Ven. Stephen Fagbemi is a medical doctor, consultant community health physician who trained at the prestigious University College Hospital, Ibadan. He is a priest of the Akure Anglican Diocese. He is currently doing a programme in Theology at the Archbishop Vining Theological Seminary, Akure Ondo State. He shares his ministry and professional experience which spans over two decades with Church Times Nigeria
You are a venerable, a medical doctor and now a student of theology. Why study theology at this time?
Well, studying theology is just an attempt to want to know more of God and get myself more equipped for the work of the ministry. It’s what I had always loved to do and I really thank God for the opportunity God has made available through this training that I am presently undergoing.
But one would have expected you would have been a trained theologian ever before becoming a venerable in the Anglican Church. How come you’re a venerable and you’re just being trained?
All along I did not have the opportunity of an institutional training. But I have always done some in-house training which exposed me to the basics. The church saw the need for those of us who did not have such formal training because of some other engagements to do so because of the need to add value to ourselves and the church where we operate. But even at that I have been in the ordained ministry for over 22 years. Over the years some of the bishops that I worked with have been gracious to prefer me.
You are first a medical doctor. One would have thought you will be content with just being a doctor?
I am content with being a doctor but spiritual education is what everybody must get. But I think what made me have inclination for theological education is because of my background. I have a background in the church. My father was a priest I was raised practically in the church. I have always had interest in the ministerial work. The interest in the priesthood became stronger when I was in medical school. That was when the sense of calling became intense. So, when the opportunity presented itself I embraced it. I also see medicine and priesthood as complimentary. Medical science cares for the body while the Church cares for the spirit. So coming into priesthood as a medical doctor makes my work easier.
Tell us about your medical practice and faith. What has been the experience?
I have been fortunate. I trained in UCH which has helped. There is a lot one can do being a doctor and a priest. As a Christian we know that beyond the body is the soul. The soul and the spirit is the real man and there is nothing medical science can do about it. Though medicine can help in the area of mental health, there is a limit to what medicine can do when it comes to life beyond the mundane. So since we believe in the continuation of life it is impossible to despise the spiritual. Medicine can guarantee this life in the sense of taking care of the human body. But it is the spirit of God that guarantees life after death. Faith prepares you for the after-life and gives a reason for your present existence. It is through faith that we know the purpose of living, why we are here and also a sense of accountability.
What in your view constitutes divine health?
Well every health is divine. It is just the methodology of bringing relief to the patient that may be different. Even in medicine we don’t always use drugs. There are different ways people are being cured in orthodox medicine. Sometimes we use knife through surgery to bring healing, sometimes we speak to the patient, sometimes we use drugs, and sometimes we just ask the patient to take certain foods. So medical science is not all about medicine. Not every patient that comes to the hospital needs drugs. There are psychotherapy, radiation therapy and all sorts of ways we use to bring relief to patients and corrections to anomaly in the body. But when the spirit is sick we can’t use drug to cure it. We have to use the word of God. Both are working hand in hand. What theology teaches us is that even the orthodox medicine is brought about by the knowledge God gave to man. So those of us that are practicing medicine see ourselves as instruments God is using to bring relief to man. Just as the pastor counsels people so also doctors do surgery and recommend drugs. But the two are done under spiritual guidance.
We hear stories of patients who claimed some doctors give up on their case; that the medical condition of the patient is beyond them. How will you react to this?
Those stories abound. But I have never seen situation where we ask somebody to do that in my over 20 years of practice. But some people say it. But the truth is that what is beyond one man’s capacity can be solved by another man. There are health institutions with different capacities. It all depends on the knowledge available to somebody per time which determines whether the doctor can provide cure or not. There is always a solution. We don’t give up in medicine. There are terminal diseases just as we know that life has a lifespan; even then we optimize care and make sure the person is comfortable. What is impossible at a level is possible at another level.
As a Christian, a medical doctor and also a priest what would you consider your most exciting moment in practice?
Being a Christian gives me a sense of accountability. I don’t see myself working for government but I see myself working for God. I do my work with all due diligence. I am excited when I remember that my Christian faith imposes some level of morality on me. I seek for assistance from the Holy Spirit at all times. And I am happy that I get guidance and intuition from Him. We have access beyond what is obvious. We have illumination to what is beyond human. Communicating with God makes it easier to solve more problem. That to me is exciting.
What then are your goals as a priest and medical doctor?
My greatest passion as a medical practitioner and a Christian in Africa is how we can bring relief to the suffering of our people. I hope I am able to make a difference where it matters among our people so we can turn things around, so that people can live a healthier lives in Africa.
There are terminal diseases which orthodox medicine can’t cure. But Alternative medicine practitioners sometimes claim these diseases can be cured. How will you react to this?
As a community physician I believe we should listen to what our community is saying. People in our communities over the centuries have always had a way of solving their health problems before orthodox medicine so we should listen to these communities. Africa is just unfortunate that we did not codify our knowledge. We always had knowledge and we have always solved our problems we were not stumbling into trees before the white people came. But we need to investigate and do more research and find out what is useful about the claims of alternative medicine and make it available to wider audience.
But from your years of practice do you see alternative medicine as potent?
It is potent when it is utilized appropriately in the sense that it solves the problem that it is used to address. There are challenges with it. But it can be refined. We should not encourage wholesale condemnation of alternative medicine. Asia is doing well with alternative medicine and it’s a foreign exchange earner for some of the countries in Asia. Faith healing is also another dimension of healing which is also real. Just as in medicine where people receive psychotherapy so also people receive healing to spiritual cases because there are people whose problems have an origin in the spirit. I believe in faith healing. As a Christian who affirms the word of God, I believe in the power of God to intervene in people’s situations miraculously. It is real and it happens every day. Even the drugs were created by God. So there is really no basis to despise any me