Released to soar

June 16, 2017 at 6:00 AM

boelens-examining-boy.jpgDr. Peter Boelens examines a child at the Cary Christian Center in Cary, Miss., during his days in the Mississippi Delta.  (File photo)

(Editor’s note: Dr. Bob LaFleur is a retired emergency room doctor from Grand Rapids, Mich. He is a member of a Partnership Ministry Team to Olancho, Honduras.)

Released to soar

By Bob LaFleur

As it happened, I was thinking through what I wanted to write for this Luke Society blog submission when we received news of the death of Dr. Peter Boelens.

I imagine there will be much written about Pete by different people in different contexts, but I want to be among the first to share some personal reflections on the life of a man who was a mentor and a friend to me.

Growing up in a Christian Reformed community in Denver, I became familiar with the work of the Luke Society when I was in my teens. And I was somewhat aware of the maverick missionary doctor who relocated the Luke Society offices to the delta area of Mississippi and began an outreach to the poor and underserved in that area during some of the most tumultuous times of the Civil Rights movement.

But although I heard Pete speak a few times over the years, I had an education to pursue, a family to start, a career to embark on, and it wasn’t until many years later that I actually got to spend any time with Pete.

That opportunity came in 1988, when I participated in my first medical brigade to Honduras.  Pete was one of the co-leaders of that trip, and I had the chance to see him in action and even to room with him a few of the nights during that trip. That whole experience left an indelible impression on me and in many ways changed the course of my life.

After returning from Honduras, I felt pushed and pulled to do something with my career that involved foreign medical missions. However, I didn’t know what that was supposed to look like.

As we weighed various options, one opportunity that presented itself was for us to work with Pete at the Luke Society office in Vicksburg, Miss. We eventually decided to make the move south, and I ended up working in the same office with Pete for the better part of a year.

I learned a lot about Pete (and about myself) during the time we spent together. In many ways Pete was a “larger than life” character, with interests and abilities in many different areas. It would be difficult to summarize who he was in a few short paragraphs, but some of the things I will most remember about him are the following:

1. Pete was a storyteller.  He spent so much time traveling to so many different places and interacted with so many different people that he had a wealth of experiences to draw from. And with a twinkle in his eye he would relish regaling others with stories of his adventures.

2. Pete was an optimist.  As someone who tends to see the glass as half empty, I often marveled at this guy who had to face some trying and challenging circumstances. Rather than get anxious or down in the mouth, he would usually smile and say, “No problema.” And more often than not, things would work out.

3. Pete was a visionary. He liked to think and act “outside of the box.”  Those characteristics didn’t always endear him to people who expected things to proceed along established pathways and within set parameters. But he was always looking for new angles and new approaches to solve problems. And it was that approach that helped him develop a community health worker program in rural Mississippi, and to focus on using indigenous medical personnel in the Luke Society’s overseas programs, and to scientifically explore the power of prayer in dealing with the issues like anxiety and depression.

4. Pete was driven. He was truly a man on a mission. I know there were times when he relaxed, but I didn’t see too many of them. He was truly one of those guys for whom there was “so much to do, and so little time.”  He had so many different ideas about how to best address so many different issues, that I was surprised he was able to sleep at night!

5. Pete was compelled. This was different from being driven, and to me it seemed to be one of the overriding determinants of who he was and of what he did. As was the Apostle Paul, Pete was compelled by the love of Christ. And also like Paul, the course of Pete’s life was clarified and determined by a personal encounter with Christ. Having met his Savior and Lord, Pete spent the rest of his life traveling the world, sharing the Good News of the Gospel and seeking to bring hope and healing to the lost and afflicted.

Pete continued his work even while he was dealing with the illness that would eventually take him from us. That was just like Pete. He was a faithful servant who certainly fought the good fight.

He was an example and an inspiration to many. We will miss him greatly. But now the “Delta Doctor” no longer needs to ask, “Where Next, Lord?” He has reached his final destination, and he has truly been “Released to Soar!”

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