Doctor and teacher

The Berg family takes a moment to remember their time in Rwanda. Desté, left, holds a portrait of himself as the Bergs first saw him, while Tim and Linda hold another picture of friends they made during their six years in Africa.

Peterson Health conducted a poll of its physicians, and named Dr. Tim Berg the “Doctor of the Year” on March 30.

Tim is a surgeon, which he says means “I take care of the skin and all its contents.” Most frequently that includes gall bladders, appendixes, the colon, cancers, and repairing trauma.

He says, “When I started, back in 1989, I was a ‘general surgeon.’ Today that’s a dying breed, as surgeons are trained for specialties in the field. So now I mostly perform abdominal surgeries of different types.

“That’s one of the main transitions happening in medical practice, with the other being a movement toward specialists joining physician’s groups like Peterson Medical Associates. Now we get our patients referred to us, either by doctors or through the emergency room.”

But that’s here in the United States. He says from 2012 to August of 2015 the Berg family lived in Kirambo, Rwanda, where he was the only permanent surgeon at the Kibogora Hospital, which serves a half-million people. Linda taught British Literature to 75 or so high school students.

He says, “In third-world countries more people die for lack of surgical care than are killed by tuberculosis, aids, and malaria combined.”

Tim says he was born in Huntsville, Ala., the son of two doctors. “My father, Frank Berg, immigrated from Scandinavia, and my mother, Ernestine Hilliard, came from Kentucky. They met when they were residents. He died when I was nine, and mom raised the six of us from there. Mom took me on several of her mission trips, and I learned to enjoy reaching out that way. She taught me, ‘There’s no substitution for compassion and diligence’.”

He says he graduated from Huntsville High School in 1976, earned a degree from Birmingham–Southern College, and did his medical training and residency at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. He opened his practice in Spartanburg, S.C.

Linda says she was born in Beaumont, but her family moved to Houston when she was a month old, then from there to Bandera when she was in the ninth grade. “Bandera was a big change, but a good one. I graduated from Bandera High School in 1983.”

She says she earned her bachelor of arts in English at Trinity University in San Antonio. There she had an Emmaus conversion, and moved to Washington D.C. in 1987. That led in 1988 to volunteering with Young Life in Richmond, Va., and then a paid position with them.

Tim says, “In 1991 a friend of mine, Bret Allen, talked me into volunteering as a camp doctor at Windy Gap, a camp in Buncombe County, N.C., run by Young Life.”

“I took a group of challenged girls to Windy Gap that year,” Linda says. “One of them was so desperate to go that she hid an ingrown toenail from her parents and from us. But when she couldn’t get her shoe on I looked at it. There was this red line running up her leg, and I knew that wasn’t good. So I took her to the camp doctor.”

Tim says, “Linda looked at me and thought I was too young to be a real doctor. She started asking me all these questions. I had to reassure her I was a surgeon before she would let me work on ‘her girl.’ I got the camper fixed up. After camp I looked up the Y.L. chapter in Richmond, and sent her a letter, but I didn’t get a response.”

“It was because the Young Life mail was being held,” Linda says.

Tim says, “I called her, and started a long-distance romance. I told her I remembered ‘her campers,’ and asked if I could come to Richmond. She started the weekend off with activities with the kids.”

“I had a phone call with my father, Steve Muller,” Linda says. “He told me that a busy surgeon does not take time off to see kids. I found out Dad was smarter than I thought when Tim asked if we could go somewhere alone.”

He says, “We went to a park in Richmond, and sat and talked. Linda told me not to get too attached, because she intended to lead a life of service in the mission field. I told her that was okay, because I did too.”

She says, “I thought he was just saying that, so I asked where he intended to go. He listed all the places he had already been. That was the first time we held hands, and we got married in May of 1992. We took our first mission trip together, two weeks in India, in 1993, but I was sick for the whole trip. I came home discouraged, thinking I was too fragile for mission work. Then I ran into a friend of mine, who was a new mother, in a grocery store. She took one look at me and led me to where the pregnancy tests were. It turns out that’s why I was sick.”

“Pretty soon we had four kids,” Tim says. “We returned to Texas, and I went into practice with Dr. Hagemeier in Kerrville. We put missions on hold.”

Linda says, “When our youngest was five or six, they were spending all their time playing Minecraft, and I wanted them to do something else. I told them they couldn’t play any more until they came up with a service project. They really got into it, researching and planning, and found out about Three Angels Children's Relief, an orphanage in Haiti. They organized a project to recycle cell phones, and we made a trip down there. That started us talking about our calling.”

“We got a lot of support for our plans from First United Methodist Church,” Tim says. “But I felt guilty about leaving my partners and the practice. Linda and I decided to take a leap of faith, and I gave them one year’s notice. Two weeks later a surgeon, Dr. Ross, called Dr. Hagemeier and asked if there was an opening. Had I not told them about our plan, Dr. Hagemeier would have turned him down. So Dr. Ross agreed to take over my practice in the partnership and lived in our home while we were away.”

Linda says, “Years ago we watched ‘Hotel Rwanda.’ I told Tim I would go on a mission with him anywhere except Rwanda. We worked through Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that provides logistical support to provide aid to people in physical need, and people needed help the worst in Rwanda. It became a battle of faith versus fear.”

“A lot of people were telling us we were crazy to take our children to Rwanda,” Tim says. “We prayed on it, and asked for just one more sign after all we had received. A friend, Ed Hamilton, knocked at our door. He told me he had been donating old ties, but was led to give me one of them. It had a map of Africa on it.”

Linda says, “My favorite scripture is Romans 8:28, ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.’ By the time we went, Rwanda was one of the safest places in Africa we could have gone.”

So from 2012 to August of 2015 the Berg family lived in Kirambo, Rwanda, providing that desperately-needed care. Linda says during that time Tim helped heal a young boy, Desté, and in 2014 he became their fifth child. In 2015 they moved to Kijabe, a town in Kenya, where Tim worked toward a permanent solution, teaching new surgeons. The first year there, Linda taught English at Rift Valley Academy, then took a year to homeschool Desté, bringing him up to grade level. Their adventures are chronicled on the Berg Family Blog, bergfamilyafrica.blogspot. com.

In 2018 Tim says the family returned to Texas, first at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – College Station, then back to Kerrville in 2019, where he joined Peterson Medical Associates.

They say their children are growing up. Hannah is a teacher in San Antonio, Stephen will graduate from the University of Texas Law School in May, Ruthie is pursuing a graduate degree in social work at Baylor University, Sam is a sophomore at UT Austin studying photography, and Desté is a home-schooled sixth-grader active in 4-H, Kroc Center flag football, and the Blaze Preteen Ministry at First Methodist.

Linda says, from First Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

(1) comment


Great surgeon. Operated on me twice. Great guy. Great family.

Richard Post. New Braunfels

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