April 24, 2007
Dear family and friends,
Most of you know that Carolyn and I have had a long term interest in medical missions, and over the years we have done short term mission work in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. We are writing to let you know that we have made plans to leave Danville at the end of this year and move to Cameroon in west/central Africa where I will be the program director for a new surgical residency and Carolyn will work in wound management and their AIDS program.
African physicians have a very difficult time getting specialty training. There are very few accredited programs, and many African physicians that do get trained do not stay in their countries, or congregate in the large cities. Consequently, there are huge populations of people for whom almost no specialty care, especially surgical care, is available. A few years ago an organization called the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS) identified several Christian mission hospitals in Africa to serve as training sites for African physicians to become surgeons. The PAACS charter requires that each program have a board certified general surgeon as the full time, on site program director, although much of the teaching is done by visiting specialists from the United States and Europe. The goal is to train Christian African surgeons, in Africa, with a commitment to stay in Africa. The programs are four years long, highly academic, and fully accredited through Loma Linda University in California, as well as the West African College of Surgeons and the College of Surgeons of East, Central, and Southern Africa. Applicants can come from anywhere in Africa. As of now there are four residency programs up and running, with a fifth to start this summer. But there are still more applicants than there are positions, and PAACS wants to open a sixth program at Ngaoundere Protestant Hospital (NPH) in central Cameroon, which is the program we have been approved for. Carolyn and I visited this hospital in November last year, as well as two of the other PAACS hospitals already in service. The volume, variety, and complexity of surgery being done at these hospitals exceeds anything we have seen in mission hospitals. I will be working in all surgical subspecialties to some degree, but rely on other subspecialists to come and help periodically with the surgeries and teaching. The surgical needs are huge. The hospital will draw patients from an area of about 3 million people for whom very little surgical care is currently available. AIDS has taken a devastating toll on the area. Most of the patients are Muslims but there is a strong local Christian church as well. We hope to draw patients from not only Cameroon, but also eastern Nigeria, southern Chad, and the Central African Republic.
By far the most difficult aspect of our decision to go has been leaving our children, families, friends, coworkers, patients, and church. Even though we no longer have any children at home, we still cherish connection with our children, and we now have a granddaughter, Maggie, which makes leaving a painful choice. I have the best surgical practice a surgeon could ever ask for- superb partners who are my colleagues and friends, a wonderful office staff, and many loyal patients with whom I am deeply invested. And Carolyn loves her work at the hospital in Martinsville. It makes no sense to leave the security, comfort, and predictability of our lives, at the peak of our earning capacity, to move to Africa, apart from a sense that God is calling us to this work. We believe God has planted this desire in our hearts, and at this season of our lives He has uniquely prepared us for this work. It is an opportunity to bring relief to thousands of suffering people, make a long term difference on a needy continent, communicate Christian truth in a different culture, and affect many generations of surgeons in Africa.
Meanwhile, we have much to do before we leave. We are still not certain which mission board will send us, although our applications are being reviewed by Global Missions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the mission that has many ties to the hospital and church in Ngaoundere. We hope to sell our home. We must decide what household goods to store and what to take with us. There are countless administrative and financial details to arrange. There will be some required training by whatever mission board we go with, as well as some clinical training that we both want to get before we leave. We will have to take French en route to Cameroon. Even though the residency is taught in English, we will be in a French speaking part of Africa where French is essential in order to communicate with patients and hospital staff. We hope to leave for language training by January 2008, and be in Cameroon by July or August 2008. These dates are tentative.
We want our friends and family to know our plans, and we will keep you informed as details unfold. We also hope that somef of you might be willing to visit us later to teach your specialty. If you have any further questions you may contact us at this address, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, or at our home number: 434-792-2611.
With grateful anticipation,
Jim and Carolyn Brown