Ann has been a missionary for 33 years. She explains how God has led her, over the years, to where she is now.
Reading Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider at university convicted me strongly that I should use my skills as a doctor to help those in need in Africa. I wasn’t confident of much more than that, and so I only signed up for two years at Kapsowar Hospital in Kenya from 1988. After two years I was sure I should stay, and after four years I decided to go to All Nations Christian College (ANCC) for mission training before returning to Kapsowar.
I wasn’t confident enough of my Christianity to share it with non-believers, but having immersed myself in the hospital very quickly (as one of only two doctors initially), I soon became involved in Bible studies with student nurses. Later I was asked by a small village church to ‘be their missionary’. My training at ANCC, the work I had done with the church, and relationships with local pastors, led to me being asked to help them run seminars for elders and then for women’s and youth leaders too.
My role in church ministry was building up the church, whether in the elders’ seminars or preaching in my local church and running women’s meetings. There was little opportunity for evangelism because the population were largely church goers.
Letting local leaders lead
Kapsowar was a very well established mission station and I began to wonder if I shouldn’t move on. An advert talking of the need for a doctor to work in Chad caught my eye, but I would need to learn French and Arabic so I put the idea on the back burner. It was perhaps two years later, when I had decided that I needed further Bible and mission training to enable me in the church side of my work, that I returned to do the master’s programme at All Nations. I was convinced that, for the health of Kapsowar, local leaders needed to take over and it would be better for me to move on.
Whilst at All Nations I was considering where God would have me go. Several opportunities were presented to me, but many were in areas with established churches. Chad again presented itself, but it was different with over 50% of the population being Muslims. After my master’s, I visited Chad to see how I felt about conditions there, but this only served to confirm a conviction which I already had: Chad was where I should go.
Once in Chad, the church wanted me to work at Bebalem Hospital in the south, but I felt led to help the church health centres scattered widely around the southern part of the country. Some of these were in Christian areas (though many associated with very small, poorly established churches), but several were in animist or Muslim areas. They had been largely neglected for some years and this job seemed to fit the skills I acquired in Kapsowar. I could encourage spiritually while helping with medical and administrative training. It was a much bigger job than I had realised, but God enabled me, first in providing me with a partner to work with to find the health centres and as an aid in cross-cultural work, and later in giving me strength and wisdom. The job was very busy and, when I wasn’t helping in the centres, I was busy at Bebalem Hospital which severely lacked doctors. I found myself less involved in overtly spiritual work than in Kapsowar. I sought to encourage others to evangelism, but I wasn’t involved myself.
A focus on the unreached
Then in AIM’s leadership meetings in 2014, our International Director presented what he called our ‘Framework’ that would form the basis of AIM’s five year vision plan (Vision 2020). He talked about the need to prioritise taking the gospel to people groups who, without the deliberate actions of others, would never hear about Jesus. I sat there knowing that he was right, this had to be our focus. It had to be my focus.
I returned to Bebalem determined to encourage others (!) to go out and reach the unreached – especially the students at the nursing school attached to the hospital, but also in hospital devotions and in a local church which asked me to preach and lead Bible studies sometimes. It was three months later that I felt God saying to me that I should go north to the unreached of Chad myself.
In March 2015 I finally reached a city in the Muslim, northern two thirds of Chad. I was to lead a team with a view to reaching the Neem* people. We started with two years of learning Chadian Arabic and culture, and working among the many people groups of the city. I started to learn the Neem language, but found it a challenge with Neem people scattered through the city. The city has several large churches attended by southern Christians, but the surrounding villages and small towns have no such witness and are majority Neem populations. It seemed time to move on again. As early as 2016 God made me consider the small town where I now live, but it was only after several visits that AIM considered I was ready to move there a year ago.
Life in a small town
The town where I currently live is much smaller with a population of 10,000. It is very undeveloped and most of its inhabitants are poor, subsistence farmers. Over 95% are Neem. Being Muslims, I can only build relationships with local women. Many of the local women know little of ‘their religion’ but are bound by its customs and rituals alongside fears stemming from animist beliefs. They have little hope for the future.
My heart goes out to them, and more and more I wish they could know the love of God seen in Jesus as I do. How can they change? They must first hear who Jesus is and what he came to do. Who will they listen to? Relationships must first be made and my medical work helps me into such relationships. Then, just visiting, spending time, sharing their lives, gives me opportunities to speak of the gospel. God has changed me in that I am ready and eager to talk of his desire to be reconciled with us in Christ and the hope we can have of a relationship with him. There are many needs and therefore many openings to show God’s love and to have the chance to speak. Most women are illiterate or semi-literate. Many have little knowledge of hygiene and health. People often stay at home rather than going to hospital for treatment. They are set in older ways of farming. How much more could be done with more people? We pray that the small number of local Christians might seek to understand the language and share their faith. We pray for other team members to join me.
*The name of the people group has been changed for security reasons