Novel-writing surgeon Harry Kraus ’82 resettles in Virginia after years of practicing medicine in Africa

Harry L. Kraus Jr. (right), a 1982 biology graduate, explains his medical work in Africa this way: “Jesus made some strong statements about loving your neighbor. We felt like we were asked to go love these people, so that’s what we did.” (Photo courtesy of Harry Kraus)

When Dr. Harry Kraus decided to take a mission trip, he had no idea he was about to change his family’s life forever.

He called Samaritan’s Purse, an organization run by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham. “I told them I had three weeks off, and wanted to take my son on a medical trip to provide services,” he recalls. “They sent us to Kenya.”

Something happened during that short trip: Dr. Kraus’ eyes were opened to the tremendous and growing need in Africa. And after just two weeks, his son looked at him and said, ‘Dad, tell Mom to pack her bags.’ Dr. Kraus remembers thinking at the time, “That’ll go over big: I come home after three weeks and tell my wife we ought to move to Africa?”

They had a comfortable life; he was in private practice as a general surgeon in Harrisonburg; they had three healthy boys. But the entire family supported the idea, and when his practice offered him a year’s sabbatical, they moved to Kenya.

“We never intended to stay for the better part of a decade,” Dr. Kraus says, “but after the first year, we loved it. The boys liked their school, they were making friends, and enjoyed riding their motorcycles out to chase zebra and giraffes. They’d sleep under the stars, and shoot their own food with blowguns. It was an adventure.” They signed on for another three years – and after a short break, another three.

And of course, the need everywhere was so great. Dr. Kraus was treating more and more Muslim refugees who came seeking care, and the more he interacted with them, the more they urged him to visit their country. He went to a Muslim country in North Africa to teach in a medical school, and ended up organizing a number of trips both to teach and to operate. Once Al Shabaab withdrew from the capital city, he began going there. “I never dreamed I’d be making rounds accompanied by soldiers with automatic weapons,” he says.

He remembers discussing these visits with his wife Kris, talking about the risks of going into one of the world’s most dangerous cities. “I once asked her what she’d say if I were killed going there at such a dangerous time,” he recalls. “She told me she’d say that I died doing what I was passionate about. Then I knew I could go. I knew she was OK.”

That kind of strength comes from one place in the Kraus family: their Christian beliefs. “We were motivated by faith,” Dr. Kraus says. “Jesus made some strong statements about loving your neighbor. We felt like we were asked to go love these people, so that’s what we did.”

As they were contemplating the decision, the Krauses turned to the Bible. “We found this verse in Galatians,” Dr. Kraus remembers: “‘As you have opportunity to do good, do it.’ For us it was just as simple as that.”

In 2013, when their youngest son was getting ready to go to college in the States, the Krauses knew it was time to return home. Dr. Kraus had been in contact with the new Riverside Doctors Hospital in Williamsburg, and was invited to join the medical team. He’s been on staff since September.

Despite settling in, and maintaining a busy surgical schedule, he still finds time to work on another of his passions: he’s the best-selling author of several Christian-inspired novels – he calls them ‘contemporary drama with a realistic medical stripe’ – and several works of non-fiction. “God’s grace is a theme that runs through all of my writing,” he says.

And clearly through his life, as well.

First published Feb. 24, 2014, courtesy Hampton Road Physician