian medical missionaries are people, who at a young age decided to devote their lives completely and totally, and in ways that we find unimaginable, to serving the poor and the dispossessed in Africa,” Mark Gerson told CBN News.

Known as the L’Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Missionary Service, the award gives the recipient $500,000 to help improve the continent’s medical care.

“These Christian missionaries go into environments that are completely forbidding {and} give up everything that we in the West consider necessities, in order to fulfill their religious obligation to serve the poor,” Gerson said.

The 2018 winner of the L’Chaim Prize is American medical missionary, Rick Sacra.

“This prize is going to make a big difference,” Dr. Sacra told CBN News from Liberia’s capital city Monrovia.

In a collaboration between African Mission Healthcare Foundation (AMHF), which Mark Gerson co-founded, and the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), the grant will, among other things, help raise a new generation of trained Liberian doctors.

“It’s going to support us training Liberia’s first cohort of family physicians,” Sacra told CBN News. “Secondly, (this prize) will help us establish an ICU and a critical care program at our hospital so that we can take care of those sickest patients.”

Dr. Sacra and his wife Debbie are no strangers to the Africa continent. For over 20 years, the couple worked in the West African nation of Liberia.

“Rick Sacra has been a family medicine doctor since 1995 in Liberia, a country of 4.5 million people and 300 doctors with no or very little advanced care,” Gerson told CBN News in an email announcing the 2018 L’Chaim Prize winner. “The Sacras were called to Liberia in the midst of the Liberian Civil War — and stayed throughout all of the fighting to bring medical care to the poor, leaving only to treat the war refugees in Ivory Coast.”

In 2014, Dr. Sacra, a family physician from Massachusetts, contracted the Ebola virus while treating patients at a Christian hospital in Liberia’s capital city Monrovia.

“While delivering a baby to a sick mother with a high fever, Dr. Sacra contracted Ebola,” Dr. Jon Fielder, an American medical missionary serving in Kenya and co-founder of AMHF, told CBN News.

Sacra survived, and less than a year after contracting the deadly disease, he returned to Liberia to help his fellow medical colleagues rebuild the country.

“At the height of the Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa and spreading fear around the world, Dr. Rick Sacra, serving with the mission SIM, voluntarily returned from furlough in Massachusetts to assist his colleagues at ELWA Hospital in the capital city of Monrovia, Liberia,” Fielder told CBN News in a statement.

CBN News interviewed the Sacras shortly before they returned to Liberia that year.

“I was just focusing on the Lord. I tell you I hung on to the Lord’s Prayer like a drowning man,” Sacra told CBN’s Heather Sells. “I prayed through that prayer many times a day and just wept through it most of the time.”

During his battle with Ebola, Debbie Sacra was unable to be at her husband’s bedside because of the highly contagious nature of the virus. She remembers reading scriptures with him via Skype.

“You just learn to trust God more deeply,” she told CBN News. “You just learn to trust that He’s in control and that He’s really good.”

The Sacras say faith has always been a critical motivating factor in their desire to help the less fortunate.

“Ever since I was a child I was motivated by the words of Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan,” Rick Sacra said during an interview from his home in Monrovia. “(The Lord’s) encouragement that we need to love our neighbors and take care of those who are hurting, I’ve just carried that with me ever since I was a kid.”

The first L’Chaim Prize award in 2016 went to Dr. Jason Fader, an American medical missionary serving in a remote village in Burundi. The 2017 prize went to Dr. Russ White, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya.

Learn more on how you can support the work of medical missionary doctors in Africa here.

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