"These children are borne to the hospital where our teams await them. They come by whatever means is available, even up to 600 miles where hill tribes . . . live in isolation. They sacrifice much just to have their children seen and considered for surgeries. These families come with the clothes they are wearing, little food and money, if any, and . . . sometimes no shoes. Regardless, they come thankful, focused on their children's needs." GINGER H. ROBINSON
By Julianne Winkler Smith, Physician Magazine
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 sons and 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 to wire jaws together — 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 [1,201 as of Spring 2014] facial surgeries. The surgeries are mostly performed on children who are severely deformed and medically fragile due to cleft lips or palates or other congenital or growth 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 there is more to our purpose."
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 telling of the love of God.
The Face the Challenge doctors, nurses and specialists. On any given Face the Challenge trip there are 10 to 15 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.' "
The in-country humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs)and outreaches. "In many developing countries we invite others living and serving in the destination countries to work with us," Ginger says. "By working together we can 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 help."
Face the Challenge financial donors. "When people see pictures of these children with facial deformities, they want to help them," Randy says. Much like the team members who are extending themselves with the compassion of Christ, these donors may not initially recognize the Robinsons' motivation for the trips. "So we get to share our love of God and others with them, too," he adds.
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. They do impact us deeply. But so does what they witness all around them.
"Face the Challenge teams go into huge areas of oppression and poverty," Ginger explains.
Both Randy and Ginger agree that what they have seen and experienced sometimes defies description.
"It's not what we expected to experience as much by helping heal someone's deformity," Ginger says. "So much, however, about the difficulties of 'living' may be part and parcel of traveling to developing countries. We see it up very close as many try to hold on to hope in the most trying conditions."
Face the Challenge has concentrated on travel to Bolivia (1993 until 2006), Vietnam (1994-present) and China (1997-2000). However, when necessary, the organization sponsors children and adults 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.
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.
"We're willing to be a resource," Randy says. "We'll send instruments, equipment, and luggage 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 (nearly 200 as of 2014 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?"