When we saw one of Call the Midwife’s favourite characters, ‘Chummy’, apply to CMS to go as a missionary to Sierra Leone, we just had to see if we could track down a real 1950s midwife who did the same thing.
At the end of episode one of the current series, Chummy, played by Miranda Hart, was seen sticking a stamp on a brown envelope addressed to The Church Missionary Society, Salisbury Square, London – which was indeed CMS’s name and address at the time.
But Chummy is a fictional character, where others in the series are based on real people. So we thought it would be a long shot to find ‘the real Chummy’ among the 10,000-plus women and men who have served with CMS through our history.
Listen to Eve Vause, real 1950s mission midwife, talking to Audiomission’s Mike Stranks:
Call of a lifetime
In the end, we only had to go down the road from our offices, now in Oxford, to meet Eve Vause, who was pedalling her way round the streets of Southampton as a community midwife when she got the call to Sierra Leone in 1958.
Eve says her experience of midwifery in Southampton was just like in Call the Midwife, except that the worst slums in the city had been obliterated in wartime bombing raids.
In Sierra Leone, she stayed for just a year – short term placements were the only ones allowed at the time because of the difficult conditions.
But far from returning to Britain, as the character Chummy does in the show, this was the start of nearly 25 years of mission service in healthcare in Africa, which took Eve to Nigeria, Uganda and Congo.
No easy ride
In Call the Midwife we’ve seen Chummy struggle with her calling, and Eve’s interview makes clear that following that calling was no easy ride. In Uganda she lived through the Obote and Amin years.
“One time I was certainly relying very consciously on God, Eve says of her time in Uganda, was when the army had been attacking our child health and maternity centres, and they had attacked and raped the midwives in one place.”
Eve recalls the sweet scent of the coffee blossoms on the journey she took with the hospital manager to evacuate another health centre – but also the bodies of the dead who had been killed yet their families had been forbidden to bury them.
“The midwives at the heath centre to be evacuated refused to go. They had the ward full of mothers. They didn’t want to go. We knew the effect on the village would be devastating if we suddenly took their midwives away. So we left them… but that was a time I was leaning dramatically on God.”
God is still calling
Today’s mission partners don’t face such dangers too often, though we shouldn’t underestimate the risks they still take in some parts of the world.
Penny Stradling, who is CMS’s vocational recruitment officer, says CMS is still recruiting healthcare professionals – including midwives – to share their skills and help train nationals who haven’t had access to the same levels of training.
“The chance of a mother dying in childbirth is up to 100 times greater in some parts of Africa than in the UK,” she says. “So there is still an urgent need. And church-run health centres and clinics often have the most effective grassroots network to deliver the healthcare communities need.”
In our interview, Eve Vause adds her voice to the call for new people to serve. She is still an enthusiastic supporter of CMS and thinks it’s vital this kind of holistic mission continues:
“The gospel is a gospel of wholeness – of body and mind as well as spirit. I think it’s up to us to share the good news that we have in Jesus.”