TIME WITH DR. YAW PERBI
This interview was first published in the fourteenth issue of our magazine. Check it out here.
Can you please tell us about yourself; your upbringing, educational background, and your family?
Well, I was born in 1978 (laughs) . . . in a Christian home. My dad was Reindorf Perbi, a Chartered Accountant and my mum, a history professor at the University of Ghana. My parents were very determined to have a Christian home– they both came to Christ in secondary school through the ministry of Scripture Union and were both UCF executives as well. My dad was President and my mum was, I think, Volta Hall president. So that was the context in which I grew up.
We grew up in Kotobaabi, then we moved to La and then to Legon campus in 1992. My dad was a very strict man but also very loving. We were not so wealthy but my parents sacrificed all they could to give us the best Christian education. I am the first of four children– two boys and two girls– and we all went to Ridge Church School. From there, I went to Achimota School, and all my siblings followed me there as well. I was in the medical school, in Korle Bu, from 1997 to 2005.
How did you get to know Christ? How did you discern your ministry?
We had family devotions and things like that, but my very first conscious time of giving my life to Christ was at a Scripture Union camp in Achimota School. I remember being totally terrified by the idea of hell that I committed my life to the Lord. In my teenage years I had a lot of ups and downs. Anytime I heard an altar call I’d go and say, “Hey God…” I’m sure when you take a look in the Book of Life you’d realize that my name has been written in it several times- I got born again again and again and again.
At age 17, I was sitting in the Legon Interdenominational Church, which was then in Legon Hall, and I said to myself: “This is it. Enough of this sinusoidal, up and down thing, this is it ! I am absolutely convinced that Jesus is my Saviour and this is the life I want to live”. And that’s how it all started.
The matter of discerning ministry is a really big question in life. I remember while in medical school, Dr. Myles Munroe was invited to a conference in ICGC. He spoke about the 5 questions everybody asks about their lives; Who am I? Where am I from? What can I do? Why am I here? Where am I heading? The question of why am I here? is key and it was during those days I really began to search. I even began asking myself if I really wanted to do Medicine. Eventually, by God’s grace, I was able to discern my ministry. Discernment means being sensitive to the presence and activity of God’s Holy Spirit – what God wants you to do in your life and in your world. Through prayer and through His Word I was able to do just that.
There are specific Scriptures God gave me to direct me as to what He really wanted me to do, when, how and even where. I was in a conference in Malaysia in 2006 when I heard the Lord speak to me saying, “It’s my world and I send you where I want you ”. As at that time, in terms of geography in ministry, I really wanted to stay in Ghana. At the beginning of 2008, my wife and I were reading the Scriptures when Genesis 12:1 literally jumped off the page.
“Leave your country, your people, your father’s household and go to a land that I will show you .”
We had no plans of being outside the country. I did not know when, I did not know how, but I knew I had just received what my Pentecostal friends would call, a rhema.
In June, God had kicked me out of Ghana to Cote D’Ivoire. I was at the 37 Military hospital then but was moved to work with the United Nations in Cote D’Ivoire. By July, God kicked my wife out to Canada to do her Masters in Economics at Yale University in Montreal. So “mennkɔ bebiaa, mennkɔ bebiaa” and all of a sudden we had found ourselves in 3 countries– I was in Cote D’Ivoire, my wife was in Canada, and our one-year old son was with my parents-in-law in Ghana.
Yet another way to discern your ministry is through hearing God’s voice. For me it hasn’t been an audible voice– it has been more of an impression. David said in Psalm 16 that even at night my heart instructs me— that’s how it has been for me– an impression.
Counsel is also another way to discern your ministry. Scripture says that in the multitude of counsellors there is safety. There are various people I’ve talked to at various points in my life– Uncle Ebo Whyte, Dr. Otabil and others. A number of mentors in my life have helped to shape me.
The last way I’d say I was able to discern what God would have me do is what I call the common sense approach. I learnt this from Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life , and that is SHAPE. I always tell people to look at their SHAPE– your Spiritual gifts, your Heartfelt passion, your Abilities, your Personality and lastly your Experiences.
How do you balance family, ministry and your work as a doctor?
I actually haven’t practiced medicine since 2009. While I was in Cote D’Ivoire, I was involved in a very tragic accident. Three of us were travelling in a car to Abidjan. Out of the three, I was the only survivor. That was a wake-up call for me. I just knew God had spared my life for a purpose beyond medicine. The doctors who died were way better and higher in rank than I was. I figured if somebody had to die, it should have been me because they’d be more useful economically, but God preserved my life.
After that accident, I made a vow to the Lord that I would spend the rest of my life preaching the gospel and raising young leaders. When I came back to Ghana in 2009, I resigned from my position at the 37 military hospital and around the same time, my wife had completed her Masters and was getting into a PhD program. I decided then to move to Canada with my son to join her (but I always say she tricked me, because she got out of the PhD program the moment we joined her). But that was all God’s plan. For now, the only medicine I do is mentoring young doctors; I haven’t done clinical work for the past 11 years.
When it comes to balance, I see everything as ministry; I see my family as an internal ministry and my work out there as an external ministry. If I don’t see it that way, I’d give all of myself to the people outside and my family suffers for it. Taking care of my wife is ministry; infact there’s no one on earth I have a vow with, save my wife.
Secondly, I plan. I still use a physical schedule. Every week, I make plans based on my various roles. Infact, I separate my roles of being a husband from my roles of being a father; the two are not the same. If you just say family man, you’ll miss it, because children are suckers (laughs). They will suck all your time and all your energy. So I plan my role as a husband, as a father, as a communicator, as a preacher, as a writer, as an entrepreneur and as the president of the International Students’ Ministry, Canada. I also plan my role as the global CEO of the HuD group. I make sure that for every week, there’s something I do for each of my roles so I don’t focus on one thing to the neglect of the others.
The last paradigm that helps me is seasons. There are certain seasons for certain things. For example when I became President of the International Students’ Ministry, Canada, I was the only black person on staff. As a black person running an organization that is full of white people and some Asians, I had to do a good job. It was a season that I had to say to my wife, “Honey, for the next year or so, I’ve got to put a lot into this”. So we all had to agree together as a family that this is what Daddy has to do.
Can you tell us about a bit more your ministry (The International Students’ Ministry)? And specifically why the youth, and international students?
I didn’t even apply for this role; they actually came looking for me. My passion has always been for young people. Bill Bright made a statement that “Every soul is equally valuable, but not every soul is equally strategic” . I looked at young people and I saw them to be strategic. Young people have energy, talent, nerve, power and potential. You guys determine what happens in the world. And so when I saw that this ministry was a combination of not just youth, but international students, I was like my goodness! Canada currently has almost 650,000 international students from almost every country in the world. Imagine if these strategic people encountered the gospel and had a heart for Jesus, imagine the impact in the world!
What we do at International Students’ Ministry is to empower these international students by providing hospitality and friendship, host families, leadership development and sharing of the gospel through evangelism and bible study. Most of our students come from the unreached parts of the world, and so I actually get a front seat at what God is doing in the world today. I’ve been the president of this organization for a little over 7 years now. We have about a hundred staff and 500 volunteers across Canada.
How do you feel about “Black lives matter” as an African Christian living abroad, and do you think the Church is doing enough to curb social injustice?
Black Lives Matter as an organization is usually linked with other things including the LGBTQ movement, so it makes other Christians go like ‘Aaaaarrgh! We can’t support that!’
The truth however is that Black lives really do matter. I am all for Black lives matter in terms of the idea or the movement, though I may not necessarily agree with everything about the organization that calls itself that. It is a real issue in our world and the church has failed miserably when it comes to that. However, there are some bright spots, don’t get me wrong – some parts of the church have done well in terms of dealing with social injustice but we need to do more.
If we took Scripture seriously then we’d know that we all were created in the image and likeness of God, that is the Imago Dei. If I’m made in the image of God, whether I’m red or yellow, black or white, my matter, and all lives include Black lives.
Another factor is our misinterpretation of Scripture. We can all use Scripture to justify what we do. For instance people used scripture to justify slavery, just like people used scripture to abolish slavery. The same Scripture! The thing is to let scripture transform our hearts rather than let our hearts manipulate scripture.
I have had my own share of racism. A couple of years ago, I had to go to court because somebody falsely accused me of assaulting him. This white guy walked up to me wanting to take a picture of me because I had parked at the wrong spot. I said “No. You can take a picture of the car, but why take a picture of me? Who knows what you are going to do with it?” So I stretched forth my hand to block the camera, I didn’t even touch the iPad he was using to take the picture. Long story short, he went to tell the police that I had assaulted him. I ended up in court with three criminal charges – assault, assault with a weapon and the third one was attempting to steal an iPad. Now think about that! And this is me, a doctor, how much more a guy wearing a hood and walking around?
Lastly, a lot of Christians are not passionate about this because they do not realize that this is part of the mission of God. God is on a threefold mission– to bring Himself glory, to bless people and to destroy evil and to establish His kingdom. A part of the mission of God is to ensure that there is justice. Economic justice! How can the pastor be so rich and there are other people in the church who can’t even afford to pay school fees? That’s injustice! It also includes social justice for the orphan, the widow and the poor. A lot of us only talk about the gospel of salvation, but there’s also the gospel of the kingdom and God wants to establish His kingdom through us on earth, as it is in heaven. I think all Christians need to grab that, and I hope we do.
The theme for our next issue is “leverage”. In it, we seek to explore the numerous diverse ways we can employ our experiences as Christians, and make good use of our everyday circumstances to achieve the maximum possible outcomes as far as our calling is concerned. This forms part of a series we are looking at this year dubbed “Relevance”. Which experiences would you say constitute a major pivot in your life and ministry, and which have profoundly shaped your Christ-given mission?
God uses everything we are for His purposes. The Bible says that all things work together for the good of those that love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose. All things means all things; including everything, excluding nothing. Look at how Paul wrote the gospels with his training as a lawyer– I mean, look at Romans. You can tell that this is a lawyer making arguments after arguments. Just look at how God has used my training as a doctor in my writing. There are places that I have gone to and when they see the title Dr., they automatically give you some level of respect. There are places I get to go just because I am a doctor. God has used the title, he has used the experience, he has used the knowledge, he has used the discipline. You know medical school is not hard but it requires a lot of discipline, stamina and grit. So God has used all of these for me to be able to do what I’m doing.
What have been some of your guiding principles throughout life? How do you feel about Christian excellence?
In the first place, God’s word is a love letter to us, but I also see it as a book of principles. The BIBLE is Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It is life’s manual. I love God’s Word. My number one principle in life is: In all your getting, get God first . That’s my proto principle. Another is to die empty. In other words, I want to die giving out everything that God has given me – every gift, every talent, every song, all that He’s given me. Why go to the grave with it?
As part of my principles in life, I do believe in excellence. God is a God of excellence and Daniel is a great example of that. You know how when people are graduating from school they do these ‘slam books’ and yearbooks where they nominate people for positions like best dressed gentleman and most fashionable. Do you know what they voted for me as? Most likely to leave the medical profession! So I call them the school of prophets.
I’m sure they could all see that I had a passion for more than medicine. I started the HuD group when I was in medical school. My belief in excellence was such that even though I was not as passionate for medicine itself, I still practiced it in a way that will give God glory.
Primarily, our mission is not first to preach or to go; primarily, our mission is first to be– to be God’s people, to be a counter cultural witness. You are the light of the world, not the sound of the world. The Christian and excellence should be synonymous. It doesn’t mean I don’t fail sometimes, but a principle is a principle.
How do you manage to continually stay relevant in these rapidly changing times, taking full advantage of changing societal trends as a man in youth ministry? How has the recent pandemic shaped your ministry?
I read a lot; I believe in continual learning. Yes I’ve finished medical school, but I’ve taken a number of courses – I’m a John Maxwell trainer. I just finished a Masters in Global leadership in December, and I’m currently thinking of taking another one, probably Doctoral Studies in Global Leadership. So formally and informally, I keep learning. Now in the COVID times, I’ve been in a number of webinars, just listening to what is going on. I also read a lot of articles. As the President of the International Students’ Ministry, I am in a couple of groups with other presidents, more like peers, so we get to exchange ideas to keep me sharp at what I do.
Medicine-wise, because I’m not practicing clinically, once in a while I go for the Ghana Physicians and Surgeons Foundations of North America meetings. But I am not as up to date when it comes to medical stuff as compared to ministry and missions.
With COVID here, we’ve been very much at the forefront, adjusting and readjusting. So we’ve always been using Zoom, I think for the last 3 or 4 years now, unlike most of you who are latter-day saints (laughs). Canada is really wide and so Zoom helps us to work more efficiently. In this pandemic however, we have had to step up how much we use it. There are other things we’ve had to add up. For example, we have had to hire a Vice President just to focus on the digital field.
Listening to the Holy Spirit has also really helped. The Holy Spirit is always ahead of the curve, so we need to listen to Him. The mission is still the mission, whether or not there’s COVID-19. In fact, because there’s COVID, there’s even more mission. It definitely will not look the same way. The problem comes when we get stuck with the methods and strategies rather than keeping the big WHY in mind.
Are there other things you engage in apart from ministry?
I love soccer; unfortunately I don’t get to play enough of it these days. I also love to travel. I have found a way of making the things I love be my work; so I love to travel and my work involves a lot of travel. There are some years I’ve had to make about 70 flights. It is work, but oh yeah it’s really fun. I love to read, it’s my work and it’s my hobby.
I also really love playing with my children; hanging around with the one-year old, fooling around, she’d be spitting on me and all that. But I love children, and that’s why I have 6 of them. I don’t need a television.
We have come across a few books of yours. When and why did you start writing and how many books have you written so far?
I have written 15 books so far. My first book was What Every Fresher Should Know Before Leaving The University and that was in 2002. The UCF asked me to speak at the orientation for freshers and as I prepared the speech, I just knew that this cannot be done in 45 minutes; I knew that a book was coming. And for those who would miss the orientation, I wanted them to have something to read. As a speaker, you always need to leave something with your people. Your books can go to places you can’t go. I know some copies of my book Youth Power have gone to Iraq but I’ve never been there. In mentoring people, one of the best things you can leave them is a book. A lot of the letters we read in Scripture were actually mentoring letters; Paul was writing to mentor a church in Ephesus or in Corinth or to mentor young man Timothy. These were mentoring letters that have been kept.
After my first book, I wrote another book, Positiveness: A Fuel for Success and after that I wrote a three-part book on financial wisdom and investments. One of my big things was to teach young doctors on investment. You can be as smart as whoever, but if you’re not smart with money, you’d become a very poor doctor.
I love to share what I learn. I love to share what God teaches me, and books have been a way to do that.
Finally, what advice will you give to the youth of today?
My advice to the youth would be the proto principle: In all your getting, get God first. It looks like in our society today, God is just a ceremonial figure; we live our lives the way we want to. We’ve become so materialistic that we even use God to get stuff, but we need to truly look for God. The Bible says that if you seek Him, you will find Him. I like to illustrate it this way– if you go to a shop and bought some stuff, they put it in the polythene bag for you. You can’t walk into a mall just to buy the polythene bag. And even if you did, guess what? It’s empty! That’s the way I see it.
When you get Jesus as the treasure, all the other things are added up– the good marriage, successful business, success in medical training: these are like the polythene bag. If you end up going for the bag, you may get them, but it’s empty. Why would a multimillionaire kill himself? Why? He’s got the polythene bag, but it’s empty. In all your getting get God first. God is always right. It may take 5 years to prove it, it may take 10 years to prove it, but God is always right.
I have seen that it takes deeply transformed people to bring about deep transformations. If you yourself have not being changed, how do you expect to change the society?
Seek God first!