Financial pressures. Loneliness. Frequent moves. New cultures and climates. Husbands working long hours in physically and emotionally draining careers.

Feeling like a single parent. Attending church alone. No family nearby.

These common threads bring more than 160 women together each Friday morning for Side By Side ministry, a Bible study for health care wives. Based on Philippians 1:27, "Standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side," this group seeks to pray for and encourage one another.

It was birthed in Rochester 27 years ago. SBS Founder Robin Morgenthaler, herself transplanted from Hawaii to Mayo Clinic, said, "As a doctor's wife, you move a lot. Your husband is going to school without making a living for four years; then he does a residency where there is not a huge income. You can start off with over $200,000 in debt for the medical education. You move away from family and friends to a new culture and climate. It can be very overwhelming and you can feel very disconnected."

Mission vision

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While driving to breakfast with her husband, Morgenthaler felt the Lord give her a vision, the one and only vision of her life. She saw a "reverse mission field" at Mayo Clinic where people come to be healed and trained. It would provide an opportunity for the people to feel love from fellow Christians and hear about Christ.

"I was very reluctant and didn't act on it until I was uncomfortable in my own church," Morganthaler said. "A woman came up to me and said, 'You are a doctor's wife. You don't have any problems.'"

That was the catalyst for Morgenthaler to create a small support network with other physicians' wives.

"Running into the same doctors' wives at the library, Hy-Vee and other places, God made it clear who he wanted me to ask," she said. "All of them said yes. So we started at my kitchen table with six women. Reading God's word bonds you as you look to it for answers. We were all new in town. None of us had family here, so we became each other's families and babysat for one another."

The second year, the group grew to meeting in three homes; they later moved to a church. It's membership slowly grew more international. Later, the group added an international class where Eriko Kerr helped women practice reading English using the Bible.

Invited back

In 1994, Morgenthaler and her husband, Tim, moved to Nashville upon completion of his fellowship.

"We wanted to stay, but Mayo was not hiring," she said. At that time, the group had grown to more than 60 members.

"We moved back six years later and my neighbor invited me to the study!" Morganthaler said. "She said, 'There's this really good Bible study. You ought to think about this. It's for doctors' wives.'

"So I had been invited back! I was moved to tears," she said. "At the spring brunch, I was the speaker and gave the history of how God provided each step of the way: space, location, help with financial management, childcare workers — everything. It's really a God story."

At the urging of group member Avery Wolff, Side by Side documented its model so it could be recreated in other medical communities.

"Avery and Carol Shrader wrote an article for Physician magazine," Morgenthaler said. "Nine people responded to the article, but we could not get things to work from a distance. It was not the right time.

"Then, three years later, we met with the president of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), which has 17,000 workers and 78 ministries," she said. "They teach staff how to use faith in their practice and how to pray with patients. They train missionaries to send out in the field. We found out they had been praying for three years to start a medical group like ours while we had been trying to get ours started.

"We agreed to be part of their ministry," Morgenthaler said. "It's a beautiful relationship. In our 11 years together, we have started over 50 chapters across the nation with one international chapter in Sendai, Japan.

"Outreach is the focus. These women come from all different faiths and churches. Some have no church background. Our common understanding is being a health care wife. We agree on the big doctrinal things and stay unified. I have heard so many wives say they chose Mayo Clinic because it has a Side By Side. Their husbands want that for them, too. The husbands ask about the books we read, so this impacts the whole family.

"I did what God asked me to do," Morgenthaler said. "We now meet at Autumn Ridge with over 160 women and have nine rooms for child care on Friday mornings. We also have a Tuesday night study. I just love these young women! I can give them wisdom, and we have a give-and-take relationship."