Scalpel At The Cross was officially born in 2004, the realization of a dream first conceived in 1988 when a young couple, Peter and Nancy Cole, were living in Miami, Florida. At that time, Nancy ran a family counseling practice merging strategies in nouthetic Christian counseling with clinical psychology. Peter was studying at the University of Miami School of Medicine to be a medical doctor with the goal some day of specializing in orthopaedic surgery.
Peter and Nancy got to know and treat many patients from South America, and the Coles were immersed in the Latin American customs of America's most throttling melting pot. This experience, combined with Peter's four years in Caracas, Venezuela, as a child, nurtured a love for Latinos and a cultural comfort which undoubtedly prepared them for what the Lord had in store.
By providence, God landed a young missionary couple from Peru by the names of Craig and Heather Gahagen, into an adjacent apartment and almost immediately, a special bond and lifelong friendship was born! Though the Gahagens were in the neighborhood for a mere three months while they were on furlough raising funds to support their Peruvian mission, God used these brief weeks to stoke the fire of two young and idealistic men who had no idea what was burning. They dreamed of one day merging their occupations in the Peruvian Amazon, Craig as a bush pilot and Peter as a doctor, in a way which would honor Christ while taking contemporary medical care to needy people in jungle tribes and villages. Just a week after medical school graduation in 1990, Nancy and Peter took the Gahagens up on their offer to visit and learn of the possibilities in Peru.
The first journey to the Peruvian interior was characterized by saucer-eyed fascination and wild-minded imagination. The couples ran primary care medical clinics for three different Indian villages along Amazon tributaries. The invigoration of adventure captivated Peter and a sense of challenge captured Nancy, and a God given realization of overseas purpose was conjointly discovered.
The Coles wondered when and how and which way all the restless ideas and desires could morph into a realistic plan, let alone a well organized ministry. One thing seemed quite clear at the time, however; nothing would happen all too soon given Peter's plan for a surgical residency. In fact the next eight years would be spent in medical training in Providence, Rhode Island, (Brown University-Rhode Island Hospital) and Seattle, Washington, (University of Washington-Harborview Medical Center). During that period of time little occurred with the nascent dream, other than the exercise of patience for His perfect timing.
Now with a six year-old daughter, Danielle Christine, and a four year old son, Peter Jr., in 1998 Dr. and Mrs. Cole moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where Peter joined the faculty at the University of Mississippi Medical Center where he planned to launch a career in academic medicine. Having been profoundly affected by his own mentors in medicine, Peter felt that academics would provide a natural platform for leadership and influence in the lives of colleagues and young medical trainees, as well as patients. Specializing in the treatment of multiply injured patients and complex fractures, Dr. Cole rapidly accumulated a multitude of patients, many with profound pathology, providing an early orthopaedic experience which would prove to be invaluable and opportune in his professional and missionary development. Soon educational opportunities sprung up miraculously throughout South America, including three consecutive annual conferences in Lima, Peru, where Peter was invited to lecture on the treatment of different types of broken bones.
Each time, the trips were extended a week to visit the Gahagens in "La Selva," the lush Amazon basin east of the Andes, mostly unknown even to the majority of Peruvian natives. During these trips, a growing network of close relationships was spreading, and the embers of a smoldering dream suddenly began to rekindle flames with circumstances and contacts only explicable in divine terms. The Coles took advantage of these trips as family adventures, with wee baby Channing making his first jungle foray at the age of six months. Each time they would crash the cabin of the gracious Gahagen family, whose welcome spirit always moved the Coles closer and closer to a long-term commitment.
Craig and Heather and their two lovely daughters, Whitney and Kara, live on an aviation compound with five other families, approximately 15 paved and potholed miles, and another 5 dirt road miles from the center of sprawling Pucallpa. The property and infrastructure of the compound belong to South American Mission, the aviation part of the program which was founded by Craig's father, Donald Gahagen, in 1966. Pucallpa literally is at the end of the road for this country of 28 million people. Beyond Pucallpa are but hidden tribes, some yet undiscovered, nestled along a vast network of rivers, which rise thirty to sixty feet in the rainy season (nearly 1/6 of the Amazon Basin is covered during the high water season). This is some of the most hostile and magnificent terrain of God's creation.
On one of those jaunts to Pucallpa in 2001, Peter meandered into the fledgling Hospital de Pucallpa in the middle of this town of about 300,000 inhabitants, and within minutes befriended several surgeons including two orthopaedic surgeons, and the Jefe de Ciurujia, Dr. Ernesto Renjifo. Dr. Cole spent a few days joining them on rounds, teaching surgery, and giving lectures in a room packed with doctors, surgeons, and health assistants, as well as curious nurses and secretaries. Peter has nurtured this wonderful relationship having been back on several trips for surgery and clinics, each time taking medical gifts of implants, books, journals, and mostly the love of Christ in his own heart.
Oh so much to accomplish in this rundown open air hospital, crowded with wailing patients, rickety wire frame beds, expiring medications and recycled foley tubes. Survival prevails, and a modicum of cure, through the industrious and tidily uniformed workers who show up daily at the crack of God's dawn, earning a fraction of a living, serving hope to desperation, day in and day out. If only we could...
In 2003, the opportunity for the Coles to buy a plot of rainforest availed itself. It was just adjacent to the SAM aviation compound at the end of a long, winding, dusty, dirt road, and wrapped around a beautiful lagoon. Peter and Nancy snapped it up! Recognizing the possible fruition of a seventeen year dream, they acted upon God's masterful circumstances and immediately went to work on the construction of local headquarters. By Christmas of 2004, the 2,600 square foot Scalpel At The Cross Guest Lodge was complete. In June, 2005, Peter, daughter Danielle, and a team of six key servants who Nancy and Peter identified as important ministry resources, traveled to Pucallpa. This was the first official medical team trip to treat injured patients at Hospital de Pucallpa, and the inaugural move into the Scalpel Guest Lodge. The entire occasion was truly momentous and filled with the Lord's confirmation.
Ever since its inception, Peter and Nancy have been on the edge of their seats with anticipation of what God has in store for Scalpel. Thankfully, they are not alone on this venture. Since returning from the initial team trip with a small posse of volunteers, the Lord has added to our number by riveting others to the vision. A Scalpel At The Cross Board of Directors was established in 2005 and currently consists of nine members who bring a plethora of talents to the table. In God’s spectacular fashion that same year a most capable and godly servant, Lisa Schroder, appeared from “thin air” as a Christmas gift to the mission.
Since January 2006, Lisa faithfully led the mission through its growing infancy and early development pains, all the while bringing unique talents and an extraordinarily qualified background to the ministry. For seven years Lisa assumed full-time responsibilities for running every facet of the mission which involved oversight of matters spanning both North & South American continents. She hired two part-time assistants, Kelli Hooks/stateside & Dr. Rosita Escudero/Peru, and worked painstakingly to grow an infrastructure which serves team members traveling to Pucallpa with Scalpel in addition to those they minister to. Lisa’s background in engineering, business, and orthopaedics enabled her to meet all of the demands of Scalpel’s humble upstart and subsequent operation.To say we are grateful for her heartfelt dedication and sacrifice hardly seems enough.
In 2014, desirous of turning over the reins to focus attention more exclusively on the “financials” of the ministry, Lisa was succeeded by another superstar, one of a kind, Peggy Gasior. Once more, God spoke clearly in hand selecting a dynamic, multi-talented young woman to be at Scalpel’s helm. With her training in medicine, public health, and ministry, Peggy was a natural “goodness of fit” for the job. In 2015, a year and a half in, Peggy’s transition was nearly seamless. Alongside learning the job (which defies description in many respects), Peggy was charged with working out all of the particulars related to sending our first ambassadors (the Porch family) from the U.S. to reside permanently at the Jungle Bunks residence to oversee operations on-site. In the summer of 2015, Dan (a pastor) and wife Laurie (a nurse & educator), along with their youngest of five children, Lyndi, left St. Paul to call Pucallpa their home. The Porches spiritually disciple many of our patients who are followed medically across time. They also network with many of the ministries in Pucallpa and join forces in bringing hope and healing in Jesus’ name to those who have yet to hear the good news of the gospel. Stay tuned…
Most certainly this chronicle is but an introduction to something even more exciting than what has come to pass, and we trust that you may be one to join us in playing a role in this dream!
Peter and Nancy Cole
Team Member Questionnaire
If you are interested in joining a future mission team, please fill out our Team Member Questionnaire and email to the attention of Esteban Cardona.