Martha Sommers


Mission co-worker in Malawi with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Nkhoma Hospital as a lecturer and family medicine practitioner.

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Martha ended service May 31, 2019.

About Martha Sommers’ ministry

In Malawi, family practice physician Dr. Martha Sommers serves as a lecturer and family medicine practitioner at Nkhoma Hospital, the only mission hospital in Malawi offering postgraduate training in family medicine. She assists with the hospital’s development of the family medicine training program and trains experienced district hospital doctors to teach students the basics of family medicine.

The School of Public Health and Family Medicine was established at Malawi’s College of Medicine to train healthcare personnel to serve the country’s mainly rural population. Family medicine is the specialty that encompasses all ages, treating the patient and community, not merely the disease. In countries that base their health systems on the family medicine model, underserved communities are better served, access to healthcare is greater, and care is more equitable. The partnership that Martha supports between the Malawi College of Medicine and the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Nkhoma Hospital promotes both individual and community health.

Country context

Malawi is a relatively small, landlocked country in southeastern Africa. Less than 1 percent of the population has access to a university education, one of the lowest rates in the world. In recent years, Malawi has suffered from drought and floods as well as widespread challenges in the government’s management of resources.

In Malawi, 27 percent of all deaths are attributed to HIV/AIDS, the leading cause of death in the country. Over a million children living in the country have been orphaned as a result of the disease. The spread of HIV/AIDS is exacerbated by the fact that the patient-doctor ratio is 55,000 to one. The lack of access to medical care is most acute in rural areas.

The Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) stands as one of the oldest and largest churches in Malawi. In spite of the many challenges and hardships Malawians face, the growth of the church and faith of people remain strong. Since beginning its involvement in Malawi in the 1950s, the PC(USA) has sent many long-term and short-term mission personnel to serve in the country.

About Martha Sommers

Compassion welled up inside Martha the day she saw ailing people who needed shelter and care getting drenched by a downpour in Mexico City.

“During that high school trip, I decided I wanted to be a doctor because that was the way I could help people like those I saw outside our hotel,” she says.

For Martha, the scene was a poignant illustration of the world’s injustice, and it pricked her resolve to help people in need. Her aptitude for and love of science pointed her toward a career in medicine.

As a college student at Notre Dame, Martha began to see her commitment to help less fortunate people from a theological perspective. While majoring in microbiology to prepare for medical school, she minored in theology and embraced the Catholic social teaching of “God’s preferential option for the poor.”

Her experience in Presbyterian Mission has refined her understanding of service. “In college, I understood service as charity and the need to empower,” she says. “Through my work with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and our partners, I have come to understand that service is best done in partnership as mutual givers and receivers. We fill the gaps that our partners ask us to fill for a time.”

Since coming under Presbyterian Mission appointment in 1997, Martha has indeed filled the gaps and done much more. She began her service in Malawi, where she trained doctors and other mission personnel and provided healing and hope through direct patient care. She worked at two hospitals affiliated with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian’s Livingstonia Synod, Embangweni Mission Hospital (1997–2001) and Ekwendeni Mission Hospital (2001–2015). Martha’s former responsibilities at these hospitals are now performed by Malawian doctors, some of whom she taught.

In 2015, Martha was invited to serve as an instructor at the Christian Medical Institute of the Kasai (IMCK), the primary health care facility and a hub for medical education in the central region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But after arriving in Congo in the fall of 2016, multiple incidents of violence ensued. The Presbyterian Mission Agency’s partners, the Presbyterian Community of Congo (CPC) and the IMCK, felt she should be evacuated.

Following her evacuation, Martha lived temporarily in Madagascar, where she practiced as a family health physician and immersed herself in language studies. While in Madagascar, she also organized and presented at two family medicine conferences — one for medical students and another for professors and practicing doctors — that extolled the benefits of family medicine.

Martha spent her childhood in Detroit and her early adolescence in Farmington Hills, Michigan. While in high school, her family moved to Wisconsin. After graduating from Notre Dame, she returned to Wisconsin to study medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She completed a residency at Marshall University in West Virginia and then practiced for five years in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, before entering mission service.

Martha is a member of Holy Mother of Consolation Catholic Church in Oregon, Wisconsin, but has regularly attended both Catholic and Presbyterian congregations while serving in Africa.

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Birthday: January 19