An interview with Klaus-Dieter John,
Author of I Have Seen God
Imagine being medically trained at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world — Harvard and Yale — and turning your back on a lucrative medical career in private practice to care for the poor. As Klaus-Dieter John writes in his book, I Have Seen God (Monarch Books/November 27, 2014/ISBN: 978-0857215741/$16.99), it was a dream he and his wife, Martina, shared since before they met.
I Have Seen God tells of how the Johns were able to follow their dream to open a first-rate medical facility for the Indians of the Peruvian Andes, some of the world’s poorest people. The hospital’s name, Diospi Suyana, means “we trust in God” in Quechua, the native language of the people it serves. It is a testament to their experience that with God the impossible can happen.
Q: Tell us how you came to titling your book, I Have Seen God.
When I was a student some of my friends were atheists. After some of my long discussions with them, I would wonder whether God was real or if it was just wishful thinking on my part. There were also times when I felt afraid of death. One night I walked across a field. It was so dark and the wind was blowing, and I just shouted at the top of my voice, “God, where are you? I want to see you!” In the history of our hospital, God has answered my prayer and become very visible to me and to hundreds of thousands of people who have heard the story.
Q: What led you into the medical profession? Have you always wanted to be a doctor?
As a teenager I read books by Paul White, an Australian doctor who served in Africa for two years and later went on to publish books on his experience as a “jungle doctor.” I was inspired by what he wrote and wanted to lead the kind of interesting and adventurous life he led as well.
Q: How did you meet your wife? How did you know you were meant to be married and serve together?
I met my wife when I was 17 and she was 16. Both of us shared exactly the same vision for our future: We wanted to get the best medical training available and then work as missionary doctors for the rest of our lives.
At the time, I had been elected president of our high school, and she was a leader of a group of girls at the school. It was through our interactions there that we fell in love. We also led a youth group together at our church and both studied medicine at Mainz University.
Q: Both you and your wife have medical training from some of the most prestigious institutions in the world. Why did you decide to use your expertise to serve the poor?
There are so many great medical needs worldwide, but only a few doctors invest their entire lives to helping the less fortunate. As a matter of fact, statistics show there are only about 1,000 doctors who work as career missionaries, relying totally on incoming donations. In Europe and the U.S. there are approximately 5 million doctors total. So 1,000 is hardly anything compared to the need.
My time spent at Harvard University’s Massachusetts General Hospital and Yale University as a surgical resident opens doors for me when I travel around the world to share our testimony. For instance, I frequently have the opportunity to speak at secular universities, companies and charity organizations. Some people will take me more seriously when I talk about my faith in Jesus Christ if they know I’ve had success in the secular/academic circles from which they come.
Q: Can you share more about the situation in Peru and why such a large segment of the population is vastly ignored and without healthcare?
Thirty million people live in Peru, and half of them are indigenous. These people, called the Quechua, are the descendants of the ancient Incas. They have been neglected and exploited for centuries and have a reduced life expectancy. The majority of them lives in adobe (clay) houses and are many times without window glass, running water, electricity or a sewage system. This clearly impacts their health and longevity.
Q: What does the name of your hospital, Diospi Suyana, mean?
In Quecha, Diospi Suyana means “we trust in God” or “God is waiting for you.” Two interpretations of that expression are possible. Both of them express the intentions of the ministry.
Q: How does the mission hospital care for the needs of the people in Peru? How many people do you help on a regular basis?
The Diospi Suyana Hospital is certainly among the best-equipped mission hospitals in the country, and it is quite comparable to a modern hospital in the U.S. or Europe.
So far, we have treated 140,000 patients who have come from all 25 states of Peru. Currently, there are twelve doctors working at the hospital. We could see many more patients if only we had more doctors.
This year, we can treat up to 150 patients per day in the western treatment style, which consists of CT scans, endoscopy, digital X- ray, ICU, sophisticated lab facilities, etc. Our patients contribute only 20 percent to our annual budget. The other 80 percent of our budget comes from donations.
Q: What spiritual aspects do you bring to the medical care?
We start every morning at the hospital with a church service. Since we opened seven years ago, we’ve celebrated 1,600 church services. We teach the patients who attend that despite the best medical care, we are destined to lose the fight against physical death eventually. Only Jesus Christ, who walked out of His tomb three days after being crucified, can offer us eternal life. Almost all of our patients have seen the popular Jesus Film in our waiting room.
Q: What led you to write a book about the founding and continuing mission of Diospi Suyana?
The book was first published in Germany, which, along with the rest of Europe, is really a postmodern and post-Christian culture. In Western Europe only 4 percent of people go to church. I wanted to share with the world the story of Diospi Suyana because it shows non-Christians evidence that God is real. It also encourages Christians of all denominations and nationalities you can experience God even in a globalized world driven by money and power.
Q: I Have Seen God was first published in Germany and became a bestseller there. What made you want to bring this message to America? There’s a special story behind the translation of the book. Please share the story with us.
Despite of its admittedly strange title, it has sold tens of thousands of copies since it was released in 2010 in the German book market, which is a small market compared to the U.S.
One morning, I was sitting in my office and thought it would be so nice to publish the book in English so we could bring its message to the English-speaking world. I remembered an English lady who had helped us years ago with some translations for our webpage. I sent her an email inquiring as to whether she was aware of my book and, if so, whether she would consider helping with a translation.
Meanwhile, unknown to me, she was in her house more than 8,000 miles away, looking at a copy of I Have Seen God she had bought for a friend sitting on her desk. She suddenly thought an English translation would be an excellent idea. She stopped what she was doing and prayed about it. The next time she turned on her computer, she discovered my email asking her to help me. She did the whole work free of charge. When I gave my first public presentation on our story in England recently, she was present, which was very meaningful.
Q: There are many books out there about the amazing work missionaries are doing around the world. What makes I Have Seen God different?
That may be true in the U.S., but in Europe there are hardly any books on the market with stories like that of I Have Seen God. The dominant feeling is “mission books” don’t sell. Because of this, I wanted the book to have wide appeal so it can be read and understood by someone who perhaps has never been to church, as well as a Christian who might need encouragement in his or her faith, or just to learn what God is doing in Peru through Diospi Suyana.
I have heard stories of people in Europe using the book to share the Gospel message with their non-Christian friends and colleagues.
Q: You had quite the battle to fight, overcoming government regulations. What were some of the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?
In June 2006, the Peruvian Ministerio de Cultura (Ministry of Culture) enforced an immediate halt to construction, claiming we hadn’t obtained all the required licenses. The penalty was set at $700,000, a sum that could have put the whole Diospi Suyana organization under. Through mysterious ways, my wife and I received an invitation to the office of the Peruvian First Lady, Mrs. Pilar Nores de Garcia in July. By the time, our 70-minute presentation about Diospi Suyana was over, the Peruvian First Lady had decided to become our sponsor. As soon as this news became public, the Ministry of Culture withdrew all their charges against our organization.
Then in January 2013 we wanted to import brand new materials for our dental lab worth up to $117,000. The shipment was blocked in customs for some very shady reasons. Eventually we asked for help through our website, and within days about 4,000 emails from 20 countries were sent personally to the Peruvian Secretary of Health, and a secular TV-channel and two leading newspapers wrote stories about what was happening. Eventually customs gave in, and our supplies were delivered.
Q: You have raised millions of dollars to do this work. How did you do it?
So far, I have given just more than 1,900 hundred presentations in 19 different countries about the work we do at Diospi Suyana. Neither I nor my wife ever asks for money when we speak. We simply share our story, pack our bags and say goodbye. I also always pray before I get up to speak to a crowd that God will use my presentation for His purposes. And I share the same story everywhere I go — whether it’s a secular or Christian audience. God has blessed this approach abundantly.
To date, our ministry has received more than $21 million in cash donations and medical equipment. Two-thirds of these gifts have come from private individuals, and the other third has been donated from 180 companies from around the world, including the U.S., Mexico, Peru, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and many more countries.
In Germany 25 percent of the overall population has seen, read or heard about our ministry through TV, printed press and radio interviews we’ve done. We’ve been blessed with media coverage in 15 countries. In October last year I gave the main lecture at the inauguration of the 4th World Congress of Pediatric Surgery. There were doctors from every continent present. I concluded my 20-minute message with this statement:
“This evening, there are Hindus, Muslims and Christians, agnostics and atheists gathered in this congress centre. I have the greatest respect for your beliefs and convictions, but if you were to ask me how I personally explain the astounding development of Diospi Suyana, I would tell you I am sure it was God. It was His work. It was the power of Jesus Christ!”
Q: What do you hope readers will take away with them after reading I Have Seen God?
I hope they will walk away with a new or renewed sense that God is real, that it is worthwhile to pray to Him, and that as Christians we can be very outspoken about our faith even to non-Christians because there is nothing better than to share the Gospel.
For more information about Klaus-Dieter John and the work of the Diospi Suyana Hospital, visit www.diospi-suyana.de.