Human Interest


What does a doctor do when his employer hires someone else to do his job? When the job you’ve had for 19 years is suddenly eliminated? Most people would be very upset, depressed, angry, or bitter. But not Dr. FB! For him, this was an opportunity to do what he had wanted to do for years—“pack his bags” and head to a remote part Tanzania to practice missionary medicine. He didn’t do it immediately. It takes a lot of time and unique re-education to prepare for such a commitment. And it’s never easy to leave home and family behind.

Dr. FB grew up in Tennessee where his paternal grandfather was a “horse-and-buggy, house-call-making” general practitioner. He did well in school, especially science, and found he enjoyed being around others with interest in science and medicine. His undergraduate college studies were in Nashville, Tennessee, so Vanderbilt University was the natural choice for medical school. To his surprise he was accepted to the school he considered “the epitome” of medical colleges. He earned his MD degree in 1967, and then spent one year in a rotating internship at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan.   

He was considering Family Medicine, but to avoid the draft during the Viet Nam war, chose to be deferred to complete a residency. There were very few Family Medicine residencies in 1968 so he did an Internal Medicine residency instead. He spent his 3 years in residency at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Why Methodist? His wife’s brother was an Internal Medicine resident there and encouraged him to apply. He did and completed his residency in 1971. 

The U.S. Navy now called him. He became Chief of Internal Medicine at a hospital at the submarine base in Groton, Connecticut. His military experience and moonlighting in a nearby ER convinced him that emergency medicine better-suited his temperament and life’s ambitions. After, his navy commitment, he returned to Methodist Hospital to join his brother-in-law’s newly-formed Emergency Medicine group. They were contracted by Methodist to provide full-time physician coverage of the ER. His employment with the group began in July 1973, and he soon became a force behind the establishment of an Emergency Medicine residency program at the hospital. As Director of Emergency Medicine Education, he led one of the first and most sought after EM residencies in the country.

His professional career was well-established. In his time away from the ER, he was able to pursue his growing personal interest in missionary medicine. Nineteen-seventy-six was the year he began to share his Christian faith and medical expertise with others. His first endeavor was a 2-week stint as the camp doctor for a Christian camp for inner city kids in upstate New York. His first foreign mission trip was in November 1977 at Nigerian Christian Hospital. He spent one month alongside Dr. Henry Farrar, a surgeon who established the hospital in 1964. He fell in love with the work and saw a tremendous need for medical care for the people in third world countries. He told his wife, “This is it!”

His work schedule would permit him the freedom to visit Central America or Africa where he served people who had never had any medical care or seen a doctor. Trips lasted from 2 to 6 weeks and were mostly in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Honduras. In the years 1981, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1989, and 1990, he and his wife made these mission trips.

When Methodist didn’t renew his group’s contract, he began working at St. Vincent’s ER. By 1988, he was in full missionary mind-set and spent the next 4 years preparing to serve in Tanzania. Preparation included learning to do C-sections, hernias, appendectomies, fracture care, etc.; things he knew he would do in Africa. He studied missionary medicine, “animism,” cultural adaptation, and Swahili, the language of Tanzania.

Before choosing Tanzania, he made a “survey trip” in 1990 to Kenya, Cameroon, Tanzania, and Nigeria. At the Chimala Mission Hospital in Tanzania, he saw the need was greatest, the climate was tolerable, and the mission was stable. The language barrier was significant, however, and because he didn’t want to use an interpreter all the time, learned Swahili. 

The next phase of his professional life was to retire from his ER group, and start a 5-year commitment to the Christian missionary hospital in Chimala, Tanzania. In July 1992, he and his wife moved to Tanzania. Chimala Missionary Hospital is an 12-hour drive from Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, ie. It’s in the middle of a very remote part of the country. His first 4 months were spent in language school to learn Swahili.

He treated every conceivable medical problem, but trauma and infectious disease kept him the busiest. Obstetrics was big, too, but unlike in the U.S., most patients had no prenatal care. Many came to the hospital in critical condition, bleeding, or with stillborn babies. Malaria was very common and became second nature to him.

His experiences were shared in a book he wrote titled, “Happiness is a fat gecko!” The “house” he and his wife occupied had critters. It was impossible to keep them out of the house, but the Tanzanians who worked at the mission told them if the geckos in their house were fat, it was good because it meant they were eating all the bugs and other things that had gotten in. The stories he tells about their time at Chimala are fascinating. He served there until the summer of 1997 then made other mission trips in 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2018. By then he was 76 years old!

After his 5 years at Chimala, he returned to Indiana and worked full time in the ER (1998-2000). He then became executive director of the International Health Care Foundation in Searcy, Arkansas, living and serving there until 2004. He next returned to Indianapolis and worked part-time in local emergency rooms for 10 more years. His interest in missions continued, however, and he took many trips to Mission Lazarus in Honduras, Zambia, and back to Chimala. 

His longest work, other than Chimala, was 4 months in Zambia where he was the doctor and teacher for a group of students from Harding University. Twice he spent two months at Nigerian Christian Hospital. His most satisfying trip?—the 5 years in Chimala and the introductory trip in 1997.

I asked if he had ever been scared being in a strange country and looking different than other Third World folks. He said, “Really I never felt scared. Of course, there were a number of uncertain and insecure moments: living in different countries, police stops, customs agents, etc. I’ve been accosted with threats, automatic weapons, been threatened to be killed, etc. But not flat out scared: we were in the right and not doing anything wrong and knew God was protecting us.” 

Now age 79, it has become difficult to do the work he loved, but his heart is still with those in the mission field.  

Dr. G’s Opinion: I have nothing but the utmost respect for Dr. FB. He is a hero. He has done so much good for people who have one-millionth the wealth of Americans. His professional life has been devoted to helping the unfortunate, and I have no doubt he has done the best he could for them. Sacrificing the comforts of American life, leaving family and friends behind for 5 years, and making more than 25 medical mission trips to needy countries is the true expression of Christian faith and works. While he was at Chimala, I toyed with the idea of joining him for two weeks. I came close to going, but my own fears and insecurities kept me from saying “yes.” He has more spirit, tenacity, and determination than anyone I know. Read “Happiness is a Fat Gecko.” You’ll love it. 

If I could use a golf analogy; To amateur golfers, getting a hole-in-one is the ultimate achievement. To the Christian medical missionary, spending five years in Africa providing medical care where none exists is far more valuable than 10 holes-in-one and a round in the 60’s, combined. 

I would like to thank Dr. Frank Black for his cooperation in writing this blog and for his service to the people of Africa and Central America.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button