How does someone go from “normal” working life to uprooting and serving overseas? Nicci Maxwell, a mission partner at Potter’s Village children’s medical centre in Kisoro, Uganda, shares her journey.
I suppose I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to head off and do something useful! While I was at school in South Africa I remember watching the news and seeing the famine in Ethiopia and desperately wanting to go there and do something, not just send them my pocket money. At medical school I harboured a secret desire to join Medecins Sans Frontieres and repeatedly thought about a “gap year” for some sort of medical mission.
But the gap year idea wasn’t feasible for sensible reasons: I was undertaking my paediatric training, working towards enough years of residence in the UK to get that prized British passport, then studying for a PhD.
Yet every time a missionary came to speak at church, I would be shouting in my head, “What about me, God? What about my dream? Pick me! Pick me!” Not quite as nicely said as Isaiah 6:8, but you get the idea!
And then I became increasingly unsettled and unhappy in a job I previously adored. I decided to look again at medical mission.
It seemed very impractical – I had a life in Plymouth, friends, a secure job, a great church, mortgage and bills to pay. And did anyone want a consultant neonatologist anyway? But I started researching, and discovered that neonatal mortality is the one area of maternal and child health that has barely changed under the UN Millennium Development Goals. So maybe I could be useful somewhere.
I reasoned that if I really wanted to do this, I should find out a bit more. I expected to be dissuaded. I attended a course run by Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) and was anything but dissuaded! I immediately started planning a sabbatical.
In March 2016 I was accepted by Church Mission Society for a short-term placement. Despite significant opposition to my plans for sabbatical leave, I took encouragement after hearing a sermon about Abraham, Sarah and God’s apparently crazy big plan that they would have a son. This really spoke to me about my crazy big plan to go on mission.
“The year was a bit of an experiment… I think it showed clearly that this was one of the reasons I was put on the planet.”
Eventually, after much prayer and God’s intervention, the obstacles to my sabbatical were overcome and the next step of the plan came together – to spend a year at Potter’s Village, an orphanage/child crisis centre and children’s medical centre in Kisoro, south west Uganda, founded by CMS mission partner Jenny Green and the Church of Uganda.
I approached my departure with a mixture of excitement and some moments of being quite overwhelmed by questions. To rent the house out or not, possibly selling my car, sorting out the bank, mortgage, insurance, tax and so on – lots of practicalities to arrange.
One of the last details I had been waiting for was a letter from the bishop inviting me to work at Potter’s Village. When the letter arrived, there was one tiny problem: a typo which said I would be in Uganda from September 2017, not 2016. The correct information would be essential for getting a visa/work permit and medical registration. I quickly emailed CMS to ask whether a corrected letter could be printed, only to be told that the bishop was away for two months.
I asked my home group to pray about the problem, fully expecting it would be fine, but that I would need patience and possibly have to delay the start of my trip.
Sometimes when we pray, we can forget just who we are talking to! God reminded me that he can do anything. The very next morning there was a corrected version of the bishop’s letter in my inbox!
I attended forMission, CMS’s training for short-term people in mission. It consisted of a week based at a church in Bradford thinking about various aspects of mission, including the cross-cultural aspects. Week two was based at All Nations College and involved more practicalities with quite a bit of prayer and Bible study time. I had been apprehensive about using two weeks of leave, but I learned a huge amount, was really challenged in some of my perceptions and met some inspirational people, including Jenny Green, who helped start Potter’s Village and is now working in Bradford.
As I finished work and said my goodbyes, I was pretty convinced that this was going to be the beginning of something completely new and different in my life.
I’d been thinking about the finances for my trip quite a lot while packing, and one evening on the way to church I was telling God about some of my worries and my ideas about how I might save money if things started looking tight. After church, one of the mission committee handed me a cheque – enough money to cover the cost of my work permit, all my outbound flights and possibly even some change!
I left feeling totally overwhelmed at the goodness of God.
En route to Uganda, I started to feel pure excitement for what was ahead. I arrived to a warm welcome from staff and settled into the centre and the town, then got stuck into medical work, seeing some really interesting patients early on – but also adjusting to the reality of working with fewer resources than I was used to.
It wasn’t all easy and fun and positive but my overwhelming feelings were of joy in what I was doing. Exciting and sometimes unbelievable experiences came my way by the dozen. I met and worked with some of the most dedicated and talented people I could ever have wished to work with. I looked after some of the sickest children I’d ever seen. I celebrated with their families when, against the odds, a child got better and went home and I cried with families when even our best efforts were not enough to save the life of their child. I despaired at some of the poverty I witnessed and was torn between anger and grief at some of the awful things that happen to people as a result of poverty, ignorance or greed. My faith became bigger, deeper, and clearer.
I don’t think I’d ever been happier or felt more fulfilled both personally and professionally than in those months. Most days work was a joy, and I felt very happy and settled socially too. The year was a bit of an experiment to see if this sort of life was really for me. I think it showed clearly that this was one of the reasons I was put on the planet.
When my initial time in Kisoro came to an end, I applied to CMS to be considered for long-term service. This meant going through a selection process and then, if accepted, a period of raising support as well as a period of training.
I attended a selection conference in Oxford straight after flying back to the UK. The candidates and selectors spent two days in interviews looking at our lives and callings, in conjunction with written information.
It was tiring but felt really thorough and worthwhile. It was a chance to share with people who “get it” and for them to test my call alongside me.
On the last morning of the conference it was a real thrill to hear I had been selected as a mission partner in training and would be returning to Potter’s Village, depending on training and fundraising.
I returned to my UK job and started to consider how some of the things we do well and effectively in England could be translated to the Ugandan context. I started a notebook with questions and ideas. Alongside this, I was visiting potential supporting churches to talk about the exciting days ahead.
Throughout this time of preparation, I communicated with someone from Kisoro a couple of times a week, which was lovely and kept me in touch with what was happening there.
In late 2017 I resigned from my job, leaving the security of employment. This was a step of faith because, at that stage, the finances for the next step of the crazy big plan were not yet in place, but I was sure that God had that under control.
After finishing work at Easter 2018, I moved to Oxford to undertake three months of training with CMS. During training, I lived in “House 244” – two big, old, three-storey semi-detached houses which have been knocked into one that belongs to CMS. There were about 15 of us living there.
Within less than two weeks, it became home! There was a great “extended family” feel to life: we all ate together around the dining room table in the evening, with the meal prepared by each one of us on a rota.
Sundays involved travelling to link churches who have generously agreed to partner with me and CMS and support me both financially and in prayer. I really enjoyed my link church visits. It was a chance to sample worship in other churches and meet some wonderfully interesting people.
“What I clung to was the knowledge that God had a plan and I knew it was a good one.”
The beginning of training was both excellent and difficult. My overwhelming feeling was that of a fish out of water, or perhaps a fish in outer space! In my job I had generally felt like I knew what I was doing. When discussion topics were raised, I usually had a grasp of what was going on. In learning situations, I was almost always the teacher, facilitator or assessor.
Not anymore! Now almost everything was new to me. I had a lot to learn, and the “learning curve” looked a bit more like a “learning vertical cliff-face”. Through this, I was surrounded by lovely people who were sympathetic towards my feelings of disorientation.
As time passed, I began to enjoy trying to find answers to some of my questions and exploring new ideas. I loved the more relaxed pace of life and learning. It felt like such a treat to have time to read and write and think.
I also met the mentor suggested to me by CMS. I’m paired up with someone who has some idea about who I am and where I’m going, who will be a regular point of contact throughout my first three-year term overseas. It was great to connect with her and chat about our stories, spotting similarities as we went along.
The letters I needed from the diocese in Uganda to apply for my work permit arrived while I was training. I soon discovered that the finances were okay for me to go – and was hugely thankful to everyone who had been so generous!
My plan was to finish training, attend a course, help at my church holiday club and then head off a few days later. However, it seemed THE plan was a bit different, as I waited for a work permit.
Although I had sent everything needed, there had been delays in getting it all to the right people. In the end, I travelled to South Africa to stay with my family while I waited. As in the rest of this process, what I clung to was the knowledge that God had a plan and I knew it was a good one.
The long-awaited work permit approval came through the day after I arrived in South Africa. And the crazy big adventure could begin!
The Call in Action
- If you want to find out what happened next, check out Nicci’s profile page
- And if you’ve been inspired to explore your call in mission, get in touch with our recruitment team at firstname.lastname@example.org