Dr. Tonya Hawthorne - Pre-Med
Southeastern University made a missionary out of her.
Dr. Tonya Hawthorne, who graduated from Southeastern in 1983, led an eight-member team to Gonaïves, Haiti to meet the medical needs of people who survived deadly flooding there. The October 2004 trip is one of roughly 50 mission projects she’s organized since her 1998 founding of New Frontiers Health Force, an organization that takes primary care doctors and nurses to underdeveloped nations on a short-term basis.
If it wasn’t for Southeastern, Hawthorne says she might have become consumed with making money and maintaining the comfortable lifestyle a doctor’s salary affords. But Southeastern instilled within her the passion to serve God instead.
God used Southeastern to impact Hawthorne’s life—from her decision to attend the school, through the lasting impact of her professors. An acquaintance at a Christian conference in Orlando, Florida, told Hawthorne about Southeastern when she was 17 and already had planned to study a pre-med curriculum at Florida State University. While she was waiting for an acceptance letter from FSU, Hawthorne applied to Southeastern and told God that she would attend whichever school accepted her first. Two weeks later she received a letter from Southeastern. The next day she received an acceptance letter from FSU. Hawthorne kept her promise to the Lord.
After listening to missionaries speak about their work during her freshman year at Southeastern, Hawthorne decided to become a missions major. It also was through Southeastern that Hawthorne gained early experience on missions fields. The summer before her junior year, Hawthorne served for three months as a missions intern at a school for deaf children in the Philippines. The next year Hawthorne organized seven Southeastern students into a group called the Sojourners, which aided Assemblies of God missionaries in Europe. The students, who backpacked through Europe for two months, painted a church, performed street ministry with the group Teen Challenge, helped build structures at a youth camp in Greece and worked in a youth camp in the former Yugoslavia. Hawthorne says her experience organizing Southeastern students and sending them out, planted a seed for work she’d later do through New Frontiers Health Force.
Hawthorne credits her professors at Southeastern for motivating her to pursue God’s plan for her life. She particularly recalls being inspired by associate professors of missions James Jones and Ruth Breusch, and Associate Professor of Bible and Religion Robert Elliott. Elliott’s evangelism classes taught Hawthorne how to share the gospel without fear. One assignment in particular made her heart race: she had to tell ten people in the mall about Jesus. “I was scared out of my mind,” said Hawthorne, recalling the experience but quickly adding, “It was easy once you got into it.”
More than 20 years later, which included attending and graduating from Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Missouri, Hawthorne is still using evangelism skills she first practiced at Southeastern. After prayer and counsel, Hawthorne gave up private medical practice in Clearwater, Florida, to participate in medical missions full time. Her group, New Frontiers Health Force, organizes weeklong to six-week-long missions to places that have little or no health care. The group also has participated in disaster relief and given away millions of dollars’ worth of medicine and hygiene supplies. New Frontiers Health Force teams have given care to thousands of people in more than 25 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. The group plans to start a domestic branch that will operate a mobile medical clinic to serve medically needy and underserved populations, and provide primary care during disasters. Hawthorne’s work recently earned a President’s Call to Service Award, the highest level of a set of awards for volunteer service established by George W. Bush.
Looking back to her college years, Hawthorne said she had to attend Southeastern to develop resolve so the lure of the world couldn’t shake her from becoming a missionary physician. “Southeastern,” said Hawthorne, “is the one thing in my life that grounded me in what I’m doing in my life now.”
For more information about New Frontiers Health Force, log onto www.newfrontiershf.com.