I trained and practised as a midwife in Southampton. I enjoyed co-ordinating the high-risk ward and looking after the more complicated deliveries. On a really busy shift, you often couldn’t spend as much time with a person as you’d like — you often had multiple ladies to look after and had to split your time.
We’ve been working for MAF [Mission Aviation Fellowship], where my husband is a pilot, for the past four years. He flies across the country supporting the local church, missionary organisations, and other humanitarian organisations, flying in vaccines, food, and supplies for people who live in very remote areas. Our first three years were spent living in an aboriginal community with one small shop on a small island off the coast of Northern Australia.
Juba, in South Sudan, where we live now, has supermarkets and a few restaurants; so we feel a little like we’ve gone up in the world. MAF has 30 Sudanese people working here in finance, HR, and dispatch: getting planes ready to fly in the mornings. Most of the year it’s very hot, and, in the rainy season, the roads are impassible. The city has most things you need, but it’s certainly nowhere near as developed as a UK town or city.
South Sudan is predominately Christian, but there are other religions represented there. There is a strong belief in God, but maybe not the teaching we have in our churches, because there’s been so much moving around. People are very open to talking about God, and they ask us why we’re here; so, we tell them that we believe it’s where God has asked us to be.
I’m not a worrier by nature — definitely not — but if we didn’t believe God wanted us here, we couldn’t live here, with all the problems that there are. My husband is the safety officer for MAF, and he’s not a worrier, though he’s more safety-conscious or cautious. If you were a worrier, you couldn’t live in South Sudan — there are too many potential dangers. He gets daily security updates, and we’re aware of certain areas to avoid. I see soldiers and people with guns, but I’ve not encountered violence yet. MAF has plans in place for every eventuality, and, should Ebola come, or fighting break out, non-critical staff and families would be evacuated promptly.
The hardest thing to deal with is seeing the huge need around you wherever you go. Just looking out of the house or car window is confronting: there are so many people suffering and struggling through life. We once stopped at a small air strip, and, of course, any aeroplane attracts a lot of attention. Children crowded round, and they had few or no clothes. I had a change of clothes with me for my three children, because it was a long day, and I wondered whether I should give them to these children. But there were just a few items and 40 children . . . and, if you start, there would be 100 children meeting the next aircraft, and that would become a potential safety issue.
One person or organisation can’t help everyone. Through MAF, we can support other mission organisations to help others, and that’s one area that I can really be involved in. Everyone working there feels that they can only do what they can do.
The children often pull you up, though. We were once listening to a big storm, and I said to my son: “Imagine what it’s like for people living in those houses” (which are little more than tents), and he said at once: “So what can we do to help?” It’s a real challenge. I’m really glad that they’ve got that view: that if someone’s suffering we could help — even if we’re not quite sure how.
I’m not working as a midwife at the moment, but, while we’re back in the UK, I’ve asked the churches who support us to pray about the work that I could do. Our three children are aged six, three, and one; so looking after them and supporting MAF’s work keeps me occupied full-time. One of the really hard things, though, is that’s there’s need everywhere. Everyone you talk to is helping here and there, and I think, “Oh I could help with that . . . and that . . . and that.” I’ve helped with a street dressings-clinic, and running our Baby Bible group, which some of the orphans from down the street come to, as well as Sudanese MAF families. But I would like to find one area which I could concentrate on. It might be that I could help Sudanese student midwives with clinical skills. We really believe that this is where God has brought us, and we’ll continue to trust him to direct our paths.
We go to a local church run by a South Sudanese pastor with a congregation of expats working for various NGOs, plus South Sudanese people and people from neighbouring African countries. I attend a weekly Bible study with ladies from different organisations from across Juba.
We live on a compound with other international MAF families. There are two — six families on each — and we really enjoy it. It gives an amazing sense of security; we’re all far from home, in a different culture, helping each other out, working together. We’re from different countries — Britain, Canada, Holland, Australia — and there are jokes about the cultural differences that you learn about as you go. The Dutch are very blunt, the British say everything is fine, even if they are falling apart, and so on. Everyone speaks English. The hard thing is that people tend to leave after a few years, and you have to say goodbye to them.
Our biggest surprise has been how quickly the children have adapted to a new place. They’ve lived in three countries in the past year, and have taken it all in their stride. They call Juba home, and just get on with life here, as if it’s all perfectly normal. The compound is lovely, with a swimming pool, play-park, and a trampoline. They have friends next door, and within the walls of the compound they have a freedom that I don’t think they would have if we lived in today’s UK. They have a great Christian school, which is very small, but means that they have friends of all ages and teachers who know them so well.
Simple things like the school run and shopping are a lot more difficult, and make life more challenging. On our annual visits back to the UK, we have to buy clothes to last the next year, and always need the next-size shoes, as we can’t just pop to the shops if the kids grow out of them. That, plus there’s always uncertainty around security, because there has been much unrest over the past few years.
We have an internet connection, but it’s very slow. We use that to talk to family and friends back home, but it’s not quick enough to watch Netflix.
I grew up in Bournemouth in a Christian home with many older Christians around me in church who took the time to teach me about Jesus and lead by example. I was brought up to go to church and Sunday school each week; so I’ve always believed in God, but I became a Christian when I was 11, when I trusted Jesus as my Saviour.
My faith has continued to grow since then, because I’ve seen God at work in my life and in many answers to prayer. I know that I have a loving heavenly father, and that he has a plan for my life. I therefore have a peace in trusting him for now and the future. Life isn’t always easy or straightforward, but God is always faithful, and only ever has a Plan A, even when all our plans fall apart.
Waiting is the thing that takes most courage. I’m always working on becoming more patient. Sometimes in life you’re not quite sure what’s going on, or why things are happening, and, sometimes, waiting for God to show you the way can be really tough.
I’m happiest just being with my family, watching the children playing, or playing with them in the pool. My favourite sounds are children laughing, and the sea.
I pray most for health and safety for my family, and God’s helping hand when I feel overwhelmed.
If I was locked in a church with anyone, I’d like to be with Jesus. He’s the reason we’re in South Sudan. I owe everything to him, and would love to sit down and listen to him.
Anna Youren was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.