After adopting two children from Ethiopia, physicians Andrea and Andrew Janssen decide to leave their small town in eastern Oregon and move their family across the world to teach at Addis Ababa University. Here, they will train some of the first doctors in Ethiopia to specialize in family medicine.
As a college freshman at Westmont I had never experienced rural medicine. Leaving Santa Barbara for rural Zambia to work with Dr. Rob Congdon opened my eyes to malaria, malnutrition and mongu. (Mongu —fried caterpillars — are crunchy and akin to bacon, a good protein source in rural Zambia.) Although I suffered from a bout of cerebral malaria during my four-month trip to Luampa Mission Hospital, it was the suffering of one malnourished girl that indelibly changed my future.
Mbambi was 18 months old, 11 pounds and came to the hospital with “kwashiorkor,” or protein calorie malnutrition. She had been brought by her uncle, her closest living relative. Her muscles were so wasted she still couldn’t muster sitting or smiling. Diligently, I fed her millet cereal with peanut butter, long before the creation of Plumpy’Nut — the peanut-based paste now commonly used to treat severe malnutrition. I learned to carry Mbambi on my back African-style. I taught the uncle how to bathe her and soon all the patients in the male hospital ward began to care for her. I was filled with joy when, after several months, Mbambi was able to sit up and play a few small games. God birthed the idea of adoption in my heart through that one small child in Zambia. I returned inspired, challenged and changed.
Now 20 years later, my husband Andrew and I are leaving our rural hospital in eastern Oregon for Ethiopia.
We have been in John Day since 2005 where we work as full-spectrum family physicians caring for newborns to the elderly in both clinic and hospital. Our son Isaac was born shortly after we arrived in John Day. We had previously discussed adoption and we began exploring options for international adoption through Holt. Initially we applied to the China program, but delays and our connections to Africa led us to Ethiopia; in August 2008 we adopted 4-month-old Taya. We were overjoyed to see our son welcome his new sister. Over the next year we read There Is No Me Without You — an award-winning book about caring for AIDS orphans in Ethiopia — and felt lead to adopt an older child. In 2010 we adopted our son, Zeri, who was 3-and-a-half. Our ties to Ethiopia strengthened.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is that: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” We were struck by the simple scripture in Taya’s care center. Certainly, adoption is a powerful form of caring. But how could we use our God-given talents and passions to begin to meet the needs of so many? We would need to multiply our efforts.
For the past 10 years we have been open to serving in East Africa. We have supported mission physicians and talked with many who have given sacrificially. In 2011 we were invited to help teach medical residents in Ruhengeri, Rwanda for six weeks. It was an amazing and eye-opening experience to live and work in the midst of such need and yet feel the joy and persistence of the Rwandan people. However, we found our family wasn’t quite ready to move. In late 2013 we took a visioning trip to Malawi, Ethiopia and Kenya for our 10-year anniversary. Since then many doors have opened and we have been invited by Addis Ababa University to teach family medicine as part of Ethiopia’s new and emerging family medicine residency. Ethiopia has only 2,000 physicians for 94 million people, less than 1% of what Americans would consider borderline adequate. The government would like family medicine to become the backbone of an expanding health care system. We feel uniquely positioned to assist our Ethiopian colleagues.
It will be a challenge to leave our beautiful rural town of 2,000 for the hustle and bustle of Addis Ababa with 5+ million people. We have learned to love the people of Grant County and yet few leave our culture to dive into the challenges of Africa. We anticipate many social, emotional and logistical hurdles as we prepare.
We have been accepted by the Christian mission agency SIM and we are completing additional medical and cultural training. We are reaching out to people and churches and patients sharing our story of God’s call to live out our faith teaching medicine in Ethiopia. Unlike grants or government agencies or historic denominational missions, contemporary missions require developing a support team willing to provide monthly financial and prayer support. If you are interested in hearing more about our story visit our blog at janssenfamily.org.
We are excited to have Taya and Zeri experience Ethiopia once again, to better understand their culture and learn Amharic. Although initially quite shaken, our kids now seem excited for the changes. However, beneath all of that, it’s hard to know what they truly understand at ages 6, 8 and 9. They expect soccer and adventure; perhaps the culture shock, the intermittent electricity and water, the simple housing and the surrounding poverty will provoke reactions we can only imagine. We plan to visit their hometowns near Durame, but we’re not sure when or how we’ll introduce any known Ethiopian family members. In this and other ways, we expect there will be few easy answers.
We hope to arrive in Addis in August so the kids can start school at Bingham Academy. We will spend three months in language training and then begin teaching and caring for patients. We hope to spend many years equipping Ethiopian physicians to better care for even the most vulnerable like the girl in Zambia.
Andrea and Andrew Janssen | John Day, Oregon
You can follow their story at janssenfamily.org.
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