A letter from Martha Sommers on home leave from Malawi
Dear Family and Friends:
Dag Hammarskjold’s quote: “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes” comes to mind as I finish my mission interpretation time and prepare to move to work in Chicago as a family physician during my unpaid leave from the Presbyterian Mission Agency. This will be my last letter until I return to Malawi in early 2014, following this leave to reorient to medicine and life in the U.S.A. It has been 11 years since I last lived in the U.S.A. for a year or practiced medicine in the U.S.A. I will be living with my sister Mary and her family. I will be working with PCC (Parent Child Clinics), whose doctors I initially knew through my sister Mary and because of their trips to Embangweni, Malawi, and their fund-raisers for the work at Embangweni. My main site will be the Walk-In Wellness Center at West Suburban Hospital, whose director, Dr. Kevin Koo, came to Malawi as a family medicine resident. PCC has a family medicine residency affiliated with Northwestern University, and part of my job will be supervising the residents for maternity and the inpatient services and having continuity clinics. Lots to learn in a supportive environment. Please pray for me as I learn how to chart for each patient using the computer, how to negotiate Chicago traffic, and so much more.
Today I am “stranded” in Colorado for five additional days because of a blizzard in Wisconsin two days ago. The airlines and the bureaucratic hurdles to get licensed and credentialed to practice medicine in Illinois are testing the patience and flexibility living in Malawi for 15 years schooled me in. My extra time in Colorado is one of the things I can easily be thankful for, as I am with my sister Veronica and family. Soon I may be interrupted to join two nieces and two nephews in decorating Christmas sugar cookies. After this early Christmas I should be able to get to my sister Bonnie’s and family in Wisconsin for another Christmas celebration by Christmas Eve evening. Am thankful to have so many family members to celebrate with.
These last months on the road mainly visiting churches from coast to coast and many places in between seemed mainly like a long celebration of Malawi partnerships, of friendships, of personal and congregational transformations, and of a love for which distance, culture, and ethnicity is no obstacle. Presbyterian Rev. Don Ashburn’s Ph.D. thesis concerns short-term missions, so he interviewed me on my experience with groups over time. We discussed how helpful it is when these groups come as part of a larger and longer partnership. When this is the case, the short-term visitors are able to gain context beforehand as well as continue to grow and process and keep up relationships afterwards. Those who are receiving the visitors are also then under less pressure to try to impress the visitors, but instead can welcome them as friends of friends or as members of an extended church family. To many congregations in the U.S.A. 10 years seems like a long partnership. Yet partnerships with Scotland seem to span more than 100 years.
The other area we discussed is task-orientated trips versus trips to build relationships. I think task-orientated trips succeed when those involved realize the task is really a tool to build relationships, and the tasks involve working alongside local hosts. Some personalities can build relationships by sitting and talking and observing. Yet, for many folks, they build relationships while they work alongside local people; and for youth groups especially, most youth do better when they don’t have to sit too long. It was great to have this discussion with a minister of a church whose members include adults who visited as youth or with their youth and talk of how those trips informed their career choices, marriage choices, and choices in how they live in community with their family and neighbors. You can check the PC(USA) website for further resources on overseas partnerships and short-term missions. Emmanuel, God is with us, as we work together in the spirit of love.
I stayed with so many wonderful families, the last being Anna and Jack Kerr as I visited Hollywood First Presbyterian Church. Their congregation wired Embangweni Hospital in preparation for the electrical power that arrived in 2001 and has donated ambulances and sponsored the training of many nurses. Jack, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, stated that one of the great moments in his life was when he visited Embangweni in 2003 and I told him, “Thank you. It’s nice to have lights when you are doing surgery.
It has also been great to be able to communicate with friends in Malawi through email and Facebook, and to be able to get friends on this side who had lost touch with their Malawi friends again in touch through these tools. Recent updates tell me that there is still a fuel crisis, the hospitals are trying to cope as best they can with malaria season, and my replacement for 2013, Dr. Jaap Oosterom, is set to arrive with his family from Holland at Ekwendeni, come January. You can continue to support the work at Embangweni and Ekwendeni hospitals through the Medical Benevolence Foundation. Those of you who support me financially through the Presbyterian Mission Agency can continue to do so, and the money will be used to pay for my expenses, come 2014, when I return to Malawi.
May they, and all of us, have an exciting joyful New Year as we follow Micah 6:8, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Love to you all,
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 117