Dr Natalie Henley*, GFA World, shares her story.
I always used to say the NHS was like the family business. My father was a GP, both my brothers are doctors, and my earliest memories involved being around hospitals, including joining in Christmas staff social events as a family and meeting Father Christmas on the ward.
Hospital culture was ingrained in me and I felt called to become a doctor and serve the physical needs of people as part of the NHS.
I’ve worked in the NHS for just over 30 years and have served as a GP in the same practice for nearly 24 years. GPs have unparalleled access to the heart of a community, especially in poorer neighbourhoods where the needs are very great and people struggle to travel to the local hospital. I have cared for four generations of the same family and as a GP, we’re there at the very significant times in a family’s life. The birth of a child, serious illness, death, bereavement, depression.
We share life’s journey with people
It’s chaotic, often stressful, but also an incredible privilege to be part of people’s lives as ‘extended family’.
Medicine is at the core of who I am, but since becoming a Christian as a student I had a growing inner conviction that something was still missing. I knew that the Lord had more in store for me, but it wasn’t until recently that I realised what this was. God had set my heart on becoming involved in work overseas. Not to drop everything I knew and become a missionary, but to use my skills and experience as a GP to help serve those in need, especially in Asia.
After meeting GFA World (GFA) – a Christian overseas missional charity – at the Keswick Convention my eyes were opened and my life was transformed. I immediately began supporting overseas workers and then went overseas myself. The depth of poverty I saw was overwhelming and made me question whether I felt able to return, and whether I wanted to give up my professional medical career and ‘extended family’ at home.
I thought I had seen deprivation in parts of the UK, but it is incomparable. However, the call of God is difficult to ignore, and I found myself increasingly drawn to Asia and keen to return. And I did.
A few years ago I visited a hospital that GFA has connections with in Asia, to share about chronic disease management. Upon arriving, I was staggered by the impact the hospital had on patients. Patients received prayer ministry before surgeries. A chaplain prayed over the intercom three times a day, reaching every room in the hospital and also blessed people with songs and Psalms. Bibles were given away every day. A chapel was right in the centre of the hospital inviting all for worship, visible and audible from every floor of the hospital.
Then the pandemic happened. Suddenly I, and every other able-bodied doctor, was needed by the NHS. After the pandemic, I made the decision to speed up my retirement and move from my professional medical career to accept GFA’s invitation to take on the role of Medical Missions Coordinator.
GFA has recently had a door open up in Rwanda, supported by the Rwandan government and church leaders, and one of the main things they will be doing is starting medical ministry initiatives, including reaching out to rural areas, ultimately bringing hope and the love of Jesus to all who are in need. I’m thrilled that I will be tasked with raising awareness for this new venture and helping to birth a new chapter of ministry!
For many, retirement can bring mixed feelings, and often it can bring a sense of dread. Work makes up a huge part of our identities and its loss can result in a lack of purpose and sense of self. Even my father felt a sense of loss and that his value and worth were diminished when he retired from medicine.
But for me, retirement from my professional career meant new life. It was my deep conviction of the Lord’s calling and passion for the vision He has given me that was leading me forward in this new and exciting phase of my life.
This was not retirement, but rather finding my true purpose; one that He has been leading me to all along and one that I can dedicate the rest of my life to
So no longer do I head to the practice as a professional doctor. Both I and my patients had tears in our eyes when I broke the news. But we had known each other for years and they understood why I was leaving. It is exciting yet terrifying, but I know I’m walking in God’s plan for my life. I’m professionally retired, but a new chapter of my life is just beginning.
I’ve learned that God’s call can come at any time. It can never come too late. It’s been an amazing privilege to serve as a doctor, but I believe my best years are still ahead of me. If you’re sensing a stir to do more for the kingdom of God, perhaps it’s the Holy Spirit nudging you to make a leap too. I encourage you to pray, keep seeking God and always be ready to say ‘yes’. Your greatest adventure could be just round the corner.
To find out more about GFA World, visit https://www.gfauk.org/
* this is a pseudonym, used for the safety of the writer