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Approaching the End of Mission Service

A Letter from Martha Sommers, currently in the U.S., serving in Malawi

February 2019

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Dear Friends and Family,

“My heart skipped a beat or two,” my plastic surgeon told me at my postoperative appointment as he removed the drains from my January surgery. He described how close he had needed to operate to the vessel graft that is the sole blood supplier for my post-mastectomy reconstructed left breast, emphasizing that if it had been compromised, “all the work would be lost.” Thanks to his skill, that did not happen, and this second surgery for scar revision and reconstruction has succeeded. After last year’s ordeal of open wounds slowly closing over five months, I shed many tears of relief that this time there were no complications. I am cleared to begin exercising this coming week. It will be good to begin working on gaining strength and stamina as I adjust to my altered body. I now need to lie down to rest a few times each day.

Nkhoma Hospital Principal Administrator Agnes Nyanda and Dr. Catherine Crawford Hodges at COHSASA training.

Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” This Bible verse comes to mind daily. Enough light to move forward, even if I cannot see far down the path with all its twists. Life is reminding me of my walks at night between the hospital and home in Malawi, with a weak flashlight showing where to step on the uneven path, wary of the dangers such as snakes, and surprised often by unexpected beauty when looking up to the stars. The unexpected beauties these months have been so many of you who have reached out to encourage me, leading to renewed and deepened friendships. Thank you.

My last test concerning my cancer was a liver MRI to better define liver nodules that were incidentally found on a breast MRI. I just learned that they are only simple liver cysts, not requiring any further treatment or work-up. Thank God! I’m glad to be able to move past this cancer.

These delays mean that instead of returning to Malawi to work, I will be returning to Malawi to pack up and have proper goodbyes. This is because my term as a mission co-worker ends this spring, and I will not be signing up for four more years. My hope is to visit supporting churches sometime in March and April, and to travel to Malawi in May. I apologize for not being able to set up more than a tentative schedule — please know that I am trying to end well. I started working with PC(USA) World Mission 20+ years ago. The relationships with our partner churches and congregations in the USA run deep. PC(USA) World Mission will be filling my position as lecturer and practitioner of family medicine at Nkhoma Hospital. Please share the word with potential candidates and have them visit the job listing online: pcusa.org/ministries/world-mission/msr/mission-co-workers/.

Marshall University Family Physician and First Presbyterian Church of Huntington member Dr. Cindy Pinson (back row, second from left) and her son Zeb (far right) accompany Nkhoma Hospital Family Medicine Resident Dr. Patrick Chisepo (third from right) on a rural health center supervisory visit.

Thank you for your generous support during the years. If you are able to, please continue to donate to this position to support my replacement as he or she steps into this work that we do together.

Nkhoma Hospital continues to develop as a leader in training and providing care in Malawi. As shared on the Friends of Nkhoma Facebook page, Nkhoma hospital has been chosen by the Ministry of Health to be one of the first Malawian district hospitals to be accredited by COHSASA (Council for Health Service Accreditation of Southern Africa).

My time in mission service as a family physician, clinician and educator will certainly inform my future work. Areas that are more integral to family medicine training in Africa than in the USA include working with community health workers as a leader of a team, maternity care, and preventing and controlling infectious diseases. All are areas of increased interest in the USA, as it begins to explore creative ways to decrease readmissions to hospitals, decrease maternal death rates, and again control diseases like measles.

I enjoyed a great get-together with college friends Karen and Mike Lochhead and family, who reached out to me when they read of my illness in my Mission Connections letter.

Making the next step easier to take is the wonderful opportunity I have to join the Family Medicine faculty at Marshall University. I first went to Embangweni Hospital as a Marshall University family medicine resident in 1992, and I hosted Marshall students, residents, and faculty throughout my years in Malawi, many of whom have become close friends. Details are to be worked out, yet I am excited to be able to integrate continued involvement in Malawi and global involvement in family medicine into my next job.

Please pray for me during these final months as a mission co-worker. Pray that I will gain enough strength and energy to be able to travel to visit supporting churches in the USA and then back to Malawi. Please pray for these goodbye visits.

This letter is not yet my goodbye letter. In my last Mission Connections letter, I will share reflections on my time in mission service.

Thank you for joining me on this journey,

Martha


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