Member Spotlight: Gregg and Kelly Schmedes

Kathryn Nielson  ·  Aug 30, 2017

Gregg and Kelly Schmedes go where the need is.

Earlier in Gregg's medical career, that was to Cameroon, where he was a teacher and surgeon for Samaritan Purse’s World Medical Mission from 2014-2016.

Now the need is in New Mexico. Gregg is the state director of the American Academy of Medical Ethics’ there, leading the efforts against legislation that would allow physician-assisted suicide. He also teaches medical students at the University of New Mexico.

The aim of AAME is to protect and promote the values that have provided the foundation for Western medical care, with their focus right now on physician-assisted suicide. 
Gregg has testified at committee hearings and helped to organize a caucus led by Christian legislators with the goal of explaining the danger of the bill to non-Christian legislators. He has also raised money to create a video on the topic to present to members of the New Mexico Senate.

“The Church is in a veritable David vs. Goliath battle with physician-assisted suicide,” Gregg says. “The lobby that promotes this culture of death has tens of millions of dollars at their disposal each year. This allows us to rely all the more on God.”

Doctor-assisted suicide 'poison to my profession'

His passion to preserve traditional Western values in medical care led him to become involved in the 2017 New Mexico legislative session. He lobbied against legislation like the End of Life Options Act and in support of the Partial and Late Term Abortion Ban, Born Alive Infant Protection Act, and Parental Notification of Abortion.

“It’s an absolute poison to my profession to allow doctor-assisted suicide,” Gregg says. “And the Church doesn’t even understand sometimes what is going on.”

That needs to change, Gregg says. Personal passion isn’t enough to deter the poison of physician-assisted suicide spreading across America. The Church’s involvement is of paramount importance, according to Gregg, starting with awareness as to why it is such a “grave danger to the Church and society.”

“We need a better theological understanding of why God opposes physician-assisted suicide,” says Gregg reminding us of 1 Corinthians 15:26, which says that death is the last enemy to be destroyed, not a means to end suffering. 

“God is glorified when His people aid those who are suffering,” Gregg says.

Educating the Church

He also wants the Church to be educated not just on the subject of physician-assisted suicide but also why there is a movement supporting it.

“It all comes down to worldview,” he says. “Supporters believe that humanity exists by random chance.”

Guided by the principle of “rational utility,” followers of this movement believe in population control, stating that people are the problem. Because of this, human beings are considered to have no inherent value above other life forms.

Gregg describes the movement’s rationale as: If dying people use up the majority of health care dollars in the final six months of life, we can hasten their death and redirect those funds toward the younger population. Therefore, it’s sometimes OK to kill another human if it satisfies “rational utility.”

But he explains, “The Church must uphold the truth that all life is sacred and bears God’s image.”

Though the issues are daunting, Gregg encourages every believer to work against physician-assisted suicide and abortion at some level by being good stewards of government, which God has instituted. This can be through local elections, calling state and federal representatives and senators, speaking with pastors and elders, Bible study, and—in everything—prayer. 

“I never thought I’d get involved in any sort of legislative thing, but that’s the need,” says Gregg.

To New Mexico through Cameroon

His current position in New Mexico would not have been possible without first going to Cameroon to teach and work. While there, he met his current boss who, at the time was on his first mission trip and just “so happened” to offer Gregg a job.

The road to Africa started on Sunday at church during his years in residency in Charleston, South Carolina. An African pastor preached on Matthew 9, which discusses a plentiful harvest but few laborers to bring it in. The pastor asked the audience to pray that God would raise up workers to come to Africa because the harvest was plentiful.

“His comments, particularly on the piece of Scripture, were really cutting to me, very motivating,” says Gregg. “And I evaluated my life and my walk with Christ, and I thought, ‘How can I make a big career decision when I finish all my years of training if I’ve never seen what it’s like in areas where there is no medical care available or very little available?’ And I decided that ‘I’ve got to go while I’m still in my training. Otherwise, I’m going to miss the boat. My career is going to steer me instead of being more intentional about it.’”

Gregg was no stranger to missions. He had organized and led trips to Mexico as president of the Christian Medical and Dental Association chapter in medical school. But those trips were very short term and born more out of tradition than calling.

As a first step, while still in surgical training, he started planning a mission trip to Burundi, Africa, primarily to meet doctors and assess their needs. It “turned into a full-blown surgical mission trip where we operated every day.”

Following that initial trip, Gregg and Kelly went back to Africa and began planning for their eventual move there. Through the post-residency program with World Medical Mission, they and their three children ended up in Cameroon for a two-year stay, during which he would begin his career as a surgeon. 

“We wanted to end up in a place like that,” Gregg says. He thought he would be “more useful as a specialist and teaching the African trainees.”

Discipleship became instinctive as he shared with patients and their families his family’s own need for a surgeon at a crucial time in their life. His oldest son, Isaiah, was born with a condition that affects the colon and required life-saving surgery at just 6 weeks old. 

Blessed with being in the U.S. where medical care was readily available at that critical time fed Gregg’s desire to be the surgeon someone else might need. 

“God sent me a surgeon to help my son, and now God is using me in providing you a surgeon,” he would tell them.

He was quick to share the stories with his wife who, as a stay-at-home mom, was not privy to the daily happenings in the hospital across the field from where they lived.

“I would come home and tell my wife, ‘This is who we were able to help together,’” Gregg says.

Sweetness and challenges

Their two years in Cameroon proved to be a sweet time for the Schmedes as their fourth child, James, was born. By the time they left, their fifth child, Jacob, was on the way. The children adapted well to Cameroonian life, learning to love beans and rice, bathing in big plastic tubs in the yard like their Cameroonian counterparts, and bumping along African roads while jamming to a favorite African song whenever they were able to borrow the neighbor’s car.

Despite the triumphs, there were challenges—cross-cultural living, the pace of life, social isolation, and language. On any given day at the hospital, for example, up to 20 different languages might be spoken. All of these factors led to considering an early departure, but they stuck it out and through the experience learned just how much they relied on cultural comforts. 

“When I say, ‘Lord, You alone are sufficient’ do I really mean that or not?” Gregg asks.

The experience contributed to spiritual growth for Gregg, which is still paying dividends.  
“I have a bigger view of Who God is—how He used us despite our shortcomings,” Gregg says. “He did that with very, very imperfect people. I’m now more aware of God’s presence.”