Q Who is someone that influenced you in your decision to serve as a missionary in a cross cultural setting?
Jeff: When I was a new Christian I listened to Keith Green (the musician) talking about the need and our responsibility to be good stewards of our resources here in NA. Since then I have read a good number of missionary biographies which have inspired me.
Sonya: Probably the pastor I had from age 9 til I was married. I grew up in a very strong discipleship-focused church where we were challenged to submit to the lordship of Christ in all areas of our lives, so that concept of my life not really being my own has always been a part of my Christian life. So the idea that I might serve God in another culture was never really a strange idea to me.
Q How long have you been serving as a missionary?
Jeff: We served one year (2008-2009) in Nigeria as a family.
Sonya: We spent almost one year in 2008-09 (with our children) in Nigeria where my husband was acting field director there. He has been back to Nigeria or Cameroon every 18 months or so since then, and I have spent two summers with Elsie Lewandowski in Cameroon working with teachers. We hope to go to Cameroon in this new capacity in mid to late 2017.
Q What life experiences did you have that helped you prepare to go overseas?
Jeff: My Dad was a great influence; he worked with a lot of visible minorities and treated the same as everyone else so I grew up with that. I have been a pastor for about 20 years, which will help in my specific duties there.
Sonya: My teaching degree and range of educational and teaching experiences have given me concern and some insights for helping schools in Cameroon and Nigeria. My outdoor education experience makes it easier for me to ‘tough it’ through some situations. Having 4 children puts us right in the middle – between having very small families, which most Africans don’t really understand , and having extremely large families, which is something we do not want to encourage. My experience as a pastor’s wife gives me insight into how people, women especially, should support each other, spiritually, emotionally and practically, and has given me some idea of what mistakes to hopefully not make again. (LOL) My previous job as a camp director and various volunteer positions gave me a chance to hone my administrative skills, and my recent role as a landlord has allowed me to learn some very practical skills that may prove useful.
Q How would you describe your first year on the mission field?
Jeff: Very challenging, but I loved every minute of it, and felt that God was able to use all of our family while we were there.
Sonya: Our year in Nigeria gave us a love for the people, and gave us an idea of where we want to focus our energies. We got a taste of the things that would be great, and those that would be very difficult, and an appreciation for having great supporters back at home. I also learned that it is helpful to have basic automotive, plumbing and electrical knowledge for use on the field.
Q What surprised you the most once you began your work? What did you wish you knew beforehand?
Jeff: How friendly the Muslims were, and how much impact a person could still have simply for being Caucasian. This is why I say I was simply a good doorknob for Jesus why I was there.
Sonya: I was surprised if I bought something in market that had to be delivered that everyone in town knew where we lived. LOL.
I was amazed at the kind of platform I was given just because I was a white person, and so that I needed to use that influence well.
I wished I would have had someone explain expectations when you go to visit someone and especially what is normal for ‘casual’ visits between women during the day.
Q What initial fears/concerns did you have about serving as a missionary overseas?
Jeff: That I would fail and fall flat on my face.
Sonya: I have a fairly outspoken personality, and an opinion about just about everything, and so I never want to be an example of ‘when helping hurts’ or having people do a lot of work that makes the missionaries happy, but does not meet their own goals and needs.
Also, since our Mambilla friends in Nigeria all spoke reasonable English, I am concerned about learning the language as I work with the Fulbe women, many of whom do not speak English, and are also illiterate, and come from such a different place culturally with their Muslim background.
Q What has been the most challenging aspect to your work?
Jeff: Dealing with tribalism and levels of culture that are not always obvious on third glance.
Sonya: The most challenging aspect I find of work in Africa, since I like to plan and organize things, is the need to be flexible.
Q What has been the most rewarding part of your work?
Jeff: Seeing people come to Christ (whole villages in some cases); seeing churches in NA get involved in the work; finding new brothers and sisters in Christ and making wonderful friends.
Sonya: The best part of my African experience to date, has been some good friendships with a few missionaries and a couple of Africa women, and a few of those great teaching moments when I saw the light of understanding go on in the eyes of some of the teachers we were working with.
Q What changes have you seen in yourself (what ways have you grown) since you have been serving overseas?
Jeff: My vision has both grown and narrowed, since it now encompasses both NA and Africa, but is quite focused on the Fulbe ministry, where we are seeing great fruit.
Sonya: I think I am learning to be less of a control nut. You would have to ask my family if they agree with that.
Q What is something that would surprise others about mission work or the people you are called to serve?
Jeff: How lonely it can be sometimes, when you are the only white person around; how God is able to do things that we seem to only read about in NA; how closely people live there, and how close you can become to them.
Sonya: In my Nigerian experience, with all our kids there and homeschooling the two younger ones, I spent a lot of time doing very mundane things, because EVERYTHING from laundry to shopping and cooking take SO much longer than they do in Canada. So the fact that I could hire house help is the only reason I found time to do most of the ministry things I did get involved in.
Q What are some of the factors that lead you to become an overseas missionary through the NAB?
Jeff: Once I became an NAB pastor I never considered any other options.
Sonya: Our time in the NAB pastoring and getting to know the conference, being in Nigeria working with other NAB missionaries, the kind of support we had from Manitoba NAB people and churches when in Nigeria, the time spent in Cameroon with the CBC and Cal Hohn in our trips since then.
Q What advice would you give to those considering overseas missions?
Jeff: Talk to people who know what the expectations are for that field, get the proper training, and go.
Sonya: Go on a defined term mission and see where your heart is drawn. I went primarily as wife and mother, but when people asked me what I was going to do there, I literally said “I don’t know, but stuff finds me.” And there were more requests than I could possibly do, but eventually I found my way into things that I was interested in, had an aptitude for, and/or was passionate about- or became passionate about. Those experiences are helping me as I prepare to go for a longer term.
Q How can people pray for you?
Jeff: Pray that I/we will finish well at our present church; for our children who we are leaving behind this time; for the support-raising process – especially that we receive much prayer support for when we are on the field.
Sonya: Please pray…
… that we will be able to raise our support so we can get to the field in a timely fashion.
…that people and churches here will get a vision for the work with the Fulbe.
… for the adjustment for our extended family as we plan to leave, especially leaving all our young adult children and aging parents here in Canada.
…and for a smooth transition for our home church.