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Rock Hero: Sean Burgess - April 2010
By Storytelling Team Member

Deep in a Guatemalan jungle, Sean Burgess watched a little Indian boy smile for the first time. That’s when he realized what he wanted to do with his life.

The boy, Manual, had been born with a severe cleft lip. Sean was a 19-year-old premed student on a medical mission trip. He assisted the surgeon who fixed the boy’s face -- and gave him a future in a brutal world.

Sean had wanted to be a doctor since elementary school. Now he knew he wanted to use medicine to serve the unfortunate anywhere in the world.

Rock Heroes aren’t only people who serve the Rock Church or have started an influential Rock ministry. They also are Rock people doing something extraordinary out in the world.

Sean didn’t know it then, but God was making a call on his life to do something more extraordinary than he imagined.

The Power to Heal

Growing up in Bakersfield in a family split by divorce, Sean’s values were heavily shaped by his grandmother Marjory. Even though she fought cancer for 17 years, she had such a heart for serving people that her last words literally were instructing her husband to get out a ham for a family in need. She died 15 minutes later.

Sean’s father, Darrell, a former military man who worked for the federal government, prayed every night with Sean and his older brothers, Jason and Patrick. Sean’s mother, Pamela, influenced him through her dedication as a nurse.

At church on his first summer break from UC Davis, Sean ran into his mentor, Dr. John Young, who invited him to Guatemala. Despite hating to fly, Sean accepted the challenge. The trip, named “Bridges of Faith,” went into a jungle where Westerners had never visited. The dramatic experience showed Sean how medicine has the power to go beyond borders, how it can provide new life, not only physically but socially and spiritually.

“During that trip I found out why I live. God introduced me to my life calling.”

A New Heart

Sean initially thought that that calling was to be a physician. But his route to medical school took a detour in 1998 the day his heart wouldn’t stop racing during UC Davis rugby practice. He was diagnosed with a congenital heart abnormality, and underwent emergency heart procedure. The normally 45-minute operation took six hours; the specialist called its success miraculous.

Recovery put Sean a year and a half behind in his preparations for med school. To get his grades caught up, he entered a postgrad bioscience research program at UCSD in 2002, which is how he got to San Diego -- and the Rock Church.

“I am a product of the Rock,” said Sean. He rededicated his life to Christ there on August 5, 2001. “After sitting in the back of the Rock for many services, I was moved by Miles to do something. I got involved.”

He volunteered for two years in Pebbles Pathway, the children’s ministry, and then served in the Altar Call ministry and Security. During this period Sean also became more involved in medical missions and studied leadership principles.

He finally was accepted into medical school in 2007, but then had a crucial decision to make. God placed on his heart that he could be a doctor, and see one patient at a time. Or, he could become a humanitarian leader, pulling together many doctors and medical personnel to see countless patients -- and needy ones at that.

The Medicine and the Message

Only a few months later God seemed to confirm Sean’s decision by giving him the chance to plan a medical group for Miles Ahead’s 2008 trip to Jamaica.

With Dr. Paul Wagner as his medical director, Sean worked his contacts and acquaintances to recruit 80 medical professionals for the 10-day trip. Four teams host free clinics in Montego Bay, bringing to an estimated 6,000 residents of that Caribbean city $5 million in free medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and health care.

“These sorts of trips have transformational moments, moments of clarity -- that have nothing to do with medicine,” said Sean. “I facilitate those moments.”

The overwhelming success of the Jamaica trip was the foundation for Sean’s newest enterprise: a San Diego-based, Christian humanitarian organization called Iaomai Medical Ministries. “Iaomai” is Greek for “to heal and to cure.”

Iaomai is going to Cayman with Miles Ahead next month, and has another trip planned for Guatemala in October. Sean says reaching out as healthcare professionals is a tangible expression of God’s love: Modern medicine, and the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“What good would it be to bring healing to the body and neglect the soul? Our mission is ministry to both, ‘that some may be saved’.”

Congratulations, Sean Burgess, Rock Hero for the month of April!