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Interview: Hannah Mumford, missionary wife and mother

14 September 2018

‘Missionary work nowadays is more about modelling service and giving of time and energies’

We’re heading off next week to work for Mission Aviation Fellowship [MAF] in Liberia. Esther is eight now, Zach will be 11 in October, and Jacob is just three. We spent a couple of weeks in Aberdeen this year, where Zack was born and lived till he was five. He said: “I’d like to wake up and we’d be in our old house” — but he talks to the grandparents about Liberia and how excited he is. They’ll go to a bigger international school, with diplomats’ kids, and see more of real life. Our compound there will be on the beach, built during the ebola crisis and shared with families from other missions. We’re taking nine suitcases and a bag of body-boards.

Life in Chad was really tough for them; but then you see the amazingness of what God gives them as replacement for these things. They go out and buy bread wrapped in paper, play with kids with a ball: basic play, basic life. But the flipside of the coin is that it’s very insular.

I spent my time in Chad running the home. It’s a small programme, and we’d often have other MAF staff visit the programme to help out; so I was involved in hospitality for these guests and preparing the guest houses for them. I also helped out at the small missionary school that Zack and Esther attended, as they were short-staffed.

Chad is hot and dusty. People are welcoming and friendly as a whole, but, overall, so poor, with rich pockets of housing throughout the city. The pace of life is slow because it’s so hot. It’s a mostly Muslim country, with some Christians and then a few of other beliefs. Friendships and relationships are so important — just spending time with people. There isn’t a lot of good road awareness.

The nicest thing about Chad — but at times the hardest — was the simplicity of everyday life. Simple play for the kids; no keeping up with Western pressures to have better clothing, the newest car, the nicest house, the best kids’ parties; being valued as individuals and not for what you might have. And you have much more family time because there aren’t afterschool activities for kids. That’s a big bonus.

The work of MAF’s an amazing thing. They use light aircraft to help transform the lives of people in some of the world’s most isolated places. It’s a real privilege to share the gifts that God gave Andrew in learning to fly, and his passion for travel and learning. And although I didn’t know the plan for my role, God made it clear that we’d enter the work and the life together, and as a family.

Andrew first flew a Cessna 182, then a Cessna Caravan, to enable other missionaries and NGO staff to carry out their work in Chad. He could be flying doctors who can spend more time with patients rather than spending time driving there, or who wouldn’t be able to pass through flooded roads. He flew pastors or food supplies and other supplies to villages. Sometimes, he was involved in flying for medevacs [medical evacuation] to bring people to the capital for better medical care. Missionary work nowadays is more about modelling service and giving of time and energies, backed up with some direct teaching, perhaps. Actions speak louder than words, but both words and actions are vital for sharing the gospel.

The friendships I made with missionaries were very deep, especially as it’s so hard to cope with things like the heat, the corruption, the instability, and intermittent power.

Bringing up our children in a different culture has been hard at times. We try and raise them in the home in our own culture, but they have this outside awareness and visual sense of another culture that’s very different. It’s an amazing experience for them to gain greater understanding of the world and be more outward looking. They take things at face value and for them, as they were so young when we moved to Chad: Zack was five and Esther was two, and Jacob just a few months when we took him back to Chad after he was born in England. Jacob thinks it’s normal, even at three years old now, to shake hands when you say hello.

When we were last in London for medicals, Esther was just three-and-a-half years old, and she wanted to play with some children in a park. I said, “Go and ask if you can play,” but she said that she couldn’t because they were black — assuming that they were from Chad and could speak only French! I realised that we could differentiate between different cultures, but the children thought that Chadian culture was the way things happened worldwide.

Andrew used to fly occasionally into the national parks, and we could go on safari, which was one of the perks. When we went to the zoo here yesterday, the children said, “We’ve seen so many animals today, but it’s not the same, because they’re in cages.”

I pray that the kids settle well and find new friends, and that I can be a good mum. I also hope that God makes known to me his plans for me in Liberia, and, if that’s being just a mum and wife, that’s grand. What I want to do next is to do what God wants me to do. I was a podiatrist in the NHS; so maybe I’ll volunteer to help with basic medical skills in the local hospital, or just pass on common practical skills that we take for granted here, like first aid and breastfeeding.

I was brought up in the same house until I left home to go to university. Holidays were mostly within the UK, and I was very home-focused. Not that that was wrong — it was just different. The family went to the same church from when I was a child, and my parents are still in the same house now, with friendships that go back years, and my grandparents that lived on the same farm on my dad’s side and my mum’s parents just ten miles away.

I can’t pinpoint my first experiences of God, but I remember, as a teenager, the penny dropping about Jesus’s dying on the cross and being raised to life again, and what that actually meant regarding him dying on the cross for me, giving me eternal life through his resurrection.

Unfairness makes me angry.

Seeing the kids happy makes me happy, and offering hospitality to people. Working behind the scenes on different things, and seeing a plan come together. If we were to have visitors to stay at the guest houses in Chad, I’d enjoy being involved in all that prep for that.

Living in Chad has definitely been the thing that’s demanded the most courage from me in life so far — the instability and sometimes uncertainty of daily life. Driving I found very challenging, and with corruption in the country and it not being an English-speaking country, I dreaded being stopped by the police. Also, coping with transitions that seem neverending. There were constant comings and goings, and I had to pass that over to God; sometimes it was hard to plan just the day ahead, as perhaps Andrew would end up having a night away, or the electricity would go off, or somebody would knock on the door and want my time for a chat. And I’m a planner.

I have hope and peace for the future, because wherever I go, and whatever I have to do, even if it feels unmanageable and I don’t understand it, God is walking alongside me and leading the way, never leaving me and never placing me in situations that I can’t handle. Not that it makes life easy.

I pray most for peace, and that others will know the love of God and Jesus as their saviour.

If I was locked in a church with anyone, I’d choose a friend, approaching her seventies, who’s known Andrew’s family since before Andrew was born. She’s walked alongside us closely from the time we moved to Aberdeen, while we were applying for MAF and while we’ve been in Chad. She, too, was a missionary, and is very God-centred, calm, wise, non-judgemental, and totally amazing and encouraging.

Hannah Mumford was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.


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