Today, I am writing from a comfortable couch in New York, while my husband is working on his computer across from me, and I haven’t stepped foot in a hospital in months. It’s funny, because this time last year I would have been in Congo, having dinner with my roommate talking about our respective days at work; she a midwife, myself a nurse in the emergency department. Back then I was very single, had not yet met Matthew, and had no idea how much my life was about to change.
So, here’s the short-ish version of how I got to where I am today. It’s a story that I love to tell, because I am reminded over and over of God’s goodness to me, and His faithfulness beyond what I deserve.
I first went to Congo in November 2018, having worked at my local hospital in Canada for just over a year. That was an investigative trip for me – investigating whether I was called to serve in missions, and if so what kind of missions. Would it be medical? Would it be long term or repeated short term trips? Would it be in a hospital setting, mobile clinics, community education, or something else?
I spent five months in Impfondo, Congo. It was the most difficult five months of my life. I found myself challenged beyond my knowledge and abilities, caring for patients who were more sick and more complicated than I was used to, with less direction and resources to care for them as I was used to. My roommate set-up changed frequently. Making friends and saying goodbye repeatedly, difficulty getting an internet connection to talk to my family and friends, and persistent language barriers with the Congolese made me lonelier than I had ever been in my life. Objectively, I should have been miserable. But I have never felt the nearness and comfort of the Lord so closely, and He confirmed to me time and again that Pioneer Christian Hospital was exactly where He wanted me to be.
I went home in April 2019, determined to return to Congo as soon as possible. I imagined it would be a handful of months; many are the plans of Mary, but the way of the Lord prevails. I worked as an emergency nurse as I waited for the Lord to release me to return to Congo. I prayed that He would make a way through the covid restrictions around the world, and my family’s fears of a daughter living in Africa. And most of all, I prayed for family in Congo. “Jesus, I want to do it; but I was just so LONELY last time!”
The Lord provided. In December 2020 I returned to Congo. The next few months we had the sweetest team relationship between the five of us long-term missionaries; it was the family I prayed for. I also had a better grip of French, and was building friendships with African coworkers and patients. I was invited to drink tea with the Chadian ladies, a token of acceptance that made me teary. I built a friendship with two sisters, and would visit in their home and cook alongside them on charcoal. I found myself with a Congolese high-school intern who became my shadow for six months; we learned together as she explained Congolese life and I explained diabetic coma. Life was good, and I was afraid that it would be shattered by the arrival of the summertime wave of short-termers.
New people always brings a new group dynamic. They bring new friendships and fresh enthusiasm. But they do not yet understand the local way of life and language, and sometimes its hard to walk with them through those things. But God designed us to live in relationship with others and it is good even when it is hard. I am so grateful for all of the people I grew to love over those few months, and the last wave of visitors brought Matthew Hollands.
Matt would be in town for four weeks, his job to “fix stuff”. That made sense to me; there was a lot of equipment and machinery that needed constant repairs, such as my fridge which was hadn’t been working since the lightning strike back in May. Matt was kind of in the background of my life for the first few weeks – another person at the lunch table and game nights. Some of our team members nudged the idea of “us”, but I shrugged it off; he was just a visitor, after all. When he told us that he felt like the Lord had prepared a place for him on our team long-term, I was still kind of skeptical. When I came home one day to find my fridge tipped over and Matthew fiddling with its insides, I thought to myself, “Huh, maybe he does like me.”
It was some time later that we went on our first date after church on Sunday, a very long walk down the back roads of Impfondo. I love walking through our town. There are always new and different plants flowering, people to stop and talk to, and donuts to buy for about 10 cents. We got back late for lunch, and our team graciously pretended that nothing out of the ordinary was going on.
Both of us were concerned about whether we would be able to “make long distance work”, and internally I was pretty convinced that the beginnings of a relationship would fizzle out as soon as we were in different time zones. A few days after that walk, Matthew left Impfondo. I was ready for nothing to come of it, but he called me, and then he called me again. We kept talking, and we haven’t stopped talking since.
Timing is interesting. Just a few weeks after Matthew returned to the US, I returned on my scheduled furlough to attend the weddings of two of my closest friends. I was “supposed” to stay in the US/Canada for about two months, but once again, my plans are not the Lord’s, and his are way better anyway. We quickly realized that if we were going to get married, it didn’t make any sense to go back to Congo until we were. So I found a wedding dress, started premarital counselling, Matt proposed, and seven weeks later we were getting married (in that order!).
Now we are working on returning to Congo as a married couple. There have been a lot of delays, but it’s been good to be in America for a lot of big changes within both of our families. God has been so good to us in the waiting, and we can’t wait to see what the coming months bring!