Loyola welcomed us with open arms. The previous year when Eli had been accepted by Loyola but hadn't yet taken the offer, he was hounded by a faculty member who kept calling him to see if he was going to accept. When they finally connected on the phone and Eli explained that he wouldn't be coming that year and why, the man's response was, "Well you're going to reapply next year then, aren't you?" He made it clear that Eli was the kind of person their med school wanted to take under its wing. And sure enough, Eli did reapply and was reaccepted. Not only that, Loyola granted him a scholarship to help with the cost of tuition - a rare asset to receive for graduate medical education in the States.
So in the summer of 2007, less than two months after returning from Cameroon, we joined the next wave of folks starting at the Stritch School of Medicine for a four-year trek towards an M.D. (I say "we" because this was very much our journey, not just Eli's.) And we loved Loyola from the start. We loved the Jesuits and their love for education and service and Jesus. We loved the inclusion of spouses in almost everything. We loved that our med school had a ministry office filled with people who truly cared about us and how we were surviving those strenuous years. And we loved the undercurrent that healing is not just a job to be done, but a service to be rendered.
Being in such an environment gave us hope that, yes, we were where God wanted us to be and we would be alright. God was providing.
Then, about a week into med school, Eli was called into the Office of Financial Aid unexpectedly. He was told that his original scholarship was being revoked in favor of a better one. The Anthony L. Barbato Scholarship was a newly created scholarship that was being awarded to just two students in the first-year class of 146 students. The scholarship was a rather large sum of money that covered well over half of Eli's tuition and would be renewed for each of his four years at Loyola. This equated to a remarkable reduction in our overall debt coming out of med school, which is no small thing especially considering that Loyola is a private institution that lies on the pricier end of the spectrum. (It should be noted that educational debt is a significant problem for people trying to get to the mission field, particularly for those with an advanced degree like an M.D. that accrue incredible amounts of debt.)
What was the scholarship committee looking for in potential recipients? Service. The woman in Financial Aid told Eli that he was chosen in great part because of his time serving in Africa prior to med school. She said the committee easily agreed that Eli should be one of the recipients and the only difficulty was narrowing down who the other recipient would be.
We were awed and humbled, to say the least. The scholarship was not something to be applied for, but simply something to be awarded. And it was awarded to Eli. Had we chosen for Eli to attend med school the previous year instead of going to Africa, the scholarship would not have existed yet and could not have been awarded to him. Had we not gone to Cameroon the year prior to med school, Eli may not have stood out to the scholarship committee as someone particularly devoted to service.
So God had intended for us to be in that place at that time all along and He was working to provide for our future in missions by helping us handle our ensuing debt years down the road. Furthermore, He was continually highlighting the importance of service as we prepared for the mission field. Loyola was an ideal environment to cultivate this because it offered service opportunities for even the busy medical student to participate in. For example, Eli (and sometimes I) volunteered with a weekly ministry to the homeless in Chicago in which we'd meet at the Jesuit house in Oak Park and make sandwiches before heading out to drop them off at a certain location downtown. Eli eventually took over the leadership of this ministry during his second year. Another opportunity Eli had was to spend three weeks in between his first and second year on a medical service trip to Guatemala in which he and other Loyola students trekked through the mountains to set up day clinics in remote villages. Those service opportunities were priceless in and of themselves, but were also essential in reminding us that we have been called to a life of service because we follow the Servant, Jesus, who was chosen and loved and delighted in by the Father (Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 12:18).
From the first day of orientation at Loyola, God was faithfully showing us why He had sent us to Chicago. He had to shut the door to Minnesota to make sure we got there, but He was faithful to lead us. Our mission trip to Cameroon had been a stepping stone as we walked through the doors of a service-oriented medical school and continued learning what it means to work and heal with the heart of a servant.
It was an education of the heart as well as of the mind. It wouldn't be the only education we'd receive while living in Chicago, however, nor would it be the only financial provision that God would offer for our future. While Eli was plugging away at med school and I was struggling with a difficult job and a failed knee surgery among other things, the Lord eventually opened another door that would both educate us and provide for our future in missions: graduate school at Wheaton.