It’s almost been two years since we moved from Edmonton, Alberta, to Gitega, Burundi. These two years have been the most difficult, challenging, rewarding and encouraging of our lives.
God specifically and tangibly called us to Burundi, put his voice in our hearts, and asked us to go. It was unquestionable, undeniable, and in our opinion, unavoidable. Scripture is full of stories of those who try to run from God’s calling in their lives, and Nadine and I have recognized that obedience to God is a duty, not a choice.
As a 17 year old kid, I wanted to work in medical missions, and it took 9 years for God to show me what that would look like. That goes for Nadine as well; as long as she can remember, she wanted to do medical missions. Burundi for us was the accumulation of years of waiting and searching out God’s plan.
God was clear in his direction, in how he spoke to both of us as individuals and as parts of a whole marriage. He put people in our path to support us and guide us, and he led us to Burundi Youth for Christ, with the clear calling and mission to help them open and operate Shammah Health Center.
We always knew and shared with many of you these two things: If we waited for things to be perfect before we left, we never would have come! Likewise, had we waited until we felt ready and fully equipped to do what was asked of us, we would probably still be waiting around in Edmonton, and God would have called someone else to come to open the health center.
The reason I’m writing today about God’s calling, is that he has made it clear to us once again what our next steps are supposed to be, and it’s going to come as a bit of a surprise!
For the past year, God has made several things very clear to Nadine and I:
He was calling us into full-time Christian ministry.
He was calling us to stay in Central-East Africa.
He was calling us to continue in the field of healthcare.
He was calling me to work with an NGO or development organization.
Knowing all of this is one thing, but figuring out what it meant for Nadine and I has been a challenge! Given my educational background, specifically the lack of a Masters degree, my resume was not up to the standards of every NGO and development organization out there. I looked into masters programs all over, talked with mentors already working in the field, considered applying for international fellowship programs, you name it. When responding to God’s call in your life, there’s not really anything that should hold you back, is there? As we look back, we know we could not have endured the trials we’ve experienced without knowing that God had called us into them.
God has been preparing us through these experiences, giving us so many skills and opportunities since moving out here to Burundi. He has walked us through challenge after challenge, building us in confidence and our ability to rely on Him as we try to stay in the center of his will.
What I didn’t expect, and it was foolish of me not to, is that God would make it so abundantly clear what Nadine and I were supposed to do next.
Almost exactly one month ago, I was approached by a Christian health-based NGO operating here in Burundi, called LifeNet International (www.lninternational.org) and offered a position as their Country Director in charge of all operations in Uganda.
To be clear, this offer was not solicited, but instead I was pursued by LifeNet as a candidate for this position. In our time working as the directors of Shammah Health Center, we’ve had the privilege of interacting professionally with many different organizations, missions and institutions working here in Central-East Africa, and LifeNet took notice of the work Nadine and I have been doing.
In considering the job offer, we fasted, we prayed, and we spent time with people close to us, seeking advice and counsel. Over the course of the week, we knew we had to apply, and that I had to put my name forward for selection. On October 17th, we officially got the letter of acceptance from LifeNet International.
The reason Nadine and I took this decision so seriously and considerately, is because my new position begins in January 2015. That brings us one full year short of our extended term in Burundi.
We had to ask a lot of tough questions of ourselves, and pray that God would reveal our true motives and hearts behind this decision. I think that these questions only begin to scratch the surface as to the thought and effort we have put into this decision.
Have we accomplished what God called us to do?
God called us to Burundi to open and operate Shammah Health Center. It took us over a year, and Shammah has been operating for almost 9 months now, with an incredible staff, and amazing stories of lives changed and saved.
Are we being responsive to what God is making clear to us?
We have been praying for over a year that God would make clear to us the next steps to take after our time in Burundi. Not only do we feel a strong calling out to Uganda, but we also feel in our hearts that God is closing the door here in Burundi, asking us to let go of the leadership of Shammah, and transition to something new. We have been operating under God’s leading through all of the challenges and victories here in Burundi. One thing we absolutely don’t want is to avoid what God wants for us now in moving on.
Are we misinterpreting what God is saying to us?
We initially committed to a 2 year term in Burundi, but felt a leading to say 3 years, unless God said any different! We always felt that he would be calling us to stay longer, if anything, and we never imagined that he would be calling us to stay shorter! We have received confirmation in this through friends, family and through prayer and circumstance. We are as confident in this step as we were when we were called to Burundi way back in 2011.
Will Shammah succeed without our leadership?
Nadine and I are amazed at our staff, their capabilities, dedication, and faith. As we have shared with them, we recognize they have a lack of confidence in themselves. Nadine and I are working to build them up in faith, not so that they draw confidence from us, but from God. We do see the need for continued strategic planning and development at the health center, but we have seen firsthand that the clinic operates very well in the day-to-day. Our staff are ready!
Will BYFC continue to be able to operate Shammah?
It would be foolish and very human of us to think that the ongoing success of Shammah depends on us. However, that doesn’t mean we will leave Shammah behind. We plan to maintain close ties with BYFC and local leadership here in Gitega in the coming months and years (Uganda is only a bus-ride away!) in an effort to continue to advocate on behalf of this community that we love, our staff & Burundian family, and the work being done here that is impacting lives. Instead of being isolated geographically by returning to Canada or pursuing schooling, we will be close by and remain able to offer assistance and guidance as needed. Financially, Shammah is supported by organizations and people around the world, and we know that there are many of you who will continue to bless the ministry that is going on here after Nadine and I have transitioned away.
Will the family of supporters we have been blessed with over these past few years understand?
That’s up to you! We believe that because this is from God, he has plans not only to bless us, but bless Shammah Health Center, BYFC, and even all of you! We welcome your questions, concerns, comments, and we hope that we can explain ourselves to you all as best as possible.
Will Shammah be financially viable without the financial support we bring in?
We recognize that many of you who have supported Nadine and I over the past few years, have done so for exactly that reason; because of us! We know that with our leaving Burundi, there are many of you who will feel called to move on with your support. We also know that there are many of you who have fallen in love with the work that is being done here in Gitega, and that God will continue to call you to support what he is accomplishing! To that end, Nadine and I will continue to work as advocates for Shammah.. We will continue to share stories, needs and praise items as they come! In addition to having an significant reserve fund, Shammah is already on the way to sustainability. There is a lot of work that must be done but the support is there and the health center will continue to operate successfully as time moves forward.
Do we feel ready for this, and is it the right time to go?
Like I’ve already said, if I waited until I felt 100% capable and able to do this, I would be blogging from a desk in Edmonton, not here in Gitega! I wouldn’t even be blogging at all! I believe just as God has brought glory to himself by using unequipped, unexperienced people like Nadine and myself to work in Burundi, He will also be glorified in using us in Uganda. As for the right time, if we were waiting for things to be “perfect” before we left, we would have never arrived in Burundi in the first place.
If some of this seems crazy, it’s because it is! I never imagined an opportunity like this would be before us, just as we both never could have envisioned the experiences and challenges we have faced here in Burundi. We see a clear direction and God’s guidance of our lives, as he moved us to Burundi so we could be exposed to this current opportunity, just as he will make clear for us in the future our next steps.
In the coming three months, we will be working to transition our roles and responsibilities to SHC and BYFC staff, and establish a clear plan for the months and years ahead. We are looking into arranging regular return trips for Nadine to Gitega over the first 6 months of 2015 so she can continue to mentor and work with our staff, and communicate with our partners as to the needs and progress on the ground.
We have notified BYFC and YFC Edmonton leadership, our team and families, and now you, our supporters and friends. We’ll be making it “Facebook Official” soon enough!
LifeNet International is an American non-profit working here in Burundi for the past 3 years. LifeNet exists to transform African healthcare by partnering with local health centers to provide quality and sustainable care to their communities. In Burundi, they have 60 partner church-based clinics, including Shammah Health Center! Their goal is to improve clinical performance and capacity, regularly seeing that performance double within 24 months of partnership.
In 2015, they will be moving into Uganda and the Congo, with plans to be in 10 different countries by the year 2025. My role in LifeNet as the Uganda Country Director will have me responsible for the launch of operations in Uganda, including program objectives, partnership management, local and regional fundraising, recruiting, and day-to-day operations.
Though Uganda has experienced significant economic growth compared to Burundi, life expectancy is still only 57 years due to major health challenges facing the country. Outside of urbanized areas, child mortality, maternal mortality, and other health statistics dramatically escalate to Burundian-like levels. Nearly 80% of all of the country’s medical personnel are concentrated in urban areas, serving only 13% of 36 million Ugandans. LifeNet aims to make significant and sustainable improvements to the health of Uganda’s poor through establishing a clinical network.
With this change, it won’t just be one clinic, one community that we’ll be impacting, but dozens over the coming years.
Nadine will work in an informal capacity to assist with LifeNet, while maintaining our connections back in Burundi, and also looking for part-time work in Uganda.
For those that want to carry on supporting Nadine and myself it will be a little tricky as LifeNet is a US-registered 501c3, that doesn’t issue tax receipts for Canadian giving, but that’s another detail for another time. We will be working to obtain a charitable partner in Canada to continue with fundraising initiatives and we’ll keep you all posted.
We really want to hear from you if you have questions and do everything we can to answer them!
In terms of what the next three months will look like in a little closer detail, Nadine and I are continuing to work hard this month of November. In December, Nadine and I are trying to organize some much-needed time off, between the craziness of leaving and the craziness of starting something new! Our time in August home was incredible, but exhausting, so we need to get away. In January, I will begin some on-boarding with LifeNet here in Burundi, while Nadine will continue to wrap things up at the health center. For the 3rd week of January, I will be riding, supporting and raising funds for Shammah, for the 3rd Annual Tour du Burundi. My goal is $8,000 and I believe I’ll hit it with your help!
After the tour finishes, at the end of January Nadine and I will load up our possessions in our bags, put them in a truck, and move to Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. It will be almost exactly 2 years for us here in Burundi at that time. Crazy! With LifeNet, we will now be taking regular visits home, so expect to see us again in person sometime this coming summer.
Well I’m exhausted just writing this, and I know my talent for elaboration has probably tired you all out as well! Wow, thanks for reading!
Through all of this, God has been ever-present and ever-faithful. We know we are responding to his calling to move to Uganda in 2015, and we are so excited to continue to share in this adventure with all of you. We’ll keep on blogging, keep on sharing, and as we look back and see what God has done, we can’t wait to see what is in store for us next!
Lots of love, from both Nadine and I.