# 289: BOOK OF THE WEEK — “Ich habe Gott gesehen”
Story behind the Book Choice,
This book was a gift, I mean literally. Someone from the church I attended at the time gave it to me. Actually, it was the sister of the author. If you are “scared” by the title, no worries. This book is something for entrepreneurs and believers alike. After all, entrepreneurs have to be believers. And Klaus-Dieter John and his wife Tina are entrepreneurs in the finest sense. It does not matter if you pray to Jesus, Allah, Krishna, or anybody else. Appreciating and learning from two faithful entrepreneurs who have made the impossible possible is something that benefits each and everyone who is willing to read.
For me, this book is much more than I expected it to be. I was prepared to read the story of how they built the hospital Diospi Suyana in Peru and how their faith in God supported them in that. What I have found is much more than that. Not only does the book start a lot earlier, i.e., it narrates the story of the couple long before they became famous with the founding of the hospital. It is also an enjoyable and entertaining book to read. John writes in a concise and amusing way with a good rhythm. You can hear a “wicked” boy talking between the lines who might have been confident from the start but who truly learned what is possible if you become bold as a founder.
Actually, what I am thinking just now: They should write a follow-up book about the next episodes with the title: “Stay faithful, stay foolish” — a slight adaptation of Steve Jobs’ motto. Maybe this would attract more non-traditional “startup” founders to blend their spirituality with business. I am sure this would make much of a difference in society. After all, Jobs himself was inspired by (Eastern) philosophy.
1. Academia is for the ego
When I read this, it was such a confirmation of the author’s attitude and the values he stands for. As he says in the caption of one of the pictures in the middle of the book: “We always wanted to study medicine and work as physicians in the Third World.” When John gets the offer to do his habilitation (something like a postdoc in the U.S.), he does ponder it seriously because he knows that his CV perfectly suits the profile of a future professor. But it would not be walking the talk for him. I admire how clearly he puts this insight about academia serving mainly one thing: “your own ego.” I am just a bit skeptical if he really saw it that clearly from the start.
It has taken me a bit longer to see this…
There are many scenes from the early days of the couple’s career in which they got to learn about the brutal hierarchy and habits of superiors in clinics and in universities. I am not sure how John was able to deal with all this in such a resilient manner. Maybe it was their mission that made them accept all the egoistic and bureaucratic bullshit. Maybe it was simply fatigue because of all the work. Whatever it was, it really struck me to learn that John did not equate a professorship with scientific breakthroughs. As I know very well, the two, being a brilliant researcher and having a professorship, have little to do with each other. It was not research anyways that was on his heart primarily. It was helping people — not anywhere but in the “developing countries.”
I know people nowadays, especially political scientists, who do not like the term anymore. But everyone knows what is meant here, i.e., countries which lack many of the material privileges which have been standard in the developing countries for several decades. I know exactly what John ist talking about here. I felt this calling as well when I was a child already and it got stronger during my teenage and student years. This is what made me go to Ghana, Yemen, Cuba, and some other countries. Just like John, I learned to follow my heart and balance this with trusted advice. I found it very telling that he he asked his supervisor for guidance concerning his next career step. And luckily the hint that he asked for, had been praying for, came in the form of the offer to work in Ecuador. It does not matter if you believe in God’s workings or not in this case. You can replace God with universe or faith or whatever. But if you really let go of some (ego-driven) career plans and send a prayer or a wish to the universe, it will answer through people who cross your path.
2. All-rounders heal
You might not think of doctors as allrounders or even craftsmen but they are, at least some of them. I find it fascinating how both of them, Klaus and Tina, from the beginning of their medical training focused on fields that would later bring maximum value for helping people in places where you do not have anything or anybody to help you. What do you need there to save lives? A surgeon! And since children need special care, you need a pediatrist, which is what Tina became. But just choosing these fields as your specialization is not enough if you want to gain the experience you need for working under extreme conditions. This is what they did in several countries and around the clock for many years.
When looking back at this, it seems as if everything they did in these early years prepared them for their future mission. This is also how John interprets their journey retrospectively. But he also admits that he was not at all sure that this mission was given to them by God. He was not even sure that there really was a God. Yes, the Johns had been regular church goers but before they started to implement their “vision,” as they call it themselves, they had not needed the maximum support from “above.” Now they needed it and they got it, even in the operating room. John did thousands of operations under extremely difficult circumstances — in the hospital and outside. Imagine South Africa in the 90s… Well, unfortunately, some things never change.
The Johns not only perfectionized their jack-of-all-trades skills as physicians. In the many years of founding and building the hospital, they became fundraisers, marketers, public relations specialists, construction workers, cooks, even politicians and lawyers to some extent. In short, they gained the usual skills of entrepreneurs. You have to do most things yourself at first and later you have to learn to hire the right people to do these things, even if it looks grim without any money. John impressd me in the book. He does not brag, neither does he get lost in understatements about their achievements and the efforts all this required. But the way he did things shows that he was ‘exactly the right guy for the job,” as another supporter later tells him (106). I share this impression. He is an all-rounder and he has been embracing this instead of following the common career recipe to become the one big expert in the room on one tiny matter. He would definitely not have been happy in academia — even if others consider this a ‘career.’ As he states in another passage:
“Wir hatten aber nicht unsere Karrieren aufgegeben, um für die Reichen zu arbeiten.” (66)
God does not care about careers. He cares about people.
3. Marketing is crucial
A common saying among PR people is: “Do good and talk about it.” Well, nowadays — actually in the past as well — there are many people who either do nothing or at least nothing “good” and still talk a lot. What impressed me very much about the approach the Johns took is their early awareness of how important “publicity” would be for their project. I am putting publicity into quotation marks because I first and foremost refer to the concept as it is, namely: raising public awareness. I am not talking about selling hot air or just being loud and famous. Still, if you want to implement a huge project and if this project entirely depends on the financial support of other people, you need to understand one simple thing: People have to KNOW about your idea and about your plan of how to implement it.
Now, many people have ideas but the point is: As soon as you start going public with your idea, it is more than just some bullshit that you came up with over smoking hashish. Well, I do not know if the Johns ever smoked but it does not matter anyways. They had a big idea but they also proved, from day one, that they had the ability and the guts to implement it. Part of this ability stemmed from their medical expertise and the years they had already spent abroad. The other part stemmed simply from their determination and their ability to touch people’s hearts with their vision. This is nothing that you can somehow buy or learn from books. You pick it up as you pursue your vision. And the Johns did that, no matter what.
I am deeply convinced that their previous stay in the U.S. also helped them develop the “just do it” spirit. Yes, the American Dream might be an illusion for the large majority of people and it might even sound like a lie to many. For Germans, however, the American spirit, to put it less pathetically, definitely has its advantages because it endows you with this extra portion of positive energy, optimism, and athletic determination, as I would call it. There are no better words to explain it. It is this mixture of naivety and professionalism which can move mountains. And John and the way in which he wrote the book definitely represents that.
So, the Johns went on the road and gave thousands of talks over a period of only a few years. And here is the important thing. As John mentions explicitly, the talks were the foundation of their PR strategy. They understood early on that these “events” (as you would call them nowadays) would trigger press coverage and much more reporting beyond the event itself. John describes how he spent thousands of miles on the road and hundreds of hours in the car and on some filthy mattreses somewhere. Still, it worked. They had to wait for a long time till the breakthrough could be felt but it came. And it only came because they also understood rule no. 2 of PR very well: You have to know the right people.
This might sound very capitalist but it is just pragmatic. What I am saying is that for a project like building a hospital in the middle of nowhere in the mountains for people even the local government does not care for, you need several millions of dollars. Yes, you appreciate every single dollar coming from the ‘average’ donor from your own community or church congregation. Still, you know that all these are mere drops in the bucket. You need big money and big money usually comes from big companies, or at least sizeable companies who are run by entrepreneurs who CARE about the world and the well-being of others. It impressed me to read how strategic, professional but at the same time open the Johns were about marketing. They sure lost hope many times on their path but they also allowed people to enter their lives and contribute to their mission which might have seemed completely out of scope for different reasons before.
So, I am not going to share the whole tale which is something I never do on my Sunday blogs. What I wanted to especially do today, is show people who do not care about God or faith at all that you can learn many practical things from two doctors who wanted to make a difference — and have achieved this goal already. You can be sure, without their hard work on a daily basis, there would be no hospital today. Yes, spiritual guidance was there but God or any other religious figure does not give talks or mess with corrupt politicians. You have to do this and it will be easier if you feel you are being used as a tool for something that is a lot greater than you — much greater than your ego.
Given that status quo of “generation chill” and “who needs a university education anyways”— I wonder how many people still undertake huge projects like this one nowadays. I mean, from scratch and without a huge team and big investors and labels behind them. Yes, the online media are filled with startup news every day. Founders are getting millions of Euros and Dollars for their supposedly promising business ideas. That is great. But people saving LIVES every day and FOUDNING A HOSPITAL — is that comparable? And even if it is:
Where is faith in today’s business world and how much does it push people to walk the extra mile?
1) What is your calling?
2) Do you ever read books written by or about “religious” people?
3) If you were to open a hospital in a remote part of the world to help poor people — where would it be?