On The Field: Jen in East Africa

I’m really excited to introduce a new feature to the blog, one that I hope will continue for a good while. When we were in Kenya, I started thinking about all the people we know doing incredible things in amazing places all over the world. I wondered about ways to share all this coolness with friends at home. Then it dawned on me…the blog! What a perfect place to share the stories of our friends with all of you who have followed us on our own journeys. Yay!

So today I introduce you to Jen, our very first guest blogger on the feature we’ll be calling On The Field. Jen and her husband, Todd, are currently living in Kenya, but she’s been all over the world. We first met Jen and Todd in the Amsterdam airport back in January on our way to Kenya. They saw Pete near our gate and noticed he was wearing a Samaritan’s Purse shirt. They struck up a conversation and realized we were all headed to the same hospital in Kenya. Sweet! We had a great two months with them going to local churches and explored the area, and having picnics, movie nights, and dinners together. They will be spending two years at Tenwek Hospital, and we really, really hope we get to work with them again in the future!

Without further ado, here’s Jen’s guest post!


Jen Lavery
missionary in Kenya with World Medical Mission, a part of Samaritan’s Purse
with my husband around Tenwek

It didn’t dawn on me until I was in college that my parents’ lives and, therefore, my own home life weren’t normal. I think whatever we’re raised with becomes our norm. Knowing that my parents got on a plane for the first time at age 22 to move from their small farming community in Northwest Iowa to teach English for two years on the Arabian Gulf island nation of Bahrain seemed perfectly normal to me. That my Dutch American dad cooked Indian curry, that I could say “thank you” in Arabic at age three because we spent a year in Cairo, and that we moved all our earthly belongings from New York to Salalah, Oman when I was eight was also normal.

in Egypt

By the time I started college, I had lived in New Jersey, Egypt, New York, two different cities in Oman, and back to my birthplace of Bahrain. My international classmates growing up lived equally geographically haphazard lives. I didn’t know anyone apart from my cousins in Iowa who lived in the same place their whole lives.

in Oman

I have continued to move around as an adult: from Michigan to Honduras to Texas to England to Mozambique to Texas to Michigan and now to Kenya. What drives me? It depends on the move. Sometimes the driving force is education (as a student or as a teacher), sometimes for an interesting job, and sometimes for love of a man. Ultimately, just as my parents made each of their moves, I believe I make mine based on guidance from God and a desire to serve Him in underserved areas.

flying into South Sudan

One of the first conversations my husband and I had when we met was about why he wanted to go to Africa when there was so much need in Detroit. He was in surgical residency in Detroit at the time where he had also gone to medical school. He was intentionally living in the ghetto and was involved in an inner-city church plant. He seemed invested in serving the poor of Detroit, but I knew he wanted to go to Africa after residency, so I asked him why. He explained: “Yes, Detroit is very poor, and there is a lot of need here. But everyone has access to medical care. They don’t in Africa, and I think that’s wrong.” His words resonated so strongly with me as that was exactly why I had left teaching in a needy area of Houston to pursue educational development in Mozambique.

the compound where I stay in South Sudan

My husband, by the way, has spent his entire life in Michigan. His parents still live in the same suburban house they moved into when Todd was five. Even though it was a big deal for his parents that he moved into downtown Detroit (and now to Africa!), he makes his moves seem effortless and normal.

neighborhood kids in South Sudan

Nine months into marriage and three months into our two years at Tenwek Hospital in Western Kenya, Todd and I are pursuing our dream of helping to develop medicine and education in Africa. I never anticipated that we’d end up in one of the most developed and most Christian countries in Africa. But it’s a perfect place for us now, for Todd to learn about surgery in Africa and how to train national residents, and for us to live in a slightly easier, more comfortable African environment with a large English-speaking community as we focus on establishing a solid marriage.

typical South Sudanese market

I still do, however, get my “African challenge” as I travel five times a year to South Sudan. In 2005, I explored a teaching position at a teacher training college in South Sudan. It didn’t work out to go at the time, yet my heart has very much been inclined toward South Sudan since then but with no apparent open doors to go. As Todd and I prayed about coming to Tenwek and explored how I could be involved beyond simply tagging along as “spouse”, a Tenwek doctor connected me to Joy Phillips of Mango Ministries, who invited me to join her on her community health trips to South Sudan to begin educational projects. After a visioning trip in February, I am now working on preparing trainings on Community Health and Evangelism for Children, workshops for adolescent girls focusing on delaying marriage and promoting education, and a campaign for HIV/AIDS.

women coming to market

Surgery at Tenwek and community health and education in South Sudan will be our norm for the next two years, and it really does feel normal for both of us. What makes it normal? The same thing that made it normal for my parents to raise their children in the Middle East: We get to do what God has made us passionate about and what He’s given us skills for. We simply get to do what we love doing.

boys mimicking their older brothers making bricks
Jen and her husband have a great blog that follows their adventures and daily life in East Africa. You can find it by clicking HERE. Also, Jen wrote a beautiful post last fall about how South Sudan was put on her heart. Click HERE to read it.

Please pray for Jen & Todd as they head off to Zambia today. They will be there for at least a few weeks while Todd fills in for a surgeon there. The crazy thing is that he’ll be the only surgeon, a common occurrence in African hospitals. Such adventures!

our Sammy with Todd


2 Responses to On The Field: Jen in East Africa

  1. Pete Olsen, MD says:

    Todd and Jen,

    This post makes me miss you both. I’m still praying for all the work you’ve been doing and we’ve shared some of the experiences we had in Kenya with you when we’ve spent time with Eli and Krista Horn – our closest friends – who are headed to Africa with us.

    Bless you both in Zambia! We’ll keep on praying for everything God is doing through both of you!

    Take care,

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