In September 1993, I was in Manaus, Brazil at an international missions conference. One night the lights went out. As we waited for power to return, the Brazilians pulled out their flashlights and guitars. Singing and dancing ensued and I was caught up in it. Exhausted I sat down next to a tall skinny man in tattered overalls and a long beard. I learned that man was not homeless; he was Dr. Henry Kirby, a YWAM medical missionary from South Africa. He worked in a medical boat on the Amazon. That same boat sunk with one of our student internship teams the following summer.
Sitting in the dark, still catching my breath, I asked Dr. Kirby if he would be willing to accept a few student interns to work with him on his medical boat, he turned on his flashlight and dug down in his satchel. He pulled out a letter he said was from a medical student asking to come. As he shine the light on the letter, I caught the name Matt Acker. “Hey, I know who that is!”
I told Dr. Kirby that Matt was a former intern with our YWAM internship program where he received his call from God to become a medical missionary. After he graduated from Wheaton College, he went on to do his Discipleship Training School (DTS) with YWAM in Denver. Matt was a third-year medical student at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. I asked Dr. Kirby if it would be okay for Matt to bring a team of undergrads in the summer of ’94. He agreed. Now all I needed to do was to ask Matt if he would become one of our internship team leaders.
Matt Acker was a perfect candidate. He had done his first medical mission internship with Mercy Ships in the Caribbean as an undergraduate at Wheaton. He completed his DTS. And he was a medical student. Still, it was a big step for him. My wife, Mary, and I met with Matt and his wife, Laura, at Joe Italiano’s Maplewood restaurant in Hammonton, NJ. I was immediately impressed with Matt.
Eight students from various Ivy League Universities and Christian Colleges joined Matt for the adventure of their lives. Traveling way up the Amazon, the hospital boat brought the team to do medical work in the villages during the daytime and preaching at night. One night pitch black night a storm capsized the boat and everyone was swimming a few hundred feet to shore. Medical supplies and money were lost, but everyone survived. One Brazilian got a severe cut from broken glass while diving to recover items. Matt said they stitched him up on a small boat while “swatting flies off their backs.”
Matt received credit for two elective rotations in tropical medicine from Jefferson Medical College that summer. He said, “It was a nice bonus, but I would have gone anyway.”
Matt and Laura moved to Tulsa, OK where he worked with a medical practice called In His Image, which rotated medical personnel to the mission field. After several trips to a Central Asian country working among medical students and professionals, teaching and sharing the gospel, Matt and Laura decided to move to Central Asia. They spent ten years there as YWAM medical missionaries. They raised their children there and now Matt is back at In His Image helping place medical personnel with their various missions projects around the world.