My first visit to Africa came in December of 1981, some 30+ years ago, now. Charles and I were still newly-weds; I was 22 and he was 24.
While Charles was in veterinary school at the University of Tennessee (UT), he became a member of the Christian Veterinary Fellowship (CVF) group. Through CVF he was introduced to a Southern Baptist veterinarian missionary serving in the country of Bophuthatswana (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bophuthatswana), which was one of seven tribal homelands set aside for the Tswana peoples living inside the country of South Africa. In 1994, these areas were reintegrated into South Africa, following the end of apartheid.
Veterinary students were encouraged, their last semester, to go outside the boundaries of their campus for a 6-week externship—to experience something they could not experience on their home campus. Obviously, an externship to South Africa was not something that could be experienced on the UT campus and no one had ever requested an externship for Africa before. Neither had support, been requested, from the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board (FMB; now the IMB, International Mission Board) for a veterinary student. Previously, medical and dental students had been granted funding by the FMB through a program entitled “The Medical Receptor Program”. However, this program required 8 weeks instead of the 6 allowed by UT.
In summary, allow me to share with you how God worked all the details out for us to travel to South Africa. UT granted Charles’ request. Our taking 2 additional weeks during the Christmas break satisfied the required 8 weeks by the FMB. Yes, we were away from home Christmas of 1981. An interview by a FMB member—for both of us—at our local airport in Knoxville, plus a detailed personnel request submitted by the missionary on the field matching Charles’ exact credentials granted us both full-funding for us to travel to South Africa for the two months. I still, to this day, do not understand how/why the FMB funded me for this trip. We had already decided I would join Charles whether or not they funded any portion of the trip for him. We were going! When they informed us that we both were being fully funded we were elated, to say the least! And I was granted a 2-month sabbatical for my job in the UT payroll office, as well.
Living in the home, for two months, with the missionary family was amazing! They had 4 children; three boys 10, 8, and 2 and a 6-month old baby girl; she was precious. Charles worked with the veterinary missionary in the classroom and in the field. They were training nationals how to care for livestock and caring for the locals animals. We became involved in their Bible studies and truly became a part of their family while we were there. We also attended a southern Africa mission meeting/conference, which granted us the privilege of meeting numerous missionaries from many countries. What an honor this was for us. I have so many wonderful memories from this trip!
Charles returned on a medical mission trip to Uganda in 1984, but I was 7 months pregnant with Rachel at the time and we felt it was best I not join him for that trip. I always felt God would call me back to Africa; it sure took much longer than I expected. But…His timing is always…PERFECT!
In South Africa, I fell in love with the African’s worship and praise! To this day, any time I hear African music my heart and my mind go back to those incredible months we spent in South Africa. I never thought it would take more than 25 years (Liberia 2010) for me to get back to Africa, but when I go now, part of me feels like I am going “home”.
Coming soon….”Why Liberia?”