Facing the Challenge
By Julianne Winkler Smith
At first glance, Randy and Ginger
Robinson seem to live a typical, suburban doctor's family life: He has a
thriving cosmetic surgery practice, and she, a former cardiac and
critical-care nurse, keeps pace with their two teenage sons and preteen
daughter. She also operates all aspects of Face the Challenge, their "on
the side" medical ministry, which is anything but typical.
In early 1993, just after beginning his private practice in Denver,
Randy joined a team of surgeons and traveled to Costa Rica to do facial
surgeries. He then met up with a surgeon friend in Bolivia for more of the
same. But when he had to send a local doctor to the hardware store to
procure additional "medical" supplies — in this case, chicken wire — Randy
knew he could do more. And better. Upon his return home, he and Ginger decided it
was time to put into action the vision they had shared for more than a
decade: to organize and travel on their own medical missions trips.
Since then, the Robinsons have coordinated and led multiple trips to
Bolivia, Vietnam and China, and have performed 306 facial surgeries to
date. The surgeries are mostly performed on children who are severely
deformed and medically fragile due to cleft palates or other deformities
and injuries. But the medical miracles Randy and his teams achieve are not
the primary purpose of Face the Challenge's outreach. Their true focus is
on the miracle of eternal life.
"[It's] a spiritual journey that happens while we're using our gifts,"
Dr. Robinson says. "Surgery gets us in these countries, but that's not
what it's really about."
What is Face the Challenge really about?
Actually, it's not what, but whom:
The children on whom they operate. Their lives are dramatically changed as their health and
appearance improve. Because of their deformities, many of these children —
and their families — are overtly ostracized by their communities. In
correcting the anomaly, Face the Challenge helps heal the family, too.
The local doctors in the countries Face the
Challenge teams visit. Many surgeries are done specifically to
train the on-site surgeons in procedures they've never before performed.
Local facilities are supplied with new skills and precious supplies. And,
of course, there are moments when the door opens to the gospel message.
The Face the Challenge doctors, nurses and
specialists. On any given Face the Challenge trip there are 15
to 20 individuals who all want to help people. "We structure each team so
that only about half are believers," Randy says. "We do this on purpose.
Half the team is there to 'do good,' and while we never questions anyone's
willingness to serve, it gives believers a platform to say, 'What's your
purpose in going?' and 'Here's my purpose for serving.' "
Though Face the Challenge teams have become more diverse over the
years, they include what you might expect — surgeons, nurses and
anesthesiologists. Now they also include those gifted in other ways, such
as feeding specialists, play therapists, evangelists . . . even teenagers.
The in-country missionaries. In many
developing countries, missionaries are seen as propagandizing,
evangelizing or just plain disruptive to the communities. "By inviting
them to work with us," Ginger says, "we enhance their credibility. They
are seen making a contribution to people who have needs, and it elevates
them in the eyes of the those they are trying to reach."
Face the Challenge financial donors. "When people see pictures of these kids with facial deformities, they want
to help them," Randy says. Much like the team members who don't have a
relationship with Christ, these individuals may not initially recognize
the Robinsons' motivation for the trips. "So we get to share the gospel
with them, too," he adds.
Seeing is believing
With the facial transformations they've witnessed over their years of service with
Face the Challenge, you'd think that the surgical outcomes are what most
affect Dr. and Mrs. Robinson. Not so.
"Face the Challenge teams go into huge areas of oppression," Ginger
explains. "Bolivia, for example, has great spiritual persecution. In
Vietnam and China, the governments are horribly tyrannical. You never hear
about Christians being tortured and dying for their faith [in the United
"But we encounter these people overseas!" Randy interjects. "They take
a risk in identifying with the compassion of Christ or even giving us a
clue that they have a relationship with the Savior."
Both Randy and Ginger agree that what they have seen and experienced
defies verbal description. "The torture and murder have become real as
we've met these people face to face," Ginger says. "Their sacrifices are
much greater than us being chided for not being politically correct."
It is difficult to comprehend what believers around the world have to
face on a daily basis. "It's not what we expected to experience by helping
heal someone's deformity," Ginger says. "It's just something that's part
and parcel of traveling to developing countries."
Sharing the wealth
"Sometimes I feel the surgery is almost a sideshow for us to get into the countries,"
Randy says. Doors are closing on traditional ministries. And, because of
their medical focus, Face the Challenge has gone where other missionaries
have not been allowed.
In fact, Face the Challenge has gone where even other medical missions
have not. "Some of our trips are 100 percent P.R.," Randy says, "just to
create relationships. This way we are able to go back later — with a
larger team, for a longer period of time."
Face the Challenge is currently concentrating on travel to Bolivia,
Vietnam and China. However, when necessary, the organization sponsors
children to come to the United States for surgeries too complex to be done
in their home country. Face the Challenge also provides surgical supplies
and equipment to foreign doctors and facilities.
And invitations to other nations keep coming. But because Face the
Challenge is a small organization — what the Robinsons believe is God's
directive at this time — the ministry remains selective as to the number
of trips they take and to where. They are eager, however, to help others
do likewise. [See "So You Want to Be a Medical Missionary?" below.]
"We're willing to be a resource," Randy says. "We'll send instruments
and equipment if we can't send a team. We want to share what we have."
Randy and Ginger Robinson and the myriad participants of Face the
Challenge have made an indelible impact on numerous individuals. The
extent of their effect and the number of changed lives is yet to be
determined. Two things, however, are certain: The needs are great, and
they can't do it all themselves.
"So you want to be a medical missionary?"
Julianne Smith is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs
Photo of Ginger and Randy courtesy of Gaylon Wampler.