The Medical Mission
Harvey Doorenbos, MD

Harvey Doorenbos, MDBorn on a farm in northwestern Illinois to Christian parents, Dr. Harvey Doorenbos found his calling at an early age. His mother, a missionary in Nicaraugua in the 1920s, married his father whose first wife was her sister who died leaving small children. His father convinced her that she should consider her mission to help raise her nieces and nephews.

Dr. Doorenbos’ formal education came in a one-room country school with one teacher for eight grades. An avid reader, he learned as much on his own and from his parents as he did from school. Dr. Doorenbos went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Hope College in Holland, Mich., and his medical degree from Northwestern University in Chicago. It was at Hope that he would meet his wife, Margaret.

With never a time in life that he did not believe in Jesus Christ as his Savior, Dr. Doorenbos made a conscious decision to serve Jesus through whatever way he was called to serve Him. That service was to be as a medical missionary. While in medical school, he applied to the Reformed Church in America for an appointment.

The newly minted physician’s first appointment by RCA was the Arabian Mission, specifically the Sultanate of Oman. He spent ten years in the Muslim nation, but by the end of the second five-year term his application for re-entry to Oman was rejected for religious reasons. The Director of Health Services in that country decided only Muslims should be employed to work in Oman. The rejection was overturned by the Minister of Health, but by that time Dr. Doorenbos had already committed to work in Ethiopia. It would be where he would spend the next 24 years of his life.

Arriving in Ethiopia one year after Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by a communist coup, Dr. Doorenbos began work in a hospital made of mud construction. While in that country, he performed general surgeries and, out of necessity, became proficient in cataract and glaucoma procedures. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment in Africa came with his two-year reconstruction of Aira Hospital into a large out-patient and 80-bed in-patient hospital. The total cost for the project was approximately 1.5 million United States dollars. By comparison, hospital construction costs in the U.S. at the time were approximately $1.0 million per bed.

Dr. Doorenbos “retired” from RCA in 1999, but until 2012 offered his services eight months each year as a missionary surgeon furlough replacement. That work took him to India, Kenya, South Sudan, Malawi, Cameroon, Zambia and Liberia.

An early leader of the Pan-African College of Christian Surgeons, he has trained African national physicians to become surgeons, replacing absent missionary surgeons in mission hospitals throughout that nation.
Now officially retired, Dr. Doorenbos and wife, Margaret, have two sons, Dirk and Keith.