Main Image: Dr Neil and Gwen Wetzig with members of staff from Heal Africa in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
It was just on twenty years ago that Brisbane surgeon and AusHEAL director Dr Neil Wetzig, was first invited travel to what was then a war zone, in the African nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
It was a meeting with Dr Joe Lusi, the co-founder of Heal Africa, and an orthopaedic surgeon, who had a vision to train up African doctors and surgeons to serve not only their nations and communities, but also as a ministry to the war torn and often lawless DRC.
Dr Wetzig told 96five’s Alex Milne that he first met Dr Lusi as the Congolese surgeon travelled Australia searching for medical professionals who could lend their expertise to the central African country.
“He was travelling around Australia and he was looking for specialists who would be willing to travel to the Congo and train doctors that he had in a Christian hospital in Goma, which is in the countries east on the border with Rwanda.”
“Dr Lusi said that if he sent doctors out of the country to be trained, they often did not return due to the insecurity and conflict. I think the thing that struck me with that meeting with Joe was him saying that when he operated on someone, he believed he was operating on the image of God.”
After a visit to the Heal Africa Hospital in 2003, Dr Wetzig spent another three years talking to friends and colleagues, finally leading their first team to the Congo in 2006.
Following that initial trip, Neil and Gwen began taking multi-disciplinary medical teams to Goma every year, and was heavily supported by their home church of Gateway Baptist. But there was a desire to do more for the medical professionals under the instruction of Dr Lusi.
“Around 2014, Gwen and I felt like we could do much more if we were in the Congo long term, so I finished up my Brisbane surgical practice so we could stay there for longer periods.”
Gwen told Alex that although it was a big decision, they knew God was calling them to give more time to the hospital in Goma.
“We prayed about when would be the right time to finish up in Brisbane”, said Gwen. “His practice was a large and busy surgical practice but we felt it was right, so now we live in the DRC up to six months a year.
“Mid year we will come back to Brisbane for fund raising purposes and to pull together the medical teams and do training with them ahead of going over to the DRC.”
Dr Neil and Gwen Wetzig now head up the not-for-profit AusHEAL, which empowers medical professionals in low and middle income countries to deliver better and sustainable healthcare.
In 2020, Neil and Gwen were both presented with Order of Australia awards, in recognition of their commitment through Heal Africa to improving health outcomes for people in the eastern DRC.
And twenty years on from that initial lightbulb moment, the passion for training up staff and caring for those in the developing world is still as strong as ever.
“It’s hard to tell people that Jesus loves them when they’re sick, and they can’t access safe healthcare – that’s why we do it. As well as delivering medical care and training people to deliver that medical care, we’re also discipling people as well.
“The dignity of life (in the Congo) is often not well respected because death and destruction is so common place there. We’re training the people we work with that every life is valuable, and there’s been great stories of patients who have been saved to then go and serve their own people and communities.”
Listen to the full interview with Dr Neil and Gwen Wetzig in the audio player above.