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Decades-long missionary dream begins in Malawi

Donna Sloan felt God’s call to mission as a child

by Tammy Warren | Mission Crossroads

Donna Sloan speaking at the 2016 New Wilmington Mission Conference. She arrived in Malawi January 21. (Photo by Tammy Warren)

LOUISVILLE – God’s plans and timing are different from ours. Just ask the Rev. Dr. Donna J. Sloan.

Donna has packed her luggage, figuratively, more than once to answer God’s call to mission—a call she has felt since she was nine years old, growing up in Campbell, Ohio. Donna recalls that when a teacher at Campbell Christian Center asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said “I want to be a missionary nurse.”

Now in her 70s, Donna has been commissioned by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to teach church history and ethics as a long-term volunteer in Malawi.

It is often said that God qualifies the called rather than calling the qualified. While Donna waited for God’s perfect timing to begin mission service, she earned a diploma in nursing; a bachelor’s degree in sociology; master’s degrees in public health, divinity and theology; and a doctorate in interdisciplinary arts and sciences that focused on the inter-relatedness of religion and health. After each accomplishment, as well as after her ordination as a minister in the late 1980s, she thought, “Now I’m ready. God will send me now.” Each time, however, she sensed it wasn’t God’s idea of the right time.

Throughout her careers as a registered nurse, ordained minister and college professor, Donna continued to work in New England, California and Ohio. She also cared for her aging parents for many years and taught philosophy and religious studies at Youngstown (Ohio) State University—courses she will also teach during her two-year mission as a professor at Zomba Theological College in South Central Africa. Students of ZTC represent all five Church of Central Africa Presbyterian synods: Blantyre, Harare, Livingstonia, Nkhoma and Zambia spread across the countries of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Donna Sloan. (Photo by Michelle Lori)

A few years ago Donna met retired mission co-worker JoAnn Griffith, who served in Ethiopia for more than four decades. JoAnn’s enthusiasm for mission was contagious and caused Donna to reflect on her childhood dream of becoming a missionary. Donna traveled on a short-term mission to Ethiopia with JoAnn and was excited to work with the Oromo people, especially because she had learned through DNA testing that her ancestral heritage on her father’s side is 99.4% from the Oromo people of Ethiopia.

That trip prompted Donna to complete an online application for mission service at She attended an orientation in October 2015, initially planning to serve in Ethiopia. At orientation she learned about the teaching position in Malawi. When she learned the courses she would teach at ZTC were the same as she had taught in Ohio, she became convinced that the timing of the position in Malawi was according to God’s plan.

Since her retirement, Donna has been learning to play the harp—another long-time dream. She will take her harp with her to Malawi and continue lessons via Skype.

Even though several decades have passed since she initially recognized God’s call, Donna remains excited and expectant about mission work. She’s looking forward to all God has planned.

The Rev. Debbie Braaksma, Africa area coordinator, is pleased that Donna has answered God’s call to mission. “She is a very special person. Her wisdom and life experiences are so needed in Malawi.”

You can support Donna’s long-term volunteer mission in Malawi by making a gift at

This article is from the Spring 2017 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers’ homes three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission.

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